Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darknesses of other people.
Carl Jung used the concept of “the wounded healer” (which he borrowed from Greek mythology) to describe his belief that psychoanalysts need to use their awareness and understanding of their own emotional struggles in order to help others with theirs. He also believed that through this process the analyst would help to heal him or herself.
Fret not though, you do not need to be a trained psychoanalyst to be a wounded healer – the term applies equally to all other types of therapist, social workers, care staff and so on. The trouble is that your own wounds needs to be healed sufficiently enough to ensure you are not dripping blood into the open wounds of others. The point at which someone can honestly say that about themselves is at the heart of my dilemma.
Certainly, in my experience, children’s home staff and children’s social workers are almost exclusively wounded healers. Unfortunately this is not the good news it should be because many are not sufficiently healed – indeed many seem to be either in denial about their own trauma or unable to acknowledge the impact it still has on them in the here-and-now. This explains the sometimes breathtakingly unempathetic and unsophisticated understanding professionals can have.
Because to accept a child’s past experiences can have such a profound and troubling impact on their current thoughts/feelings and choices/actions means we must accept this is true of us too. To acknowledge that a child does not really know why they feel how they feel, or do what they do – because it is often an unconscious process – means confronting our own unconscious defenses and drives. This is very painful – obviously.
The, perhaps, converse problem to this, and equally dangerous, is one of over-identification – the belief that superficially similar experiences mean you (and you alone) truly understand and “get” the child – meaning you are likely to lose objectivity and probably become collusive. I have written about the dangers of self-disclosure here.
Of course, it is for these reasons (among others) that all decent psychotherapy and counselling training comes with a requirement for trainees to be in personal therapy and if I ruled the world it would also be a requirement for everyone working in children’s social care and other helping professions.
Later this month I will begin work seeing two young children as a placement trainee counsellor in a school. Until now my professional experience has been with looked-after children meaning – perhaps crucially – they were not living with their parents. Because of my own experiences I am highly likely to be too quick to blame a child’s difficulties on a “bad mother”. I have to be very alert to this risk while simultaneously holding on to the idea that in some cases it might in fact be true.
Unfortunately – and partly because of my training and personal therapy – I am more painfully aware of the loss of my own mother than at any other time in my life. I am more aware of my own ambivalent feelings (in the true meaning of both love and hate) towards her and – by extension – women in general. I have to confront the often latent and denied misogynistic parts of myself. In other words – that particular wound is still very much open and dripping blood.
I recently expressed, to a close friend of mine,my feelings of hatred towards a former employer (a man in this case – although the dynamic and events that lead to my hatred very definitely involved a woman). I spoke of the jaded and sometimes bitter view of human nature this experience had left me with. My friend said he did not think I should be counselling children until I had resolved this. I aggressively disputed this – in the way that people do when they know someone has a point.
In short – am I too fucked up to work therapeutically with children?
This is a considerable dilemma – I am 18 months and thousands of pounds into my training.
I am in crisis.