The wounded healer theory was new to me but it goes back to Carl Jung and some say to Greek mythology. Basically, it says that a person’s own experiences make them the best one to help others in similar situations.
Years ago I found myself in a situation of managing chronic pain and having to change my life. Eventually I was able to find my way out of pain. The next thing I knew I was setting up a Reiki practice to help others who were suffering as I once did. That made me a wounded healer. I had been there, in pain, now I wanted to help another.
For someone who has no hope of ever getting rid of their pain, is there a beneficial way to use their experience to actually improve their circumstances? To me the answer is yes, and I believe one of the ways is through volunteering.
For the healthy population the numerous benefits of volunteering include: lower mortality rates; lower rates of depression; a feeling of connection; and improved physical health. Volunteering often leads the body to release higher of amounts of oxytocin. This helps to lower stress, increase social trust and tranquility, and increases feelings of compassion. ‘Feel good’ chemicals such as dopamine are also increased leaving people feeling joy, or what is sometimes called the “helper’s high”.
In researching this, what surprised me was how beneficial volunteering was to someone even in chronic pain, and it goes back to the wounded healers theory. In a 2002 study by Arnstein et. al, they found that those chronic pain suffers who helped others in the same state had a decrease in pain intensity, decreased levels of disability, and a decrease in depression. That’s huge!!!
Robert A. Barnett wrote an article for the Huffington Post in 2011. In it he talks about another study with people who suffered from MS. They were “trained to provide compassionate support over the phone for 15 minutes a month to fellow MS sufferers. Result: The helpers felt more self-confident, had better self-esteem and experienced less depression.” A study at Duke University found the same with post-coronary artery disease individuals. Those individuals also had an increase in their sense of purpose.
Volunteering approximately two hours per week reaps the most benefits. And, take note, there are no added benefits for extra hours. Depending on the chronic pain one suffers two hours per week could be manageable. Even with fewer hours the benefits are very real. As a chronic pain sufferer you would have to assess your situation carefully. If you do take on a volunteer role, you may have to assess your pain level each time you set out to help.
For those that are able the research also shows that the volunteer actually gains more than the person they are helping. So help yourself to some of these benefits:
Better self-esteem and self-confidence
An increased sense of purpose
A decrease in pain intensity
A decrease in levels of disability
Next week I will tell you about my wonderful friend Violet who is an amazing volunteer and the effect it has had on her life and those around her.
Until then let me know the ways you are already helping others. Or maybe you wish to help and don’t know how. Together we can find a way. I’d love to hear from you. Leave a comment on the website or on my Facebook page.