What if everyone was born a hero? What if it’s just a matter of tapping into that potential? According to Joseph Campbell (1949), we are all heroes of our own stories.

In Joseph Campbell’s book, ‘The Hero with a Thousand Faces,’ he explores the concept of heroism beyond individual acts of bravery. This pattern, known as ‘the hero’s journey,’ follows a specific path that ordinary people take when they are called to embark on a challenging and unfamiliar adventure. Along this journey, they face trials, tests, and challenges that ultimately transform them. Finally, the hero returns to their original world, now as a changed and heroic individual (Campbell, 1949). Campbell described the function of the journey as necessary, designed to ‘wake you up’ (p. 12). This hero’s journey consists of three stages: departure, initiation, and return

Stages of the Hero

As the hero begins their journey, they are immersed in a familiar, ordinary world. Everything is normal, and nothing unusual has happened. It is the ‘pre-period’, before traumatic events, illnesses or injuries, for example, occur.

Departure: This stage represents the beginning of the journey. It begins with a certain event or situation that serves as a ‘call to adventure’. The call ‘signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred their spiritual centre of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown’ (Campbell, 1968, p. 58). It is possible for the traveller to initially refuse the call due to a fear of potential dangers, involving leaving their comfort zone, embracing new challenges and venturing into the unknown. This phase often includes an initial struggle, doubts or obstacles to overcome. When the call to adventure arises, it presents an opportunity for individuals for personal growth and transformation (Campbell, 1968).

Initiation: In this phase, the hero encounters a series of challenges, trials, and victories that provide valuable opportunities for growth, learning, and self-discovery. Each obstacle faced serves as a steppingstone towards the hero’s transformation and personal development. This stage often culminates in a final and formidable challenge that symbolises a metaphorical death or rebirth. Through this transformative experience, the hero emerges with enhanced strength, wisdom, and knowledge, ready to embrace their heroic role with a renewed sense of purpose.

Return: The final stage of the hero’s journey involves returning transformed to their ordinary world. The individual integrates the lessons learned and experiences gained throughout the journey and applies them to their daily life. According to Campbell (1949), the hero who has undergone transformation possesses an elixir that holds the power to restore the world. This elixir represents their increased wisdom and strength. It becomes a source of inspiration for others. By imparting their wisdom and offering guidance, these transformed heroes become catalysts for growth and transformation in others.


The transformation and return of the traveller on a hero’s journey parallel the idea of post-traumatic growth (PTG), a phenomenon where individuals may experience positive outcomes from trauma (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). Exploring the theoretical link between the hero’s journey and PTG offers an intriguing parallel, but how do they compare?

The psychology of PTG and the metaphor of the hero’s journey suggest that despite the disruptive nature of trauma in our lives, we can embark on a new narrative and redefine our identity (Horowitz, 2018). Both the hero’s journey and PTG share a common focus on personal transformation and growth in the face of adversity. Both frameworks advocate for a shift in perspective. This shift allows individuals to tap into their inner strengths (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2006), embark on a journey of self-discovery (Lindstrom et al., 2013) and develop new qualities and abilities (Malhotra, 2016).

In the hero’s journey, the traveller undergoes various trials, confronts their fears and ultimately emerges transformed, often with newfound wisdom and personal growth. Similarly, PTG proposes that individuals can experience positive changes in the domains ‘personal strength,’ ‘new possibilities,’ ‘relating to others,’ ‘appreciation of life,’ and ‘spiritual change’ following trauma (Tedeschi & Calhoun, 1996). In alignment with Campbell’s concept of the ‘Master of Two Worlds,’ PTG doesn’t aim to erase past experiences and trauma but rather acknowledges their repercussions, placing emphasis on the strength derived from them. As per Campbell (1949), the hero retains the skills acquired through adversity, integrating them into their ‘ordinary world.’ Consequently, upon the hero’s return, one is likely to undergo personal strength, explore new possibilities, foster improved relationships with others, cultivate an enhanced appreciation of life, and undergo spiritual change.

The combination of these frameworks offers a powerful perspective on the potential for PTG and reinvention following traumatic experiences, providing trauma survivors with a sense of direction and progress within their recovery process. As therapist Estelle Frankel (2003) highlights, ‘Knowing we are on a journey that has distinct stages, and being able to ‘name’ these stages, helps us place our personal experience within a larger context’ (p. 77). This insight can empower individuals to consciously incorporate the stories and wisdom of others into their healing process, providing comfort, inspiration, and encouragement as they navigate the challenges of trauma recovery.

Nonetheless, the hero’s journey fails to adequately highlight, for example, ongoing challenges, feelings of hurt, negative emotions, and moments of doubt that individuals can still experience even after they have returned to the ordinary world. The process of recovering from trauma is not a linear path (Schmelzer, 2018); instead, it resembles more of a spiral, where the ‘return’ stage is merely a temporary pause before starting the cycle again from the ‘departure’ stage with a newfound perspective.


Throughout history, heroic stories have provided us with valuable wisdom and inspired us to grow and find courage in our own lives (Allison & Goethals, 2016). For some trauma survivors, their experiences mirror the trials and triumphs of these heroes and affirm the profound connection between myth and the human experience. As a society, we have the opportunity to reshape their narrative through the lens of resilience and strength, helping survivors realise that they are the true heroes of their own healing journey. By reframing their experiences, we provide a powerful framework for survivors to navigate their recovery with a sense of empowerment and hope (Williams, 2019).

About the Author: Sandra Gut is a 2023 MAPP graduate from Buckinghamshire New University, currently working in the field of Cosmetic Science. She is passionate about character strengths, resilience, and post-traumatic growth. She advocates healing and personal growth, enjoys adventures around the world, and maintains a healthy lifestyle in the gym.


Allison, S. T., & Goethals, G. R. (2016). Hero worship: The elevation of the human spirit. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 46(2), 187–210.

Calhoun L. G. & Tedeschi R. G. (2006). Handbook of posttraumatic growth: research and practice. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Campbell, J. (1949/1968). The hero with a thousand faces. Princeton, NJ: Bollingen Foundation.

Frankel, Estelle. “Life as Sacred Narrative.” Tikkun 2003: 77. Literature Resource Center. Print.

Horowitz M. (2018). Redefining Identity after Trauma or Loss. Psychodynamic psychiatry46(1), 135–144.

Lindstrom, C. M., Cann, A., Calhoun, L. G., & Tedeschi, R. G. (2013). The relationship of core belief challenge, rumination, disclosure, and socio-cultural elements to posttraumatic growth. Psychological Trauma, 5(1), 50-55.

Malhotra, M., & Chebiyan, S. (2016). Posttraumatic Growth: Positive Changes Following Adversity – An Overview. International journal of psychology and behavioral sciences, 6, 109-118.

Schmelzer, G. L. (2018). Journey through trauma: A trail guide to the 5-phase cycle of healing repeated trauma. Penguin.

Tedeschi, R. G., & Calhoun, L. G. (1996). The Posttraumatic Growth Inventory: Measuring the positive legacy of trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 9(3), 455– 472.

Williams, C. (2019). The Hero’s Journey: A mudmap for change. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 59(4), 522–539.


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