Healing the Wounded Healer
I am a healer by trade and by heart.
When I was six years old, I had a blue, plastic wallet that I saved money given to me for my birthday. One of my friends who lived two houses down came to play in my yard everyday. One day her older sister (who was about sixth or seventh grade) came to my yard to pick up my friend. Before they left, she sat and talked with us and mentioned that their parents did not have enough money to buy her school books. At six years old, I was so moved by her story that I went in the house and took my birthday money out of my blue, plastic wallet and gave it to her so that she would have books. It would be years later that my discernment matured enough to realize that my friend’s sister hustled me for my money. After all, she went to public school where textbooks were free. I laugh now when I think about that incident, but what stands out most to me is that even at six years old, I wanted to help. I wanted someone to not hurt and to not be in need. This is who I have always been innately. This is who I am at heart and what led me to become a psychotherapist.
As a psychotherapist, I am bound by an ethical code and laws that I take very seriously. After all, such laws and ethics are in place to not only protect the public (i.e. my clients), but also me. Most individuals in the helping and healing professions are taught to place a certain amount of emotional distance between themselves and those they help. To keep very clear boundaries. As a result, I think many see healers in the helping profession as people who are “well put together” all the time. And, granted many healers go through great lengths to show their clients that they are “well put together,” because when we are with our clients, it is about our clients and the art of healing. It is not about the healer. But, what happens when the healer is wounded and needs to be healed?
Last week, a gunman walked into a church, sat for an hour with those attending Bible Study and opened fire –- killing nine people, all in the name of hate. Well, I am a healer by trade and by heart… and I am wounded by this incident. I am saddened and angry by this incident, by the taking of life. I am saddened and angry by the frequency in which we continue to see images of confrontations that show so little regard, so little justice, so little peace and the repeated wounding and traumatization, particularly of and for marginalized people.
I am a healer by trade and by heart, as many of my colleagues. But, as healers, we are not one dimensional people any more than the people we help. In our humanity, we experience a plethora of feelings daily in the various roles that we engage outside of the space where we facilitate others’ healing. We feel joy, peace, happiness and fulfillment, but we also hurt. We feel traumatized, we feel tired, we feel angry, we feel sad, and we feel stressed. We ARE healers by trade and by heart, and it is in part because of our tremendous ability to feel empathically, that most of us are good at what we do. We sit with others in the midst of their pain, in the midst of their struggle, in the midst of their suffering –- while striking that very delicate balance of not taking on their pain and wounds, but being present with them, working through the trenches of their pain. It is for this reason that as healers we be forever vigilant about the balance we keep between our own humanity and the humanity that we share with others. It is important that we acknowledge when we feel hurt. It is important that we are aware of and honest about our suffering. This is not only an ethical principle, but in not doing so, we run the risk of 1) doing more damage to those who have trusted us with their healing process and 2) reducing the value of our healing practices to nothing more than a hypocrisy. After all, who are we to encourage someone to try something that we are not willing to try ourselves?
It is important that we develop and, when needed, consult and lean on our own wellness system. Because we are healers by trade and by heart, this system should consist of individuals in both our personal AND professional lives (remember, we are not one dimensional people) whom 1) we can feel vulnerable enough to be honest about our suffering and its causes, 2) sit with us in our own emotional trenches, 3) be up front and honest with us, and 4) if necessary, hold us accountable to the impact of our wounds, as well as our own healing process.
Lastly, as healers by trade and by heart, we have to take time for our own healing. We have to be willing to extend the same amount of time, patience and grace to ourselves that we extend to those we heal.
Today my heart hurts for the taking of life in the name of hate. But, I am a healer by trade and by heart.
Dr. Bates is a licensed psychotherapist. For more information about her, visit www.drdbates.com.