Understanding the Healer Archetype

Written by on September 18, 2012 in On Archetypes with 12 Comments

The Healer archetype is an old and intriguing archetype. Every culture from earliest tribes of ancient man all through the ages to modern times, has the archetype of the Healer in their culture. It is a part of the human experience to be hurt, wounded or injured in some way whether it be physical, emotional or spiritual. And because of this, there has always been someone that shows an aptitude for how to help the hurt person. The development of this archetype has had some interesting twists and turns in its very long life. The healer archetype has been around for so long that it has developed some sub-archetypes that can help you in your exploration of this archetype and some of those include the Intuitive Healer, the Wounded Healer, the Caregiver, the Nurse and the Therapist. There are many others as well. I believe that everyone has an archetype that is in the family of healers. Look for the way you heal yourself and this will guide you to the archetype that bests fits you.

Medicine, Magic and the Priesthood

There has always been a bit of mystery around the art of healing. Having little understanding of the body made healing seem to many a kind of magic. Even with our modern understanding, there are still unexplainable mysteries around the healing. Shamans are the oldest known healers. In Native American culture the shamans believed they could travel out of body and communicate with the world of spirits and nature in the form of animals to help them find the answers and wisdom for healing. Witches were healers especially in the pagan religions where the worship of nature was an easy fit for healing and healers. The image of the witch in the forest stirring her brew of herbs and potions has cast the healer in a negative light for many centuries. Witches were tortured and killed for their practice of healing which was deemed devilish. We often demonize that which we do not understand. Women healers were often the only access that peasants had to anyone with medical knowledge. Many people believed that healing was sorcery. Midwifery was another type of healing by helping to bring new life to the earth. The midwife is a good example of the Enlightened Healer because the midwife is only a support to the mother who ultimately does the work of delivering her child. The midwife cannot do it for her any more than healers can do your healing for you. It was common for monks and priests to perform as healers, healing the sinner of his wickedness or in many cases healing his physical ailments. Many monks had knowledge of plants and herbs and practiced the healing arts in the monastery. Priests were called upon to lay hands upon the sick, to ask God for healing and to perform last rites upon death. In ancient Egypt and other ancient civilizations there was little difference between the Physician, the Priest and the Magician. They were known as Healer Priests. Hippocrates was a healer priest. The connections are quite old and easy to see. The Medicine Man of native tribes also understood the art of healing and helped provide the environment for someone to heal themselves.

The Ancient Doctor to the Modern Doctor

Where then did the modern doctor come from? The word doctor comes from an Old French word, doctour meaning Church Father or teacher.  The word was used in this way in the 1300′s. By the late 1500′s it meant to confer a degree on. This makes sense because higher education was reserved for priests and monks. Monasteries were also a kind of hospital or at least had a hospital attached to them. So there is a natural progression from priest to doctor. By the early 1700′s the meaning of doctor had changed to mean, to alter or treat, and we see the word used this way for some time. Surgery was also an important part of early medicine. By the 1800′s the country doctor with his black bag making house calls was a common sight and most towns had an employed physician. But midwifery was a practice of medicine too though it had to be kept somewhat underground. Midwives did much, much more than deliver babies and many were as skilled and talented as their male counterparts, if not more so. But women trying to enter the medical field through medical schools and universities were met with fierce resistance. Eventually women became more and more involved in treating patients and even becoming surgeons. Before 1920 hospitals were mostly charitable institutions, doctors were not required to have licensing (to speak of) and there was virtually no specialized medicine.  After WWI medical practices changed dramatically and hospitals became businesses, medicine was practiced in offices and clinics and a degree was required to practice. Drugs were entering the field of medicine as science and medicine finally merged. Medicine had left the spiritual world and entered the scientific world. Healers, herbalists and natural medicine declined after WWII. Doctors were trained to diagnose and dispense medicines not necessarily heal. Holistic Medicine has made a comeback in recent times. By the 1990′s holistic medicine had become much more prevalent and alternative medicine made a huge comeback as well. Holistic medicine is a blend of science and the art of healing the whole person. Alternative medicine is the practice of homeopathy, acupuncture, herbalism, and other unconventional medicines. There are also a rash of therapies for both physical and emotional health and healing including, cranial sacral therapy, reiki, quantum touch therapy, NLP, therapeutic massage, aromatherapy, kinesiology, energy  healing, yoga and many more. A few examples of the modern doctor that espouses both the alternative and conventional and has successful married the two are Dr. Andrew Weil and Dr. Deepak Chopra. Both have integrated the value of modern scientific medicine, the natural world and the spiritual component of healing into their practices creating a new kind of doctor that is both scientist and healer.

There are so many different variants to this complex and ancient archetypal pattern. Below I have only included a few more common examples of variants of the Healer archetype here but there are many more.

Wounded Healer

The Wounded Healer comes from the Greek myth of Chiron. Chiron was a centaur but he wasn’t just any centaur, he was a wise, gentle and kind centaur and very different from the others like him. He was unintentionally wounded by Heracles with an arrow that had the arrow tipped with Hydra venom. Chiron was a demigod and therefore had immortality. But this proved to be a problem because he had an incurable wound that he would suffer from, for all eternity. This wound caused Chiron to help others that had been wounded. He is known in mythology as a master healer, teacher and wise one. But Chiron also suffered from another kind of wound. He was rejected by his mother for being half horse and was raised by Apollo, the God of Healing and Light who taught him. After a lifetime of healing others Chiron eventually trades his immortality for death, freeing him and in a way healing himself. The Wounded Healer is defined by the forces that cause you to take the path of healer. A deep wound, especially if it is incurable or a psychological wound so profound that it literally transforms your life are part of this variant of the Healer archetype. But the wound is not just any injury or a disease, it must have a transformational quality to make the Healer a Wounded Healer. This kind of wound has been compared to a near-death experience where there is a sense of complete alteration of the person. This alteration sets them on the path of healing. In fact, there are quite a few persons who have had near-death experiences that find themselves in the role of healer. Example: Christopher Reeves

Intuitive Healer

The Intuitive Healer does not share the Wounded Healers experience of being wounded but finds that they are a kind of vessel for helping or healing others. They know things about the health and needs of the person without being fully aware how they know what they know. They have a sixth sense about what is going on in a person’s being and a connection to the intuitive world of healing or knowing what that person needs. This intuition is no different than the intuition we all have other than it seems to be focused on healing and is more specific. This archetype channels healing energy and seems to have a natural gift for doing so. If you relate to this variant you may find yourself drawn to essential oils, crystals, or massage, quantum touch, reiki, and other forms of energy healing  as a way to express your call to heal yourself and to help others find healing by using your intuition and working with the energetic field such as chakras. Example: Biblical Jesus

The Caregiver

The Caregiver is another variant of the Healer but instead of actually healing the wounds or pain of the suffering person the Caregiver finds satisfaction in the act of caring for the person. They are typically the one everyone turns to for help and they have a tendency to mother those whom they feel are in need. The are collectors of people and their kindness is truly an antidote to pain and loneliness. They attract every sort of person but most notably the homeless, the lost, the angry and the hurt or those on the fringes of society. They usually have a large base of friends for whom they care. The have a special gift for seeing the souls of people, for honoring who the person really is and not judging them by appearance etc. They have a healing touch and are usually quite physical in their affection. (Huggy types I call them.) Caregivers are warm and affectionate and spend much of their lives in the service of others. Example: Mother Teresa

The Nurse

The Nurse is quite similar to the Caregiver and they share many qualities. (Just a reminder: You don’t have to be a real nurse to have this archetype and many real nurses do not have this archetype. But most nurses have some archetype that drew them to the field of nursing if not the healer.) The Nurse finds great joy in taking care of the sick and the injured. They can be detached enough to do what is necessary without losing their special empathic abilities. The Nurse is compassionate, caring and patient. They are very drawn to others that may be impaired including the severely handicapped. They enjoy tucking a blanket around the legs of someone confined to a wheelchair, or brushing the hair of a woman that can no longer perform that action. They are drawn to offering comfort even more so than outright healing because they believe that comfort and care are deeply healing to the soul. There is a scene in the movie Wit with Emma Thompson, where the patient, a woman with terminal cancer who is unconscious and in her final stages of life, where the nurse who has been caring for her enters her room. After adjusting her morphine drip and fixing her bedsheets she proceeds to rub lotion onto the hands of this woman who is nearly dead. It is so profoundly touching and such a beautiful example of this archetype that it brings tears to my eyes to recall it. Her act of giving comfort in the final stages of life is an example of the healing qualities of the Nurse. Example: Florence Nightingale.

The Therapist

The Therapist is another example of the many variants of the Healer archetype. The Therapist is a bit different because they are much more focused on healing the heart and mind than healing the body. They are drawn to the troubled person and they have a unique ability to draw out the poison of the mind the same way a Healer may draw out a poison from the body or energy field. The Therapist enjoys a mental intuition that often makes them very good at school and academics. They have access to the unseen world of psychology. They reflect the origins of the word psyche which means, (not the mind as one might suspect) but the soul. The Therapist knows that the mind is but a reflection of the soul and the Therapist is a healer of souls. They often feel a real calling to help others in this way. They are the inner healers and usually have a strong urge to ease emotional and mental suffering while physical suffering is less considered. Similar to the Wounded Healer, the Therapist often experiences an initiation into healing through a psychic wounding, a “dark night of the soul,” and this need to understand this wound and its effects is partially what drives them to help others. The Therapist may have an interest in the mentally ill, the eccentric or strange as well as concepts such as dream analysis, soul retrieval and shamanism. (You do not have to be a therapist to have this archetype.) Example: Viktor Frankl

The Shadow Healer

The Healer archetype encompasses all the variants to some degree and the shadow applies in varying degrees to all of them as well. For clarification I will use the term patient to describe the person that seeks healing from the healer, advice from counselor, or even just comfort from a friend because in spite of the labels the dynamics are the same.

Not Caring for the Self

The Shadow Healer is so focused on how much everyone needs them that they truly fail to care for themselves. The demand is real too. People are drawn to healers in multitudes. (Think Jesus.) This creates a real drain on the Healer because they want to help everyone so much that they over-extend themselves. The Shadow Healer is unwilling to look at their motives for not caring for themselves and they simply give until they are burned out assuming that this validates their generosity and goodness. They pride themselves on being there for others without recognizing the irony that they will be unable to continue to be there for others if they cannot meet their own needs and care for themselves.

Feeling Superior

The Shadow Healer, (may not actually confess this but definitely believes it) believes that they have a unique gift that must be utilized and that this gift sets them apart and makes them extraordinary and special. The Shadow Healer will usually express this as if it has been a burden in their life or talk only about the challenges and demands of their gift and avoid how richly rewarding it is or that the gift of healing is the gift they give themselves. The Shadow Healer will sometimes claim a special sensitivity to negative energies creating an almost fragile persona: another means of promoting their specialness that is central to the Shadow Healer. While they pretend to be above needing praise they enjoy being on the pedestal and secretly crave the admiration and raw worship that often accompanies the Healer archetype. This can sometimes result in the Shadow Healer becoming too invested in the patient and the outcomes. This superiority is a lot of work for the Shadow Healer and it requires them to constantly prove to the patient that they are gifted in skill, knowledge, intuition and ultimately power. The Shadow Healer then splits the healing process into two poles, projecting onto the patient the pole of the wounded and projecting the healer onto themselves. They lose sight of the inner healer in the patient and the inner patient within the Healer.

The Charlatan

The Shadow Healer can sometimes become a charlatan in their attempt to maintain control of the patient, offering advice and treatment based on their needs and ego. They begin to believe in their own snake oil treatments and depend on the patient for validation and reinforcement. It is at this moment that the Shadow Healer loses any real connection to the inner physician and they drop down into pretender role, unable to tell the difference between the authentic healing energy and their own conjured ideas. Promoting yourself as someone who can heal others rather than promoting self-healing is a common theme among Shadow Healers. To avoid the pitfall of the charlatan the Healer needs only look to their own heart and bring the truth back to the situation. In the words of Paracelsus “The practice of healing lies in the heart. If your heart is false, the physician within you will be false.”

Getting High on Approval

The Shadow Healer is desperate for approval. They spend a lot of time talking about how they helped this person or that person generally focusing the success on their gifts and skills than on the patient. This need for approval causes the Shadow Healer to force outcomes or feel upset when the person they are working with does not show improvement. The need for approval keeps the Shadow Healer worried and stressed about how to ensure the proper outcome. The Shadow Healer will usually respond humbly to praise but they will be smiling because they are secretly getting what they wanted in the first place: validation. This need for validation comes from a lack of self-worth so profound that the only proof of worth is tied up in the results in the patient. The have a specific secret agenda that they seek to have fulfilled through the relationship.

Inappropriate Boundaries

The Shadow Healer often has a real problem with boundaries. Either they don’t create good boundaries for themselves such as seeking approval or giving too much of their time and energy when they should say no, or they are crossing the patient’s boundaries, trying to heal/help/love/support someone that has not asked for this and possibly feels resentful that it is being imposed. They feel so certain of their ability to help others that they end up being pushy, driving people away from them. With this complete lack of boundaries the Shadow Healer can feel unappreciated, taken advantage of, and just plain abused.

At its worst, the Shadow Healer is a self destructive, self-important pretender that has poor self esteem and even poorer boundaries.

Enlightened Healer

Heal Thyself

The true purpose for the Enlightened Healer is self-healing. When this has been accomplished the Enlightened Healer learns one of the great mysteries of healing: That belief is the most powerful aspect of healing or the lack of healing. This understanding of the power of healing is at the center of the Enlightened Healer’s philosophy. They learn how to address the patients expectations so that the patient is more open and able to allow the natural healing powers within to be activated. Even if you are not a practitioner but feel you have the Healer archetype healing yourself will teach you what others need to heal themselves. The healer anticipates the needs of the person needing healing and can provide the environment that will facilitate healing the best. In hospitals, there is an obvious environment that supports science and technology as the healing powers. In alternative medicine, incense, candles and pictures of beautiful places can serve the same purpose-to create the environment that the patient believes is a part of his healing experience. Healing the body is not a straight shot. There is a disconnect between our willpower and our bodily functions. For most people it is difficult to control their bodies such as heart rate, breathing, or even how long they can “hold it in” in any way but the most limited. To think of having control over liver functions, blood cell production and brain waves is beyond comprehension. It is no surprise then that healing our bodies is not easily accomplished. But when we project our own powers onto someone else, a doctor for example, or a shaman, a little white pill or a special diet we have an indirect route to healing that allows our willpower some access to the body. You learn about the mystery of belief when you heal yourself. You understand deeply and respectfully the journey to healing because you have been on that same journey. Heal thyself is the mantra of the Enlightened Healer.

Humility

Healers do not heal others, they heal themselves. By so doing, they offer the opportunity for others to heal themselves and can provide support, guidance and hope along the journey. This requires humility, especially when others are putting the Healer on a pedestal and praising them or giving them credit for healing them. The act of offering help to a person on the path of healing is an act of self-healing on its own. The Enlightened Healer is aware that they gain much more from helping others heal than anyone else. Healing is not the physicians gift to bestow but they merely arrange circumstances that will increase the probability of healing. Hippocrates, who is credited with revolutionizing medicine in the 5th century B.C. taught physicians of his day to revere the healing powers of Nature. Man does not heal, nature does.The Enlightened Healer is honored and humbled to be a part of another person’s journey and is deeply appreciative of the wisdom and guidance it can offer to the Enlightened Healer’s own journey.

Invisibility

Being invisible is an important part of the Enlightened Healer. Acting invisibly is not difficult for the Enlightened Healer because they understand that they are not the healer but a witness and support for someone else healing themselves. There are several methods for being invisible including reminding the patient that they have healed themselves, keeping the focus on the patient and respecting the privacy of the patient by keeping the experience confidential. Maintaining invisibility is also a good way to stay focused on yourself and not on the patient and to recognize that you too are patient and healer. This invisibility allows you the necessary introspection for your own healing journey. Being invisible keeps you from crossing boundaries and being inappropriate. Even Jesus, who is one of the most notable healers in history would not accept the praise of the person who had been healed but pronounced, “your faith has made you whole.” This is a powerful recognition by Jesus about the power of belief. He does not take credit for healing others and does not accept praise but tells them, “Thank God who is in Heaven.” This is an excellent example of the invisibility of the Enlightened Healer.

Self-Care

Boundaries are a form of self care. When others come to seek out advice, comfort or some other kind of healing support from you it is vital that boundaries are established. The Enlightened Healer has excellent boundaries and they take excellent care of themselves. They do not say yes to anything unless they are absolutely certain that they feel good about the request and it does not violate their values. The Enlightened Healer says no if they cannot bring their whole being and full presence to the person asking for help. They have learned to respect themselves and out of this respect grows a profound respect for others’ time, energy and their own healing journey. The Enlightened Healer takes excellent care of his or her body, mind, emotions and soul. Out of this self-care comes the capacity to be there for others more fully. The Enlightened Healer does not let themselves become burned out and does not see burnout as a good thing but as a severe lack of boundaries and self-care.

Surrender

The Enlightened Healer has learned how to surrender. Letting go is an important lesson for the Healer and it is vital to understanding the healing journey. Surrender is necessary for any kind of healing or transformation. Something must die if something new is going to live. When we heal, we are letting go of old beliefs, letting go of our bodies and surrendering ourselves to the power of Nature to heal us in its own fashion. When we heal we let go of the need to understand the mystery of healing and to control the process. The Enlightened Healer looks forward to the opportunity to let go and surrender on the path to wholeness and healing.

At its best the Enlightened Healer is first and foremost a self-healer who is humble, pliable, compassionate and caring, one with deep wisdom and knowledge about the healing of the body and soul.

 

Questions to ask:

1. Do I spend much of my time helping/supporting others?

2. Do I sometimes feel burned out?

3. Is it hard to say no to someone that really needs me?

4. Do I have a problem taking care of others and not taking care of me?

5. Do I  sometimes feel that I am special or have special gifts?

6. Am I offended when I have helped someone and they don’t thank me or seem appreciative?

7. Do I find I want to take credit for someone else’ healing because I was a part of it?

8. Do others often become dependent on me for support, advice, healing or guidance?

9.  Is it difficult to remain humble or invisible when helping another person?

10. Am I drawn to the healing arts in any way?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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  1. Ruth says:

    Wow that was a lot of great information! Thanks for writing. I sure that was a ton of work to write. Dont’ think hubby has it. Keep up the great work.

  2. Susanna says:

    I spend hours researching for each archetype article I write. I really enjoy writing them in spite of how much work and time I spend on them.

  3. Aimee says:

    Susanne, you amaze me. I am so grateful you came into my life.
    As you know, I am on the hunt for which archetypes fit me. I so appreciate all that you do and for helping me navigate the rocky terrain that is my new journey.

  4. Susanna says:

    Thanks Aimee, I look forward to spending more time together.

  5. Geena says:

    Great article! It has so much information that I don’t know where to start. This phrase really struck me:

    “The image of the witch in the forest stirring her brew of herbs and potions has cast the healer in a negative light for many centuries. Witches were tortured and killed for their practice of healing which was deemed devilish.”

    I’m a healer myself, though my day job is in the corporate world, and some of my colleagues have responded to my hobby calling it witchcraft. The first time it happened I was really surprised, just didn’t expect it at all. We don’t use spells in healing and I don’t ascribe to Wicca as a faith so I didn’t expect it.

    I had heard of some of these archetypes but not all of them. Personally I identify with the Wounded and Intuitive Healer, though I wonder if we all have a bit of the Wounded Healer in us?

    The shadow sides really resonate as well. I would love to share some of this on my blog and was actually wondering if you might be interested in guest-posting about one of these archetypes??? It could be really interesting if you wanted to say a few words about your experiences dealing with the light and shadow sides of yourself as a healer. Otherwise I’d love to write an intro and then link back to your blog. Let me know what you think =)

    Please have a look at my blog and email me if you’re interested.

    http://www.diaryofapsychichealer.com

    xoxo
    Geena

  6. That is such a good article – thank you so much – I really believe the Wounded Healer archetype should be recognized far more widely – so many people I talk to have not heard of it in spite of our best efforts. I’m particularly interested in the significance within the medical profession and for healing our world – which surely starts from healing of the individual.
    Keep up the research – yes it is fun!

  7. Susanna says:

    Thanks Eleanor,
    I had a difficult time just narrowing all the information about the Healer to less than 5,000 words. It is such an interesting concept and I do agree with you about the wounded healer. It’s hard to get through life without wounds and I believe that each person is on their own healing path no matter the archetypes they happen to have. Thank you so much for reading I look forward to hearing from you again.

  8. Susanna says:

    Thanks Geena, I appreciate your feedback and I would love to write a guest blog for you. I will email you for further details. Thanks for reading, it makes all the long hours researching and writing well worth it.

  9. Jason Hughes says:

    Susanna,
    This is one of the best overviews of the “Healer Archetype” I have ever read. Your focus on the differing types of paths that lead to it… pitfalls of the shadow and potentials of the enlightened path are all spot on IMHO.
    I teach at a naturopathic medical school and I’m wondering if you would mind me using this information in that setting?
    Let me know when you get a chance.

    Thanks!
    a wounded-intuitive-therapist-shadowy-enlightened healer.

  10. Susanna says:

    Thanks Jason! I would be honored for you to use my article.

  11. Nadya says:

    What a lovely article!!
    I grew up in a family that used healing touch – mainly back or foot rubs – as a tool for health maintenance, & several great grandmothers helped birth babies. I’ve been drawn to herbs, to Reiki; so familial roots, intuitive roots (offer healing as a Massage therapist). My dad sang & had Cherokee roots – so healing with music, with voice & harp.

    In Reiki classes, a student will often say ‘they used to burn us for doing this!’ & I suggest they rewrite that!

  12. Susanna says:

    Thank you Nadya!

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