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Australian Journal of Clinical Education

Abstract

The term ‘wounded healer’ is sometimes used to describe people with a personal experience of adversity who enter a helping profession. Wounded healers have been thought to be both especially suited to counselling - perhaps through greater empathy for those in need - and at increased risk of making poor decisions due to the influence of their own psychopathology. Undergraduate students in psychology and social work (N=112) completed online questionnaires measuring childhood adversity, parentification, empathy, psychological inflexibility and a measure developed for this study of propensity to violate professional boundaries. Despite a high prevalence of childhood adversity among respondents, neither childhood adversity nor parentification were associated with empathy or willingness to violate boundaries. Instead, higher psychological inflexibility was associated with greater propensity to violate boundaries and more personal distress in response to others’ suffering. Notwithstanding the limitations of the study, these results suggest educators selecting graduates for counselling training programs and supervisors should be careful not to let candidates’ personal histories influence judgments about their suitability for the profession.

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