Healers and Dealers
I’ve just got to rant about something that has been making me just a little bit crazy, ever since I went to grad school in the early 90s. The number of people who become therapists, coaches, energy workers, and every brand of healer, without working through their own baggage. There I said it.
I believe we need to deal before we can heal. We need to deal with our own brokenness, our own emotional scar tissue, our own traumas, and dramas before we are truly equipped to help another person navigate theirs. We can support and guide another once our hurts have healed, not while they are still in the process of doing so. I’ve heard it said we can help from our scars, not our wounds, and I agree.
Over the years, as I worked with and came to know hundreds of therapists and coaches, I believed that often the most gifted ones were those who had experienced trauma, loss, abuse, or the impact of mental illness during their childhood years. But what made them gifted was the fact that they were counseling or coaching from a healed place and perspective. They could naturally relate to their clients who had similar struggles, but they didn’t over-identify. They could hold the space for someone who was in pain without taking on their emotions themselves.
A therapist or healer who is still in her own pain has a tendency toward weak boundaries with clients. She may share too much of her own story, allow unlimited access to her between sessions or offer advice instead of helping the client discover her own inner wisdom, or treat the relationship more like a friendship than a professional one. And she might remain in her own struggles and suffering as a result. Empathy alone never healed anyone and empathy without healing is a trap for both parties.
The need for qualified, professional mental health professionals has never been greater, as anxiety and depression have risen to nearly epidemic proportions in our society. I recently read that the percentage of young adults who are impacted by anxiety in the workplace is so high that the leadership of countless companies considers addressing this their biggest challenge.
People are turning to all kinds of solutions in an attempt to manage their suffering and not everyone needs or wants to work with a therapist or counselor to do so. Many people these days prefer the non-stigmatizing alternative of working with an anxiety coach or energy healer instead of seeing a formally trained mental health professional. Because coaching is an unregulated industry, there may be even more coaches who are attempting to help people without being sufficiently healed themselves than there are therapists. But there are no guarantees either way.
Throughout my career as a therapist, I had a therapist of my own. I called it “keeping my instrument clean”, a reference I adopted out of my awareness that I am my greatest tool. I wasn’t actively suffering from anxiety, depression or a major mental illness, but I valued having a place where I could process my day to day struggles in my marriage, my family, my therapy practice, and my health. I’m well aware of the fact that having the financial resources to see a therapist is not something that everyone has, but I am also aware that plenty of people who have the means won’t do the work, including those who make their living as therapists or healers.
Why this disconnect? Shouldn’t we be willing to take our own medicine? Well, I think the reasons are many and controversial too. This is my opinion, not fact and I can’t speak on behalf of everyone in the field. What I think is that the kind of person who is drawn to become a healer is probably a person who has experienced the need for healing. You could say that applies to all humans, after all, it’s hard to imagine coming through childhood without any significant trauma or drama that leaves a lasting impression. But maybe we also come with blind spots, as a direct result of our past. And when we work with others in the crosshairs of those blind spots, we are ineffective at best and harmful at worst.
If you accept the theory that people who have “issues” are drawn to working with people who have issues, and there is plenty of evidence that this is true, then isn’t in the public interest for those who are healers to participate in their own therapy? Or would that just turn so many people away that there wouldn’t be enough mental health professionals around to meet the growing need?