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Potentials and Contraindications of Therapeutic Astrology
by Greg Bogart, Ph.D

Note: Excerpt from G. Bogart (1996). Therapeutic Astrology: Using the Birth Chart in Psychotherapy and Spiritual Counseling. Berkeley, CA: Dawn Mountain Press.

     Before we can begin to introduce astrological perspectives into therapeutic work, it is important to understand the somewhat uneasy relationship that exists between the fields of psychology and astrology. While there is a growing interest in therapeutic applications of astrology, we cannot lose sight of the fact that astrology is still considered by most psychologists (and scientists in general) to be one of the last holdouts in modern society of primitive superstition and irrationalism. I can well understand the skepticism some psychologists feel toward astrology. For was it not the mission of modern science to liberate humanity from fatalistic, deterministic beliefs, rooted in religious traditions, such as those allegedly found in astrology? Science and humanism have tried to free human beings from slavery to the gods and to awaken our capacity to shape the world and ourselves through choice, effort, and free will. The repudiation of astrology was part and parcel of the rejection of the supernatural and seemed to be essential to the growth of science, reason, and a more enlightened society.

     Psychologists often view astrology with great suspicion, for it may seem to be antithetical to their work of helping clients to strengthen their sense of personal efficacy and agency and to make their own destinies through concrete material, social, and intellectual achievements. A common view is that astrology promotes not independence and freedom but rather a passive attitude in which the locus of control of events is seen as existing outside the person in the planets. To a large extent this negative misperception of astrology is due to the fact that most of what the public knows as astrology is the Sun sign predictions found at supermarket checkout counters, next to the National Enquirer. It is also due to the tendency for astrologers to try to predict specific events instead of focusing on psychological principles and tendencies indicated by the chart. Another major problem is that many astrologers "read" a chart one-sidedly, emphasizing information rather than process.

     This way of working with astrology is inherently disempowering; the astrologer simply interprets the information contained in the chart without soliciting any input or feedback from the individual. A truly therapeutic approach to astrology is one that explores the horoscope's symbolism through dialogue, not a monologue of psychic predictions. A therapeutic astrologer works with a birth chart in a process-oriented, interactive manner, jointly constructing meaning with the client rather than making pronouncements about the chart - as if the chart contained a predetermined set of meanings. We ask questions that reveal how the client is responding to certain planetary energies, for example a con-junction of Sun-Neptune in the 10th house. Without this kind of inquiry there is no way of knowing whether the person is already living in harmony with these planets, for example - expressing them, for example, through highly imaginative, spiritual, or service-oriented career pursuits - or whether the client needs guidance in how to better embody the potentials of these celestial symbols.

     By engaging in dialogue with clients about the central themes of their charts, we discern their level of consciousness and functioning so that we are able to counsel them effectively. Counteracting the misperception that astrology is fatalistic, a therapeutic astrologer maintains the attitude that we can use our free will to shape the meaning of all planetary placements and transits. It is true that astrology reintroduces a mythic perspective, revealing the archetypal nature of the people and situations that inhabit our lives. Yet our work is to show the individual how to actively cooperate with the intention of the planets rather than to feel victimized by them and the dreaded fate they are often believed to foretell.[1]

     Take, for example, the case of a person who has transiting Saturn entering the 2nd house. A traditional predictive astrologer might state that this was a sign of impending financial difficulties. But an alternative interpretation, and a more responsible one in my opinion, is that this transit heralds a necessary process of maturation that challenges the individual to stabilize her financial situation through concentrated effort. Dialogue elicits specific information about the client's financial situation that clarifies how well she is adapting to the developmental challenges, pressures, and opportunities of Saturn. To the extent that difficulties in this area are identified, practical suggestions can be offered. The same fundamental principle is true with any transit of Saturn. Practiced in this dialogical manner, astrology becomes not a fortune-telling method but a discipline fully compatible with psychology and a rational humanism - a discipline that can help modern men and women better their lives, make choices about careers, and understand their emotions, their past traumas, and their relationships.

     It is somewhat ironic that while some psychologists might complain that astrology disempowers and weakens people's sense of free will, what they often prescribe is endless months and years of therapy, and, in many cases, dependency upon the expertise of the therapist! Therapeutic astrology actively cultivates a strong sense of choice, timing, and self-under-standing. As we saw earlier, it is also a powerful means of quickly identifying central therapeutic themes and issues and can thus promote efficient, focused, short-term therapy. Moreover, astrology is a valuable tool for self-guided inner growth, which can provide alternatives to psychotherapy, helping people explore their inner lives independently of the formal counseling relationship and outside the traditional therapeutic setting - for example, through participation in inner growth groups utilizing astrology, meditation, and dreamwork, a powerful combination.

     Nevertheless, psychotherapy is still one of the culturally accepted rites of passage for persons undergoing transformation - one of the primary places where initiation occurs for adults in our society.[2]  Therapists are the most respected culturally sanctioned healers of our era, having replaced, for many people, the priest, confessor, minister, or traditional medicine man and woman. Moreover, psychological insights into the unconscious mind, family systems, the impact of early developmental trauma, transference and countertransference, and other aspects of the counseling process are now essential background for anyone guiding others, astrologers and spiritual teachers included. Many astrologers recognize this and have begun assimilating the important findings of psychologists into their work.

     However, we must also consider the suspicion with which many astrologers regard psychologists. Many astrologers view their psychologist counterparts with a mixture of envy and disdain, admiration and mistrust. For, simply put, psychologists and psychotherapists generally earn more money than most astrologers and are treated with greater respect in our culture. Some astrologers feel some bitterness about this, for why should we not gain the same respect as other professionals? Nevertheless, I would encourage astrological counselors to enter the psychological professions both because of the difficulty of making a living as an astrologer in a society that continues to revile and ridicule our field and because formal therapeutic training teaches us to work with clients with a new depth of understanding and skill that augments the power of astrology to promote human transformation.

     Undergoing clinical training offers us the opportunity to examine many central issues (for example, sexuality, addiction, family dynamics, personality types) that can greatly sharpen our work with astrology. I believe astrologers will benefit from embracing the study of psychology not only as a way to situate themselves professionally, but also as a way to gain knowledge and experience that enriches and expands their understanding of astrology and the counseling process. My own work with astrology has been deepened immeasurably as a result of my training as a therapist.

     I believe astrology will one day be raised up to a position of respect in our culture once again and that it will be routinely used by psychotherapists and others engaged in the care of souls. In my opinion, practicing psychotherapy without referring to the astrological birth chart is like trying to study biology without a microscope, or like climbing Mt. Everest without a map. The birth chart is a uniquely accurate means of understanding the inner world and subjective experience of a person, and offers the most individualized road map available of the path of transformation.

Science, Initiatory Language, and Self-Study

     What many psychologists and other skeptics don't grasp is that it may not be possible to adequately evaluate astrology strictly as a science. You don't evaluate a poem or a piece of music by the criteria of science, nor should we do so with astrology. I appreciate the efforts some people are making to validate astrology scientifically, but I am not convinced that astrology is a physical science. Rather, it is a metaphysical, contemplative discipline. Like alchemy, astrology is an esoteric, coded language of symbols that reveals sacred knowledge. It is an initiatory language, the meaning of which is understood only through meditation, and by those who become humble students of its mysteries. It is like the cryptic "twilight language" of Tantrism, which looks like gibberish to non-initiates.[3]  And one can only become an initiate by reflecting on planetary symbols in a meditative frame of mind. Before attempting to apply astrology therapeutically to assist clients, it is important for us to thoroughly study our own charts. This involves a comprehensive biographical review, in which we examine the most important events of our own lives in relation to astrological symbolism. Only after we have become familiar with, and highly sensitive to, the character and activity of each planet, sign, house, and aspect can we guide others effectively.

     Continuous attention to our own growth is essential to the practice of astrotherapy. That is, our skill as therapeutic astrologers is directly related to our level of consciousness as human beings. To guide other people, we need to know the territory of human transformation through our own experience. Through self-study, we learn to assume the centered stance of one whose purpose and essential identity are clear (Sun). We examine our own emotional issues, and become more feelingful, empathic persons (Moon). We develop curiosity about the world, read widely, and dedicate ourselves to continuous learning and exchange of ideas with others (Mercury). We refine our social skills so we are warm, friendly, loving people (Venus). We develop energy, enthusiasm, and motivation to pursue our goals; and we refrain from sexually exploitative conduct (Mars). Embodying the intelligence of both Jupiter and Saturn, we are both hopeful and sober-minded, optimistic and realistic, philosophical and strategic. We are able to set high goals and to work to achieve them. We are concerned with issues of meaning but also grounded in the real world.

     But our personal evolution as astrologers does not end there. For to be true therapeutic astrologers, we must be committed to becoming fully evolved human beings. This means consciously passing through the tests of the outer planets and accepting the responsibilities of the transpersonal path. This involves meeting the challenge of Uranus to free our-selves, when necessary, from cultural conditioning and social norms so that we become individualized persons. It involves meeting the challenge of Neptune to rise above the illusions and transient phenomena of the physical world, to taste eternity and to touch the Sacred, through some kind of med-itative or contemplative practice. This access to expanded states of consciousness helps us to become more intuitive so that eventually we learn to read a person without a birth chart. Finally, the transpersonal way involves meeting the challenge of Pluto to expose and expel the toxins and impurities of our personalities - such as resentment, hunger for power, and cruelty toward others. When we are free of timidity, awakened to transcendent dimensions, and purified of selfish or hurtful motivations, then we may be said to be proceeding on the transpersonal path.[4]  Studying astrology to guide our evolution helps us to become poised and centered in the midst of all of life's many challenges. It is because of this self-study that, when clients come to see us in the midst of deep crises, we can find the pulse and help them understand what is happening to them.

A Container for Transitional Experiences

     I approach astrology not so much as a science of prediction but as an art of biographical interpretation that utilizes celestial symbols to describe essential characteristics of human experience and to reveal the meaning of events. It enables us to revision, reinterpret, or reframe situations in the revealing light of planetary symbols and cycles. When viewed in the context of celestial symbols, even the worst defeat can become a sacred event, viewed and accepted as "a necessary phase in the ritual process of existence." [5]

     Jonathan Tenney,[6]  a leader in the field of psychological astrology, has likened the birth chart to a container or holding vessel that assists therapy clients through the breakdown and disintegration of old structures and the building of new ones. In his view, the success or failure of a transformational process depends on the ability to create a viable bridge between these two states. Astrology helps us guide a person through the liminal state - the state of transition between one way of being and another - by illuminating the meaning of this process and by revealing an image of its potential goal or outcome. The birth chart is a contextualizing tool for holding chaotic experiences. It helps us make sense out of what's happening to us, and what our current experience, turbulent though it may be, means in the overall process of personal evolution.

     For example, a man named Peter had transiting Neptune opposite natal Saturn for a year. During this period he lost his job, he was unable to find other work, and his career fell apart. These events conform exactly to the meaning of the planetary symbolism involved: Saturn symbolizes the security of our life structures as well as our career, and Neptune represents erosion, uncertainty, and chaos. Peter felt as if he was on a precipice, like the ground was eroding underneath his feet. "I'm going crazy!" he'd often say. "What's happening? When is it going to end?" I explained to him that I didn't know exactly when this period was going to end but that this Neptune transit seemed to be related to what he was experiencing. I noted that it was going to last for another few months, so the uncertainty would probably continue at least that long. I also explained to him that during this period his professional goals probably would change and any notion that security was the primary motivating force of his life was going to be deeply challenged. Neptune's transit to Saturn was an opportunity for him to let go of old ambitions, to dissolve his fears related to survival, and to develop faith and inner serenity. I then identified a period several months in the future when Jupiter would transit over his Midheaven, when new goals and plans might begin to emerge for him. Most importantly, from an astrological perspective, while I wanted to know when Peter's difficulties would end and when his life might settle down and stabilize again, I was also willing to consider the possibility that this difficult period might have a meaning within the overall unfolding of his life.

     This whole process seemed like it was perfectly designed and intended for Peter, as if he had to go into the Neptunian quicksand of uncertainty so that his awareness could expand, and so he could receive a vision of a different, more idealistic, spiritual career. In accordance with the general qualities of a Neptune transit, during this period he began to pray for the first time in his life and issues of faith became central concerns. He enrolled in a program that trained him to do spiritual healing, and when transiting Jupiter passed over his MC he did indeed find another job, in a different field.

     On the outside this had appeared to be a period of failure. But ultimately these difficulties caused Peter to awaken to forces that were much larger than himself: the will of God, the presence of the Great Spirit, the infinite supply of healing energy and love. This transit opened Peter's heart, awakening compassion for everyone. This illustrates the other, often disregarded, side of Neptune's sometimes confusing visitations, which is to open us to the reality of universal suffering and the intention to be a healer of suffering. In short, this was a major spiritual growth process for him, even though it involved walking over some very treacherous ground. Astrology helped him contain his anxiety during this confusing period. What an astrologer can offer a person in such a crisis is not simply reassurance that "everything is going to be okay," but the awareness that an intelligent force is at work trying to mold him or her into a more complete, evolved human being. Astrology can be of immense value in such a situation because it helps the person find a center of calm in the midst of the storm, in the chaos of transformation.

Astrology, Meaning Making, and Choice

     Astrology can also help strengthen the client's capacity to make his own meaning, rather than deriving meaning from an outside source, such as a traditional religious doctrine. By strengthening the capacity to make meaning, it contributes to the consolidation of the self, the sense of being a coherent, purposeful agent, one who is able to act.

     For example, consider the predicament of a client named Jim with natal Jupiter in the 10th house in Aries and a natal conjunction of Sun and Mercury in Aquarius in the 9th house. Jim, thirty-nine years old, had a job he considered menial and was troubled by the fear that he might never find a calling, a work in life. However, a single question about a past transit helped Jim begin to view his situation somewhat differently. I asked Jim (in 1991) what had happened to him back in early 1986 when transiting Jupiter passed over his natal Sun-Mercury. Had he had some experience of himself as a teacher or educator? (Sun-Mercury in the 9th house of education, and natal Jupiter, planet of the educator or lecturer, placed in his 10th house of career). Jim said, "That's funny. That's right around the time my dad (a teacher) got sick and I got to fill in for him and teach a few of his classes. He let me substitute for two weeks and I got to be the teacher. And that was the highest experience of my life - the first and only time I felt like I knew who I really am."

     That single memory enabled Jim to see that, as transiting Saturn was approaching its transit through Aquarius and the conjunction with natal Sun-Mercury, he had an opportunity to create, by his own effort, an identity, a structure, a work in the world focusing on being a very unique, unusual teacher. But he had to build it. He couldn't just have the unrealistic and unattainable fantasy of being a teacher. He had to work for it, to go through the Saturnian process of going back to college and getting his teaching credential, which he did. Having an image of this goal mobilized his efforts to work toward a new career. Astrology helped Jim move from a stance of powerlessness to a stance of choice.

Contraindications of Using Astrology

     If astrology can be utilized by some to strengthen their choice-making and meaning-making capacities, we should also be clear that there are some people who do not possess the requisite ego strength to use astrology productively, or even safely in a therapeutic setting. It's important to proceed with the synthesis of astrology and psychotherapy with a sense of caution, because there are some contraindications of using astrology in the context of psychotherapy. One needs to use astrology with wisdom, just as one would not give a five-year-old a chainsaw or present an unprepared individual with profound Kabbalistic meditations or the secrets of the Tibetan Buddhist Kalachakra.

     Some questions I ask myself when considering whether or not to introduce astrology into the counseling situation are the following: Does the client show evidence of avoidance, escapism, dissociation, magical thinking, or other thought disorders? If any of these are present, I would not utilize astrology in the therapeutic setting. Let us consider some examples.

     A major problem area that alerts me to the possibility that astrology may be inappropriate is a tendency toward unrealistic expectations, in which the client gives over responsibility for his or her life to the planets, the chart, or the therapist-astrologer. For example, a woman fell in love with a man in a distant city who was married and had six children. It seemed quite unlikely that he would leave his wife and children to be with my client. She asked me, "What do you think he will do?" And I responded, "What are you going to do?" I could have done a horary chart to try to predict whether he would abandon his wife and kids for her, but this did not seem to be at all realistic. It seemed more productive to help my client face the situation squarely and realize that she would have to move on with her life and find someone more available and accessible as her mate.

     A more difficult case involved a client who came to see me for a chart reading who, unbeknownst to me, suffered from multiple personality disorder (MPD), a very serious psycho-logical disorder. When Julia arrived for her session I had no idea that this woman would report to have been raised in a Satanic cult, tortured, and subjected to very serious forms of sexual abuse, and that she had been professionally diagnosed as an MPD individual. Noting her Capricorn Sun in the 10th house, I began to describe all of her professional potentials. It was only when I finally stopped "reading" Julia's chart and asked some basic questions about her life that I began to realize I was not dealing with an ordinary person. It was then I learned that she had not been able to hold a job for several years, was on disability, and was in treatment for MPD. Obviously, these facts made me reconsider how I would proceed with our session. To examine her chart interactively and in-depth we would need to discuss the symbolism of her natal Mars-Uranus-Pluto conjunction in Virgo, which could be an apt symbol for the experience of violence and painful abuse. But Julia was not a person with whom I felt I could do this kind of work. This conjunction of planets was the symbol of her most traumatic memories and highly charged issues and I was neither prepared nor willing to explore that territory with her - not being a specialist in this kind of highly delicate therapeutic exploration. Indeed, it would have been unethical for me to delve into this material with her both because she already had a therapist and because of my own insufficient training in working with cases of this sort. It is important to know our limits and to recognize that there are some issues we should leave alone.

     Julia's story took me totally by surprise and I felt I needed to tread quite carefully with her. I didn't want to go too deep and to open up more pain, rage, and confusion than I was prepared to handle. Moreover, her thinking was so unrealistic that I felt astrology could even be harmful to her. She believed the planets were forces that made things happen and controlled her life. She also believed I was "channeling" the chart reading. In fact, I wasn't channeling anything; I was exploring planetary symbols. To explore birth chart symbolism requires ego strength and a subtle, non-magical intelligence that can comprehend the difference between a symbol and reality. She related to astrology in a completely fatalistic, deterministic way. Thus, this is a situation where I don't think using astrology is a good idea. Julia needed to do intensive therapy, find employment, and become a functional person. To her credit, she is doing deep inner work in her therapy and is taking concrete steps to help herself. She was also able to understand my reservations about exploring astrology further with her.

     Another client for whom I felt astrology was contra-indicated a woman named Alice, who had a close T-square between Saturn in Cancer on the Ascendant, Moon in Aries on the Midheaven and Neptune in Libra at the IC. At the time of consultation, transiting Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune were forming a Grand cross to Moon-Saturn-Neptune from Capricorn: Alice was fragmenting under the impact of memories and emotional traumas that were coming back into consciousness. She was suicidal, depressed, confused, and unable to hold a job. Therapists use the term decompensation to describe this kind of psychological unraveling and deterioration. In many instances, clients I work with therapeutically are undergoing strong transits to their natal Moon, as in Alice's case. I see this over and over again. Yet for Alice, the process was complicated by the strong tension symbolized by the Moon's aspects to Saturn and Neptune. The Saturn-Neptune square indicated a dissonance between her highly developed imagination and intense spirituality (Neptune) and the responsibilities of being an adult in the world (Saturn). She wanted to be an artist and mystic but she refused to look for work even though she had no money and was in deep financial trouble. Alice exhibited many signs of what psychologists call "borderline personality disorder": major fluctuations in moods, dangerously self-destructive, addictive behaviors, unstable personal relationships, and innumerable somatic complaints. She was also unable to tolerate strong feelings without panicky feelings of disintegration (Moon-Saturn-Neptune).

     Alice often asked me to look at her birth chart, but I declined because she tended to use discussions of astrology to avoid her feelings and her pressing, real-life issues. She tended to dissociate (that is, to space out) and hallucinate in sessions, and magical thinking was rampant (Neptune). He tended to look at everything in symbolic and mystical terms instead of facing himself and his life clearly and realistically. Astrology actually exacerbated Alice's feelings of not being a solid and real person and her tendency to minimize the gravity of her situation. At the same time, understanding the intense psychological pressures indicated by her birth chart did alert me to the strong possibility of decompensation. In this case, emphasizing Saturnian values of groundedness and greater practicality, and forging an enduring and reliable therapeutic relationship were necessary steps to assist this highly creative, yet fundamentally unstable person.

     I would strongly advise against using astrology as a tool for treatment of persons suffering from any serious psychological disorder, such as MPD, bipolar disorder (manic-depressive illnesses), schizophrenia, borderline personality disorder, or severe phobias. For these, the treatment methods of clinical psychology are best applied by a qualified professional. Therapeutic astrology, in my view, is best indicated for clients with a relatively resilient, stable, cohesive sense of self, and who do not exhibit obvious signs of psychopathology.

     Of course, there are exceptions to this principle. In 1982 I spoke with Wendy, a schizophrenic woman whom I know, hospitalized for many years, who showed some interest in her birth chart. While I did not discuss the chart with her in any depth, I noted that she was approaching her Saturn Return. I suggested to Wendy that she had an important choice to make: Could she gather the courage now to make the effort to come back to the world, to return to consensus reality, to become autonomous and able to care for herself, and to leave behind her identity as a sick person, a "mental patient"? I noted to myself that her 10th house Sun was trine to Saturn in her 1st house, and that she had Mars in Capricorn, sextile to Saturn. These factors suggested that she had at least the potential to become responsible for herself and even capable of ambition. Some time later she was released from the mental hospital. She became a born-again Christian and, with the support and assistance of her family and members of her congregation, she gradually grew more stable and developed a stronger sense of her strengths and talents. As I write this in 1995, I can report that she is currently married, working, and enrolled in law school. While astrology (and I personally) played no role whatsoever in her long, courageous process of healing, it pleases me to think that our conversation may have helped her, simply by planting the idea in her mind that even the planets indicated that she was capable of getting well again.

Astrological Symbols and Therapeutic Issues

     As we saw earlier, astrology is a valuable tool for psycho-therapists because it can help us assess the kinds of issues the client is likely to be grappling with at a given time and the approach to therapy that might be most effective. Someone skilled in astrology can discern how long a particular process may be operative, and where the counseling process could optimally focus at a particular time: emotional catharsis, breaking away from the family, finding a better job, love matters, spiritual growth. For example, the current house and sign position of transiting Saturn always indicates an area where a maturational process is underway, attempting to make us stronger, more mature, and more sophisticated in our functioning and understanding.

     Astrology teaches us that the pattern of optimal evolution is different for each person. This corrects the tendency in therapy to try to get the client to conform to a single model of development or a single goal state. Examining the client's birth chart helps us choose between alternative approaches to therapy and personal growth. This helps us work with the person, not imposing our models and theories on them and expecting them to change to fit our own preconceptions. Maybe the client's next step is one that totally contradicts our own opinions or ethical stance. Perhaps a client experiencing a strong Uranus transit decides to divorce, a decision that may make the therapist highly uncomfortable if he or she happens to be devoutly Catholic and vehemently opposed to divorce. Nevertheless, this might be the right step for that person to take. Perhaps the client decides to join a religious movement or spiritual community even though we personally view such groups with suspicion. Maybe we think everyone should do vipassana meditation or join a Twelve Step group, but a client doesn't feel drawn to such a path. Do we interpret this as "resistance" or do we work with the client?

     Good therapy isn't getting the client to conform to our own image of mental health or positive growth; it's getting the client into alignment with the ever-changing now, and with the path in life that's right for them. Astrology can help us to discern, and cooperate with, the changing focus of therapy and the client's unique pattern of development. It also highlights the need to use different therapeutic approaches in different cases, and at different times with each individual client. It keeps us flexible, and teaches us to not get stuck in one way of doing therapy. Therapeutic astrology also assists us in working with the client to coordinate different levels of evolution and to resolve many different issues at the same time.

Astrology and Multi-Level Initiation

     We are complex people, with many things happening at once in our lives. At any given moment, we are experiencing multiple levels of transformation. I call this the principle of multi-level initiation. Not only does astrology reveal the many archetypes, gods, and goddesses who dwell and live within us, our many-sidedness, what James Hillman would call our "polytheistic" multiplicity; it also addresses and illuminates the fact that human beings live their lives within multiple narratives, co-existent, interpenetrating story lines - for example, the narratives of the search for love and emotional sustenance; success in career; wealth and comfort; inner serenity and spiritual awakening. In a letter he once wrote to me, Dane Rudhyar made a comment about, "polyphonic, counterpunctual living." Here Rudhyar was evoking an image of a way of living on multiple levels simultaneously. Astrology is a unique way of coordinating our development on many levels at once, orchestrating our many inner voices, responsibilities, challenging relationships, and creative strivings into a rich, symphonic life. It is a tool for multi-level counseling - counseling that addresses and illuminates the diverse stories or levels of evolution that are unfolding for us at any given time.

     Consider the example of a man named Dennis with Scorpio Sun in the 1st house square the Moon in Aquarius in the 4th house. He started therapy when Saturn entered Aquarius and was conjunct his natal Moon, and squaring his natal Sun. Transiting Saturn conjunct Moon (feelings, moods, memories) is a classic transit for entering the cave of depression that may both precede and follow the recovery of deeply submerged memories and feelings. It is a transit that heralds a major reorganization of a person's emotional life. At the beginning of therapy Dennis presented the following dream: "I am in our family home. I am six or seven years old and I am with my mother, and we are cleaning out the closets." This dream heralded a process whereby, at the age of forty-two, Dennis began remembering for the first time what really happened in his early childhood and in his family (4th house). Both the Moon and the 4th house are central to the therapeutic process as we classically think of it because they are both concerned with emotional memory. In the 4th house, in particular, we can gain important insights into the dynamics of our family of origin, the family and home situation that shaped us emotionally.

     With transiting Saturn conjunct his Moon, Dennis began to recall many things. He remembered for the first time in many years what his mother (Moon) looked like, felt like, and smelled like when he was a child. He began to feel her moods and her unhappiness, and to feel a profound empathy for her. His natal Moon also squares his Scorpio Sun, and as a youngster Dennis exhibited very precocious sexual behaviors. While most children have some natural sexual curiosity, in Dennis' case this seemed to have been extreme. Memories of incest involving his older sister surfaced. He also recalled numerous instances in which he had been caught in the bushes with his pants down with little girls and little boys. For this he had been severely shamed, humiliated, and terrorized by his father. Dennis began to see how he had grown up viewing himself as a bad, naughty child, someone evil and disgusting. The message he got from his family was that he was not a good kid. In response he became ever more mischievous and defiant, developing a swaggering, tough persona to arm him-self against the pain of emotional rejection. With his Scorpio Sun in the 1st house, his identity had become organized around sex and aggressive behavior. He had grown up into an angry man embroiled in a series of inappropriate sexual conquests with married women, obsessed with pornography, filled with self-loathing.

     Scorpio represents our natural urge for emotional and sexual intimacy. But when these needs are thwarted, Scorpio is often expressed as aggression, hostility, or rage; the person attacks as a form of protection against an underlying state of emotional insecurity.[7]  Dennis' primary pattern of response to situations was to become enraged, first and foremost toward himself, turning inward the aggression that had been originally directed toward him by his father. Dennis also frequently became hostile and disdainful toward anyone he felt had slighted him, failing to treat him with the proper respect and affection. With Mars conjunct Saturn in Virgo, he had a strong perfectionistic streak that manifested as extremely pig-headed, critical, abusive behavior with women. This was a repetition of the way he had been constantly criticized by his father. The intense anger he felt toward his father (Mars-Saturn) had been transformed into a more generalized anger and condescension; no woman was ever good enough for him.

     More memories emerged during this crucial period of his therapy. As Saturn formed its retrograde conjunction to natal Moon, Dennis came to understand that there was pervasive, multigenerational incest in his family: His uncle had been involved with his mother, his older brother with his sister, his father with the family's housekeeper. He began to understand that he had been made the family scapegoat, the identified patient, the person who carries all of the pain, sickness, and pathology of the family and is blamed for all of the family's problems. He had grown up feeling that he was responsible for his family's misery. Now, during this Saturn transit to the Moon he began to gain some clarity about what had really happened, and about the depression that had always lay beneath the surface of his aggressive, macho behaviors.

     Dennis also had a Mercury-Neptune conjunction in Libra near his Ascendant, symbolizing unrealistic and inflated (Neptune) perceptions of himself. He constructed grandiose fantasies of becoming a famous celebrity to compensate for his fundamental insecurities, yet he had never built his self-esteem on real achievements. His fantasies of greatness and his sense of specialness alternated with feelings of complete worthlessness and a recognition that he had never adequately learned to utilize his mind and his intelligence. Due to his poor self-esteem and difficult family relationships, he became unwilling in early childhood to do any schoolwork. He dropped out of high school and had never written a paper, used a typewriter, or developed any work habits or other basic Mercury skills. He was very articulate and could recite poems beautifully (Mercury-Neptune) from memory but was unable to write even a brief business letter because, even though he clearly had the verbal skills to do so, he was paralyzed with fear and anxiety by such tasks. He couldn't organize his mental faculties to get any work done. His fantasies of greatness were rudely brought back down to earth by the realization that he was a chronic procrastinator and had in reality accomplished very little in his life. He had never adequately mastered the tasks of the childhood developmental period Erik Erikson called "industry versus inadequacy," in which a child becomes industrious and learns a sense of competence by trying little projects, completing them, and overcoming fears of failure. Because Dennis hadn't learned these lessons, he grew up angry and mixed up about himself and his ability to complete tasks.

     After transiting Saturn moved away from his Moon, transiting Uranus and Neptune started squaring his Mercury-Neptune, and Dennis began to undergo a new personal and spiritual growth process. Suddenly he became very interested in poetry, mythology, and religion. He went to a monastery for a retreat, discovered the mystical writings of Thomas Merton, and had an experience of the presence of God (Uranus-Neptune square natal Neptune). This surge of spiritual awareness was occurring at the same time as he was assimilating new insights about his mom's sadness, family incest, and his problems in school, and how all of this had affected his self-esteem. It was all going on at once, simultaneously. In the midst of these many changes, Dennis began to develop a more realistic self-image and stable self-esteem that was based not on fantasy or sexual conquest, but on appreciation of his genuine talents and personal qualities, as well as of his limitations (transiting Saturn square natal Sun). This example illustrates what I mean by multi-level initiation and the process of multi-level counseling, and demonstrates how we can use astrology to coordinate transformations occurring within multiple narratives simultaneously.

     In a case like this, where a planet like Saturn is aspecting the Sun and Moon, the individual is going to experience a major transformation of identity and emotional response. Part of the work at such a time is to hold a tremendous amount of highly charged material and just sit with it. This aspect of the work of psychotherapy is different from what many astrologers do when they see a person once and send them on their way. A therapist has to process the client's emotions, memories, and pain; it isn't possible for us to take the pain away or magically cure the person. The therapist's role is to help the client experience that pain consciously, understand it, and resolve it. These are the kinds of counseling skills that a therapeutic astrologer needs to learn in addition to the technical capacity needed to read a chart.

     The example of Dennis also demonstrates the insights astrology can provide regarding the timing and rhythm of the therapeutic process. When Saturn was conjunct the Moon and square the Sun, core memories spewed forth, the client entered a period of depression and faced defeats and disappointments that brought his underlying feelings to the forefront. During this period, he was preoccupied with memories from the past, issues about his mother, aggression directed against the self and others, and recognition of how his aggression was driving people away from him. It was an intensive period of psycho-logical work. A turning point was reached when Dennis had the following dream: He was on his hands and knees potting a cactus plant. A cactus plant is a prickly thing that can survive and sustain itself in a desert with very little moisture. As he put it, "A cactus finds its juice within its own body." This became his personal metaphor for learning to live through an arid period of loneliness, and to find joy, purpose, and meaning in his own company, in solitude, without being dependent on the sexual excitement of a relationship. This was a very healing dream, for he was the cactus plant (Scorpio Sun in 1st house). A year later, Dennis had grown in self-acceptance. His work habits improved and he found a better job. He stopped procrastinating and started actively pursuing his goals.

Other Issues to Be Considered by Astrotherapists

     It could be argued that doing a chart reading is itself a form of therapy. Nowadays there is even something called "single-session psychotherapy," which can at times be effective. However, generally when we speak of psychotherapy we are referring to an ongoing and sometimes protracted process of counseling in which the individual recovers memories, works through difficult emotions, and implements strategies for change. Moreover, a relationship is allowed to form in which some of the client's core conflicts are revitalized through the transference. To become good therapists, astrologers cannot rely solely on the birth chart; they have to learn a whole set of new skills, especially the ability to listen, not just talk.

     Another essential skill for a therapeutic astrologer is the ability to use words judiciously and to phrase interpretations constructively, knowing how much to say and how much we should leave unsaid. For example, I once counseled a woman about to experience a lengthy, five-year transit of Pluto conjunct her natal Moon-Saturn conjunction in Scorpio. I grappled with the question of how to most constructively describe the issues she was likely to face during this period, without creating fear or anxiety. In fact, she went through a very painful, difficult period during this transit, including a divorce, a major illness, a dangerous relationship with a boyfriend who was a criminal and a rather creepy, sinister individual; as well as a confrontation with her own "dark side" - dishonesty, sexual obsessions, and cut-throat behaviors directed against workplace competitors. Working with this woman for an extended period taught me that using astrology in a therapeutic setting is different than just doing "readings" for people we may never see again. As noted above, an astrotherapist needs to be able to sit with the client through difficult material without trying to take away the client's pain. Therapeutic techniques like dream analysis and hypnotherapy are useful, or even essential, to complement astrology.

     Therapy always unfolds within an "intersubjective field." A therapist is never entirely neutral and objective, able to perceive the client with unclouded eyes. The field of Self Psychology founded by Heinz Kohut has made great strides in understanding the therapist's role in creating difficulties, misunderstandings, and distortions in the therapeutic rela-tionship. It's not just the client who does this through the transference. The therapist may be very uncomfortable with a particular client because of the person's race, gender, religion, physical appearance, sexual orientation, or personal mannerisms, and may act or speak in critical or judgmental ways that are very wounding to the patient, recapitulating certain core developmental traumas. A therapist who does not recognize this may blame the client for therapeutic impasses or difficulties, invalidating the client and inhibiting further progress in therapy. What some therapists might view as a client's resistance to treatment (such as criticism of the therapist, or wanting to terminate treatment suddenly) may be an appropriate response based on an accurate perception of the therapist's biases, limitations, or clinical errors.[8]

     The truth is that we always meet our clients at certain crossroads in time that make us highly sensitive to, or completely blind to, certain issues and concerns. Here again the issue of self-study is pertinent; for awareness of how the client's chart and personal characteristics interact with our own helps us avoid these pitfalls and deepen the relationship into one that can alchemically affect both persons, client and therapist. Therapeutic astrology is a demanding yet powerful growth path for the practitioner; for our clients face issues we ourselves may be grappling with, and force us to face our-selves, including qualities that we may not wish to confront. For example, in my work with Dennis, his highly critical behaviors often triggered my own defensiveness, oversensitivity to criticism, and feelings of inadequacy. During periods when he was highly depressed, I had to observe my own critical, impatient, or hostile responses to him. At other times I myself began to feel sad and hopeless. Our counter-transference reaction to the client often directly reflects the symbolism of some important transit we ourselves are experiencing. One day, while transiting Mars was conjunct my natal Pluto I started to overreact to something Dennis said, becoming angry and defensive. I immediately noted the connection of my inappropriate response to the planetary transit. This in turn enabled me to own my anger rather than blaming it on Dennis. For these reasons, it is advisable for astrotherapists to pay special attention to personal transits that may affect their therapeutic judgment and responses - such as transits involving Mars that might trigger anger, or transits to the Moon that might elicit a strong, perhaps misplaced emotional reaction to the client.

     A therapeutic astrologer strives to provide clients with useful information, not useless, excessively technical, arcane jargon. We carefully consider what role prediction plays in our work and how productive that is likely to be in a therapeutic setting. By discussing the client's chart interactively rather than prognostically we can practice astrology in a way that empowers the client's own capacity for decision making and choice and is truly therapeutic.

     In this chapter I have described some issues that need to be considered in introducing astrology into the practice of psychotherapy. I have touched on the question of whether astrology may best be viewed as a science or an initiatory language, and discussed the necessity for self-study, the relationship between meaning making and ego strength, and contraindications of using astrology in a therapeutic setting. I have examined some case examples demonstrating how astrology can be used for assessment, and determining the focus of therapeutic work, as well as how the birth chart illuminates the importance of a flexible approach and the necessity to work with, not against, the client. I have also introduced the principles of multi-level counseling and of coordinated psychospiritual growth, the subject of Chapter Eleven. The possibilities of using astrology therapeutically are only beginning to be understood, and promise many new discoveries in the years to come for those of us engaged in this exciting work.


[1]  Astrology and Spiritual Awakening, Chapter Three. « Text

[2]  Finding Your Life's Calling, pp. 51-3. Also see R. Moore, Ritual Process, Initiation, and Contemporary Religion, in M. Stein & R. L. Moore (Eds.), Jung's Challenge to Contemporary Religion (Wilmette, IL: Chiron Publications, 1987). « Text

[3]  A. Bharati, The Tantric Tradition (New York: Anchor Books, 1965). « Text

[4]  See Astrology and Spiritual Awakening for in-depth discussion of these issues. « Text

[5]  D. Rudhyar, An Astrological Mandala (New York: Vintage, 1973), p. 385. « Text

[6]  Personal communication. « Text

[7]  Zipporah Dobyns, personal communication. « Text

[8]  R. D. Stolorow & F. M. Lachmann, Transference: The Future of an Illusion. The Annual of Psychoanalysis, volumes 12-13 (New York: International Universities Press, 1985). « Text

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Greg Bogart: Potentials and Contraindications of Therapeutic Astrology
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