Wounded Healer

Chiron

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. 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 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 recognize 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 emphasizing 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 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.

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