"A good half of every treatment that probes at all deeply consists in the doctor's
examining himself (sic)….it is his (sic) own hurt that gives a measure of his (sic)
power to heal."
Occasionally theological students are drawn to do ministry in a setting that is deeply personal to them, or because they have an intimate connection with the issues addressed in a particular context. For example, a mid-life woman who lived in an abusive marriage for years feels compelled to work in a shelter for victims of domestic violence. Or a young man whose mother killed herself 4 years ago senses a call to invest his time in a Suicide Prevention Coalition.
When making decisions about placements, a wise Field Educator will take her time with such students, learning more about their personal story and their journey toward healing and restoration in order to discern where the student lands on the continuum of Wounded Healer ↔ Walking Wounded. It's not that every student (or minister) must have every conflict resolved and be perfectly healed in order to be of use. We all have vulnerable places and issues which need continued attention. But it is entirely appropriate to expect that religious leaders have a high degree of self-awareness about their own emotional landscape, including triggers, unfinished business and lingering grief.
When a person lands more toward the "Walking Wounded" end of the continuum, their conversations and their reflections will largely be focused on themselves and their own healing process, almost as if they were a client. They lead with their own needs, and their own unfinished business enters too heavily into the daily work.
In contrast, a person who is a "Wounded Healer" is aware of their own wounds and griefs, and has travelled along the road of healing far enough that the wounds are not open and gaping for all to see. A wounded healer is actively tending to their own emotional and spiritual work, so that they come to the placement or the client out of a sense of wholeness, rather than brokenness. Sometimes these wounds can even be something of a gift, offering the minister a rich resource out of which to care for another in a similar circumstance.
Part of the art of supervising a divinity student is being attentive to where they might fall on the continuum, and bringing to self-consciousness the motives, memories and unresolved Powerfor another.
The poet, Adrienne Rich, says it this way:
Today I was reading about Marie Curie:
she must have known she suffered from radiation sickness
her body bombarded for years by the element
she had purified
It seems she denied to the end
the source of the cataracts on her eyes
the cracked and suppurating skin of her finger-ends
till she could no longer hold a test-tube or a pencil
She died a famous woman denying
her wounds came from the same source as her power.[ii]
2 Thanks to Carl Jung for identifying this archetype and to Henri Nouwen for reflecting on its place in ministry.