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Linda Chapman on 'The Wounded Healer'

Interview

With several years of experience as a psychotherapist in community mental health and inpatient psychiatric settings, Linda Chapman has practiced in individual, family, and group modalities, and has special expertise in existential group therapy for adults, including trauma survivors. As a writer and feminist activist on issues concerning survivors of abuse and trauma, Linda voluntarily maintains a number of websites on related topics, including The Wounded Healer Journal, an award-winning healing community for psychotherapists and abuse survivors since 1995. Linda is a 1986 graduate of the University of Oklahoma School of Social Work and is the mother of a teenage son.

Tammie: What prompted you to create the "Wounded Healer Journal?"

Linda: Many strands are woven into that thread. Primarily, I created it out of a desire to meet my own needs as a survivor and a therapist. I wanted a place where I could express myself creatively, use some computer expertise I had picked up along the way, and test the possibilities of the new medium of the world-wide web. As the saying goes, "Like attracts like," and soon I found myself engaged in a dynamic survivor community.

Tammie: Why the title, "The Wounded Healer"?

Linda: I recall reading Henri Nouwen's book, "The Wounded Healer" a few decades ago. Nouwen used the term as a synonym for Christ. At the time I named the website, however, I chose it because it was simply descriptive of myself and my recent experience.

Since then, I have learned that the notion of "The Wounded Healer" is a Jungian archetypal concept springing from the ancient mythological Chiron or "Quiron," who was the penultimate healer and a teacher of healers.

A friend once quoted her therapist as saying, "The deeper the pain, the better the therapist." I was coming to terms with my own woundedness, and it was inspiring to think that something good could come from the pain and brokenness inside. Judging from my contacts with colleagues, I knew that this phenomenon was not unique to me. I wanted to establish community with others who were wounded -- and healing. It can be such an isolating experience and so needlessly filled with shame.


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Tammie: You wrote in the Journal that people can become bonded to their pain. Would you talk more about this?

Linda: Most students of child development are aware that a child's personality and character develop rapidly in the first few years of life. In the first year or two, we develop a picture or a "schema" of how the world is, and more powerfully, how we believe it must continue to be in order for us to survive.

So whatever our world looks like tends to become our roadmap for life. If I primarily live in a fair world, then I am probably going to be the most comfortable in relationships which reflect that. If I primarily live in an abusive or neglectful world, I may come to experience that as my "comfort zone," odd as it may be, and seek it out, unconsciously, in an effort to re-create the conditions I believe are most favorable to my survival.

So it's about adaptation and survival. It's not a conscious process or choice. It most likely operates at some very basic, instinctual level. It's not so much a bonding to pain, per se, but a bonding to "the known."

It's important to keep in mind that this is just a theory, and is subject to scrutiny and change. It's been useful to many people whom I have worked with as a therapist to help them consider the possibility that many behaviors which seem, on the surface, to be self-defeating are likely to be rooted in an effort to re-create a world that makes sense to them and to survive.

Once a person can make that leap, it is possible for the motivations behind problem behaviors to become more conscious and more addressable. But we're not programmed robots; I always leave room for elements of synchronicity and grace in the equation. And there is also room for additional theories to be considered and integrated, such as Prof. Jennifer Freyd's "Betrayal Trauma" theory.

Tammie: You also write about a treatment model for survivors of abuse based on the work of the late Dr. Richard Wienecke. Can you share a bit about how his ideas influenced your work?

Linda: It's what I describe above, formerly known as "the masochism model." Two of my supervisors were trained by the late Dr. Wienecke, who was a very humble, kind, and generous soul from all reports. Part of the beauty of his theory, which he never published, was that it provided a kind of framework which each person could flesh out in their own way.

I have a kind of thumbnail sketch of how I used to present the theory to clients on my website. I used to tell in-patients (with tongue-in-cheek) that a condition for discharge was that they had to master the theory, explain how it applied to their own lives, and teach it to another patient. Several took me up on the challenge and never failed to amaze me with their grasp of it and with they way that they personalized it from their own experiences. It's an elegant theory, and it makes sense. (For all its simplicity, however, I resisted it for a full year before I "got it." My clients were generally much quicker to catch on.)


Tammie: Would you consider pain to be a teacher? If so, what are some of the lessons your own pain has taught you?

Linda: Pain is. Pain is a teacher.

In one of her poems, Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a powerful healer whom I revere, says "A wound is a door. Open the door." It's an opening to understanding. If we pass up the opportunity to learn its lessons, whatever they may be, then suffering becomes meaningless and loses its transformative potential. And life becomes flattened out and dried up somehow.

An important lesson for survivors, however, is that pain need not be the only teacher. You don't have to be in pain to learn and grow. It certainly commands our attention when it happens, however, and we might as well use it, for what it's worth.

Tammie: Can you talk a little about your own healing journey?

Linda: It's an ongoing process. I conceptualize the healing journey as circular, like the rings on a tree, because many times when I think I have dealt with an issue, I find myself facing it again from yet another perspective. My journey has had many stops and starts, lapses, undoings and "do-overs". It's turned me every which way but loose. I've often said that it feels like it has a life of its own, and I am just along for the ride!

The hardest part of my journey has been the experience of re-traumatization by a therapist who had cultivated my trust for several years, then betrayed it. That's why I believe that it's so vitally important that therapists practice ethically (especially in terms of honoring therapeutic boundaries); that we seek psychotherapy, and that we avail ourselves of skilled consultation on a regular basis to deal with transference and countertransference issues, which are the at the core of the therapeutic relationship.


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It's a sacred privilege to be invited into a client's world. Some people abuse this power. They shouldn't be practicing. And some people, like my childhood art teacher, are not therapists at all but can exert a tremendous therapeutic power in relationship. Remembering the force of good she had in my life helps me heal from my experience of re-traumatization, and inspires me to be the kind of healer she was in my life.

Tammie: What do you consider to be the most important step in healing?

Linda: The most important step in healing is always the next step. The step up out of despair and into hope. The step into the abyss, with a wild prayer that somehow I can find a hand-hold. So far, I have. Or it has found me.

Tammie: Thanks so much Linda.... Appreciate your wonderful wisdom

Linda: Thank-you, Tammie, for the chance to speak these things. Thank-you for asking, and for hearing me out. I so appreciate your thoughtful questions.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2009, January 6). Linda Chapman on 'The Wounded Healer', HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, September 22 from https://www.healthyplace.com/alternative-mental-health/sageplace/linda-chapman-on-the-wounded-healer

Last Updated: July 18, 2014

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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