Reflections on Henri J.M. Nouwen's The Wounded Healer

Henri J.M. Nouwen – The Wounded Healer
A story that forms the basis of The Wounded Healer:
A well known story among the Hebrew people concerns a Rabbi who came across the prophet Elijah and said to him:
“Tell me—when will the Messiah come?”
Elijah replied, “Go and ask him yourself.”
“Where is he?” said the Rabbi.
“He’s sitting at the gates of the city,” said Elijah.
“But how will I know which one is he?”
The Prophet said, “He is sitting among the poor, covered with wounds. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and bind them up again, but he unbinds only one at a time and binds them 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.”

Henri Nouwen adds, “What I find impressive in this story are these two things: first, the faithful tending of one’s own woundedness and second, the willingness to move to the aid of other people and to make the fruits of our own woundedness available to others.”

The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society:
In our own woundedness, we can become a source of life for others.

Introduction The Four Open Doors
Chapter 1 Ministry in a Dislocated World – The Human Search
   1. The predicament of humanity in the modern age
     a. Historical dislocation
     b. Fragmented
Chapter 2 Ministry for the Rootless Generations – Looking into the Fugitive’s Eyes
Chapter 3 Ministry to a Hopeless Man – Waiting for tomorrow

Chapter 4 Ministry by a Lonely Minister – The Wounded Healer
Since it is their task to make visible the first vestiges of liberation for others, they must bind their own wounds carefully, in anticipation of the moment when they will be needed.(p88)
1. The Wounded Minister
“What are our wounds?… Alienation, separation, isolation, loneliness…”
a. Personal Loneliness
“We keep hoping that one day we will find the one who really understands our experiences…and the place where we can feel at home.”(p91)
b. Professional Loneliness
“[Ministers] have an urgent desire to give meaning to people’s lives. But they find themselves standing on the edge of events and only reluctantly admitted to the spot where the decisions are made.” (p92)
“Once the pain is accepted and understood, denial is no longer necessary, and ministry can become a healing service.” (p94)
2. The Healing Minister
“Hospitality is the virtue that allows us to break through the narrowness of our own fears and to open our houses to the stranger, with the intuition that salvation comes to us in the form of a tired traveler. Hospitality makes anxious disciples into powerful witnesses, makes suspicious owners into generous givers, and makes closed-minded sectarians into interested recipients of new ideas and insights….What does hospitality as a healing power require?…
1st that hosts feel at home in their own house,
2nd that they creat a free and fearless place for the unexpected visitor.
Therefore, hospitality embraces two concepts: Concentration and Community

a. Hospitality and concentration
“Hospitality is the ability to pay attention to the guest.”
“I guess I am busy in order to avoid a painful self-concentration.”
We find it extremely hard to pay attention because of our intentions (because of our brokenness/loneliness). As soon as our intentions take over, the question no longer is, “Who is he?” but “What can I get from him?” – and then we no longer listen to what he is saying but to what we can do with what he is saying.
When our souls are restless…how can we possibly create the room and space where others can enter freely without feeling themselves unlawful intruders?
When we have finally found the anchor for our lives…we can be free to let others enter into the space created for them.…Then our presence is no longer threatening and demanding, but inviting and liberating.

b. Hospitality and community
The paradox is that hospitality asks for the creation of an empty space, where the guests can find their own souls…Then they discover) that their own wounds must be understood, not as sources of despair and bitterness, but as signs that they have to travel on in obedience to the calling sounds of those wounds.
(This is what people experience when they describe their illness or other trial as a gift, from which they learned great lessons, and that they would not trade it for an easier way.)
No minister can save anyone. We can only offer ourselves as guides to fearful people.
…A shared pain is no longer paralyzing, but mobilizing.
Hospitality becomes community as it creates a unity based upon the shared confession of our basic brokenness and upon a shared hope.
Concentration prevents ministers from burdening others with their pain and allows them to accept their wounds as helpful teachers of their own and their neighbor’s condition. Community arises where the sharing of pain takes place, not as a stifling form of self-complaint, but as a recognition of God’s saving promises.
This is the announcement of the wounded healer: “The master is coming – not tomorrow, but today, not next year, but this year, not after all our misery is passed, but in the middle of it, not in another place but right here, where we are standing.”
   And with a challenging confrontation he says:
      O that today you would listen to his voice!
      Harden not your hearts as at Meribah
      As on that day at Massa in the desert
      When they tried me, though they saw my work

Conclusion A Forward Thrust

Questions for reflection:

1. Where in your life have you experienced “Alienation, separation, isolation, loneliness (brokenness)”?

2. What lessons have you learned from your own “valley of the shadow of death”?

3. In what ways do you still ‘get hooked’ by others’ experiences touching your not-yet-healed wounds?

4. What will be required in your life to allow “painful self-concentration” so that you can learn and heal?

5. Who in your life can help you on this journey?

6. What commitment will you make today?

Biblical Scriptures related to The Wounded Healer
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the LORD has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
~ Isaiah 53 (NIV)

21 Since my people are crushed, I am crushed;
I mourn, and horror grips me.
22 Is there no balm in Gilead?
Is there no physician there?
Why then is there no healing
for the wound of my people?
~ Jeremiah 8 (NIV)

23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,”[f] but now you have returned t
o the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
~ 1 Peter 2 (NIV)

16 When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
“He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases.”
~ Matthew 8 (NIV)

1 Praise the LORD.
How good it is to sing praises to our God,
how pleasant and fitting to praise him!
2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
he gathers the exiles of Israel.
3 He heals the brokenhearted
and binds up their wounds.
~ Psalm 147 (NIV)

The Idea of “Wounded Healer”

Wounded healer is an archetypal dynamic that psychologist Carl Jung used to describe a phenomenon that may take place in the relationship between analyst and analysand.
The following is an example of the “wounded healer phenomena” between a psychiatrist and his/her patient:
• The psychiatrist, through the nature of his profession is consciously aware of his own personal wounds. However, these wounds may be activated in certain situations, especially if his patient’s wounds are similar to his own. (This can be the basis of countertransference).
• In the meantime, the wounded patient’s “inner healer” is unconscious to him, but potentially available.
• The patient’s wounds activate those of the doctor. The doctor realizes what is taking place, and either consciously or unconsciously passes this awareness back to his patient.
• In this way, an unconscious relationship takes place between analyst and patient.
Jung felt that this type of depth psychology can be potentially dangerous, because the analyst is vulnerable to being infected by his patient’s wounds, or having his or her wounds reopened. Also, the analyst must have an ongoing relationship with the unconscious, otherwise he or she could identify with the “healer archetype”, and create an inflated ego.
Jung derives the term “wounded healer” from the ancient Greek legend of Asclepius, a physician who in identification of his own wounds creates a sanctuary at Epidaurus in order to treat others. Spiritual writer Henri Nouwen also wrote a book with the same title.

The Greek Myth of Chiron is also used to illustrate the archetype of the Wounded Healer.

The character “House”, from the television series of the same name, can be considered as an example of this archetype in modern pop culture; his physical and emotional scars are both a burden and a driving force in his need to fix the problems of others while destroying himself.

Quotes from Henri Nouwen’s other writings
“All the agony that threatened to destroy my life now seems like the fertile ground for greater trust, stronger hope, and deeper love.”
Jesus does not give a political interpretation of the event but a spiritual one. “What happened invites you to conversion”. This is the deepest meaning of history: a constant invitation calling us to turn our hearts to God and so discover the full meaning of our lives. ( Here And Now page 73)
“I can choose to dwell in the darkness in which I stand, point to those who are seemingly better off than I, lament about the many misfortunes that have plagued me in the past (and in the present), and thereby wrap myself in my resentment. But I don’t have to do this.” – Henri Nouwen, The Return of the Prodigal Son
“I use to think my life was constantly full of interruptions, then one day I realized the interruptions were my life”

Holy Bible: New International Version
The Wounded Healer. Henri J.M. Nouwen. Image. 1979. ISB – 100385148038
Creative Ministry. Henri J.M. Nouwen. Image. 1971. ISBN – 0-385-12616-6
The Way of The Heart. Henri J.M. Nouwen. HarperOne. 1981. ISBN – 978-0-06-066330-8
The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey through Anguish to Freedom. Henri J. M. Nouwen. Image/Doubleday 1999. ISBN – 0385483481

Mariah Fenton Gladis, MSS, QCSW – author of Tales of a Wounded Healer
Mariah Fenton Gladis, MSS, QCSW, is the Founder and Clinical Director of the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center for Psychotherapy and Training. An internationally renowned workshop leader and trainer, Mariah has more than 35 years experience as a psychotherapist and Gestalt Trainer, having trained hundreds of professionals and conducted workshops throughout the United States, Europe, the West Indies and South America. She is also a long-term survivor of Lou Gehrig’s Disease having been diagnosed in 1981 and given a 10% chance to survive two years.
From her own story, she offers: As a Gestalt therapist, I have been working with Exact Moments of Healing all my professional career. I’ve experienced them for myself, and I’ve helped create them for thousands of people around the world who have been my private clients, workshop participants or trainees at the Pennsylvania Gestalt Center. But I must admit that a certain condition in my life has heightened my empathy and healing insight beyond my role as a therapist. Let me explain.
I’m a long-time survivor of ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease), a disease that erodes the central nervous system. As a result, my speech is slurred, I walk slowly, and need assistance getting in and out of chairs. When I was diagnosed in 1981, my doctor told me that I had a 10 percent chance of surviving more than six months to two years — which is the normal life expectancy of a person diagnosed with ALS.
I’m not going to be cavalier about ALS; it’s a tough script for anyone. Ironically, though, I’ve come to regard it as a grace. After my diagnosis, I embarked on an intense healing quest that continues today and includes a strict nutritional regimen supported by various natural and alternative healing modalities that work in tandem with the drug therapy. This literal fight for my life has pushed me to the very depths of my mind, body and spirit. I’ve journeyed to places within myself where I may never have gone had it not been for deadline pressure.
SEE: (

CHEIRON, The Wounded Healer
Traditional Views:
Cheiron was instructed by Apollo and Diana, and was renowned for his skill in hunting, medicine, music, and the art of prophecy. The most distinguished heroes of Grecian story were his pupils. Among the rest the infant AEsculapius was intrusted to his charge by Apollo, his father. When the sage returned to his home bearing the infant, his daughter Ocyrhoe came forth to meet him, and at sight of the child burst forth into a prophetic strain (for she was a prophetess), foretelling the glory that he was to achieve. AEsculapius when grown up became a renowned physician, and even in one instance succeeded in restoring the dead to life. Pluto resented this, and Jupiter, at his request, struck the bold physician with lightning, and killed him, but after his death received him into the number of the gods. Chiron was the wisest and justest of all the Centaurs, and at his death Jupiter placed him among the stars as the constellation Sagittarius. (Thomas Bullfinch, 1855. Bullfinch’s Mythology Chapter XVI. MONSTERS.) and see the Perseus Project page on Chiron. more.

Among the heroes, Cheiron’s most distinguished student was Aesculapius, founder of the great Greek Healing cult:

But some affirm that Aesculapius was not a son of Arsinoe, daughter of Leucippus, but that he was a son of Coronis, daughter of Phlegyas in Thessaly. 8 [p. 2.15] And they say that Apollo loved her and at once consorted with her, but that she, against her father’s judgment, preferred and cohabited with Ischys, brother of Caeneus. Apollo cursed the raven that brought the tidings and made him black instead of white, as he had been before; but he killed Coronis. As she was burning, he snatched the babe from the pyre and
brought it to Chiron, the centaur, 9 by [p. 2.17] whom he was brought up and taught the arts of healing and hunting. And having become a surgeon, and carried the art to a great pitch, he not only prevented some from dying, but even raised up the dead; for he had received from Athena the blood that flowed from the veins of the Gorgon, and while he used the blood that flowed from the veins on the left side for the bane of mankind, he used the blood that flowed from the right side for salvation, and by that means he raised the dead. 10 Commentary from the Pseudo-Apollodorus Library 3.10.3-4  and see the Perseus Project’s page on Aesculapius.

Cheiron was wounded in two senses:
(1) he was abandoned as an infant — and thereby provides the organizing theme for therapeutic regimens that emphasize dealing with childhood stress, trauma, or abuse. [See, for example, The Wounded Healer Journal]
(2) he was accidentally wounded by a poisoned arrow loosed by Herakles during a melee — having been made immortal, he would have suffered forever except for the efforts of his friends. Read Pseudo-Apollodorus (above)
CG Jung helped promote the archetype of the Wounded Healer:
“The patient’s treatment begins with the doctor, so to speak. Only if the doctor knows how to cope with himself and his own problems will he be able to teach the patient to do the same. The doctor is effective only when he himself is affected. “Only the wounded physician heals.” But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armor, he has no effect. (Jung 1989:132, 134)

Henri Nouwen helped promote the view of the minister or other community leaders as a Wounded Healer:

Henri Nouwen, a Catholic proiest, wrote The Wounded Healer to explained how one’s ministry is enhanced after one acknowledges the way in which we have been wounded. At the heart is unresolved wounds — anger, grief, friustration — and the need to acknowledge and work to heal them. Don’t merely touch me, Doubting Thomas, said Jesus, but touch my wounds! [Gospel according to John: ]. . . to be healed. Nouwen’s book speaks (according to the publishere) “directly to those men and women who want to be of service in their church or community, but have found the traditional ways often threatening and ineffective. In this book, Henri Nouwen combines creative case studies of ministry with stories from diverse cultures and religious traditions in preparing a new model for ministry. Weaving keen cultural analysis with his psychological and religious insights, Nouwen has come up with a balanced and creative theology of service that begins with the realization of fundamental woundedness in human nature. Emphasizing that which is in humanity common to both minister and believer, this woundedness can serve as a source of strength and healing when counseling others. Nouwen proceeds to develop his approach to ministry with an analysis of sufferings — a suffering world, a suffering generation, a suffering person, and a suffering minister. It is his contention that ministers are called to recognize the sufferings of their time in their own hearts and make that recognition the starting point of their service. For Nouwen, ministers must be willing to go beyond their professional role and leave themselves open as fellow human beings with the same wounds and suffering — in the image of Christ. In other words, we heal from our own wounds. Filled with examples from everyday experience, The Wounded Healer is a thoughtful and insightful guide that will be welcomed by anyone engaged in the service of others. ” (The Wounded Healer by Henri J. M. Nouwen Paperback Reissue edition (March 1, 1979) Image Books; ISBN: 0385148038)

Astrological views:
Cheiron, “the Wounded Healer” is a prominent element in astrological thinking: His wound can be our gift, and astrological thinking can help us locate our wound so that we may tend it: visit one such
another version: answers questions about Chiron in one’s birth chart

1 thought on “Reflections on Henri J.M. Nouwen's The Wounded Healer

  1. both gr dads and were minsters-moms dad was the first French speaking protestant missionary to Louisiana-dad gave communion to the crew of the Enola Gay-I chose medicine-surgery-radiology
    the wounded healer was continued awakening of what is going on in our lives-thank God
    j carlin md

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s