What is a wounded healer?

You may have heard the term wounded healer before, particularly in relationship to shamanism. It’s fair to wonder what that team means. The following is my own explanation but comes from my experience in shamanic healing of others and myself.

The wounded healer is an archetype, a thoughtform. The idea is that in being wounded, healing capabilities are opened up. I find this to be true for me and many others, and this post will explain how that works.

Traditional Shamans

In many indigenous cultures, where shamanism is still practiced, those fulfilling the role of a shaman are chosen, and not self selected. One thing that is very common is that those selected have been through some kind of serious trauma.

This trauma, might be physical, like a life-threatening illness, or even an emotional trauma. There are cultures where certain mental illnesses, as defined by Western medicine, would be seen as the beginnings of a path as a healer or prophet.

There are even stories of cultures in South America where being struck by lightning is a prerequisite for being chosen as a shaman.

Other cultures put potential shamans through ordeals - like vision quests, exposure to physical extremes, or lengthy and dangerous trials.

All of these things, whether chosen trials or involuntary traumas are initiations. I’ll speak more about initiation in a moment.

Modern Shamanism

There is no governing body of shamans in the modern world. Literally anyone could read a book on shamanism and call themselves a shaman. I’ll note that, in my tradition, one does not call oneself a shaman.

Most people I know who are shamanic healers, have years or decades of training and apprenticeship, however. But people generally self-select roles and aren’t assigned them. Shamanic practitioners choose their path.

Most of the practitioners I know are wounded healers. Most have been through serious illness, near death experiences, or other serious traumas. In my own case, I had a foot amputated, and was diagnosed with PTSD later in life. I believe that the traumas I endured made me well suited for shamanism.


To initiate is to begin. In the world of shamanism, all of life, and even death, is a series of initiations. We are always beginning something. When we go through severe difficulty, often it is preparing us psychologically and energetically for what comes next.

My own experience is with trauma. Modern psychology will say that one of the major symptoms of trauma is dissociation. It’s like part of the psyche breaks off to protect itself from what’s happening. This makes sense when experiences are too threatening or intense. Dissociation is a defense mechanism.

In shamanic terms, part of the soul escapes, in order to protect itself. If that piece of the soul does not return there is a splitting, a loss of energy, physical and psychological symptoms. We call that soul loss.

The main practice of a shaman is called a journey. In a journey, a shaman uses tools like drumming or sacred plants to induce trance. Once trance is induced, part of the soul departs to do the work in what we call non-ordinary reality (NOR).

I believe that early dissociative experiences can prepare potential shamanic healers for journeying. It’s like the soul has a looser hold on the parts. That being said, to be effective, a shaman must go through their own healing first.

When I teach journeying, if a student has trouble, often it’s the result of soul loss. A soul-retrieval ceremony can help.

It is in the wounding and healing process that we become energetically prepared for the work to help others.