Motivation and emotion/Book/2021/Wounded healer paradigm

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Wounded healer paradigm:
What is the wounded healer paradigm and how does it explain the motivations of psychological health professionals?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Have you ever wondered why you have anticipation for a career in psychotherapy or why you are currently studying to have one? Maybe you are contemplating if a psychotherapeutic career is a unique calling? These are the questions this chapter answers by exploring the unique motivation of psychological health professionals' desire to help others given the emotionally taxing nature of the work.

Drawing from existing research literature the chapter explores how unconscious motivations arising from developmental trauma are instrumental in guiding career choices, that motivations can potentially change over time, and how one’s psychological wounds can contribute to effective therapy. To explain occurrence within the body, and how unmet psychological needs affect motivation, Carl Jung’s wounded healer archetype, the object relations theory and post-traumatic growth literature are examined.

Learning outcomes:

  • Define what a wounded healer paradigm is;
  • How does it explain the motivations of psychological health professionals to pursue a career in healing others;
  • How unmet psychological needs affect motivation; implications of disclosing woundedness;
  • Familiarisation with main psychological theories and literature associated with unconscious motivation driving behaviour;
  • Identification of gaps in the literature

What is the wounded healer paradigm?[edit | edit source]

The wounded healer paradigm holds that therapists’ with a history of childhood developmental trauma are inclined towards a career in psychotherapy as they have a unique capacity to identify, empathize with and treat psychological trauma in clients. It is understood following their own traumatic experience, therapists can channel those experiences as a source of knowledge, and use it as a platform to progress effective therapy with clients (Zerubavel & Wright, 2012).

Origins[edit | edit source]

The wounded healer paradigm is noted to date back to ancient mythology and traditions and narrated in various cultures (Scruton, 2015). Outside of Western psychological thought, woundedness is noted to appear in many indigenous cultures where shamanism is practised. It is regarded that initiated shamans have undergone suffering from both psychological and physical wounds before being able to heal others (Benziman et al., 2012), and being wounded was considered an important training pathway as it allowed the shamans to gain insight into suffering and healing process, which later disposed them to possess skills necessary to become a healer (Hadjiosif, 2021). Similarly, variations of the paradigm are also observed in the Hebrew folklore, Christian and Muslim traditions as well as in Eastern cultural sources (Nolte & Dreyer, 2010; Benziman et al., 2012).

Within Western psychological thought, the wounded healer is observed to have first appeared within the ancient Greek mythology of Chiron-the immortal centaur, who was incurably wounded, first psychologically with rejection at his birth by his parents and later physically by a poisoned arrow from Hercules’s bow (Crusalis, 2014). Chiron’s myth indicated he had great skills in medicine and healing and so, embarked on healing others while suffering from his incurable wounds. He is said to have renounced his immortality to save Prometheus’s life and die meaningfully by healing someone (Conchar & Repper, 2014). Thus, Chiron is regarded to be an important motif of wounded healers mainly due to his capacity to cross over between being wounded and wellness (Beziman et al., 2012).

The wounded healer archetype[edit | edit source]

Consequently, applying Chiron’s myth, Carl Jung was the first psychoanalyst to have conceptualized the archetype of the wounded healer and explore its application to psychology (Newcomb et al., 2015). Jung is noted to regard woundedness in therapists allowed them to possess inner insights useful to offer transformative interventions with clients during therapy (Jung 1963, p.116 as cited in Benziman et al., 2012). Following Jung, within the contemporary psychological communities, the paradigm seems to be adapted within helping professions specifically trained under disciplines of psychiatry, psychology, social work, and nursing (Hadjiosif, 2021). This indicates the wounded healer paradigm is universal due to its consistent demonstration across time and cultures and so, can be useful to comprehend the motivation of psychological health professionals towards helping professions.

How does it explain the motivation of psychological health professionals?[edit | edit source]

From the research literature, the motivation of some psychological health professionals including psychotherapists and social workers towards helping professions are often noted to be attributed to their traumatic early life experiences (Newcomb et al.,). As such, a large body of research found developmental trauma was instrumental in motivating therapists to pursue a career in psychotherapy (Kern, 2014; Sussman, 2007 as cited in Zerubavel et al.). The researchers observed high rates of developmental trauma arising from emotional neglect, physical abuse and punishments, sexual abuse, and psychological neglect amongst social work students and practitioners as compared to the general population (Newcomb et al.).

This suggests psychological health professionals are not immune to psychological wounding mainly due to human nature. Many seem to have lived experiences of trauma and mental illness, unlike the general expectation that therapists are mostly healthy, well-balanced, and without any trauma wounds. In fact, therapists with self-awareness, who had overcome and transcended their traumatic childhood experiences were regarded to effectively progress therapy with their clients (Rice, 2011). This seems consistent with Jung’s archetype of the wounded healer which stipulates the healers’ own suffering equips them with a unique capacity to sensitively understand and treat psychological wounding in others (Zerubavel and Wright, 2012).

How does unmet psychological needs effect motivation?[edit | edit source]

Figure 1. Jung's wounded healer archetype

[Provide more detail] Hi! While this is only an abstract on the surface, there are plenty of other citations to support your already very detailed body of work. I hope this comes in handy and am very excited to see the finished chapter! Liam (u3203462).

Developmental trauma[edit | edit source]

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Object relations theory[edit | edit source]

Object-loss/ parentification as children

Implications of disclosing woundedness[edit | edit source]

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Risks[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Benefits[edit | edit source]

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Post-traumatic growth literature[edit | edit source]

From the PTS literature, it is noted many wounded healers regard their traumatic experiences as having been transformative, thus leading to profound growth personally and professionally.

Quiz[edit | edit source]

The three basic psychological needs are: autonomy, competence, and relatedness:


To learn about different types of quiz questions, see Quiz.

Identification of gaps in the literature[edit | edit source]

  • Lack of in-depth study
  • Social stigma affecting self-disclosure

Conclusion[edit | edit source]

[Provide more detail]

Yes check.svg

Suggestions for this section:

  • What is the answer to the question in the sub-title (based on psychological theory and research)?
  • What are the answers to the focus questions?
  • What are the practical, take-home messages?

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Benziman, G., Kannai, R. & Ahmad, A. (2012). The Wounded Healer as Cultural Archetype.CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 14 (1).

Nolte, S.P & Dreyer, Y. (2010). The Paradox of Being a Wounded Healer: Henri J.M. Nouwen’s Contribution to Pastoral Theology. HTS TeologieseStudies/Theological Studies, 66(2), 1-8.

Orlinsky, D. E., Schofield, M. J., Schroder, T., & Kazantzis, N. (2011). Utilization of personal therapy by psychotherapists: a practice-friendly review and a new study. Journal of clinical psychology, 67(8), 828–842.

Scrutton, A.P. (2015). Suffering as Potentially Transformative: A Philosophical and Pastoral Consideration Drawing on Henri Nouwen’s Experience of Depression. Pastoral Psychology, 64, 99–109.

Zerubavel, N. & Wright, M.O'D. (2012). The Dilemma of the Wounded Healer. Psychotherapy. American Psychological Association, 49(4), 482-491.

External links[edit | edit source]