The Hero’s Journey


In my work with clients, I am given the privilege and the honor to participate in their journey. Each of us has our own journey in our life, no two are exactly the same. The journey is epic and it is heroic. Engaging in counseling is joining in that journey.

We all resonate with the epic journey. In every language, in every culture, you find the stories of the epic journey. The stories that were once told around the tribal fire by the elders are now told in books and movies. At a very young age when we are learning to read, we read fairy tales. As we grow, the fairy tales are replaced by mythology, fantasy, science fiction, religion.

Joseph Campbell, a professor of comparative religion and mythology, wrote several books describing the epic nature of the journey and these books became one of the foundations for my work with clients. Through my reading of

“The Hero with a Thousand Faces”, “The Masks of God”, “The Power of Myth”, and “The Hero’s Journey”, I came to better understand the power and the attraction that we all have to the epic journey, the Great Story.

Campbell wrote that there are twelve stages to the hero’s journey. As I describe each stage, think of how this relates to your own personal journey:

  1. The Ordinary World: this is where the Hero exists before the journey, unaware of the adventure that lies ahead. The Hero is human, just like us all, and so we develop empathy for them.

  2. The Call to Adventure: the Hero receives a call to action. Whatever the call is and however it manifests itself, it disrupts the Hero’s ordinary world and presents a challenge or a quest that must be undertaken.

  3. The Refusal: the Hero must face their fears and doubts. We relate to this.

  4. Meeting the Mentor: the Hero encounters a mentor who provides wisdom, training, and confidence. This allows the Hero to overcome fear and doubt, providing the strength and courage needed to begin the quest.

  5. Crossing the Threshold: the Hero begins the quest, leaving their comfort zone. This the Hero’s commitment.

  6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: the Hero encounters and must overcome obstacles, learning who can be trusted, who are allies, and who are enemies. All of these are preparations for ordeals yet to come. The obstacles define the Hero’s character and our empathy for them grows.

  7. Approach to the Inmost Cave: the Hero is drawing close to the greatest challenge of the quest. During this time, fears and doubts resurface.

  8. The Supreme Ordeal: the Hero must now face the greatest challenge and overcome it. Everything is now on the line. As a result of the ordeal, the Hero is forever changed.

  9. The Reward: having overcome the ordeal, the Hero receives a reward and must now prepare for the last leg of the journey.

  10. The Road Back: returning home with the reward, the Hero must choose between personal objectives and that of a higher cause.

  11. Resurrection: the Hero faces the final battle with death.

  12. Return with the Elixir: the Hero returns to the Ordinary World and having returned forever changed, effects a change in the world.

Each of us follows our own epic journey, much like Luke Skywalker in “Star Wars” or Frodo Baggins in “The Lord of the Rings.” We relate to these characters because they are us. Presented with challenges and overwhelmed by fear and doubt, they/we must step up and go where they/we have never gone before. And in doing so, they/we are forever changed.

Whatever our journey, however long it may take, it is our epic story. We are the Hero.


Jim Harger, M.Ed., LPC

Here are some quotes from Joseph Campbell:

“We must be willing to get rid of the life we planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
“The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
“The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.”
“Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls.”
“A hero is someone who has given their life to something bigger than oneself.”
“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
“Your sacred space is where you find yourself again and again.”
“Find a place inside where there is joy and the joy will burn out the pain.”
“It is by going down the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”