Maybe I am sitting with a client who has the natal Moon on the Midheaven. The symbols tell me that she has been “called to a mission” in this lifetime – that she has something important to do in her community, something that will touch the lives of people with whom she does not have any kind of personal karma. With signs and aspects, I can get a lot more specific, but that’s not my point here. I want to write about a very slippery question, and that is the relationship between astrology and psychotherapy. My client with the Moon on the Midheaven is just my launching pad.
We are all responsible for the way we “inhabit” our birthcharts. That element of free will is absolutely central to my understanding of astrology. One dimension of that pivotal principle is that we are all free to blow it – free to let fear, bad social conditioning, or sheer laziness take a bite out of our lives. That’s true of you, me – and my client with the Moon on her Midheaven too. The fact that she “has a mission” does not mean that she will rise to it. Some personal “Moon work” must serve as the foundation of any gift she is eventually able to give to her community. That will require some effort.
My client has been born to play some kind of helpful, healing role in the lives of strangers. They don’t know it, but those strangers are counting on her. If she does not rise to some approximation of her human potential, she will simply not be there for them. That means that her failure would create suffering for them.
Here’s where everything starts to get really sticky. That possibility of failure confronts astrologers with an uncomfortable truth that we cannot escape or sweep under the carpet. To what extent is it appropriate that we confront this client with the responsibilities that we see in her natal chart? More is at stake here than her own spiritual well being – other souls are depending on her. Do we have an ethical right to say that? Do we have an ethical obligation to say it?
Keep perspective. In your own darkest hours, haven’t you sometimes found help? Hasn’t anyone ever counseled you or supported you?
What would have happened to you if that person had not shown up?
That’s what I am talking about here. That truth about the “soul contract” implicit in her chart is what I am trying to convey to my client. Her own inner work is important, but not only to her. Others are counting on it too.
All that is true, if astrology itself is true. If my client hears it as I intend it, she’ll be inspired. I hope that my words help to validate her “divine orders” – something she knew in her heart anyway. But what if she’s falling short? What if she’s let “fear, bad social conditioning, or sheer laziness” take that bite out of her life? Then, from a psychotherapeutic perspective, my message to her would constitute a serious ethical breach. I have guilt-tripped my client and attempted to manipulate her behavior with shame.
Yikes! That’s harsh, but it is hard to escape. Should I ask her to think of all those poor people she might be failing? Should I get up her nose about that?
To be fair, even if that “moral failure” is the basic idea I put on the table, I surely wouldn’t say it exactly that way. I would try to be kind and patient and to keep perspective. Evolutionary matters take time, and self-forgiveness, and all of that. But still, that sense of her somehow “falling short” is inevitably part of her takeaway, and there is no easy or honest way around it.
- Never forget: astrology holds the mirror of a “perfectly lived life” before us. That is its horror. None of us can ever fully live up to the standard our chart presents. All we can do is to aspire to it. We are all spiritual “works in progress.” Self-forgiveness is an absolutely necessary ingredient in the recipe.
Here’s the pivotal point. See how this astrological counseling situation is so different from the tone, and even the ethics, of psychotherapy? The fierce, stark truth we see in each person’s birthchart puts us in a situation no psychotherapist ever needs to face. It is as if angels have whispered in our ears, and we are burdened by what they have told us. We cannot unhear it. But how do we say it? Do we say it?
Let’s go further.
Generally speaking, a psychotherapist does a lot more listening than an astrologer, while an astrologer does a lot more talking. A psychotherapist has to “discover” a client through conversation. An astrologer starts about a lightyear ahead of that, with the ferocious “X-ray vision” of the client’s chart in hand.
Further, a client comes to a psychotherapist with a very different set of expectations than he or she would bring to a session with an astrologer. Clients expect the astrologer to “tell them things.” The “psychological astrologer” who asks clients how they feel about their “Mercury quincunx the Vertex” is a standard joke. The poor client doesn’t even know what a quincunx is. Clients come to us for our expertise – expertise which they do not have themselves.
As a counseling astrologer, I naturally want to leave a client feeling empowered and encouraged. I am sure that all decent psychotherapists feel exactly the same way about their work. We’re all trying to be soul-healers in some sense of the term. There is an obvious complementarity between the two fields. Still, as the old U2 song puts it, “we are one, but we are not the same.”
Years ago, I heard Robert Hand give a memorable talk at a conference. The essence of it was about the difference between “healers” and “seers.” I think it is a profoundly helpful distinction. We astrologers are seers. Psychotherapists are healers. The astrologer holds the mirror of truth before the client, then basically says, “now do as you will.” Meanwhile, psychotherapists typically work week after week with their clients, holding their hands – and holding their feet to the fire too.
Nina Ortega is both an evolutionary astrologer and a trained psychotherapist. She serves the metropolis where she was born – Mexico City. When I asked her about the questions with which I am wrestling here, she was quite succinct. “Evolutionary astrology brings bright and sharp consciousness about what, when, how to work our issues, but the hard work happens in psychotherapy.” Wisely, Nina points out a fundamental dilemma we face as astrologers: “It is easy to forget what the astrologer said because our body wants to forget. Remembering is painful, even when our souls want to heal.” She adds, “Psychotherapy helps us stay in the presence of the open wound. Sometimes the consciousness that astrology brings is too much to take in one shot.”
By the way, Nina’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and she’s giving me her blessing about my publishing it. She’s been a dear friend for a quarter of a century, and she’s a genuine wise woman.
Hadley Fitzgerald is another licensed psychotherapist who also practices as an evolutionary astrologer. She works in Los Angeles here in California and I was honored to have her as a student of mine for many years. She writes, “To me, astrology is the ancient, soul-full ancestor of psychology. Contemporary psychotherapy can provide a dimensional – and, ideally, sacred – container for attending to the myriad dilemmas, gifts, and challenges that the natal chart presents in archetypal terms. When we can stay mindful, there's a cosmic compassion built into astrology, and this has a vital place in the room whether we do a one-time reading or ongoing work.”
Like Nina Ortega, Hadley Fitzgerald is also aiming for a synthesis of the two fields. She writes, “I’d had a vision in 1974 that astrology would become an invaluable partner for the therapeutic process. Back then I often said I didn’t know if I’d live long enough to see this happen, but I wanted to do my part to be a matchmaker. The concept struck everyone around me as crazy. I’m not sure, but I may have been one of the first graduate students in the country to write a master’s thesis about the subject – and to have it accepted. That didn’t open – or block – any known roads at the time, so I just kept making a road by walking. And here we are nearly fifty years later.”
Hadley is also a dear friend and obviously one of the pioneers forging the future of our field. Her website is HadleyFitzgerald.com. For either astrology or psychotherapeutic work, I’d send my own mother to her. She’s that good.
Let’s put all of this in a broader context.
Astrology’s star may be rising, but “it ain’t all the way rose yet.” Go to a dress-up party with a lot of high-powered strangers. When someone asks you “what you do,” try saying that you are a professional astrologer.
Hallelujah – gone are the days when that would immediately lead to teasing and jokes. But you’ll still probably get a few funny looks.
On the other hand, your dignity will be on far safer ground if your response is, “I am a psychologist.” To many people, practicing psychology is a “real job,” while astrology is more like entertainment. That’s all just sociology, not cosmic truth – but it’s also the water in which we are all swimming. Again, things are improving. We astrologers are slowly winning the battle for hearts and minds. Still, the temptation to try to hitch our star to the brighter star of being fellow “mental health professionals” still casts a long shadow over our field.
Astrologers and psychotherapists can be natural allies. Nina Ortega wrote, “So yes – complementarity is my vote.” I am with Nina – complementarity gets my vote too. But I do like to bang the drum for astrology standing on its own two feet. We are not little “also-ran” faux-psychologists. Our system of soul-healing is ultimately very different from that of psychology. We talk more, for one thing – and that is because we have a lot of answers – at least approximate ones – before our clients even walk through the door. We’ve seen their charts. That’s what they visit us to hear about. And therefore we naturally do much less pure listening, and a whole lot more guiding.
To be “too directive” is a major blunder for a psychotherapist. Ditto really for an astrologer – but we astrologers hit that “too directive” limit a lot further down the road. How, for example, could I ever look at that woman’s chart with her Moon on Midheaven and not “guide” her in the direction of finding meaningful work? I know she needs a sense of mission in her life or she’ll be miserable and feel lost – her chart tells me that in neon lights. A psychotherapist who started by assuming the same thing about her would be guilty of projecting his or her own values or cultural norms upon the client – a major mistake. For all the psychotherapist knows, for that particular woman, the cure for feeling miserable and lost might lie in meditation or in painting. It might lie in having children or grandchildren. It might have nothing at all to do with any sense of mission in the community.
No way around it – the astrologer knows things that the psychotherapist does not know. The opposite is true as well, of course. Seers have skills; so do healers. The skills even often overlap, but they are not the same.
Many years ago when my practice in North Carolina was getting established, clients would sometimes contact me after a session. They’d start by expressing gratitude for the work, but add that it shook them up and they hoped they could have a further conversation with me. Naturally I agreed – I really didn’t see any ethical alternative. Before I knew it, I was “practicing psychology without a licence.” Long story, but I went into psychotherapy myself and apprenticed myself to a psychotherapist who was also a client of mine. Perhaps more importantly, I also did something I would recommend to any counselling astrologer – I compiled a list of therapists I knew and trusted and to whom I could refer clients.
I still think making referrals is a splendid idea, but when it comes to 21st century psychology, I currently consider myself the “loyal opposition.” I don’t mean to overly polarize the issue – quite honestly, some of my best friends are “shrinks.” I have enormous respect for the field, along with a few quibbles. I guess what I am really saying here is that, while astrology has benefited enormously from what we have learned from psychology, the shoe can fit the other foot as well – the psychologists can learn a lot from us. I believe that they need to do that.
Let me quote another good friend and colleague – Dan Keusal. He is a trained and licenced psychotherapist with a Jungian bent, and also an evolutionary astrologer. He practices in Seattle, Washington. His website is DanKeusal.com. Dan was one of the founding members of my first astrological Apprenticeship Program back in Kansas over twenty years ago. He’s carried the torch ever since. In the Seattle area, he is my go-to referral.
Just as astrology is striving to outgrow its fatalistic, predictive past, psychotherapy needs to resist the current trend toward reductionist approaches that focus on mere symptom relief while ignoring the deeper realms of the unconscious and of the soul. I tell my astrology clients that a birth chart is a symbolic encoding of the next steps their soul is needing to take – and ready to take – in its healing and in its growth, and I work with my psychotherapy clients to help them recognize the unique ways that their own psyche, and its outer-life – the synchronistic mirrors – call them to the day-to-day work of courageously moving into and through those next steps.
Bless Dan for his wisdom here. As evolutionary astrologers – and this statement would also apply equally to any psychotherapist whose work I would recommend or even respect – our goal is not simply “eliminating symptoms.” We don’t want to be like those medical doctors who prescribe opioids just because your back hurts. We want to get down to root causes and promote the kinds of healing that actually last. Deep psychological work excels at that process. Adding astrology’s penetrating insights to its arsenal is like adding Warp Drive to your Prius.
It is not unusual to hear some “science-side” pundit decrying the increasing popularity of astrology as a symptom of the decline of critical thinking and the failure of our educational systems. I’ll spare you my retort. Let me just say that the notion that you are a spiritual being having a physical experience in a meaningful, purposeful universe is emphatically not a particularly scientific statement, even though I fervently believe it to be true. Just as astrologers have often succumbed to the temptation to model themselves as “little psychologists,” I feel that many psychologists have bowed too deeply in the direction of science.
Is psychology really a science?
Let me just say I believe that qualifies as an essay question.
Humans are hungry for a sense of ultimate personal meaning in their lives. Astrology does a far better job of providing that soul-food today than does academic psychology. That’s the real reason that we’re doing so well in the marketplace lately – I don’t think it is about “decline of critical thinking and the failure of our educational systems” at all. I think it is about a widespread spiritual hunger for magic and meaning – something that existentialist psychology fails to provide and which even religion seems increasingly to be failing to offer in any satisfying way.
Like my friends Nina, Dan, and Hadley, I too am excited about the emerging synergy of astrology and psychology – but let’s not lose our metaphysical roots in our zeal for public approval. We astrologers are not psychologists. We cannot follow in their footsteps. We need to create our own path.
At this point, if I had to bet, I would bet on astrology’s future over that of psychotherapy. That would be my bet – but my prayer would be for an emerging marriage of equals. And our theme song would be, “we are one, but we are not the same.”