The Wounded Healer is what we call it when a person is called to help others because of their own suffering or pain. For example, a person who was very sick as a child might want to become a doctor or a nurse when they get older. A person who has battled drug addiction might become a drug and alcohol counselor. A person who has suffered abuse might help others who are going through the same thing. Studies suggest that the majority of counselors and psychotherapists - almost 75% - have their own struggles which played a big part in the choosing their of profession. 'The Wounded Healer' is considered a Jungian archetype in psychology, but the concept is of course much older than that.
For shamans, there is usually a period of what is called "shaman sickness." The would-be shaman is stricken with a chronic, often mysterious illness from which they become very sick. There may be traumatic experiences as well, or psychological issues. It can last a long time, even years. This is considered to be the "initiation" by the spirits. The shaman eventually accepts the calling, heals themselves and shares their wisdom with the community, using it to help others.
In Greek mythology, a centaur called Chiron was known as a powerful healer and was lauded for his skill with herbs and medicine. He was accidentally poisoned incurably by an arrow from Hercules. He was also immortal, so while he could never heal, he could also never die. This caused him long suffering and great pain, through which he became wiser and an even greater healer. As the story goes, he eventually gave up his immortality for Prometheus, who was going to be punished by death for stealing fire from the gods. Chiron agreed to die in his place, partly because his wound was so painful he no longer wanted to live.
When someone has been through a great deal of suffering, it changes them. It often makes them wiser and creates within them a deeper understanding of human nature. This is often the case with wounded healers. They are not allowing their pain to be in vain, and they are refusing to be a victim.
There can sometimes be a perception that if someone is not completely healed, they can be of no help to others. This is not entirely true. While it's certainly true that you must be balanced, clear and neutral to a pretty large degree, the idea of being completely healed is a little aggressive. Healing is a journey, not a destination. It's unlikely there is any adult in existence who has no unhealed wounds at all.
There is some danger for wounded healers though. For instance, it is easy to fall into an ego trap unless a person is very honest with themselves and very connected to their own Shadow Self. Someone must be very aware of their own wounds and very grounded. Otherwise, the "healer" part can become more important than the "wounded" part and a destructive ego can be created. There can be some implied ego in even using the word "healer." Most wounded healers - or any kind of healer, for that matter - are generally not actually healing other people. It is more accurate to say they are helping the other person heal themselves. The helper is not above the person they are helping. They are not "more enlightened." The drug counselor is not better, smarter, stronger or more evolved than the current user because the counselor no longer sleeps in the gutter or prostitutes themselves. The two are equals, because they both have the same wound and the same struggle. This should never be forgotten.
There is also a danger of becoming triggered and wounds reopening. For example, if someone has kicked a heroin addiction and they become a drug and alcohol counselor, they must take care that talking about drug use all the time does not trigger them to start using again. They must be aware of their own wounds and vulnerabilities, otherwise their service to others will suffer. And so will they.
It is a noble and important calling to use your pain and suffering to make a difference in the world. We have always been and will always be in need of those who have come through the fire and are now able to take the hand of those still trying to find a way through. Everyone has been through something. Everyone has something to offer, some way they can help. Through the principles of radical acceptance and fearless ownership, people are changing the world every day.