How myth applies to psychotherapy and to psychological growth and development 

 

Myths provide guidance for difficult times. They can give encouragement as we struggle to survive horrendous ordeals. I have found that in clinical work, and in my own journey, it is useful to study mythic stories for hope. After all, those classic heroic seekers did get through their awesome challenges. The tales also provide hints on dealing with mid-life crises or other difficult transitions.

The heroic journey is a description of an initiatory adventure. In many ways, psychotherapy is an initiatory process. People seek help when their coping mechanisms fail. This is the boundary of a new country, a place they have not traveled before. The ancient sagas provide roadmaps for people dealing with anxiety-producing experiences and the mysteries of the unconscious. The tales help with the difficult life situations that most of us don’t have the conscious resources to handle. It is useful that those who came this way before left a record of what they learned in the form of wisdom tales.

 

We stumble into each stretch of the journey without the education to handle the formidable tasks we will confront. It is useful that those who came this way before left a record of what they learned in the form of wisdom tales. We can examine these texts for clues to our specific circumstances. That is how I see the direct application of myth to psychotherapy.

An example of how a myth might be applicable to a person in psychotherapy or struggling to cope with life

I’ll use a familiar example from folklore. Cinderella had to go through a long period of loss. Both of her parents died. The tale has a central theme of bereavement. This is evident in the symbolism of the ashes. Cinderella gets her name from her role of hearth-keeper. While taking care of the fireplace, she gets soot and cinders all over her. Funeral traditions include “Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.” So, the ashes in the story reflect death, loss, and grieving. The cinders suggest light and passion.

Many clients in psychotherapy are dealing with great losses. The story suggests that we can get through the trials but the experience will be dreadful. It will feel like an awful cruelty. Cinderella also has to deal with oppression from those with power over her, specifically her stepmother and stepsisters, who do not appreciate her qualities or existence.

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Mythology in Psychotherapy An Interview with Jonathan Young, Ph.D.
by Joseph R. Dunn, Ph.D., PsychJournal Volume III, Number 2, (Second Quarter, 2000)