3 reflections on being a counsellor and a wounded healer

I started counselling training at the tender age of 24 years old, with all the youthful idealism and profound naivety of a truly wounded healer. I was emerging from the depths of an eating disorder, with an intense desire to save the world and prevent others from experiencing the pain and distress of my own suffering. I was wading through the shallow waters of my own recovery journey and, thankfully, the life-debilitating disordered eating symptoms were almost absent.

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But, little did I appreciate how much was still to come. There was a bumpy road ahead in mastering emotional regulation, communication in relationships and developing a robust self-worth, not dependent on the external validation of others. And, of course, the journey is never-ending to this day. Personal development and self-actualisation seem further into the distance, as I appreciate how little I still know and how much more there is to learn.


My experiences

I have been reflecting recently on the strengths and weaknesses of bringing my wounded healer experience to the counselling relationship and I am sharing three thoughts on this.

1. Connection and empathy

I am not the most technical therapist, honing strategies and skills fine-tuned to a precise art. I am certainly not always the most up-to-date with the latest counselling research or breakthroughs. However, having walked a path of recovery in eating disorder healing, I am familiar with the pain and uncertainty of traversing this road. I know the sadness and anguish of grieving relationships, losses and traumas and feeling these feelings wholeheartedly. I know about moving beyond these sufferings to find acceptance, forgiveness and peace. 

I also understand the seduction of an eating disorder as a life-raft and fixer when life is tumultuous and out of control. My experience is unique and no other will walk the same distinctive road. Nevertheless, it allows me an understanding and awareness of what it means to be stuck in the depths of the well of a maladaptive coping strategy and to hold hope for recovery and change for you.

2. My road is not yours

I have an experience of an eating disorder, but it is my own path and personally complex in the early roots, triggers and psychological understandings. Your path will be a different one. 

My training and ongoing personal development mean that I strive to have a deep awareness of separating my journey from yours. I take my own emotions, thoughts and baggage to supervision. Of course, I am an imperfect human being, who will sometimes get it wrong. It is my responsibility to fine-tune my awareness and hold space for your unique story and to hold this separate and distinctly from my own.

3. Holding hope

When in the depths of an eating disorder, I genuinely always believed that this was a temporary issue that I would move beyond and ultimately triumph through. This allowed me to navigate many a dead-end cul-de-sac of potential healing but to swiftly (and sometimes not so swiftly) reverse out again and feel encouraged to try a different route. 

Hope has power. I sometimes believe that holding hope can deem recovery as halfway there already. Contrastingly, the alternative of hopelessness can result in a weary acceptance and despair about the possibility of change. This can leave you stuck.

As a therapist, I hold hope for you. I profoundly believe in the possibility of change and healing. I see your potential and aim to encourage you to move beyond the trappings of today.

Hope gives you wings and empowerment. It is the glimmer on the horizon of promise. It offers the prospect of a purpose, a meaning and life beyond an obsession with food and the body. As a therapist, when you’re not feeling hopeful, I aim to hold the beacon of hope for you.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Cambridge, CB1
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Written by Harriet Frew, MSc; MBACP Accred
Cambridge, CB1

Harriet Frew is a counsellor specialising in eating disorders and body image. She has worked in the NHS and private practice since 2003, and is passionate about supporting and educating others through therapy, writing and social media.
Instagram: @theeatingdisordertherapist_; Podcast - The Eating Disorder Therapist Podcast

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