Wounded healer is an archetypal dynamic that psychologist Carl Jung used to describe a phenomenon that may take place, both positively and negatively, in the relationship between analyst and analysand.
One of the deeper, underlying archetypal patterns which is being constellated in the human psyche that is playing itself out collectively on the world stage is the archetype of the “wounded healer.” To quote Kerenyi, a colleague of Jung who elucidated this archetype, the wounded healer refers psychologically to the capacity “to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery with which, as though by enchantment, to bring forth Asclepius, the sunlike healer.” The archetype of the wounded healer reveals to us that it is only by being willing to face, consciously experience, and go through our wound do we receive its blessing. To go through our wound is to embrace, assent, and say “yes” to the mysteriously painful new place in ourselves where the wound is leading us. Going through our wound, we can allow ourselves to be re-created by the wound. Our wound is not a static entity, but rather a continually unfolding dynamic process that manifests, reveals and incarnates itself through us, which is to say that our wound is teaching us something about ourselves. Going through our wound means realizing we will never again be the same when we get to the other side of this initiatory process. Going through our wound is a genuine death experience, as our old self “dies” in the process, while a new, more expansive and empowered part of ourselves is potentially born.
Going through and embracing our wound as a part of ourselves is radically different than circumnavigating and going around (avoiding), or getting stuck in and endlessly, obsessively recreating (being taken over by) our wound. The event of our wounding is simultaneously catalyzing a deeper (potential) healing process which requires our active engagement, thus “wedding” us to a deeper level of our being. Jung’s closest colleague, Marie Louise Von Franz, said “the wounded healer IS the archetype of the Self [our wholeness, the God within] and is at the bottom of all genuine healing procedures.”
For Jung, "a good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor's examining himself... it is his own hurt that gives a measure of his power to heal. This, and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek myth of the wounded physician." Latterly, the term has expanded from Jung’s original concept to cover the study of any professional healer who has been wounded, including counselors, psychotherapists, doctors and nurses.
In Greek mythology, the centaur Chiron was known as the "Wounded Healer", having been poisoned by one of Hercules's arrows; but because he wasn't able to heal himself he suffered thereafter from an incurable wound.
It is also possible that Jung derives the term "wounded healer" from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in identification of his own wounds creates a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others. By contrast, Apollo Medicus subverted the folklore of the wounded healer, in so far as it was not his own suffering which empowered him to heal.
It has been suggested that Jung's childhood vulnerabilities launched him at a very early age upon an integrative quest to heal his own life. He certainly made early use of the Chiron myth in this connection, claiming that "wounding by one's own arrow means, first of all, the state of introversion"; and going on to recognise that "certain psychic disturbances can be extremely infectious if the doctor himself has a latent predisposition in that direction...For this reason he runs a risk - and must run it in the nature of things".
Increasingly however the positive aspects of the wounded physician archetype came to the fore, Jung emphasising that "it is no loss, either, if he feels that the patient is hitting him, or even scoring off him: it is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal".
Jungians acknowledge at the same time that Jung's own wounds meant that he could at times also damage those he attempted to heal.
The following is an example of the "wounded healer phenomenon" between an analyst and his/her analysand:
- The analyst, through the nature of his profession is consciously aware of his own personal wounds. However, these wounds may be activated in certain situations, especially if his analysand's wounds are similar to his own. (This can be the basis of countertransference).
- In the meantime, the wounded analysand "inner healer" is unconscious to him, but potentially available.
- The analysand's wounds activate those of the analyst. The analyst realizes what is taking place, and either consciously or unconsciously passes this awareness back to his analysand.
- In this way, an unconscious relationship takes place between analyst and analysand.
Jung felt that this type of depth psychology can be potentially dangerous, because the analyst is vulnerable to being infected by his analysand's wounds, or having his or her wounds reopened. Also, the analyst must have an ongoing relationship with the unconscious, otherwise he or she could identify with the "healer archetype", and create an inflated ego.
There are various studies researching the concept of the wounded healer, most notably that by Alison Barr, a counsellor and psychotherapist based in the UK, who studied the significance of psychological wounds on people who decide to train as counsellors or psychotherapists.
Barr used a pluralistic approach to her research, with the quantitative data analysed using descriptive and inferential statistics and the qualitative data analysed using thematic analysis, with a grounded theory approach. An on-line questionnaire was conducted with 253 respondents. Pilot and verification studies were performed, and opportunities for further research highlighted.
Barr’s results showed that 73.9% of counsellors and psychotherapists have experienced one or more wounding experiences leading to career choice, and 26.1% have not. She also noted the following:
- In relation to the significance of the event(s) on career choice, when merging the categories ‘probably chosen career regardless’ with ‘possibly chosen career regardless’, and ‘unlikely chosen career regardless’ with ‘not considered career otherwise’, there is a slight majority in relation to the former. There are no significant differences in relation to demographic factors.
- In relation to whether one or more psychologically wounding experiences led to the choice of a career as a therapist, there is a significant difference within designation, gender, grouping gender and ethnicity, and, grouping gender and age. There are no significant differences within approach, ethnicity or age.
- The majority of the wounds were caused by events experienced directly by the respondents (65%) as opposed to indirectly or both. Within demographic factors, the causes of the wounding experiences leading to career choice are not statistically significant.
- The exact causes of the wounds vary enormously. The main categories are abuse, family life as a child, mental ill-health (own), social, family life as an adult, bereavement, mental ill-health (others), life threatening, physical ill-health (others), physical ill-health (own), and, other.
- There are many implications for the future of the therapeutic world, focusing mainly on supervision and training.
Jungians warn of the dangers of inflation and splitting in the helping professions, involving projection of the 'wounded' pole of the archetype onto the patient alone, with the analyst safely separated off as 'healer'.
Withdrawal of both projections may however ultimately activate the powers of the inner healer in the patient themself.
- The character Dr. House, from the television series of the same name, can be considered as an example of this archetype in modern pop culture; his physical and emotional scars are both a burden and a driving force in his need to fix the problems of others while destroying himself.
- T. S. Eliot wrote of how "The wounded surgeon plies the steel/That questions the distempered part".
- 'Just because you can heal, doesn't mean you don't hurt', the main focus behind the book Ada, Legend of a Healer is a reversal on this, but along the same lines of thought in that through her trials and pains she grows to a greater empathy and compassion for others.
- L. Burns/E. I. Burns, Literature and Therapy (2009) p. 126
- Jung quoted in Anthony Stevens, Jung (Oxford 1994) p. 110
- B. H. Clow/C. C. Clow, Catastrophobic (2001) p. 232
- Robert C. Smith, The Wounded Jung (1997) p. 177
- Jamie Claire Fumos, The Legacy of Apollo (2010) p. 59
- Smith, p. 2
- C. G. Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious (London 1944) p. 181
- C. G. Jung, The Practice of Psychotherapy (London 1993) p. 172
- Jung quoted in Stevens, p. 110
- Mary Ann Mattoon, Personal and Archetypal Dynamics in the Analytical Relationship (1991) p. 486
- C.G. Jung "The Psychology of the Transference", The Practice of Psychotherapy (CW 16), par. 422
- C.G. Jung "Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy"; ibid. para. 239
- Barr, A. (2006). An Investigation into the extent to which Psychological Wounds inspire Counsellors and Psychotherapists to become Wounded Healers, the significance of these Wounds on their Career Choice, the causes of these Wounds and the overall significance of Demographic Factors. MSc Dissertation, available for free download at: http://www.thegreenrooms.net/research_and_articles/wounded-healer
- P. Young-Eisendrath/T. Dawson, The Cambridge Companion to Jung (2008) p. 165
- Young-Eisendrath, p. 165
- L. Hockley/L. Gardner, House: The Wounded Healer on Television (2011) p. 11
- T. S. Eliot, The Complete Poems and Plays (London 1985) p. 181
- Claire Dunn, Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul (2000)
- J. Halifax, Shaman: The Wounded Healer (1982)
- Nouwen, Henri J. M. (1979-02-02). The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Doubleday. ISBN 978-0-385-14803-0.
- Daryl Sharp, The Jung Lexicon (Toronto)
- David Sedgwick, The Wounded Healer: Countertransference from a Jungian Perspective (1994)