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How do persons come to want to be helpers? What types of circumstances and life events help psychotherapists nurture and develop personal and professional self-awareness and self-understanding, as well as empathic ability? How does the practice of psychotherapy influence the lives of practitioners? Few research efforts have addressed these questions. An extensive literature review on the development of self-understanding in therapists suggested that the paradigm of the "wounded-healer", and the concept of narcissism, have often been used as a basis for exploring answers to these questions. Conceptually, it has been suggested that the healing of personal issues is a critical task for the developing therapist. A review of empathy literature found that the growth of cognitive, affective and interactive empathic abilities is often linked conceptually to the development of self-understanding. Five experienced psychotherapists, nominated by their colleagues in a large metropolitan area as representing something of excellence in the field of psychotherapy, participated in intensive interviews exploring their personal and professional life histories, attitudes and beliefs. Qualitative methods were used to analyze and synthesize resulting data relevant to study questions. Five domains or content areas are explored: development of the child self, development of the adult self, becoming a therapist and being a therapist. Three themes were deeply embedded in the interviews and are analyzed in each domain: "knowing vs. not knowing", "isolation vs. connection", and "developing empathy." Results suggested that painful childhood experiences or "wounds" to the self may well have contributed to many informants' decisions to become therapists. Critical incidents in personal and professional development (i.e., supervision and personal therapy) gradually facilitated resolution or transformation of these wounds. Increasingly, the value of intellectually "knowing" was seen as less important than emotionally "connecting". As this process occurred, therapists reported becoming more empathic, particularly on an affective dimension, more able to use the "self" as a therapeutic instrument, and, for some, more spiritually oriented. Concluding remarks discuss the value of nurturing self-care, and involvement in empathic relationships as key aspects of personal and professional health for therapists.