What is the role of the "mythological hero" in psychotherapy?  Please explain this idea.from The Myth of the Birth of the Hero by Rank

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clairewait | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Application of Rank's The Myth of the Birth of the Hero most directly relates to child and family therapy.

In his studies, Rank looked at the qualities and similarities of well known literary and mythological heroes (characters like Oedipus, Moses, and Hercules) from many cultures and time periods.  He noted that despite their place and time of origin, the character was basically the same:

  • born to noble, wealthy, or powerful parents
  • rejected by original parents as a baby
  • raised by parents other than the birth-parents
  • reunited with the birth parents later in life
  • punishment of the birth parents
  • acknowledgment of the hero by the father
  • honor for the hero

Looking at this basic story-line, Rank asserts that children, simply by human nature, often fall into a similar pattern of thought (even though their life events do not necessarily follow those of the myth-hero).  A few broad generalities can be drawn from Rank's studies of the myth-hero as explanation for common patterns of behavior:

  1. the child first idealizes his parents but grows to resent them because he realizes they are not the noble or powerful parents he believes he deserves
  2. the child has a desire to have and keep his mother all to himself; this may or may not also be a sexual attraction ("Oedipus complex"); the child eventually resents his father for maintaining the position/relationship he believes he deserves with his mother
  3. the child fantasizes about getting rid of his parents, running away, or desires to have "new" parents

Basically, Rank's assertions were simply theories about human nature, and provided a framework through which to view and give reason for common (and seemingly "unhealthy") behaviors.  Unlike his teacher Freud, however, Rank was clear to denote that the above tendencies are natural for all humans, and not simply those who were deemed "neurotic" or "problem children."

Essentially, this myth-hero idea provides an explanation for rebelliousness in children.  Rank suggested that children either create or compare themselves to previous (cultural) notions of the myth-hero in order to cope with the powerlessness they feel in comparison to their parents.

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