The wounded healer is a pretty common psychological term that refers to the idea that people who consider themselves healers can only help another human heal as far as they have been healed in any one area. For example, an abused child who is a healer at heart may grow up to desire to be in a healing profession - counselor, doctor, teacher - because they want to help children who were like them. However, the adult who is still working on healing from their abusive childhood will only be able to help another person as far as they have healed themselves from their trauma.
This makes sense. It is difficult to teach math, for example, beyond your own understanding of math unless you actually learn more math.
Teachers are often natural healers, even if they haven't necessarily used that exact word to self-identify. They want to "help", make their students laugh, love their students, help them be better humans, see them reach their goals, and strive to be what they want to be. These are all healing actions. In order to self-actualize, we need to be able to heal areas that still feel unnurtured and painful. That's how we work toward being a whole human who does all those things that our teachers want us to do.
Since my book The Fire Within: Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning, I have looked for a concept that embodies the contributors to that book - teachers that shared their own. heartache and who came into education to right the wrongs that were done to them or the traumas they experienced. And that's them...Wounded Healers.
Bear in mind that there are so many concepts that I can't touch on in relation to woundedness or healing within a short blog post, but we can talk about the pandemic and how the concept of wounded healers had been exemplified. Right now, there are many teachers who are dealing with either ongoing trauma or the fallout of trauma now that the pandemic is starting to feel a bit more normal. Their adrenaline-fueled work schedule looks just a bit more typical, and as they start to come down from that, there may be the symptoms of PTSD that show unexpectedly. So, we have our healers who are currently wounded working with traumatized students, and they are being expected not only to help the students through their own trauma but also heal themselves and teach. But, the concept of the wounded healer says they don't actually have the capacity to do that fully when they have not dealt with their own trauma.
We are literally asking the impossible of teachers. Again.
Why do we need a mental health focus for students and teachers? Well, it's simple psychology. Many of our educators are not even working in their pre-frontal cortex, how are they supposed to move their students out of fight-or-flight? I've heard the quote "An escalated teacher cannot deescalate an escalated student" and that's true, but the same rings true in almost any situation. An adult who is not self-aware is going to struggle teaching a child to be self-aware. We can only help other people as far as we have done the human work ourselves.
But, we need the chance to be able to do the work. We need the time. The energy. The support. We need to not only be told that crying is okay, not only given strategies to be done in our "free time" to practice, not only provided a mental health moment like that's going to fix something but also the real consideration of what is actually on people's plates and how can some things be taken off. The consideration of "Do we really need that new initiative, right now? During a pandemic?" or " How can we implement a sustainable mental health program and a culture shift so mental health and wellness become the foundation of what we do?" We need people asking and answering those tough questions. Because right now, the phrase "We can only do what we can do" has rarely been more true. The wounded healer can only heal as well as they, themselves have been able to heal.