It is not only our patients who have a story that needs to be told; we too have our own stories about how we came to do this work. Although it is common knowledge among psychotherapists/psychoanalysts that those who become psychotherapists are motivated by their own struggles with adversity, there seems to be an unspoken consensus that this is to be kept a secret, something not to be publicly revealed. Often when we keep a secret about ourselves, it can feel like a dirty secret. This story of the wounded healer psychotherapist is revealed in my book, Celebrating the Wounded Healer Psychotherapist: Pain, Post-Traumatic Growth and Self- Disclosure.
Peter Martin, a British psychologist who had a depressive breakdown and stopped seeing clients for six months, said that although woundedness is just another metaphor for our humanness, for many psychotherapists it is a hidden secret, a deceit often masked as ‘professionalism.’ He asked why we would want to celebrate ourselves as wounded healers. One reason is that we have been on what Joseph Campbell called a hero's journey, emerging from traumatic experience with much post-traumatic growth, resilience, and empathy for ourselves and for our patients.
The archetype of the wounded healer was created by Carl Jung, himself a wounded healer, who believed the wounded healer's suffering is both a burden and a compelling force in his need to heal the problems of others. Some wounded healers, even some of those most competent, can become wounding healers, hurting the patients they treat, violating boundaries, including sexual ones. You will learn how Freud, whose most egregious boundary violation was analyzing his own daughter Anna, became the prototype for the development of the wounding healer.
Some well-known wounded healer psychotherapists include, to name only a few, Kay Redfield Jamison, who suffers from bipolar disorder, Lauren Slater, who ended up treating patients in the same psychiatric hospital where she herself had been hospitalized, and Marsha Linehan, whose Dialectical Behavior Therapy evolved from her own experience with self-mutilation, suicidality and hospitalization. You will learn of other wounded healers who contributed chapters to my book about how they became wounded healer psychotherapists.
We have something valuable to share with our colleagues and others who have been wounded by life. I read a quote in the aluminum foil covering of a square of Dove dark chocolate: "The more you praise and celebrate your life, the more there is in life to celebrate." I hope you will join us in the celebration.
Sharon K. Farber, Ph.D., BCD, is clinical social worker in private practice in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y. She was inducted into the National Academies of Practice as a Distinguished Practioner. She has taught at medical schools, schools of social work, training institutes and the Cape Cod Institute, and has been an invited speaker in the U.S., Canada, U.K. and Israel.
She is author of several papers and three books: When the Body Is the Target: Self-Harm, Pain, and Traumatic Attachments (2000, 2002), Hungry for Ecstasy: Trauma, the Brain, and the Influence of the Sixties (2013), and Celebrating the Wounded Healer Psychotherapist: Pain, Post-Traumatic Growth and Self-Disclosure (2016).
She writes a blog for Psychology Today, the Mind-Body Connection.