The Myth of the Wounded Healer as an Archetype
According to Greek mythology, Chiron had a very solemn upbringing. He was born out-of-wedlock and of lust. Repulsed by his appearance, his mother rejected his existence, and also he was abandoned by his immortal father,the Titan, Kronos. Due to the abandonment by both of his parents, the god Apollo adapted Chiron and taught him the arts, sciences, and the mysteries. Rising above his beastly nature, he became a gentle, peaceful, educated, and civilized god. Chiron was renowned to be a mighty teacher to many, especially to the fearless warrior, Achilles; the surgeon herbalist; Asclepius; Jason, and the demigod Hercules. At one point in Chiron’s life, Hercules accidentally shot him with a poison arrow, Chiron suffered a painful incurable wound destined, due to his immortality, to suffer for eternity. With his agonizing wound, Chiron roamed the earth curing and healing others, despite his own suffering and pain. At one point in his journey he met with Prometheus who was also suffering. Chiron decided to give his immortality to Prometheus as to end his own emotional and physical pain. Due to his divine ancestry, Zeus did not confine him to Hades, but, instead gave Chiron a final resting place among the stars where he rests forming the constellation of Sagittarius ( Benziman, et. al, 2012; Zerabavel & Wright, 2012).
The Clinician’s Wounded-Healer Archetype
It is often said that psychoanalysts suffer from a narcissistic disturbance…His sensibility, his empathy, his intense and differentiated emotional responsiveness, and his unusually powerful “antennae” seem to predestine him as a child to be used-if not misused-by people with intense narcissistic needs.
Alice Miller (1979, pp.22)
Jung’s wounded healer archetype (Benziman, Kannai & Ahmad, 2012) is a central theme for most clinicians in the mental health field (please read Ginger Murchison story). Born into a human family and community who err, it is unavoidable to be an unwilling participant and recipient of some type of mental, physical and/or emotional distress and anguish. The Swiss psychologist, Alice Miller (1979) explains that children possessing natural characteristics of empathy, sensitivity, and compassion towards others are sometimes targeted by an adult’s narcissistic and selfish use or misuse of that child’s natural predisposition. Disrespecting the child’s inherent vulnerable tendency and the adult’s need for love and acceptance annihilates the child’s sense of self. This is a multidimensional wound carried throughout life. Due to early indoctrination and natural gifts, many of these children decide to become mental health clinicians.
Miller (1979) continues to state that for many clinicians it is,
no less our fate than our talent that enables us to exercise the profession of psychoanalyst… (pp.22).
Due to unresolved wounds and pain, and for many, a failure of unconditional acceptance
by the adult other, the wounded healer transfers the need for acceptance and belonging onto the patient.
Bugental (2003), states, if it is not recognized and not dealt with then the wounded healer’s narcissism, omnipotence, pain, distress, fears, neurotisim, and toxicity touches all those encountered on the life path and especially to the patient and pained other.
The clinician who is not in contact or as, Zerubavel and Wright (2012) state,
…deny their own conflicts and vulnerabilities are at risk of projecting onto patients the persona of “the wounded one” and seeing themselves as “the one who is healed”..in the therapy relationship, therapists can have difficulty accessing their own experiences of suffering and vulnerability to empathize with the client.. (pp. 482)
Insomuch, Miller (1979) states, the patient fulfills the clinician’s narcissistic needs,
for approval, echo, understanding, and for being taken seriously when he presents material that fits his analysts knowledge, concepts, and skills, and therefore his expectations. In this way the analyst exercises the same sort of unconscious manipulation as that to which he was exposed as a child (pp. 24).
This unhealthy pattern is not only one of perpetual mutual dependency, but also a repeat of unresolved unhealthy primordial relationships. It is the clinician’s ethical and moral obligation to self reflect and integrate the shadow self (Campbell, 1971) to be an ethical, compassionate, and empathic individual.
Know Thy Self
Due to either unconscious material or lack of self-reflection, many clinicians experienced or new, confess their career choice to be based on their exceptional advise giving abilities and their love to help others (Miller, 1979; Zerubavel and Wright, 2012). This is a denial of the clinician’s true motivational essence which eventually leads to unethical practice. Possessing an intent to find self-worth and self-healing through the other, is self-effacing which is incongruent with the social work foundation. Wearing the pretentious mask of the mighty clinician, proficient in diagnostic jargon, is disguised judgment onto the pained person and non- conformist. Forgetting and/or dismissing the human and residual commonalities create sanism, stigma, projective identification, and in many instances, verbal, physical, and sexual abuse, onto the service user. The clinician’s unsettled pain results in a communal negative view of the profession.
To illustrate the mental health issues of upcoming social workers, Reardon (2012) conducted a study of 215 BSW students and found the following results:
Ting (2011) examined depressive symptoms in a sample of 215 BSW students. Nearly 51% of students scored at or above the cutoff on the Center for Epidemiologic Studies Depression Scale. The 20-item instrument covers issues such as feelings of guilt, hopelessness, depressed mood, and sleep disturbance.
Ting’s research also explored why some students chose not to use mental health services. The reasons provided by students included lack of time, lack of resources, lack of knowledge, confidentiality concerns, preference for informal help, and concerns about cultural competency. Of note is that nearly 23% of students training to be social workers reported that they did not seek out services because of mistrust and fear of mental health professionals, while nearly 22% expressed concerns about quality of mental health services.
It is alarming to have such a great number of depressed students. Of greater concern is the refusal to seek psychotherapeutic services based on mistrust of services. There can be many variables to the mistrust. Perhaps it is a solidified reputation social workers have instilled based on social media and the student’s personal experiences with a narcissistic wounded-healer.
The Wounded-Healer Empathic Synthesis
I believe the wounded healer paradigm suggests the dualistic aspect of the wounded-healer clinician is aware of the intra-psychic dynamics of the internal distress or torment and is able to draw from this pain the energy and have the ability to be a healthy catalyst for others. This empathic connection with the pained other, through the recognition of an intra-connecting resemblance of human pain, is what motivates a healing connection between two (or more) individuals. The empathic connection is done through the clinician’s intent to establish a connection or association with a pained person or non- conformist through a wise, knowing, unselfish, compassionate momentary mindful synthesis.
Final Thoughts on the Wounded-Healer Paradigm
The transformative and restorative power of self-acknowledgement and transmutation allows the clinician to free the self from the status quo on the vicious hypocritical loop. The wounded-healer’s acknowledgement of her own vulnerabilities along with the humble volitional choice of self-healing, and liberation, allows a strong formation of patience, trustworthiness and acceptance of others. The clinician’s growth leads to a healing presence where empathy, unconditional positive regard, attitude (Rogers, 1961), and a state of satori, form the bedrock to the therapeutic encounter.
Dedicated to all the wounded healers who decided to join Chiron
Achilles – http://www.ancient.eu/search/?q=achilles&utm_source=self&utm_medium=dum&utm_campaign=did_you_mean
Benziman, G., Kannai, R., & Ahmad, A. (2012). The Wounded Healer as Cultural Archetype. CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 14(1). doi:10.7771/1481-4374.1927
Bugental, J. (2003). The Person Who Is the Psychotherapist. Retrieved January 19, 2017, from http://www.human-studies.com/articles/person-who-is-the-psychotherapist.php
Campbell, J. (1971). JUNG the Portable Jung. New York, NY: Viking Press
Career choice– https://www.talkspace.com/blog/2015/11/why-do-people-become-therapists-talkspace-answers/
Client-Centered Therapy. (n.d.). Retrieved January 17, 17, from Client-Centered Therapy – Client-Centered Therapy – CLIENT-CENTERED THERAPY” target=”_blank”>CLIENT-CENTERED THERAPY
Featured Image– http://lotuseaters.org/woundedhealer.shtml
Klien, M– http://www.melanie-klein-trust.org.uk/projective-identification
Miller, A. (1981). The Drama of the Gifted Child, The Search for the True Self. Basic Books.
Narcissus and Echo– https://www.slideshare.net/homayounshahri/narcissism-55064056
Rogers, C. R. (1961). On Becoming a Person: a Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Reardon, C. (2012). Supporting Social Work Students With Mental Health Challenges. Retrieved January 18, 2017, from http://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/091712p10.shtm
Social Media– http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Social%20Worker
Unconditional positive regard–http://psychology.jrank.org/pages/118/Client-Centered-Therapy.html
Zerubavel, N., & Wright, M. O. (2012). The dilemma of the wounded healer. Psychotherapy, 49(4), 482-491. doi:10.1037/a0027824
2 comments on “The Wounded Healer: Mental Health Clinician, Heal Thy Self”
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Being a Sagittarius psychotherapist this makes a lot of sense. 😉