being wounded is healing?


The idea of the wounded healer is an important, and anyone can see themselves in this, being or not on therapy. I’m looking here at the archetypal depiction of the ‘wounded healer’, while examining Carl Jung’s dimensions of one’s shadow and woundedness and looking closer at what woundedness might mean in terms of depression, wellbeing and being a therapist. Attempting to tune in with Jung’s mythical, spiritual and symbolic sense, I focus on two mythological figures that are generally acknowledged as representing physical and psychic aspects of the archetypal ‘wounded healer’: Chiron the centaur and Ulysses the traveller are introduced with their stories in light of relevant theory, while attempting an exploration of their symbolic, philosophical and experiential relevance to a psychotherapist’s feelings of woundedness. The very idea of a ‘wounded healer’ refers to the Jungian unity and polarisation between opposites, which appears in line with existential tensions and paradox, and echoes the ultimate backdrop of life and death.

Many words have been written about the wounded healer: the person who goes through suffering and as a result of that experience becomes a source of healing potential. According to Jung, such potential may include attributes like endurance, empathy, insightfulness or wisdom, paired together with an awareness of the therapist’s weaknesses. The archetypal wounded healer undergoes a transformation as a result of their wound, their suffering and pain. In the case of psychotherapy, Jungian ideas suggest that therapists have the potential of transcending their psychic wounds, and successfully leading themselves to a path of service for their clients (Whitmont, 1978). However, Jung also suggests that woundeness may also result in chronic unhappiness when one’s shadow takes over and one’s psychic wounds remain unhealed and unattended. In this light depression can be understood as the experience when one’s unattended wounds become overwhelming and paralysing.

Jung is inspired by the archetype of the wounded healer. He makes direct associations of the important meanings attached to this archetypal idea: ‘Only the wounded physician heals. But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armor, he has no effect’ (Jung 1989). He advocated that fruitful psychotherapy requires the therapists to be self-reflective and able to accept and heal their own wound without losing their sensitivity: ‘The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected’. Jung sees himself as a wounded healer, having being affected by the presence of his troubled father and emotionally distressed mother in his childhood. He describes himself as having a ‘dual personality’ with splits in his psyche, giving rise to various personal conflicts and tensions including his aggression and abrasiveness as well as his dedication to spirituality and mysticism. In light of Jungian ideas, a therapist’s sense of woundedness refers to an unavoidable human condition of experiencing feelings such as fear, suffering, loss and insecurity. His break with Freud was the catalyst for a personal crisis that left him in a state of a depressive disorientation, often described as his ‘creative illness’, which provided him with essential material for his lifetime’s work.

TBContinued …