Counseling Astrology – Conflicting Realities
When The Chart Says One Thing and The Client Another
In previous columns, we have defined the role of the counselor as that of a guide to the client’s self-awareness rather than that of “god-like” being who tells the client about his/her issues. We have also started to explore ways to lead the client to better self-understanding, recognizing that the basis for doing so in a climate of mutual trust that the client and counselor build during their relationship. This article deals with how to build that trusting relationship even when what you see in the chart does not fit what the client expresses about him/herself.
In a counseling environment, one could say there are three realities present at the same time. One reality is the client’s –what he says about his life, his desires, his struggles.
Another reality is the counselor’s\interpretation of the client’s chart with your personality and your projections were interwoven in it. The third reality is the one that emerges during the session as the client shares his views and as you directly or indirectly offer tentative observations for the client’s consideration–and validation or rejection.
Building of Reality
Regarding the building of your “reality” about the client, make a rule never to decide from a natal chart what a client or her life is like! From the chart, you can have only suspicions about the issues a client is dealing with. Only the client herself can let you know whether or not she is aware of the issues you pick up in the chart and how she is handling them. The tentative suspicions you have and the feelings the chart gives you are your leads into guiding the client. It is of utmost importance not to mistake your suspicions for facts.
Remember as you formulate your “reality” that your client has an eighth house and Pluto and Scorpio somewhere in her chart. The placement of these can facilitate the effective withholding of information from you when the client feels she has to be in control of the situation! She may withhold the key to an issue, the very fact which validates (or invalidates) your suspicions–at least until sufficient trust has been established for her to be comfortable about revealing it.
In addition to Scorpio, your client has a twelfth house and Neptune and Pisces somewhere in her chart. Keep in mind also that each house is the twelfth house of the one which follows it, and that every planet and sign has a dark, hidden side. These planets, signs, and houses can signify the unconscious suppression of information–information you are after. In many persons, you will find a layer in the unconscious that is less guarded, and therefore more easily accessible than a consciously kept secret. When you gently guide the client to recognize her unconscious denial, you give her better self-understanding and establish more trust between her and you.
What do you do when you encounter resistance from a client? How do you handle a major discrepancy between what the chart indicates and what the client says? When do you keep your mouth shut? When do you say something? How much do you say? How do you present the discrepancy to the client? If the client disagrees with you, what do you do? Do you back off? Do you stick to the issue? When do you confront? How much confrontation is acceptable? Is it safe to confront? (for you and for the client)?
Of course, there is no one answer to any of these questions. The answer depends on the dynamics between you and the client, the level of trust, and basically, what you intuitively feel is the appropriate approach for this person. However, there is one overriding observation you must make to decide what approach will further, rather than destroy, the trust of a client.
The first and constant observation you must make is of the client’s awareness of his/her issues. When a client comes because of a specific issue, it is pretty obvious that what you are hearing from him fits your general “reality” from the natal chart, the transits, and progressions. However, whether the client presents a specific issue or not, there can be a discrepancy between what you see in the chart and the client’s expressed conscious reality.
As the client talks, you do two things simultaneously. You listen to the words–you hear what is said, what is not said. At the same time, you observe the body language–the facial expressions, the tone of voice, the body stance, the apparent comfort or discomfort with self, with the subject, and so forth.
As you begin to compare the “reality” you see and hear from the client with your chart “reality”, you may realize that these realities conflict or that one appears only as a fraction of the other, or that the client’s reality indicates something you completely missed in the chart. Or any number of other comparisons may reveal themselves.
The counselor’s focus and point of respect should be on the extent of the client’s awareness of her reality… BECAUSE this is the base from which the counselor begins the delicate task of leading the client to see a wider perspective, to discover previously unrecognized potentials, difficulties, and so forth.
Remember that the client may have very good reasons for curtailing her awareness of some of the realities of her life. I have had to work with someone who was keeping in control very violent self-destructive behavior by a very early decision to bury memories and keep facts about her life out of her awareness.
As a counselor, you never have the right to push the client any further than the client wants to go – and you should have found out when you first contacted the client, and again at the beginning of the session, what the client’s expectations are. Your role is to fulfill those expectations, no more, no less. Never attempt to force the client further than he appears to be willing to explore.
To illustrate some ways of bridging discrepancies between client “reality” and counselor “reality”, the following paragraphs describe ways to deal with the rather prevalent and usually difficult-to-handle issue of childhood abuse. From these examples, you can derive parallels for handling other issues.
Suppose that a client’s chart shows potential for some type of abuse during childhood and that you recognize the client’s expressed issues and behavior as typical of the victim syndrome and low self-image of an abused child. He has given you several hints about potential abuse without ever stating it directly.
An indirect way to move into the subject is to ask the client questions about the immediate family, the close relatives, and listen not only to the answer but also to the symbolic language the client uses to express himself. As you listen to his response, you can raise or lower your level of suspicion appropriately. Sooner or later, the client will become curious and ask you why you are asking these questions–what you see in the chart. This query gives you an opening to tentatively offer some part of your chart “reality” for his consideration.
On the other hand, if the chart and the client’s behavior warrant it, you can be more direct with the client. You may carefully state that the chart indicates a potential for abuse, and you want to know if the client is aware of anything along these lines.
Whether you approach the topic directly or indirectly, it is important to emphasize to the client that charts reflect only potentials, not facts, and to gently feed back to the client what he has said that made you suspicious of abuse, or the patterns in his life that might have abuse as their cause. As you give this information to the client, watch his reaction closely. The reaction can range from defiant denial to calm acceptance and the relating of some appropriate memories.
In my experience, client reactions vary greatly. For example, several clients admitted that indeed there was verbal abuse and emotional abuse in the family but quickly added that there was “nothing sexual”. At this point, I saw Scorpio all over the chart! At a juncture like this, it can be very tempting to say something like: “I did not say anything about a sexual form of abuse; why do you bring it up?” Because such a statement is a clearly challenging confrontation, it can cause a breach of your client’s trust and is better avoided. Instead, simply take note of how defensive the client is about the potential sexual aspect of past abuse. Raise or lower your suspicion level. Simply keep it in mind and continue verifying (or invalidating) the potential for abuse as you get to know your client better.
Another client response to the suggestion of abuse is a down-playing of the extent and the consequences of the abuse. The reasoning is that, compared to many other people, what the client has been through is nothing at all. Still another common reaction is to assert that, indeed, there had been abuse, but the client has dealt with it a long time ago and all is now fine. In both these cases, as you monitor the client’s reaction, you should bring up the discrepancy you are experiencing, if any, between what the client’s chart indicates, her words, and her body language. It is a good time to feedback to the client what clues she gave along the way that makes you suspect that the wound created by the abuse may need further healing.
If the client denies any form of abuse, notice how quickly she does so. If she pauses for a minute and calmly answers: “No, not that I know of,” it could be that, indeed, whatever happened was not abusive, or not considered abusive. It is important to remember that what seems to you to be totally inappropriate behavior towards a child, may have been for this child, in her everyday life, the only world she knew, and it is going to take some time for her to realize the long-lasting effects of her childhood environment.
Denial can be totally honest because the person is not conscious of that aspect of her past. Continue working with such a person, keeping in mind your suspicion that something has occurred which may have wounded her inner child more than her adult self is aware of.
Immediate and strong denial of the suggestion of abuse usually reinforces my suspicions of actual abuse, and it may reinforce yours. If the client rushes to tell you that–no there was no abuse in his family, that he had a normal childhood, in a very happy family–hear the clear denial, raise the level of your suspicion, and respect the client’s denial. The more anger you sense in the client’s voice and body language, the stronger your suspicions may be. But they are still your suspicions and not facts.
The measure of the strength of denial can also be a measure of the fragility of the person facing you and his conscious/unconscious life-long effort to keep traumatic experiences out of his awareness and the awareness of others. His denial can be a pillar of his psychological functioning–a pillar to be respected and not assaulted in any way.
In this regard, every counselor should take seriously the following caution. As our suspicions build from our perceptions of the client and his chart, there arises the very human desire–and danger–to want to make our interpretation fit, and to want to prove the abuse–sometimes even to prove it fast–no matter the emotional cost to the client. Acting out this desire can indicate to the self-reflective counselor potential abuse in his or her own past.
On the contrary, in many instances, you should back off and keep your mouth shut. It is important to remember that there are times when emotional pain must remain untouched, hidden from the client. Even if the aspects indicate that it is a good time for the client to look at these issues, remember that this is YOUR interpretation of the client’s chart. The client’s actual readiness and desire to explore are the criteria. Until you see them clearly, do not pursue an issue.
There can be many unconscious reasons why a client is not willing to talk about any form of abuse. A typical example is when, as a child, the client was told never to tell anything to anyone or else something horrible would occur, such as the death of her mother, or her own death. In a client with this buried injunction, you are insisting on the issue only reinforces her unconscious fears of great impending danger. At times, getting too close to the issue may render the client extremely destructive towards herself or towards you. For example, are you ready to handle a client who suddenly rushes headfirst toward the wall? How would you react if a client threatened you?
How much abuse has the person gone through? How deep is the wound? The chart is not going to tell you–even if it is “screaming” at you that there was abuse. Know that a one-time occurrence can be as wounding as repeated abuse. There could be satanic, ritualistic abuse that the person’s whole being is unwilling to reveal.
Even if the chart indicates violence, your wildest imagination may not have a glimpse of what the client went through.
On the other hand, there can also be conscious reasons why the client does not want to admit to or talk about abuse, or any other issue to which you point. She may not trust you to handle the situation. She may be doing healing work with someone else, such as a “regular” psychotherapist. She may feel that the reason she came to see you is unrelated to the abuse. In such a case, the more you attempt to get her to “admit” that she was abused, the angrier she may become. She may be very aware of the issues you are presenting; she may have worked on them for years, then come to you for something entirely different, and want you to stick to her questions, not to play “therapist”.
For these reasons, never confront a client on the issue of childhood abuse. More than any other psychological issues, willingness to explore the possibility of childhood abuse has to come from the client herself. She has to come to the realization -she has to put one and one together.
And one more reminder to promote your safety and sanity: the most important reason to back off, to keep quiet, is one that arises from you–not from the client. This is when you sense that the client’s issue touches something in you. Constantly ask yourself: “How do I feel about what is unfolding? Am I truly capable of handling this situation?” It is never too late to back out and to refer the client to someone who is in a better psychological space to support the client’s process.