Wounded healer is a term created by psychologist Carl Jung. The idea states that an analyst is compelled to treat patients because the analyst himself is "wounded". The idea may have Greek mythology origins. Research has shown that 73.9% of counselors and psychotherapists have experienced one or more wounding experiences leading to their career choice.
As an example, of the "wounded healer phenomenon" between an analyst and his/her analyzed:
- The analyst is consciously aware of his own personal wounds. These wounds may be activated in certain situations especially if the analyzed wounds are similar to his own.
- The analyzed wounds affect the wounds of the analyst. The analyst either consciously or unconsciously passes this awareness back to his analyzed, causing an unconscious relationship to take place between analyst and analyzed.
There are various studies researching the concept of the wounded healer, most notably that by British counselor and psychotherapist Alison Barr 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 analyzed using descriptive and inferential statistics and the qualitative data analyzed 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 counselors and psychotherapists have experienced one or more wounding experiences leading to career choice. 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.
In Greek mythology, the centaur Chiron was a "Wounded Healer", after being poisoned with an incurable wound by one of Hercules's arrows. Jung mentioned the Chiron myth "wounding by one's own arrow means, first of all, the state of introversion";
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."
Jung felt that depth psychology can be potentially dangerous, because the analyst is vulnerable to being infected by his analyzed's wounds by having his wounds reopened. To avoid this, 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.
Withdrawal of both projections may however ultimately activate the powers of the inner healer in the patient themselves.
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.”
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'.
Scholars suggest that Jung's childhood vulnerabilities compelled him to heal his own life. Jung stated 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". Further he stated that "it is no loss, either, if [the analyst] 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 that Jung's own wounds could cause damage to those he was attempting to heal.
- Akira Kurosawa's 1948 film Drunken Angel centers upon the efforts of Doctor Sanada, himself an alcoholic, to sustain a young gangster against tuberculosis, counseling him to abandon his self-destructive lifestyle.
- 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.
- In Little Gidding, 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.
- This can be the basis of countertransference.
- C.G. Jung "The Psychology of the Transference", The Practice of Psychotherapy (CW 16), par. 422
- 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.". The Green Rooms. Retrieved 15 January 2014.
- B. H. Clow/C. C. Clow, Catastrophobic (2001) p. 232
- Robert C. Smith, The Wounded Jung (1997) p. 177
- C. G. Jung, Psychology of the Unconscious (London 1944) p. 181
- Jung possibly derives the term "wounded healer" from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a wounded physician gives sanctuary to Epidaurus who treats others. On the other hand, Apollo Medicus was not a wounded healer because he did not heal because he suffered. Jamie Claire Fumos, The Legacy of Apollo (2010) p. 59
- Jung quoted in Anthony Stevens, Jung (Oxford 1994) p. 110
- C.G. Jung "Fundamental Questions of Psychotherapy"; ibid. para. 239
- Young-Eisendrath, p. 165
- P. Young-Eisendrath/T. Dawson, The Cambridge Companion to Jung (2008) p. 165
- Smith, p. 2
- 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
- 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)