Effective Consultations: Leaving The Astrology In Your Head
In the classic Lerner and Loewes play, Brigadoon, Tommy Albright and Jeff Douglas are two American hikers exploring the Scottish highlands. Unexpectedly, they encounter something that is not on their map — the lost, enchanted village of Brigadoon. This magical Scottish village comes to life for only one day each century. Albright falls in love with one of the women in the village, Fiona MacLaren. The problem is that if Albright stays in the town for more than a day, he can never return home to New York. Not trusting his emotions, he returns home to his fiancée, Jane Ashton, whom he really does not want to marry.
This is a play that small professional theatres can do effectively with a bit of ingenuity because of the simplicity of the story itself. In many cases, a tiny set on the perimeter is effective for the New York scenes, and a simple spotlight there allows Brigadoon to be a world away. Elaborate moving sets would just get in the way, whereas the clean use of spotlights and simple blocking advance the allegorical beauty of this magical play.
Astrology consultations are a lot like Brigadoon. When they are effective, they are stripped down to their essentials. They allow both the client and the astrologer the freedom to grow because only the issues at hand are being dealt with — not a discussion of the intricacies of astrology itself. This is one of the key issues in astrology today as our science and art grows in leaps and bounds. In turn, we must be ready to provide professional consultations to the best of our ability. This means, in part, that we refrain from hiding behind astrological symbolism in providing our services.
To be fair, this is the ‘grand’ tradition in astrology — doing ‘readings’ instead of consultations. But traditions are made to be broken, some Uranian once said, so let us be effective within this discipline by acknowledging the relative futility of this approach in the 21st century. Times change. The society of 1900, where astrologer Alan Leo practised his craft, is a far cry from the reality of the here and now. We no longer say that “the right arm is in danger of being hurt or even lost” when we talk to a Scorpio Rising (1) and we no longer say to Virgo Rising clients that they may be guarding such dastardly “family secrets” as “the father marries twice” or that the first child of the native seldom lives to maturity.”(2)
Can you imagine all the one-armed Scorpio Rising’s out there? The above may sound ridiculous today, and yet there were truths in Leo’s world that are no longer valid (or are less valid) in our own. The Martial qualities of Scorpio (remember, there was no Pluto until 1930) had a very real, base connection with blue collar work at the time. Accidents and injuries were exceedingly common, often with steel and fire, because of the unsafe workplace standards in industry. Marrying twice for a male would indeed have raised eyebrows in 1900 and a woman doing the same would have elicited sheer scandal! Infant mortality rates were also sadly high.
Even when we adjust our lens of understanding to fit these historical perspectives of the time, we still find it difficult — and perhaps even irresponsible — to see astrology used in such an extreme manner. Obviously, there are few people today using Leo’s language from the late 19th century, and yet the tradition of the astrologer letting the client know what he or she is like and what will happen in the coming months is very much alive. This is what must evolve.
So much has changed in our world in 100 years. The birth of psychology in this century has challenged astrologers to stay current, to stay real and client-dependent. Some astrologers will argue that psychology has been around for less than a century, really, and that astrology can be traced to at least Babylonian times. Consequently, these same astrologers suggest our discipline has nothing to learn from this new kid on the block. But that would be an error in judgement.
When Noel Tyl linked psychological need theory to astrological symbols 30 years ago, he was continuing in the tradition of the great Dane Rudhyar, in terms of advancing our discipline. Just as Rudhyar created a new paradigm with his ‘humanistic’ approach to astrology, Tyl was on the forefront of a dynamic synthesis of psychology and astrology. His methods (throughout the classic texts The Principles and Practice of Astrology in 12 volumes and later updated in Synthesis and Counselling in Astrology) absolutely proved that the symbols of astrology not only could be effectively linked with psychological needs, but that they should be because there was a natural affinity. Tyl is also a vocal proponent of eliminating astrological jargon within consultations. (3)
It is important to understand some of the historical underpinnings related to why consultations in astrology should be omitting the astrology itself. The expectations of society in the 1970s were shifting. People were discovering they didn’t really want to know ‘what might happen next week’ so much as they wanted to know more about themselves — their motivations, compulsions and energy. In turn, self-help books began to spring up everywhere and self-help gurus became the norm. The planetoid Chiron, ruling holistic medicine and deep wounds, was discovered in 1977. Eastern religions became more attractive in the west because the Hindus and Buddhists said look within, whereas the Occidental faiths still clung to God as a separate, omniscient force. So the idea of the life journey as an inward-oriented process, not a destiny, took root.
Relatedly, our astrology slowly shifted gears, but not in every department. As much as many astrologers have updated the symbols, to a certain extent, we are still very much using the same approach. Now is the time for a method that is client-centred, not ‘us’-centred, with our magical symbols and infallible ideas of the way life should work. Do you have a print-out in front of you of your client’s chart wheel and point to things as you speak? Do you talk about having ‘no earth’ and lots of ‘mutable’ and ‘planets near angles?’ Do you tell the client what an angle is? Do you tell the client what the elements mean?
After all this and so much more, how much time is spent talking with the client? How much time is spent on understanding the man or woman in front of you, rather than the abstract symbols you committed to memory long ago? These are important questions to ask of yourself as a professional; if you really believe that planets don’t do anything — people do — then why discuss ‘natal Saturn in Aries in the 10th opposing the Moon in Libra in the 4th?’ Why not discuss/find out how authoritativeness and parental expectations played a key role in shaping your client’s circumstances? You don’t need to say the words ‘natal Saturn is opposing your Moon, so this could mean your mom and dad were always fighting and now you likely hate authoritative women.’
Instead, with that aspect in mind, why not try this approach: ‘describe, please, this heavy feeling of responsibility and suppression you have carried from an early age.’
The astrologer would also want the client to describe the nature of the relationship between the client’s mother and father as well. With this two-part question, or some variation, the client can not respond ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to anything and you haven’t uttered a word of astrology — yet the consultation will move forward effectively with more questions and answers inevitably coming into play.
Another example: a woman has natal Pluto in Virgo in the 5th squaring her Sun in Sagittarius in the 8th with Saturn Retrograde. An astrologer should not say something like ‘this Pluto square Sun here means you likely have problems with authority,’ or ‘you don’t feel very liked with all this difficult Pluto-Sun energy here, do you?’ The client doesn’t know what that means! Why mention it? Keep it simple.
More effective and more gently assumptive would be ‘please tell me about your father. In what way was he not there for you so as to have provided authoritative love?’ This still leaves the client open to possibly defend the relationship with the father (perhaps denial or suppression which will also speak volumes) but more likely just to be able to talk it out will help immeasurably. Often, (and necessarily!) the client will speak the truth within the consultation, not the astrologer. It is a truth that needs to be gently urged with thoughtful questions, not unimportant jargon.
To be able to speak to a client without actually verbalizing everything we know about astrology would only make sense from a third party’s standpoint. And yet it seems strangely foreign to many in the field, ostensibly because old habits die hard. Even if one is doing a consultation with an astrology student, it is still cumbersome to talk astrology during the consultation when it could be saved for the end. If an astrologer is talking ”about” astrology within the context of a consultation, we have to begin asking why that may be. Are we hiding behind the symbols ourselves in case we get something wrong? Do we have enough to say if we take out all the planets/houses/signs talk? If not, why not? Surely the well is bottomless in any horoscope. All that talk about Pluto’s cycle, the Progressed Moon and the nodal axis! What else could have been covered in the consultation without the astrology lecture? The astrological information is in the astrologer’s head and on her screen so that it may provide a frame of reference for your discussion.
Most of these people do not want to be astrologers — that’s why they came to see you! When you visit a psychologist she does not take you through mini-intensives on Jungian dynamics or Adler’s sibling theories. When you visit your doctor he does not invite you to learn about the latest research on heart valve replacements, nor does he take you through a short workshop on skin grafts. An astrologer is there to help clients manage change. Chances are your client has so much going on in her life at this time the last thing she needs is to be further confused and muddled by learning the language of astrology in an hour. You did not learn astrology in 60 minutes so why would you expect your clients to do this? We must remember that there is a time for teaching and a time for healing. During the client’s hour, we must do our best to heal, not perform.
In the play Brigadoon, Tommy returns home to New York to a fiancee he doesn’t really want to marry. Tommy didn’t trust his gut when he forsook Fiona, that place in the body that knows better than the heart, better than the mind, about what matters. At the last minute he cancels his wedding, and, in what appears to be a futile, desperate notion, returns to Scotland to the place where the magical village once stood, though it is not due to reappear for another 100 years. In yet one more miracle, because Tommy’s love for Fiona is so exceptional, Brigadoon returns for the briefest of moments to allow him to enter to be with his beloved, never again return to the outside world.
True love brings true freedom is the timeless theme of Brigadoon. True astrological consultations bring freedom as well — freedom to separate the very different roles of consultant and teacher — freedom to realize the difference between offering clarity and settling for ambiguity. It is a privilege to be able to think, feel and respond along with your client, rather than talk to them specifically about what you do. You don’t have to prove you are an astrologer — that’s what your card and your ad says. You have to prove you can be an effective human being for another.
1. Alan Leo, Astrology For All, Rochester, Vermont, U.S., Destiny Books, p. 176
2. Leo, Astrology For All, p. 172
3. Noel Tyl, Synthesis And Counseling In Astrology: The Professional Manual, St. Paul, Minnesota, U.S., Llewellyn, 1998, p. 79.
This article originally appeared in Dell Horoscope Magazine.
About The Author:
Roderick Benns is an internationally-respected astrologer, accredited through the Canadian Association for Astrological Education (CAAE). Roderick is a member of Astrology Toronto, Inc, and a regular contributor to Dell Horoscope Magazine and has also been published in American Astrology Magazine.