Genesis of The Wounded Healer
In 2006 when I was a medical student at Manchester University in the UK, I woke up to discover that my hometown in Lebanon was bombed and that hundreds of people were killed overnight. I feared that my family were among the dead and I reacted; I developed an episode of psychological distress. I was forced to interrupt my studies and mental illness rendered me impoverished and homeless. I was stigmatized and ostracised and whilst sleeping on the cold and hard streets of Manchester I would contemplate suicide by watching the oncoming traffic and thinking about which vehicle I would thrust myself under.
My psychiatric issues had far reaching implications on my family, especially my mother. When she first saw me, the degree of my distress was such that she barely recognized me. I will never forget the pain in her eyes when she saw what had become of me. She tried her best to encourage me to see a psychiatrist, but the stigma was (and is) so powerful that I refused to acknowledge psychopathology in myself. This only prolonged my suffering and that of my family.
I eventually decided to seek help and I was started on a course of treatment by my psychiatrist. I subsequently made a full recovery. I resumed my medical training with a renewed sense of determination and resilience and qualified as a doctor in 2011.
I decided to specialize in psychiatry, and I was passionate about challenging mental health related stigma. In 2013 I collaborated with Dr Rashid Zaman FRCPsych at Cambridge University, and together we pioneered The Wounded Healer program, an innovative method of pedagogy that blends the performing arts with psychiatry. The argument we make is, “How can you educate an audience if you can’t engage them?!” I named my presentation after Carl Jung’s archetype, “The Wounded Healer.” Jung used the term as a model to describe a dynamic that may take place in the relationship between analyst and analysand. Jung described The Wounded Healer in relation to himself; for Jung, “. . . it is your own hurt which gives you a measure of your power to heal . . .”5
Since its inception in 2013, I have been fortunate to deliver the program to over 65,000 people in 14 countries in five continents worldwide (including a lecture circuit in the US during which I delivered The Wounded Healer as a Grand Rounds at the college described above).
I try my best to instill hope in people with mental health difficulties whenever I can that not only can you recover, but you can also achieve excellence in what you do. Indeed, from homeless man with mental illness in 2006, twelve years later the Royal College of Psychiatrists conferred upon me the 2018 Core Psychiatric Trainee (Resident) of the Year Award, which marks the highest level of achievement in psychiatry in the UK. My testimony is further evidence that if I can recover and realize my dreams, other people with psychiatric illness can also recover and realize theirs.
All views represented in this article are my own and do not represent those of Psychiatric Times, my employer, or the Royal College of Psychiatrists.
Dr Hankir is Academic Clinical Fellow in Psychiatry at South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK. Twitter: @ahmedhankir.
1. Moffic, HS, Peteet J, Hankir R. Islamophobia and Psychiatry: Recognition, Prevention, and Treatment. 2020 (In Press); Springer.
2. Ciftci A, Jones N, Corrigan PW. Mental health stigma in the Muslim community. J Muslim Ment Health. 2012;7. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3998/jmmh.10381607.0007.102
3. Goffman E. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. New York: Simon & Schuster Inc, 1963.
4. Time to Change. Let's End Mental Health Discrimination. 2008. https://www.time-to-change.org.uk/sites/default/files/Stigma%20Shout.pdf. Accessed December 2, 2019.
5. Hankir A, Zaman R. Jung's archetype, 'The Wounded Healer', mental illness in the medical profession and the role of the health humanities in psychiatry. BMJ Case Rep. 2013;12;20.