Imagine being lost in the woods on a dark night. You are wandering aimlessly with no inkling whatsoever of which way to go when you begin to notice the ground beneath you changing. And as each step gets a bit easier, it dawns on you that you have found a path. This path does not make the dark woods disappear, nor does it shorten the distance you must travel to get out of the woods — but it does allow you to move forward with a bit more certainty, knowing that others have traveled this same route before you.
In my work as a grief therapist, I am often a companion to those who feel lost in the woods. I have always found that the most reliable light to shine into the darkness is the one gathered from the collective wisdom of those who have walked before us. And that’s why I created a grief archetype quiz, a simple tool that explores the four most common “footpaths” that I have observed among my grief clientele.
Understanding Grief Archetypes
The beauty of learning about archetypes is that you not only gain insight into the path you are on, but you also get to take a peek at other well-trodden paths and use that added insight to configure your best path forward.
An important caveat — an archetype in not a life sentence. It’s more like a current snapshot of how you are choosing to travel. As we learn and grow, our coping mechanisms expand and sometimes one archetype gives way to another. There is no hierarchy to these archetypes. They’re just different foot paths through the same terrain.
Grief Archetype: Pilgrim
At least half of the clients who come to me for grief therapy fit the Pilgrim archetype. Pilgrims in general gravitate toward supportive relationships (therapy, AA, faith-based supports.) Pilgrims are trusting and gentle by nature and during their time of loss, they become wary and unsure of the path before them. They typically seek grief therapy not because they think it will “fix their grief,” but instead because they want companionship on the journey. Having someone sift through the debris that loss leaves behind is an apt descriptor for how therapy with Pilgrims often unfolds. I love my Pilgrims and often end up with long term therapy relationships with them — relationships that begin with grief, but evolve well beyond this narrow scope.
Grief Archetype: Villager
Working with the Villager archetype is like a partnership. As the name implies, Villagers like to have a sturdy system in place around them and they like to be well prepared. They usually arrive to therapy with a bag of tricks already in place, but they are eager to add to their collection of tools. Villagers don’t like the way that grief catches them off guard, and therapy is often sought as a way to minimize the risk of this ever happening to them again. I learn both with and from my Villager clientele and have found that Villagers often look back upon their time of grief with appreciation for the growth it has forced.
Grief Archetype: Pioneer
The archetype that I see walk through my door the least often is the Pioneer. Pioneers adapt to grief by learning to move with it (or sometimes around it or through it). Movement, ideally forward movement, is key, so Pioneers may stop by my office to pick up a few coordinates for the journey, but they usually don’t stay long. Exercise, travel, new hobbies — these are all things that a Pioneer may find helpful as they learn to integrate grief into their world.
Grief Archetype: Voyager
In my own world (both as a therapist and as a human), the path my feet are most at home on is that of the Voyager. Voyagers are seekers at heart, and when a Voyager comes to me for therapy, sessions are always full of moments that both heal the mind and feed the soul. It is this path of the Voyager and my study of the afterlife sciences and the years of research I have done on death bed visions, that has given me the reserves I need to work in the grief and end of life field for as many years as I have.
Embracing Your Grief Archetype
Each archetype has its gifts. Ideally, when making the hard trek through grief, we learn to weave bits and pieces of each path together so that at some point the pathway leads us out of those dark woods and back to a place that feels like home.