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The Way of the Wounded Healer

Marilyn Gordon, BCH, CI

One important way of understanding illness, darkness and suffering is to see these states as processes by which an individual becomes a healer. Called the "wounded healer" paradigm, it is for many a process of initiation and of connection to a more expanded way of life. Of course, not everyone who enters difficult times becomes awakened by them. But for some who do, it is a process of metamorphosis.

You may have your own personal history with this. You go through something very difficult. Perhaps it is a great physical or psychological illness, such as cancer or depression. Perhaps it is alcoholism or another addiction. It may be a great loss of an important relationship. You may even be called to the brink of death. And then something happens. You may hear voices speaking to you, telling you of the possibility of moving into another level of your life-or you may have another way of being "called." Something moves you into another stage of yourself, and your life changes. Your personality and interests change. You may be led to work with others to help uplift and heal them. You cannot go back to the life you once led. You are operating on an entirely new level.

A Process of Initiation

This is the transformation of the "wounded healer." You may have seen this process happen not only within you-but within your clients as well. Often by the time your clients come to see you, they've been hanging out in their own forms of darkness for too long-and they're ready for you now. They're ready for you to help them tap that voice inside of them that is beckoning them to a new life. If you can see their process as just that-a process in which they are becoming initiated and transformed, you can help them to shift their suffering into epiphanies of insight and new ways of being.

A long time ago, I read a great book, which is unfortunately no longer in print. Called Healing and Wholeness by John A. Sanford, it discusses the rebirth of healers from their own personal states of darkness. Sanford describes dire illnesses of shamans in which they'd often be on the brink of death, they'd be in touch with an inner voice telling them that a new life was on the horizon, they'd understand the mysteries of their particular predicament, and then they'd awaken to a new life.

Sanford describes a woman named Dorcas who lived in an African tribe. She became extremely ill. She said of herself, "I was so sick! I lay in bed for three years. I could not eat or drink or even walk. I just lay there day after day, and at night dreams would come!...My spirit would see so many things in the night. And then, in the morning, before the sun would come up, my spirit would return to my body, and I would lay in bed another day." Dorcas went to many doctors of all kinds. Finally one doctor said to her, "You must go to your own doctors. They can help you, and we cannot." And then in a dream, her grandfather came to her and said, "You are not sick. You are going to help your people. I like you very much, and my spirit will enter your body, and you will do my work." Dorcas kept hearing these voices and seeing visions. One night, they told her to get up and sing. They said, "Wake up-you must wake up and teach!" Soon she did just that, and she let those "voices" work through her as the voices of spiritual healing.

Sanford says that there is something of the shaman in every person, and there is something shamanistic in every illness. If we allow ourselves to become conscious of the meaning of our illnesses (including our predicaments and life challenges), we can awaken from them and go to the other side of them-into states of healing and wholeness.

The Wise Mind 

It is with this understanding that we can guide ourselves and our clients through these experiences to the other sides of whatever we may be experiencing. I often ask clients in their sessions, "And what would your Wise Mind like to tell you about your situation?" Clients channel their own wisdom and find ways to awaken from their suffering. If we just give them a pill, they never get to know the essence of their challenges, and they may not have the opportunity to know their experiences as opportunities for awakening.

This is also why we spend time in sessions exploring the specific difficulty. "What is it like? What is happening? Tell us as much as you can." This is a way for people to come to know the details and the meanings of their challenges so that they can see them as ways to transformation.

As practitioners, embracing the wounded healer paradigm gives us a sense of the truth behind our experiences. The same attitude helps us in our view of our clients. We understand that whatever is taking place is a necessary experience on our path. We understand that the greatest difficulty may be the very moment of darkness that is the springboard for ultimate illumination. This kind of understanding goes beyond the idea of controlling habits or getting rid of symptoms. This way of seeing knows that healing is a process in which consciousness is being awakened.

And if truly the difficulties in our lives are initiations for a higher calling, then it becomes easier to forgive whatever seemed to bring the difficulty upon us. It's really about even more than forgiveness. It's about reframing the entire experience of our challenges by seeing the perfection in them, seeing that they are necessary steps toward transformation and wholeness.

What you eventually come to understand is that you've been given the opportunity to dissolve an old part of your personality, an old way of being, and through your connection with higher consciousness, you emerge as someone new. You learn about the healing process, and you gain faith in the perfect way that it's working. You gain empathy for others who are ill. You gain the ability to go on an inner journey with them to help them to emerge. And you gain a special inner quality that is the mark of a transformed life.

Manly Palmer Hall, in his book Healing: The Divine Art (which, fortunately is available) has said, "Plato taught by his example that man possesses within himself the power to cure the diseases of his body, that in the end, every man is his own priest, and every man is his own physician. Wisdom is a universal medicine and is the only remedy for ignorance, the great sickness of mankind. This is the doctrine of the mystics, the doctrine which they learned in the old temples, the doctrine which someday must be the foundation of all enlightened therapy." 

By paying attention to our experiences, learning the ways of releasing them, and understanding the art of spiritual transformation, we can lift up all woundedness and enter the realms of light. 

Read Extraordinary Healing: Transforming Your Consciousness, Your Energy System and Your Life by Marilyn Gordon. It's a Guidebook for Healing Yourself and Others with Transformational Hypnotherapy and EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques). Available at bookstores or at

©2006 Marilyn Gordon, BCH, CI
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