I have shamed myself. Not deliberately, but nevertheless actively.
I never dreamed that one day I would research and write about healing psychological trauma. Or the perils of the mental health field. Or its pearls. It was really a matter of bad luck.
As a trauma survivor, I turned my fate into destiny. Writing helps me heal, and I’ve been ecstatic to learn my writing also helps others. Now my personal efforts at healing and helping others heal overlap so much they seem almost synonymous.
Originally, I thought this was purely accidental. That was before I learned about the archetype of the wounded healer while studying counseling psychology at Pacifica Graduate Institute. Turns out this is a common response to deep psychological wounding.
So much for being original. But this wasn’t how I was shaming myself. I understood that because of BIG PHARMA and the cult of professionalism, there was big money and big egos in need of wounded people willing to play the sick role. I wasn’t the only one who had been misguided.
Although I never dreamed of becoming a wounded healer, I did dream of becoming a psychiatrist. My father was a psychiatrist, and so I learned very early in life that such a profession actually existed. It seemed so intangible and magical to me back then. To imagine that someone could use his mind to heal another’s mind — well, to my child self that was even more impressive than a Ouija Board.
During the inception of psychiatry as a medical profession — the heyday of Sigmund Freud, Carl Gustave Jung, Pierre Janet, William James, and Sabina Spielrein — the wounding was still wellspring of knowledge and creativity. Much like the shaman of earliest human cultures, madness was still potentially an initiation into the healing arts — the so-called journey of the wounded healer.
But with the advancement of the profession of psychiatry came an emphasis on diagnoses, such as Hysteria, a prominent diagnosis during the nineteenth century, one that shamed not only the women diagnosed, but had a way of insinuating all women were mentally unstable.
A diagnosis of mental illness has always been shameful and stigmatizing. Diagnoses are evidence of the need for a professional capable of steering the stray mind back towards the boundaries of sanity, if not civilization. Granted, we all need help at times, but being pathologized is rarely helpful.
And lost is the connection between the wisdom in the wound and the art of healing.
I’ve tried to live this socially constructed divide between wounded and healer, inhabiting one side or the other, both socially and in my beliefs. It doesn’t work. It’s a false divide, and like any falsehood about oneself, is inherently shaming and painful.
I’m tired of half-truths and limiting beliefs and damaging social conventions. Especially since they have a way of propagating less than ideal solutions and more suffering, and when simple truths lead to the best outcomes. And really, how few among us aren’t wounded healers? Isn’t it just a matter of degree rather than difference? Aren’t distinctions between the wounded and the healer just another way of constructing Hierarchy and projecting fears of inadequacy, or alternatively, projecting one’s power and idealisations onto another?
So I’ve changed my tagline to Trauma’s Labyrinth | Journey of the Wounded Healer. It’s more in line with my writing and my general beliefs about the direction the mental health field will eventually go if it maintains its focus on trauma.
I feel better already. Less stuckness and no shame.
If you are also fragmented by distinctions between the “wounded” and the “healer,” I urge you to find ways to creatively push beyond this artificial divide. For some, this requires getting in touch with the wounding that compels them to devote their lives to healing others. For some, it means acknowledging the profound wisdom and strength gained through attending to their own wounds.
When I pull together my experiences as researcher, therapist, and trauma survivor, my best insights come forth in the amalgam of these different roles and perspectives. And the greatest insight of all? When these two sides are integrated, the wounded and the healer — both within ourselves and our communities — healing is transformative and enduring.
© 2015 Laura K Kerr, PhD. All rights reserved (applies to writing and photography).