The Wounded Healer and the Making of a Christian Counsellor
Dr Raymond Au
Associate Professor of Counselling Studies
Our knowledge and concept of a “wounded healer” mainly comes from Father Henri Nouwen‘s classic book on pastoral care and counseling The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society. Nouwen quoted an ancient legend from the Talmud when a rabbi asked Elijah during an encounter,
“When will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?”
“Sitting at the gates of the city.”
“How shall I know him?”
“He is sitting among the poor covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, “Perhaps I shall be needed: if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment.”
Father Nouwen points out that this story is striking to pastoral counsellors in two ways. Firstly, we have to carefully tend our own wounds; and secondly, our experience from the healing of our own wounds can help others.
Nouwen deeply understands that we need to be aware of our natural tendency of getting hurt. Pastors and the people they help are both wounded persons, but the extent of their wounds can be the strength and resources by which counsellors can use to help heal others. He points out that we have to be able to tend our own wounds before we can offer hospitality to people seeking help.
However, the concept of “wounded healer” had actually long been quoted by psychologist Carl Jung. He points out that the phenomenon of a wounded healer is very common between a counsellor and his clients. A counsellor can become aware of the hurting experiences in his development process due to his professional trainings. In the counselling process, such experiences will be triggered because of the similar experiences of the people he is helping. Jung’s theory recognises that each of us has two distinct parts within us: a wounded self and an inner healer. However, people seeking help are often not aware of the existence of an inner healer within him. Because the counsellor is conscious of this phenomenon and has had the experience of being healed thereby, he can pass on the awareness of this inner healing resource to his patients so that they too may benefit from this and be healed. If the counsellor is not aware of his own wounds, he will be infected and affected by the client’s wounds, resulting in his inability to render any help. On the other hand, if he accepts only the existence of his “inner healer”, he will end up with an inflated ego, believing that he is the saviour of others, and will ultimately lose the ability to help both himself and others.
The concept of “wounded healer” is a great source of inspiration to the training and making of a counsellor. The students admitted into our counselling course are not without a background of growth trauma. If their wounds can be healed, they will have more empathy for people seeking help from them. The wounds from which they recover will become a bridge for them to reach out to and understand others’ wounds. Hence, it is a requirement of the course that they participate in a therapeutic group of personal growth and receive 30 to 40 hours of personal counselling sessions. After they recover from the wounds from their development process, they will not be easily affected by others’ wounds. Whether or not the students become aware of the surfacing of their “wounded healer” is largely dependent on a comprehensive supervision programme.
The student counsellors have to learn more than just the knowledge and techniques of counselling. Whether he can establish a genuine and open relationship with clients is also key to the success of counselling. If he cannot enter the heart of others’ pain, his power to heal others will be inhibited. Through individual and group supervision, and case conferences, we will not only teach students how to develop counselling strategies and techniques, but will also care about the personal life of each student, closely assessing if they might be unable to help others due to the uncovering of their own wounds in the process, or whether they will be unconsciously satisfying their own needs while counselling others. Mutual trust and companionship between the counselling student and his supervisor are required for the supervision process to help students understand the reality of being a “wounded healer” and areas in which he will need to be aware of and mature. CGST attaches a lot of importance to the making of a Christian counsellor and his qualities, and will therefore render comprehensive and high-quality supervision and mentoring.
However, being a Christian counsellor, our faith is richer than the “wounded healer” theory in Jungian psychology and has more spiritual meaning, just as Paul’s saying in 2 Corinthians 1:4-6, “(He) comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer.”
We believe that the ultimate healing is from the Triune God. We have to first experience His healing before we understand others’ pain and suffering. Our healing power comes from God, so we need to ask God for His grace to grant us wisdom to walk with others and help others. We also ask God to personally heal those seeking help. In fact, when we are in the counselling room, we witness the presence of God and we testify to His healing grace. This explains why we would like our students to have a good foundation in the Bible, in theology and spirituality. It is because perfect counselling work requires the integration of counselling and biblical theology. Although Hong Kong offers a variety of counselling courses, many Christians still choose our course because CGST values such integration. We believe that Christ is our perfect model of a “wounded healer”.