Concepts of the wounded healer: universality of brokenness; dual nature of psychic and somatic wounding; healing as a shared process; interplay of humility, vulnerability, compassion, and joy in holistic care; shared suffering leads to wisdom and understanding.

The wounded healer hails from the beginning of Western medicine and speaks to holistic care or Asklepian treatment. Hippocratic medicine created a rift in holistic care producing a separation between mind (psych) and body (soma). To this day, in most medical schools, Asclepius remains in the Hippocratic Oath.

For healthcare workers, especially nurses and doctors, this separation created a hierarchy where roles of healer and patient are strictly defined, and the shared humanity found in suffering is cut off. The wounded healer, exemplified by the Greek myth of Chiron, informs us how our shared suffering can open the door to compassion and empathy, allowing holistic care of oncology patients by understanding the physical and psychological suffering of each.

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Much of nursing is working by hand. The role of touch in healing, not just physical touch, allows oneself to touch and be touched emotionally, at the heart level. It is often in silence, in the vulnerable space of not knowing the answer, that the door can be opened to healing and transformation in the clinical encounter.

By being aware of one’s own woundedness — including the wound of our mortality — we can be more effective healers in our work as healthcare professionals. Adopting the stance of the wounded healer means that the clinical relationship is 2-way, we both heal and are healed by our patients. Allowing oneself to be wounded and vulnerable can actually be healing to patients.