Astrology has enjoyed a boom in popularity over the past decade. A rapid influx of young people into the field plus the resurgence of traditional methods have cracked astrology open and taken it into exciting new directions. But what is still sadly lacking is a focus on the practice of consulting. We are all so enamored over new translations of ancient texts, learning a more sophisticated technique and improving our knowledge of relevant astronomy that we have completely stopped paying attention to what is actually happening during the human-to-human interaction of the astrology consultation itself.
One result of this is the eruption of the current scandal. It recently came to light that a well known astrologer has been severely abusing his position of power in order to have sex with young female clients and students. The fact that he was decades older than the women and the fact that he was married at the time made the situation even more serious. This event triggered a few other survivors of sexual misconduct to come out with their own stories concerning other professional astrologers, too.
Shocking? Sadly, it isn’t. The astrological community is merely a microcosm of the larger macrocosm of society and both are situated in patriarchal power structures. And both have been harboring harmful practices for an incredibly long time. The abusive guru complex is alive and well in the astrological community.
But this article is not about sexual misconduct in the astrological community. Since the scandal broke, there already are a lot of wonderful articles and videos being posted that address that specifically. What I want to do is direct the conversation to a slightly different topic–but one that still encompasses this recent scandal: astrology’s ongoing failure to pay attention to the art of consulting. Today’s astrology is so focused on technique and research that it fails to give any importance to how the chart is transmitted to the native, and what results in the process.
Sexual abuse and the abuse of power is perhaps some of the most extreme damage that happens under the guise of consulting and teaching astrology. But there are other types of damage happening, too, that contribute to sexual misconduct as well as other more general types of misconduct. Damage to clients due to receiving inconsiderate, caustic and ego-damaging counsel. Damage caused by astrologers who create negative self-fulfilling prophecies. Damage from astrologers who create emotional dependence in their clients. Damage from astrologers setting themselves up as the experts of another person’s life. Damage from astrologers who are not trauma-informed in their practice. Damage from astrologers who violate their client’s emotional and physical boundaries. And then there’s all the damage that comes from failing to understand basic sociology which causes an inability to comprehend how things like race, class, age, gender and sexual orientation affect both the client and the astrologer’s worldview. And this is not even a complete list of potential harms that routinely occur during consults. I could go on forever.
Whatever takes place in the consultation room or in the online consultation is still the Wild Wild West. Anything goes. This kind of terrifies me. I mean think about it–whenever an astrologer opens their mouth to speak to a client about a chart, the astrologer chooses from a million different ways to interpret the chart, then chooses from a million different ways to transmit the information to the client. Then, if they are the type who likes to offer a solution to the client’s presenting issue, they must choose from a million different ways to remedy the problem. The procedure during a consultation is not black and white. None of this process is codified into a manual. (Nor am I arguing that it should be.) I am merely pointing out that all of this is done subjectively and based on the personal whims of the astrologer. And of the million different ways to conduct a consultation, many of those ways will not be conducive to a client’s well-being. And since astrology is unregulated, there is no redress for clients who are harmed in the process.
If you are a consulting astrologer like I am, you have probably heard tons of hair-raising stories from your clients about their previous readings with astrologers that were upsetting at best, and emotionally scarring at worst. And if you are not a professional astrologer, you have probably seen a lot of truly heartless responses to “please read my chart” posts on social media coming from people who practice astrology. These respondents are typically big on correct and proper astrological technique but painfully deficient in social skills and basic empathy.
We all just assume that a good astrologer is one who is an expert on astrological technique. Nothing is being said about the vast amount of wisdom, emotional maturity and skill needed to transmit the chart to the client in a way that is healthy and best serves the need of the client. And with the rare exception, none of us are talking about this huge void in knowledge. Indeed, nobody even recognizes that is even problematic. But it is a problem that will continue to grow and wreak havoc until it can no longer be ignored.
Generally speaking, astrology attracts cerebral types. Since the practice requires a fair amount of intellectual study, it tends to attract people who have buckets of mental dexterity. But these people don’t enter the field automatically equipped with healthy social skills and emotional wisdom. The result is that many astrologers often treat chart reading like a purely intellectual exercise. It is tempting for astrologers to fall into the trap of treating consultations like mini-exams to see how good their technique is, secretly thinking “I got that right! I predicted that! Yay!” forgetting in the process that in front of them sits a living breathing person who perhaps sought a consultation during the most painful, upsetting or vulnerable point in their life.
What the client actually needs, along with a crack shot astrological forecast, is practical guidance from someone who has a reasonable amount of compassion, empathy, listening skill, life experience and wisdom at problem-solving. They also need an advisor who is self-aware, self-reflective, continually working on the process of their own shadow work and is able to call themselves out on their own social conditioning and B.S. The client also needs an astrologer who is aware of the basic power differential that is built into the astrologer-client relationship and what pitfalls can ensue as a result. What the client needs is an astrologer who is at least as dedicated to helping others as they are to the mechanics of astrological theory. What the client needs is a client-centered astrologer.
Why do we all assume that those things will just “come naturally” and we should not be overly concerned with teaching them?
And while a few astrology schools do address some of these topics in courses devoted to ethics in astrology, such courses are an after-thought and are not generally valued by the community as much as the technique and theory courses are. And isn’t this a little boggling when what we are basically doing is training people to go out there to do a job that assumes you will spend at least 50% of your work time in a counselling role or interacting with human beings in a helping capacity?
Astrology continues to ignore the skills required to conduct a healthy consultation at its own peril. Unfortunately I foresee a time when it starts to get so bad that all astrologers who practice consulting will have to be formally licensed by law for the privilege of advising others–something that the field of psychology discovered it had to do eons ago in order to protect people from counselors. And after this past week of reading all the horror stories coming out about well known astrologers, I am starting to think that this might not be such a bad thing, much as I hate the thought of the limitation it will bring to the practice of astrology.
“But we are not psychological counselors” I can hear you saying. “And we should not expect to be psychotherapists”. Perhaps this argument is especially vocal nowadays because the current trend in astrology is leaning toward traditional astrology, which eschews psychological astrology and tends to view it as old fashioned and misguided.
What I would argue is that no matter what kind of astrology you practice, be it modern psychological or traditional, anytime an astrologer is communicating a chart to the native, the process automatically becomes a form of counselling. And few of us are trained on the best way to do that. We would much rather spend our time learning new and better astrological techniques. But what good is understanding a gazillion astrological techniques and being able to memorize tomes of ancient text if you cannot transmit that knowledge in a way that actually helps your client? And what if, despite all your dazzling astrological brilliance, you are still unwittingly harming the people who come to you for help? While I am all for continuing to unearth ancient texts and improving our astrological technique, I am still waiting for a truly client-centered astrology to be developed and practiced.
Pluto in Aquarius is coming, my friends. And with it, astrology as a practice is going to change. Vastly. We have a chance to improve it. Not just our technique and our level of accuracy with forecasting, but our human-to-human impact as well. Astrology can be an amazing tool to help others when it is in the right hands, and conducted with the correct moral and ethical spirit. Please let us all begin to put the spotlight on the art of consultation before an outside body comes along and forces us to, drastically limiting our field as a result. This might require a concerted effort to perhaps spend a little less time on astrological technique in favor of spending more time on examining what, exactly, is taking place when an astrologer communicates with another person.
At the very least, the astrological community needs to begin discussing some basic questions, such as:
Besides skill in astrological technique and theory, what are the fundamental interpersonal skills required to be an effective consultant?
What level of psychological and emotional maturity should be present in an astrological consultant? What qualities constitute psychological and emotional maturity? How do we define that?
What responsibilities should an astrologer have toward a client?
What are the most effective ways to communicate a chart from the client’s perspective?
Other than astrological information, what skills and knowledge are required to be an effective problem solver?
During a consult, what information is being communicated both explicitly and implicitly? And what is the impact and the result of that communication on the client?
What is the impact of race, class, age, sex, gender and other classifications on the dynamics of the consultation?
What would an actual client-centered astrology look like?
Not only would such conversations help protect our clients and students, it will make all of us more effective in our practice as consultants. And no doubt it would go a hell of a long way to keep astrologers out of the sexual scandal department.