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The Wounded Healer

by David Hamilton (April 2009)

I have been reading about the "wounded healer' theory (Guggenbuhl - Craig 1971; Rippere and Williams 1985). It says that the pain of the healer is the source of their power to heal others, and that the healer's own experiences form the foundations of their empathy with clients and their "wounds'. The theory goes on to say that there is a danger of the healer being sacrificed by his or her "wounds' being exacerbated by the demands of those being helped. I like the idea of the therapist's pain being used to help others. After all, who better to understand difficulties than a person who understands them from his or her own frame of reference?

I have been really sick two or three times in my life, the first time was when I was very young and I don't remember it much. The next time was when I was a young adult of about 24. I collapsed at a friend's house and they phoned for an ambulance which took me to hospital where I was diagnosed with meningitis. Three hours to live and one lumbar puncture later, they had found the bacterial strain and treated it thus bringing me out of the danger zone. I had to spend about 9 days in the intensive care unit on a morphine drip to get back to normal, and I remember lying there listening to music my friends had brought in for me, motionless - barely able to move any of my muscles, but being fully aware, like being trapped in a body that wouldn't work, but my eyes could move, and for the first few days that was how I communicated with the nurses and doctors. This was a wonderful time for reflection and contemplation. And when I was discharged from the hospital, I remember walking down the road outside thinking how lovely the trees and grass were. I also remember thinking this would be a great opportunity to stop smoking, but reasoned that I had been through a trauma and perhaps I should use the cigarettes to help calm me down. Oh foolish me.

A few years ago I was working hard, earning well, and living good, and my partner and I moved house, making good money on the sale of the old house (like everyone did then). Shortly after we moved house I started to feel pains down both legs - it got worse and I went to the doctor and he didn't know what to do, so after repeated visits complaining to him, I was referred to the hospital. I drove the car up to the hospital and parked in the short stay car park expecting to be 20 minutes (here, Mr Hamilton - take these tablets and call me in the morning) - but that didn't happen. An hour or two later I was having a bronchoscopy, which is the insertion of a fibre optic camera into the lung to see what was causing the dark shadows on the x-ray. My lungs collapsed quite a few times after that, over the period of 2 weeks, but thankfully, being in hospital meant I was in the right place for that to happen. Again, I had been given a time for reflection and contemplation, and this time I knew that I wanted things to be different. I had given up smoking just under a year before this current condition had occurred (the current condition being called Sarcoidosis).

This time I wanted to give something back. I wasn't sure how this would work but I knew I would find a channel for this new healing energy. I started off with Reiki when I was well enough, attaining my first and then second attunement, rendering me a fully qualified Reiki practitioner, lacking only the last attunement (for teaching purposes only I am told).

This wasn't it, so I thought about my skills and since my father has been deaf since he was a little boy, I grew up using the sign language for the deaf like a second language. So I applied for certification in the British Sign Language (BSL) - there were not enough people interested in the course for it to go ahead, so I waited until the next possibility of it starting, and just as before, still not enough people. While this was going on, I took other courses in different places and I started to get interested in counselling - there was a starter's course at the local college and it wasn't expensive. I liked the thought of that - helping people to cope with the daily drudges and issues that life throws at them, yes - I liked it - and so I enrolled.

Shortly after starting the course I realised that there was a lot more to this counselling than I had first envisioned - And I am glad that the path is not an easy one, after all, clients are real people, with real issues, they need to be given every chance to work through their difficulties, and they need someone who is professionally trained to a BACP recognised diploma, or further down the line, accreditation, but also someone who works ethically or morally to guidelines such as the BACP ethical framework.

I remember going swimming with a couple of friends and this one friend asked me how the counselling course was going and I said "great". He said, "I couldn't be bothered giving all that advice out all day". I said that wasn't the idea - I said that we wanted to try and give the client suggestions as to where they might look for the answers to their problems, but we could not tell them what to find (ref McLeod) - he disagreed, telling me that he knew exactly what counselling was all about.

The deeper I get into understanding the role of the counsellor, the more interested I become. I love the works of Carl Rogers and remember seeing him in action for the first time and thinking "he's not doing that much". But here I am, a bit further down the line - when I re-visit that piece of footage, I see "WOW" - how many person centred skills is he exhibiting, without making it obvious, and how his attitude speaks volumes more than his actual dialogue.

I know that by re-training and making the best of my medical condition, I can emerge from it qualified to help people maintain and develop their lives in more rewarding and fulfilling ways than before. I am often amazed by the motivations that drive me, and how I sometimes follow them blindly without question, but one thing always rings true - and that's this burning desire to help others with their psychological and practical issues - it's what fires me up and keeps me going. It's what makes me one of life's "Wounded Healers".