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Joseph Crane

Five Issues in Astrological Counseling By Joseph Crane

" Every astrologer who works personally with people - in other words, all of us - owe it to his or her clients and to the profession in general to inventory one's job description, professionalism, setting of boundaries and expectations, and style of making personal contact. "


I have always been interested in how today's psychological insights can help our counseling roles as astrologers. In this essay I describe some factors that are present in all good astrological counseling. I do this for two reasons: to inform the student or novice astrological consultant, and to give order to my own experiences, to understand them better.

What are some basic criteria of good astrological consulting?

Embrace your job description!

You first need to stake out your territory. What is it that you do? What are the occupational correlates of a counseling astrologer? Astrologers conceive of their work differently and these conceptions change over time. You may find that your job description changes as you change as an astrologer and as a human being. The astrologer, I feel, lives somewhere along a continuum with lawyer (or tax accountant) on one side, and psychotherapist or the astrotherapist, on the other.

If your work is closer to that of a lawyer or financial advisor, you give analysis and advice by applying astrological symbolism to a circumstance in a client's life. Here you apply general principles (legal procedure, the tax code, the configuration of the heavens) to a particular situation and particular person. The information itself is foreground; the astrologer's job is to convey that information effectively. (If you think I'm trivializing your function by comparing it to a lawyer or tax accountant, take heart. We have yet to discuss the true content of our work)

Do I imply that this astrologer requires no interpersonal skills beyond what is necessary for the communication of analysis and ideas? Not at all! To give a proper analysis, you need to discern the client's situation accurately and thus you need to relate to the human being across from you. You also need to be on the lookout for nuance or hidden matters: often your client’s stated issue covers another more important one.

There are astrologers, however, who have difficulties relating to their clients. When the astrologer is uncomfortable with the pain of a client’s life, that astrologer will often impose unnecessary distance. There is the rare genius amongst us, whose work does not require establishing personal rapport with a client; for the rest of us, such rapport is necessary.

To communicate meaningfully with our client requires a certain Libran responsiveness. Meaningful consulting, whether it's legal or medical or astrological, works best when it takes into account the client’s current state of mind and behavior. Astrological consulting, with a larger reach and more profound implications than the others, gathers its power and its effectiveness from being responsive to the situation at hand.

On the other end of the continuum, across from the pure consultant (which, we have seen, is never purely consultative), I present the more psychoanalytic (relational and insight-oriented) psychotherapist. The psychotherapist only has to prepare his or her own receptivity to entering the world of the client. When an astrologer goes far toward the psychotherapy end, sometimes that person gives good therapy but not necessarily good astrology. There is also psychotherapy which uses the birthchart as an aid to the therapy process. This is the new discipline of astrotherapy, and some people are quite skilled at this.

How the consulting room is set up says much about the nature of the astrological counseling provided. The lawyer-like astrologer's office looks like a lawyer's office: chairs, a large table or desk, the consultant on the other side. The astrologer and client are at a greater distance and there's a physical barrier between them. This set-up provides ample room for charts, tables, books, documents, and the like - information is readily available. On the other side, the astrotherapist's office reveals two softer chairs directly facing each other, with the birthchart on a small side-table adjacent to both individuals but not between them, so the personal contact manifests more prominently. When an astrologer changes job description, his or her consulting room also changes.

A one-time reading may be more toward purely consultative and informative, and the shorter the reading the more this is so. There are some astrologers, however, whose one-time sessions are very process-oriented. A longer-term astrological counseling relationship typically uses the birthcharts and other documentation less, to include more process material.

Work with Personal Presence

Here I describe "presence" as being present in a heightened way. This is the path of the professional. The professional uses the tension of the consulting situation to uplift oneself and take command of the situation. Look at your own environment, office, furniture, your clothing, your mannerisms, how you carry yourself. What are you communicating through these, for they all do communicate something.

Why, you may ask, not be informal? Don’t our clients have enough problems with people with stuffy attitudes? Our need for professionalism is not to soothe our wounded egos, please our parents, or justify our prices, but to value the communication and the centrality of the occasion. Of the many examples, I cite Dane Rudhyar, who in Person-Centered Astrology (1971), stresses the auspicious character of the "moment of interpretation."

"A person, who, at this moment, has developed both a more or less individualized consciousness, and personal needs, life-attitudes, expectations, and complexes, comes face to face with his relationship to the universe. [Italics mine] He faces this relationship at two levels: the "archetypal" level of his first moment of individualized existence - what he potentially "is" and is meant to be, an individualized human being - and the "existential" level of his development as an evolving personality." (p. 226-7)

Rudhyar emphasizes astrology's purpose of describing the unfolding of a person's character and destiny. Dennis Elwell (1987) Geoffrey Cornelius (1994) and many others stress astrology’s purpose in revealing the intention of the universe, showing divine ordering. However they may individually describe this, astrologers should never lose sight that their work is to evoke and apply sacredness.

Divining the universe, or the realm of archetypes or first principles, requires that one present oneself in a more formal manner. Sloppiness only communicates unconcern. Because an astrology session brings together the triad of astrologer, client, and universe, one needs to communicate auspiciousness through the environment and the astrologer's behavior.

This does not render the astrologer dry and boring. Indeed, the heightened sense of the consulting situation can foster great delight and humor.

Respecting one's presence allows the astrologer to work sanely with boundaries: issues of time, money, energy, and quality of interaction with the client. Boundaries are not just something we have to put up with on this material plane! They are rules of communication and contact, dance steps that allow the dance to occur. This is a dance with some standardized moves which result in a special kind of intimacy which could not be achieved otherwise.

You are required, (as is natural to us anyway), to watch the interplay of closeness and distance between you and your client. Working with people we already know, there may be a greater need to pull back and have a distant more impersonal presence. We also meet with clients who compulsively informalize, who schmooze: there may be a possibility to address this indirectly as content of chart analysis for that client.

At other times you need to reduce presence - when a client appears intimidated or nervous, when he or she is too dependent on your version of the fates, when you're getting too intense or delphic for your client. (This is the shadow side of the empowering aspects of the astrologer’s work.) The astrologer needs to have leadership, control and authority, and there also needs to be dialogue and empathy.

Immediate results of tuning into a proper presence are twofold. The uplifted atmosphere of an astrology session helps the client feel appreciated, understood and supported. The astrologer and client are better protected from the astrologer's personal confusion, distraction, and lack of sleep.

Establishing and Maintaining Contracting (three verbs)

What are the expectations your client has of you, what are the expectations that you carry to your client?

Remember that contracting - mutually establishing expectations and criteria for success - could be an ongoing feature of our work. Contracting also negotiates and renegotiates rules of communication between astrologer and client.

Here I discuss the initial encounter, the initial referral to the astrologer. Contract problems diminish when a new client is from a personal referral and they’re paying for the session themselves. When the client is also a student, they and you already know each other. (A few astrologers, however, will not see students for private sessions.)

Other astrologers meet the public directly through using gift certificates, advertising, and the like, and, you find many different preconceptions about astrology out there. People from gift certificates can vary widely in their true interest in your work.

The professional attends well to that first introduction or initial telephone call from a stranger, as should the client attend to the astrologer. Subtly both people are scrutinizing each other - it's a little like setting up a blind date with someone. The less shy the astrologer is about verbalizing expectations and communicating procedures, the better the client can inform you about what he or she is asking for.

There are some ways of formally working contract. Some astrologers use form letters explaining their services. Questionnaires are also helpful. The letter gives specific information about who the astrologer is, the questionnaire does so indirectly; both communicate the astrologer’s expectations to the client. Some more Saturnian astrologers use an actual contract form and ask for deposits - most do not.

Jill-Laurie and I use a questionnaire as part of our normal procedures. We ask that a person check off that the birth data is correct, list important events in his or her life, and state relevant issues within broad categories work or career, relationship, personal growth, anything else. This not only subtly establishes expectations that the client be prepared to meaningfully discuss important life experiences and situations, but it can be wonderfully applied to your preparation for the session. It is truly marvelous how differently clients respond to a questionnaire, and how much useful information results!1

The first few moments of an astrology session, especially with a newcomer, are critical. At the outset, both people can easily discuss their expectations openly, and the astrologer can find out what the client requires for a successful session. One must not, however, start a session in a habitual or ritualistic manner, but with some warmth and spontaneity. You are setting an atmosphere and communicating to your client that you want an exchange between astrologer and client. The first few moments establish the boundaries, the rules for interchange, and establish the possibility of a working intimacy between astrologer and client.

Contracting is an ongoing process within the astrological session itself, and there are always opportunities to renegotiate when things come up. Best is to make an observation when digressing, and possibly ask – "is this a place for us to go?"

I find it helpful to structure the session with a summary of the areas to discuss (astrological as well as life-issues) and to remind a client, during the session where we are in the agenda.

One must also set up expectations as the session comes to a close and for contact afterward the session. These have to do with boundaries, which are simply rules of communication. What kinds of follow-up services, if any, do you offer to your client? Are you available as a resource to the individual? How about the client telephoning you if they hit an unexpected pothole?

There is a chance the client saw the wrong astrologer by seeing you, and somebody else may have the background and specialization to deal better with a specific set of issues. Not every astrologer works with specific psychological problems, specific kinds of prediction, business astrology, horary, or the like. The best time to determine this is before a session, and sometimes you may make a referral to another astrologer.

It also happens, however, that you are the right astrologer and the client asks something from you that is more like their preconception of what an astrologer does. Often people ask questions about past lives, karmic lessons, etc., when they really want to talk about a present situation with someone who understands. A person may ask for basic predictive work when they want insight into their life purpose, or the other way around.

How to Handle Trouble

Most of us would consider prevention the best remedy, and paying close attention to the contract process is also very helpful. We need not to be paranoid but realistically vigilant, based on what the client and the birthchart present, about potential problem areas.

Sometimes trouble is not such a bad thing, if you have the time and the skills to let some conflict arise and to process that conflict, let it be part of birthchart interpretation and forecasting situation.

Of course, if in the middle of an astrology session, you get a sinking feeling, it's wise to stop the process and determine where

the contract stands, how the client is presently doing with what is happening. Go back to the contract when possible.

Every astrologer has stories about problematic individuals, and there come times when the best we can do is extract the most helpfulness from a difficult situation. Nobody needs to tolerate abuse, intimidation, emotional discomfort. If it becomes negative, stop the session.

Think of our favorite people we like to see as clients and those which make us more uncomfortable. What is your nightmare of a client? That particular nightmare will tell you something important about you.

Maritha Pottenger (1982) lists some of her least favorite clients - victims, violent, self-centered, stonefaces, blabbermouths. I add to that list, those looking for an edge over somebody else or, my least favorite, the help-rejecting complainer.2

As professionals we need to acknowledge and learn from but "bracket off" our preferences and instinctive negative responses. We need always to be basically secure within ourselves, and meet our work with an attitude of not personally rejecting anyone.

Contactfulness - See it Come, See it Go

Contactfulness may be the most important of the four qualities, and is certainly the most elusive. The quality of contact (as opposed to its quantity) separates the good from the ineffective astrologer. It's actually a large topic, and perhaps the other three topics of contract, trouble, and presence are but subdivisions of contact, or supports for contact.

Contactfulness is not being too "intense" nor too intimate with your client, but has to do with the liveliness of the moment and the energy of the encounter for both astrologer and client.

Here is where we now look at all the resources we have for communication - tone of voice, gesture, body posture, rhythm between questions and sentences - the fact is there are messages we send out and pick up constantly in our communications with others that do not even consciously register, yet they impact us strongly. In particular, we and our clients, constantly send back messages of interpersonal distance or closeness. Some communications theorists discriminate between the digital - the content level - and the analog level, that which is a communication about the communication, or a meta-communication. (Watzlawick, Bevelas, Jackson, 1967)

Often we only recognize it partially during a session, when we notice that we feel nervous, or repelled, or there's some sexual energy, or we become mentally charged and we babble. Later we may articulate a more lasting impression of the entire session.

We may notice a specific response comes out as a reaction to your client, which therapists sometimes-impersonalize as "countertransference". A therapist describes using his or her "countertransference" reactions to better understand the client; if I dislike or feel turned on by an individual, there are possibly a good number of people in the client's life that also have that reaction.

There is one important prerequisite so that you can work productively with your instinctive responses to your client. Are you, the astrologer, in good contact with your own habitual patterns and interpersonal weaknesses? If you find that most of your clients make you nervous or excited, it's you who have interfering personal issues.

When you find yourself in the middle of a strong reaction to a client, you may not choose to verbalize that reaction (doesn't mean you can't), but you can later bring that back into the session. Your reaction is further information to help you understand your client better and give a more valuable reading for them.

Gestalt therapy theory talks of the contact boundary where we meet the nourishing novelty, and whereby we grow. (Perls, Hefferline, and Goodman, 1951) It is important to be who we are and have our information at our disposal, and then to take a real interest in and have an open mind about our client. Therefore we not only give our client a meaningful time but we learn and learn and learn.

Another aspect of contact, also part of Gestalt therapy theory, is that contact itself is but the highlight of a contact-withdrawal cycle, a cycle that occurs and reoccurs. Habitually, we back off and come back again. We listen quietly without straining to figure everything out, we give information in a calm way but impersonally, perhaps we take a break during a long session. All these let the session itself have a natural rhythm of peaks and valleys. Do not attempt meaningful contact every second! At best, you'll walk away with a headache; at worst, you'll drive your client crazy.

If, at the end of a session, you are exhausted and emotionally drained, something didn't work with the rhythm of contact. Ideally, your client should work as hard as you do. If there is a pattern of inequality, it might be good to change that. If you're doing all the work, you may not know whether you're meeting your client's needs, or you may be feeding into their desire to be spoon-fed. If your client is doing much more of the work, you are probably being stingy and may need to loosen up. Sometimes you need to have a client be quiet so you can do your work.

Every astrologer who works personally with people - in other words, all of us - owe it to his or her clients and to the profession in general to inventory one's job description, professionalism, setting of boundaries and expectations, and style of making personal contact. As we mature as professionals, we understand better how to be of better benefit to others.


1During the session itself, the astrologer need not slavishly follow the contents of a pre-appointed questionnaire, but use the information given in the questionnaire as a way to prepare the work, open the session, maintain continuity and review at the close of the session.

2Although the work is about group therapy situations, Irving Yalom (1985) describes problem patients and interventions with them in a way that may prepare you for some of the personalities you will meet in an astrology session.


Cornelius, G. The Moment of Astrology London: Arkana, 1994
Elwell, D. Cosmic Loom London: Unwin Hyman, 1987
Perls, F., Hefferline, R., Goodman, P. Gestalt Therapy First Publication 1951; now in print by Gestalt Journal Press, Highland, NY
Pottenger, M. Healing with the Horoscope San Diego: ASC Publications, 1982
Rudhyar. D. Person-Centered Astrology New York: Aurora Press, 1980
Watzlawick, P., Bavelas. J., Jackson, D. Pragmatics of Human Communication New York: Norton, 1967
Yalom, I. The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy Third Edition. Basic Books, 1985

Joseph C. Crane M.A., Director of the Faculty of the The Astrology Institute, is a noted astrologer and psychotherapist who has spoken and written about astrology on the national level. A long-standing Buddhist practitioner with a graduate degree in Gestalt and Integrated Psychotherapy, he brings a classical approach to astrological technique, blending traditional and contemporary methods. As a humanistically-oriented astrologer, he emphasizes the personal interaction between astrologer and client. He is the author of A Practical Guide to Traditional Astrology.

© Joseph C. Crane

Professional Astrology