I had known for many years that many colleagues I knew had experienced great difficulty in their own lives and had been helped so much by their own treatment that they decided to become psychotherapists themselves. At the same time, I also knew that there was an unspoken understanding that we are not to talk about this publicly. What made me begin to question the wisdom of presenting ourselves as if we've always had it all together was hearing a member of my clinicians' writing group read aloud what she wrote about how growing up with a mentally ill brother was a critical influence on her decision to become a psychotherapist and her decision not to have children, because she knew that when her parents died, she would have to assume responsibility for his care. Reading her writing aloud and revealing her history was most therapeutic for her. It occurred to me that revealing their own histories might be quite therapeutic for other wounded healers, which is why I invited psychotherapists to contribute their own personal chapters and included my own. One contributor sent me the following email:
"It has been a powerful experience to write this piece - a deeper diving into the pool of an old wound...yielding new angles, understandings, and softening pain. I appreciate this opportunity you have offered, and regardless of the rightness for your book, it has been more than worth the blood, sweat, and tears!"
In addition, when we keep our personal motivations for doing this work a secret, it starts to feel like a dirty secret and only serves to promote the stigma of mental illness and being in psychotherapy. We should celebrate the wounded healer psychotherapist.
I hope readers will take away what psychoanalyst Harry Stack Sullivan said, that "All of us are much more human than otherwise."
What I want to highlight is that despite difficult even traumatic experiences in our lives, we can rise above them and grow from these experiences.
The common misconception is that we do this work for altruistic reasons. The main reason we do this work is because we are called to do it. Having experienced such difficulties in life has given us an unusual gift of empathy we can use to help others. At the same time that we are healing others, we continue our own healing journey.
I am working on two different papers and another book. I love to write and have experienced the personal benefits of writing and so I am writing a book tentatively titled The Writing Cure: What Writing Can Do for Our Mental and Physical Well-Being
Sharon K. Farber
has a Ph.D. in clinical social work and is a board-certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work in practice in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. She is an independent scholar and public speaker and has taught at several universities and the Cape Cod Institute
. She has been an invited speaker in North America and abroad. She is the author of several papers and three books: When the Body Is the Target: Self-Harm, Pain, and Traumatic Attachments
(2000, 2002), Hungry for Ecstasy: Trauma, the Brain, and the Influence of the Sixties
(2013), and Celebrating the Wounded Healer Psychotherapist: Pain, Post-Traumatic Growth and Self-Disclosure
(2016), the first book with Routledge. She was formerly on the editorial board of the Clinical Social Work Journal
and is a consultant to the writing program “New Directions in Psychoanalytic Thinking.” She won the Phyllis Meadow Award for Excellence in Psychoanalytic Writing, 2007.