The Wounded Healer is a central theme in our work and a phrase that I have noticed popping up more and more often in social media feeds. What is it all about? If you type the phrase ‘the wounded healer’ into Google search you will see that there are many different takes on this idea, from the wounded healer being the doctor who puts his own needs aside in order to help others to those quoting the proverb from Luke 4:23, ‘Physicians heal thyself’.
The term the Wounded Healer was actually first used by C.G. Jung: “The analyst must go on endlessly…it is his own hurt that gives the measure of his power to heal. This and nothing else, is the meaning of the Greek myth of the wounded physician.” Carl Jung, CW 16, 239
British counsellor and psychotherapist, Alison Barr carried out some in-depth studies on the wounded healer and found that, “73.9% of counselors and psychotherapists have experienced one or more wounding experiences leading to career choice.” This she believes shows that analysts and therapists treat others because they themselves are wounded.
Jung believed that if the ‘healer’ did not continually work on their own wound and unconscious material there was a risk that they would identify with the ‘healer’ archetype and project their own unidentified wounds onto the patient and thus keep the patient trapped in the patient role.
In France I used to see clients and ran a weekly group called ‘healing the healer.’ At the time, I did not realize how much I was unconsciously trying to make myself feel better by taking the role of the ‘healer’ who was ‘helping’ heal others.
I have since lost my mother, moved continents, been through a journey with cancer, and more, which has radically changed my perspective. And that is exactly what ‘the Wounded Healer’ archetype can offer us: a change in perspective. Instead of looking outwards from the ‘professional role’ of healer, I have been called to look inwards at my own inner burdens.
I have been forced to realize that the only person I can really heal is myself. To do that I must go within and allow the unconscious parts of myself to surface and process in their own time and in their own way. There is no agenda, no time schedule, no firm deadlines. I basically have no control over this process except to allow it and witness it. As Jung says, the psyche is a self-regulating system, always looking to find balance just like the rest of our physical organisms. “By psyche I understand the totality of all psychic processes, conscious as well as unconscious.” Jung CW6, Par 7967
I consider myself incredibly lucky, because I have been able to step out of the business of mainstream, modern life to a great extent. Every day I am surrounded by mountains and wildlife, who have become my allies on this journey of peeling away. The process at times can feel like dying to who I thought I was. I have learned that who I thought I was was in fact a personality built from extremely effective survival techniques.
So what are my tools on this wounded healers journey?
I think one of the cornerstones of being able to go on this inner journey is connecting to place. After searching for a sense of ‘home’ for most of my life and then giving up and realizing that I needed to find home inside myself, I was parachuted to the hills of Taos, New Mexico (thank you Florian). For the past few years I have been internalizing this place. Not just the individual plants, trees and animals, but the place as a whole, a synergy. I’ve been feeling it inside me, letting it fill me and heal me. Wherever you find yourself on the planet, I think it is vitally important to connect to place. Even if you are in the city and it is a tree in a park that calls you, connect with it and allow it to fill you up.
My faithful journal is another tool that I could not be without on this journey. Writing for myself and no one else is so freeing. I am constantly surprised at the hidden parts of my psyche that decide that it is safe to reveal themselves through this medium. Sometimes I wonder to myself, if anyone will read these pages and smile at my fumblings and ramblings after I am gone. Will they ever know or be able to perceive or even care about the deep, dark inner journey that is mapped out in my scribblings?
Plants and medicine making are also a major part of this journey. I no longer have to make medicine for my practice, which has its own pressures: The need to produce under time pressure and make sure to store enough is gone. At this time, my medicine making is about asking for guidance and then being called to a certain plant, not for what it contains in terms of constituents but for what it knows. Being with the plants and harvesting are as much of the healing as the taking of it. Plant wisdom unblocks and helps us release what has been causing the blockage. Connecting with and ingesting the plants of one’s sacred place connects us even more. It is the connection that heals. Sensing I should make myself a flower essence last year, I asked to be guided to the right plant. It was so easy. Last year the desert bloomed here as the rainy season had been very strong. I noticed wild sunflowers have been waving at me ‘en masse’ from along the roadside edges. I immediately knew this was my flower essence for now. I made the flower essence and instantly an old wound bubbled up from my unconscious and processed itself in childlike tears. It was not until later that I looked up this flower essence and read that it is really beneficial for working through wounds with the inner masculine.
Animals also are amazing allies—From the wild animals that cross your path or enter your dreams with their totem messages to the domestic animals that share your life with you and mirror where you are on your own journey. In the horse world, they say that, you have one ‘very special’ horse in your life. I don’t know if that is true, but I do know that a very special horse has come into my life. A rescue horse by the name of Splash. Having been starved, beaten and locked up, now, since coming into my life, he is learning to trust, to slow down and to remember he has the right to exist, be himself and not worry about getting it wrong. What a mirror. Every day, as I witness his process and he mine, we are learning to be here in this world. It is by being here, learning from each other, that we can heal.
Lastly Aroma: I use aroma daily to accompany me. I smell the world–the atmosphere here in the mountains, the trees, the rain, the trees and the plants and then the plant aromatics captured in bottles. There is no single right aroma for everyone. I love the way we are guided, we just have to remember to listen. Recently we’ve been distilling sagebrush and even though I have been surrounded by this plant which rules the high desert plains for several years, it continues to teach. The spring sagebrush is much more nuanced, sweet and full of light than the summer’s. In this time of crisis, the higher perspective that sagebrush raises us up to is a real blessing. I love using the plants that are growing beside me.
As I commit over and over to my own journey it ripples outwards to others and triggers their own healing journey. If I take responsibility for my own wound and reel in any projections I might have been having on my clients and students, then maybe, just maybe, that in itself will trigger the client’s own inner healer to reveal itself.
Lastly and most importantly, it seems that not only our individual journeys but that of the whole world’s journey is intensifying. It is important here to recognize that what is inside us is also a mirror of what is outside us and vice versa. As the alchemists used to say, the microcosm and macrocosm are reflecting each other. Our personal suffering is a reflection of the global suffering, which includes ecological suffering. We humans, plants, trees, animals, insects and fish are all connected and feeling the pain of the whole. Maybe this is why dolphins are committing mass suicide? I find that realizing that our pain is not just our pain but the collective pain is very helpful and something we all need to remember. This awareness helps me step back from it and see it as ‘normal’ for our time. It makes me realize that ‘as I heal myself, I heal the world’ or ‘the only way to heal the world is to heal myself’. This is why healing ourselves, continuously engaging with the wounded healer is so important. We are not doing it just for ourselves, but for the whole world, including the ancestors. It is here that myth and archetype come in, a timelessness and universality that gives us a more expansive view of the situation.
I encourage you to look at your wounds from these different perspectives. On the one hand, it is fully our own individual wound. Yet at the same time it is a global wound that everyone is feeling. This helps us to step back, expand beyond and ‘see’ and ‘feel’ the wound from the part of us that is not and never will be wounded. The wound is a gift in many ways. That is why I believe that healers should talk about their wounds, share their stories and experiences. This is where the true healing lies. In our aliveness, humanness and above all connectedness.
Our “Alchemy: The Medicine of the Soul” online class is aimed at wounded healers and in it we explore this archetype deeply. It teaches you not just book knowledge, but is a transformative online experience where every participant can actively go on the journey through the alchemical stages. For me, the model of the alchemical stages has become a lifelong guide for the inner journey of healing my wounds and for keeping a higher and deeper perspective on the intensifying healing journey the entire world is on. And we need guides in these times.