Mapping Our Madness: The Hero’s Journey as A Therapeutic Approach

In Psychosis and Spirituality: Consolidating the New Paradigm, Chapter 18 is authored by Janice Hartley and called “Mapping Our Madness: The Hero’s Journey as A Therapeutic Approach”. She writes:

“The Hero’s Journey approach suggests that although someone may be ‘out of touch’ with consensus reality, they are actually ‘in touch’ with mythic realms”

“… The Hero’s Journey approach suggests that although someone may be ‘out of touch’ with consensus reality, they are actually ‘in touch’ with mythic realms (Lukoff and Everest, 1985). This allows us to accept and learn from psychotic experience, thereby implying a different world view to standard clinical approaches. The Hero’s Journey follows a structure, broadly split into three stages: Separation, Initiation and Return.

Working with this structure gives people a means to create their own narrative or personal myth, whereby terrifying experiences are rendered less fearful, and eventually come to be valued as achievements or means of inner transformation.

The connection between insanity and mythology was originally noted by Carl Jung. Jung formulated his concept of the collective unconscious on the basis of similarities between his own inner experiences, those of his psychiatric patients, and his studies in religion, alchemy and world mythology (Jung, 1983). Jung’s ideas have unfortunately not influenced modern psychiatry, but the Hero’s Journey concept is well known in literature and film …

Separation: “The hero sets out on a journey leaving the familiar world behind, e.g. Ulysses sets sail from Troy and Buddha leaves the protected environment of his father’s palace. This is a time of change, of crossing the threshold, when old and familiar ways become outgrown. There may be a ‘calling’ or magical encounter. There are parallels with shamanism, in which the role is usually preceded by separation from the everyday world.

Initiation: The hero enters the realm of the supernatural and encounters mythical creatures, and god’s demons and magical powers. He or she must complete a series of trials or ordeals and may experience divine protection or assistance. Ulysses battles with Cyclops and other monsters and Buddha battles with Kama-Mara, the god of love and death. There are further parallels with shamanism as the shaman gains new powers to battle with supernatural forces. Lukoff and Everest (1985) identify two key dangers at this stage:

  • self-identification with divine or supernatural powers;
  • unwillingness to return to the real world.

Return: After completing the trials and ordeals, the hero must return to the ordinary world, relinquish the magical and the supernatural, and integrate the experiences into everyday life. Usually, heroes bring back a trophy or something for the benefit of others. Jason brought back the Golden Fleece and Buddha became a healer and teacher. Lukoff states that Return from the psychotic journey is the most important stage, but also the longest and hardest. He stresses that telling the story is vital to complete the process, and integrate it into one’s personal narrative. This benefits not only the teller, but anyone who listens, because hearing about another person’s mythic journey helps us all to engage with that archaic or mythic part of ourselves. So for modern returning heroes then, their story is the prize which they bring back …”

Read more in Chapter 18 within the book.

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