Counseling Astrology – LISTEN, LISTEN, LISTEN
Strange title for a column on counseling? Not if the basic principle of counseling is to guide the client to the awareness of what he wants to do rather than to tell the client what to do.
The ability to listen with an open mind and a compassionate heart is the key to counseling. Astrology is only a tool — a major tool, certainly — but only a tool that supports and validates the process of both the client and the astrologer.
This first column explores the general role of astrology in counseling and provides examples of successful and unsuccessful counseling. Future columns will present more detailed ways to use astrology as a counseling tool.
In counseling, the natal chart becomes a map of the client’s psyche. Touching a person’s psyche is sacred work to be approached with awe, respect, care, compassion, and patience.
The chart shows the energies a person was born under, not the energies a person is stuck with. The energies that existed when a person was born to move constantly. The movement of energy within the person is reflected and symbolized by the movement of the planets in the sky. Planets do not rule life in any way; they are only a symbolic reflection of the energies a person experiences, of the changes happening in and around a person.
The natal chart shows the client’s potential but does not show how the client used her potential. Only the client knows, and, as we shall
see, knows only to a certain degree how she has used energies available to her. The astrologer has to ask questions, offer information undogmatically, tentatively, following up the client’s reaction with sensitively-worded questions and careful listening.
If the astrological chart does not show how a client has used her potential, it shows even less how the client will use her potential in the future. Predicting a client’s future is probably the most harmful information a counseling astrologer can offer a client.
A prediction projects the astrologer’s ego and needs on the client in the form of a more or less detailed specific event.
A prediction locks the client into expecting a situation without giving her free choice. If the prediction is of a negative and restrictive nature, the psyche tends to accept the defeat, gives up hope, and by believing in the negative event, invests it with its best chance to occur. On the other hand, a constructive prediction may not necessarily occur because usually, it involves change, and the psyche tends to resist change in any form.
In addition, what may seem positive to the astrologer may well be experienced as negative and destructive by the client, and vice versa. The client’s inner strengths and inner conflicts are reflected by the planetary aspects in the natal chart. Just as the concept of benefic and malefic planets and aspects is long gone, the concept of hard and soft aspects also ought to be considered obsolete.
For example, a trine denotes the harmony between aspects of the self, but it also symbolizes a tendency to overdo. A square denotes tension, but can also indicate a saving grace, an ability to take action, to get things accomplished. In other words, one’s interpretation of aspects should not differ from one’s interpretation of anything in astrology:
Nothing is good. Nothing is bad.
Everything is an opportunity.
The client’s inner strengths and conflicts have been greatly influenced by the psychological environment in which the client was born and raised. The emotional atmosphere in the environment, its joys, and especially its unexpressed tensions, are absorbed by the psyche and become the bases of behaviors that can be experienced later as facilitators or barriers to growth and happiness.
Usually, the client arrives with a well-defined external problem. Usually, also, the client has no idea what the inner basis of that outer problem is. The work of the astrologer is to help the client understand his behavior in relation to its inner roots. Ideally, the astrologer should achieve this before giving support for changes in the client’s life.
A few years ago, I visited a client in his office (see Chart 1). The client shared with me his difficulties in sustaining a close relationship. His seventh house of relationship is in Sagittarius. Jupiter, the ruler of Sagittarius, is in Cancer. The Moon, which rules Cancer and symbolizes the concept of the mother, is squared by the Sun which represents the concept of the father.
Combination Of Planetary Aspects
This combination of planetary aspects and placements indicated to me the possibility that, soon after a relationship began, some argument would arise that would bring an end to the relationship. My client confirmed that he experienced a repetitive cycle of this nature. I explained that, somehow, during his childhood, there was some unexpressed tension between his parents. He absorbed this tension, never learned to resolve it, and, unconsciously based his behavior in a relationship on the behavior learned from his parents. My client was very puzzled, for he had always experienced his parents as getting along very well.
As a few other questions had also come up about his childhood, he got up and called his mother. He hooked up the speakerphone so I could hear the whole conversation.
To my great surprise, he told his mother that there had been some tension between her and his father when he was a child, and this problem between them was the reason for his current problems in relationships!
The mother immediately answered that this was not the case, that he was a wanted child, and had always been very loved. I shook my head in agreement with this statement. I suggested he ask her how her husband and she resolved conflicts. She was adamant: “We agreed long before getting married that we would never argue when angry. We agreed that we would cool off before discussing any issue. So, usually, we would talk in the evening after you and your brothers were asleep.”
At that instant, my client remembered his father leaving the house furious and his mother crying while washing the breakfast dishes. He realized that he had witnessed his parents argue but he had never witnessed the resolution of any conflict. Therefore, he never learned to resolve conflict within a relationship. There are many classes and books on conflict-resolution these days from which my client could now benefit. A few months later, he was happily experiencing an on-going relationship.
Not all consultations are as easy as this one. Not all clients are that willing or able to bring up issues, face them, and make so drastic a change. When clients are less self-reflective, are overwhelmed, or are unwilling to accept responsibilities for inner change, then the key to counseling is to ask questions, listen to answers, hear the planetary archetypes at work.
One of my experiences with this reality involved a man born in Central Europe during World War II (see chart 2). Since his time of birth was uncertain, I could not rely much on house placement. His retrograde Saturn conjunct Mars, opposing Mercury, and squared by Jupiter spoke to me of a restrictive father image as well as restrictive authority figures.
My client would have experienced these restrictions and internalized them in terms of action (Mars), communication (Mercury), and expansion, freedom (Jupiter). Also, this man’s Sun in the male sign of Aquarius emphasized his identification with the father’s image.
At the same time, and possibly in conflict within the client’s conscious understanding of himself, the chart denoted a strong mother influence.
However, at the time of the consultation (mid-November 1987), the transiting planets directed my attention to the concept of the father and its influence on my client’s current life: Pluto square Pluto, Uranus semi-sextile Mercury and sextile Jupiter, Saturn quincunx Saturn, Jupiter square Saturn, Mars having squared Saturn a few days earlier and now squaring Mercury before Jupiter. Also, Neptune was within a two-degree orb from squaring Neptune.
The client talked about his difficulties at work and especially his difficulties with his various managers with whom he argued quite a bit and who, of course, was always at fault.
I explained that often our current behavior stems from our childhood experiences, and went on talking about what the chart described in terms of a father image. I did not talk about his father, but about his concept of father and authority figures. I was rapidly interrupted: “I was born during the war, in a little village in Central Europe, and I was the only man within a hundred-mile radius; therefore, I cannot have any problem that relates to my father.”
Needless to say, I never saw that client again!
But I learned! I especially learned to ask. I learned that, no matter what the chart indicates to me, it does not tell me anything about the client’s awareness.
Hopefully, I had not done too much harm (except, maybe to the astrological profession!). But I have heard and been at the receiving end of, many statements about personality made in a dogmatic and abrupt manner by a person interpreting the natal chart.
When a client listens to an astrologer, she experiences the “it’s about me” feeling. A few good ‘hits’ about the person’s traits are not hard to find and these hits are the ‘magic’ of astrology. While the client is usually delighted to hear such ‘right-on’ statements about herself from someone who does not know her, she is also in a most vulnerable position. This is when the astrologer can do the most harm.
Describing the person to herself, like predictions, creates the risk of locking the person into the character traits the astrologer describes. The astrologer has to remember that what looks like strengths in the client’s chart may have been diverted or distorted devastatingly at some time in the past. The chart does not indicate how the client has used her potential nor the difficulties it symbolizes.
I recently saw a woman whose chart clearly indicated difficulties relating to her womanhood due to the influence of both the mother and the father. The chart made me suspicious of her relationship with her mother. Carefully I said: “Tell me about your mother”. The answer was: “She is my best friend.” However, little by little, during the consultation, elements of strain and question marks started to emerge from the client about her mother. I simply had to ask her to hear what she was saying to bring her to the awareness that she had to look at herself as a woman who had absorbed and learned both positive and negative concepts from her mother.
The answer the astrologer may get when asking a question is: “You tell me!”. This is the perfect time to demystify astrology. This is the perfect time to explain to the client that astrology is only a tool to help him understand better his journey through life, that the planets do not rule our lives but are signposts to better awareness, better self-acceptance, and self-love.