**This is a special blog entry from our friend, Dr. David Abelson. Dr. Abelson is the retired CEO of the Park Nicollet Medical Center, based in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. Dr. Abelson writes a wonderfully thoughtful blog at: www.davidabelson.net
As Dr. Abelson says "I hope the reflections in these blog posts, which have evolved from my experience as patient and my forty years in medicine as a physician and executive, offer a window into the wonder and love of our shared human condition.
Healthcare entails one human being - the formal caregiver - interacting with another human being - the patient - during times of vulnerability, fear and loss, as well as times of great joy (e.g. birth). Both caregiver and patient share a universal wound (uncertainty, change and loss are inevitable; love is a choice). Both are imperfect human beings, stumbling through life, navigating uncertainty and loss. Both want to protect their loved ones and themselves from pain.
Similarly, leadership entails a wounded human being-the leader- interacting with other wounded human beings-the followers- within an imperfect environment. Leaders ultimately bump into their wounds- their fears, habitual relationship patterns and doubts as constraints to effectiveness."
Dr. Abelson and Bruce Kramer were great admirers of each other. Dr. Abelson and Bruce had spirited and meaningful conversations on a wide range of subjects until Bruce's death in March 2015.
Dr. Abelson's blog is ripe with insight. We are all wounded and our task in this life is to heal those wounds and in the process, help others heal. Bruce Kramer was a wounded storyteller, educator and yes...healer.
Please read and respond to Dr. David Abelson's "The Wounded Healer" blog.
The Wounded Healer
By Dr. David Abelson
Between aging baby boomers, health care reform, genomics, value based purchasing, nanotechnology, “big data,” artificial intelligence, population health, work force retirement and countless technological advances, healthcare promises ever quickening change.
Given the changes, what has not changed? What should never change?
From the dawn of recorded history we know that human beings long for healing. The word “healing” implies a return to wholeness. Humans feel a fundamental need to be in harmony with themselves and with their worlds. In response to the deep need, formal healers occur in every culture across the vast expanse of time.
The deep human need for healing-for wholeness and harmony- has not changed. With the certainty of ongoing changes in health care, what should never change is our role within modern medicine as healers.
Carl Jung, a famous early psychoanalyst, described "archetypes"- constantly recurring themes and symbols in dreams, literature, paintings and mythology. These archetypes, etched in prehistoric cave paintings and embedded in Greek Mythology, appear in disparate and completely separate cultures and today in movies like Star Wars (hero archetype). Jung wrote about the healer as an archetype evident from prehistoric times across dispersed cultures. Interestingly, he called this archetype the "wounded healer“ implying that the archetypical healer needs to be in touch with his/her own woundness order to be effective. Thus, the typical initiation of a shaman healer involves the shaman embarking on an internal (and sometimes external) journey to experience and come to terms with their pain- their woundedness.
Jung described the centaur Chiron from Greek mythology as a "wounded healer.“ Chiron became a healer after sustaining an incurable wound from one of Hercule's arrows. Chiron mentored the orphan Asclepius who became a famous wounded healer. The picture above shows Asclepius with bare chest suggesting vulnerability and carrying a rod with a single serpent. This rod became the "rod of the physician” Thus the rod, as a symbol of medicine, is the wounded healer.
Karolyi Kerenyi, a colleague of Jung, elucidated the wounded healer archetype as the capacity "to be at home in the darkness of suffering and there to find germs of light and recovery..."
Pema Chodron expressed a similar sentiment in “The Places That Scare You: A guide to Fearlessness in Difficult Times,” She writes: "Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others."
The "wounded healer“ archetype implies that we need to be in touch with our woundedness in order to effectively support other humans in healing- moving to wholeness. What does it mean to be a wounded healer in modern medicine?
Although we each have our unique wounds, the universal wound is that life is impermanent and changing- we are born, we live and then die. And we have limited control of what happens in our lives. I know I carry a veil over the fragility of life- I can't constantly face the reality that my life may change in an instant and my loved ones may suddenly suffer and even die.
I did not wake up to my woundedness until my mid-thirties when I went through a divorce. Until that time I carried a quiet illusion that somehow I was different from other human beings in that I was fully in charge of my life and magically protected from suffering. Even though my mother died a few years before my divorce, her death felt like the natural course of life and failed to alter my magical thinking. My divorce, however, shattered the illusion of special protection from suffering. I lifted the veil covering life's reality and saw with relief I had the same fundamental challenges as all humans- how to make sense and find joy in a world I could not control.
After a while I accepted the only thing I could control was the kind of person I chose to be (and even that is not always easy).
I know I became a more effective healer after facing my illusions. I moved from being a doctor who was good at diagnosing and occasionally curing, to a physician who embraced the role of healer. And my practice became more satisfying as I opened myself to the privilege of being healed by my patients as I stood witness to their courage, grace and integrity.
I believe the challenge for modern healers in healthcare is greater than ever. We have the same challenges as healers throughout the ages- to help other humans find some sense of wholeness and harmony in the face of loss and eventual death. But additionally we have the challenge of helping people come to harmony and make decisions based on the scientific model of what is effective.
Provide your thoughts about wounded healers. Please use the share buttons to forward to friends and colleagues if you found this post valuable
The Blog Authors
Bruce started writing about living with ALS shortly after being diagnosed in 2010. The blog is called the "Dis Ease Diary."
Cathy is a journalist so she's used to writing. Blogging is different because it feels so personal and that can be scary. Bear with her. She'll figure it out!
You may hear from Ev from time to time. Ev is Bruce's beloved wife. She's a music teacher at a French immersion school.