Original Research - Special Collection: Practical Theology

The Paradox of Being a Wounded Healer: Henri J.M. Nouwen’s Contribution to Pastoral Theology

S. Philip Nolte, Yolanda Dreyer
HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies | Vol 66, No 2 | a861 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/hts.v66i2.861 | © 2010 S. Philip Nolte, Yolanda Dreyer | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 20 May 2010 | Published: 11 November 2010

About the author(s)

S. Philip Nolte, University of Pretoria, South Africa
Yolanda Dreyer, Universiteit van Pretoria

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This article is the first in a series of two dealing with Henri Nouwen’s contribution to pastoral care. The present article focuses on the impact of cognitive dissonance and the role it plays in pastors becoming constrained in their ministry. The point of departure is that during the past two decades, pastors have been subjected to profound changes. While pastors view their involvement with people in the social and faith communities in which they live and work as guiding people towards a life of wholeness and integrity, they themselves, because of their own inner woundedness, struggle to live a life of wholeness. This article investigates how pastors can act congruently and with integrity in a world that has been profoundly changed by a shift from a modern to a postmodern paradigm. This reflection explores the ancient Greek mythological origins of the concept ‘wounded healer’. It also shows that, in its utilisation by the Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung, the concept became a metaphor. This insight leads to a discussion of how Henri Nouwen applied the significance of the metaphor to pastoral ministry. The discussion takes on the form of certain relevant biographical side notes on Nouwen’s contribution to pastoral theology. The article concludes with an exposition of Nouwens’s use of the metaphor in his book, The wounded healer: Ministry in contemporary society.


Pastoral care; Henri J.M. Nouwen; wounded healer; Carl Jung and mythological origins; cognitive dissonance


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