An Archetypal Analysis of Doctoral Education as a Heroic Journey

Daniel W. Salter
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 14  •  2019  •  pp. 525-542

The purpose of this conceptual paper is to align key aspects of the heroic journey archetype with existing research and writing about doctoral students, thereby extending previous discussions of this topic.

While obtaining a doctoral degree is often described as a heroic journey, that assertion has not been fully explored from a depth psychology standpoint. Because myth is a form of pedagogy, key heroic archetypes (Pearson, 1986; 1991) provide a means to describe and understand the student experience.

This synthesis of the scholarship on doctoral education is framed within an alignment of the heroic journey monomyth described by Campbell (2008) to the progression of doctoral student experiences (Gardner, 2009). Various movie characters are used to illustrate the three primary stages of the heroic journey: the departure, initiation, and the return.

Consistent with other applications of archetypal psychology to education (e.g., Mayes, 2010), the paper presents a way for faculty and students to understand and reflect on the overall educational process.

A more elaborated view of the doctoral journey is provided, including the sequence of challenges faced by students in the process and the types of Hero energies expressed at different points.

The responsibilities of doctoral program faculty to create an experience that helps assure success and to mentor students appropriately are reinforced.

While not a research study, the discussion in this conceptual paper provides a broader context for use of the monomyth as an organizing framework for studies of doctoral education.

The commonly recognized 50% success rate of the best-and-brightest in higher education speaks to the size and scope of the challenge and the resulting stresses from taking this journey. Based on the apparent congruency of the monomyth to the process of doctoral education, continued use of this archetype to address these challenges would seem to be indicated.

doctoral education, heroic journey, archetypes, Jungian psychology
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