Maritha on Counseling

Maritha Pottenger

This column is an intensely personal one. I have very strong feelings about the subject, and I believe it is the most important issue in the field of astrology. How we are as counselors directly affects the lives and happiness of our clients. How we are as counselors reflects our ethics, our philosophies, our values, our faith and not the least our entire lives—including our blind spots and blocks as well as our strengths and talents.

I hope that everyone who reads our journal will read this column, if nothing else: not because I believe my prose is deathless, but because I believe the issue is vital. I do not expect everyone to agree with me, but I hope that everyone will think about and explore their OWN feelings about the role of astrologers as counselors. Some of my feelings and ideas are very deeply-rooted and I am reluctant to change. Others are quite tentative and I am still searching. But I welcome comments and questions from readers in this area. An open forum with much cross-fertilization is the most fruitful learning space (I believe).

At present, I expect this column to be a permanent fixture in The Mutable Dilemma. I will cover my thoughts and feelings about the subject. I will make clear my biases and values as much as possible. I will offer anything in my background, training, and experience I feel may be useful. And I welcome comments and questions from readers in this area. I am willing to respond in future issues to questions and comments. I hope there will be much discussion and debate on the subject.

For me, a discussion is facilitated by beginning with a definition of terms. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, counseling (or guidance) is:

“the process of helping an individual discover and develop his educational, vocational, and psychological potentialities and thereby achieve an optimal level of personal happiness and social usefulness. ... A part of such guidance may be the giving of information that enables the person to increase the scope of his exploratory behavior. ...The competent counselor does not attempt, however, to solve the person’s problems for him. Adjustment is an individual matter that each person must discover for himself, and the counselor tries mainly to clarify the person’s own thinking.” p. 784, Volume IV

I must state unilaterally that I believe astrologers, any time we see or communicate with a client, are doing counseling—whether we admit it or not. In my value system, I would prefer we all admit we do counseling and begin doing it more systematically with some understanding of what we are doing. Is there really an astrologer out there who can truthfully say s/he is not “helping an individual discover and develop his educational, vocational and psychological potentialities ... achieve an optimal level of personal happiness and social usefulness ... clarify the person’s own thinking...” or “giving of information that enables the person to increase the scope of his exploratory behavior.”? If we do any of that, we are doing counseling. Let’s be honest about it—please. And if astrologers are not doing any of this, what in the world ARE they doing to help their clients?

Many people feel it is important to distinguish counseling from psychotherapy. According to the Britannica, psychotherapy is:

“the systematic effort of a person or group to relieve distress or disability by influencing the sufferer’s mental state, attitudes, and behavior... the healing influence is exerted primarily by words and actions that are believed by sufferer, therapist, and the group to which they both belong to have healing power and that create an emotionally charged relationship between them.” p. 275, Volume VIII.

The major difference seems to be that psychotherapy is aimed at relieving distress or problems, while the goal of counseling is seen as maximizing people’s positive potentials, facilitating their talents and choices. In real life, however, we seldom find such tidy divisions. Counselors may often attempt to relieve distress before aiding abilities. And psychotherapists often facilitate choices and help develop potentials as a means of relieving distress.

Astrologers often find themselves in this nebulous middle ground as well. Most clients come to us regarding us in some way as “expert” or “more knowing” than they are. Clients see us as possessing some knowledge or insight which they hope to gain from us and thereby improve their lives. Such improvements may take the form of relieving problems or maximizing potentials. As astrologers, we must decide, each of us on our own individual basis (and perhaps on an individual basis for each client we see) how much of each kind of helping we intend to do.

Both kinds of helping have drawbacks. Traditional counseling is often seen as less emotionally demanding and draining than psychotherapy. The counselor is often more detached, less involved in a client’s life. However, many feel that the price of this detachment is less satisfaction and feeling of helping someone. I feel both kinds of people can be helpful, but it is important for the counselor to be honest. Do not promise—directly or by inference—to be any way you have no intention of being. If you are more comfortable with a detached relationship with your clients, make that very clear to them in what you say and how you say it. If you prefer intensity, be up-front about that. At times, you may feel that one client needs a more detached counselor (perhaps as a role model; perhaps the client is one of those people who always tries to suck other people into his problems, but does not want to change). And you may decide another client will benefit from a more involved, closer, deeper relationship. Obviously, you do not offer a closer relationship to someone you feel needs such a relationship, unless you are willing to commit yourself to that relationship. Otherwise, you are lying to yourself and the other person. You will probably end up feeling resentful at some point, and the client will end up feeling rejected.

In deciding the parameters of our helping careers, I think an important question is the basic time structure of our consultations with clients. Do we tend to see people on a one-time only basis? Or do we have clients who confer with us yearly or monthly or even weekly? Each of these is a different situation. Naturally, we tend to have more of an “emotionally charged relationship” with individuals we see more than once. In such cases we begin to approach what is traditionally considered psychotherapy rather than counseling. I recommend we be prepared for it. One of the issues we will have to face in such situations is the whole questions of transference, which will also affect how we handle power in the relationship, our detachment or involvement, and our assuming or declining of the role of mystical healer. I will discuss these questions in detail in later issues.

A second issue concerns the mental and emotional status of the client. Someone who seems to be in severe emotional distress is generally a candidate for depth psychotherapy. In such a case, my values call for referring the client to a competent, psychologically trained professional. Unless s/he is well-trained in the mental health field, I do not believe an astrologer should work with a severely disturbed client. By severely disturbed, I mean someone who seems out of touch with reality. Such individuals may actually suffer from hallucinations or delusions, or they just seem unable to cope with life. They may exhibit “bizarre” behaviors—that is behaviors that seem inappropriate in terms of cultural values, e.g. laughing when discussing the death of a loved one. Such people not only could be hurt by a person without sufficient training, they might even on occasion cause harm to the counselor who is not fully trained in dealing with severely disturbed people.

I realize that the question of severe disturbance in still somewhat subjective. Indeed, even the issue of delusions and hallucinations is subject to some controversy. As Joan of Arc exemplifies, one person’s hallucinations may be seen as another’s salvation. Another of my biases is that we cannot avoid subjectivity when dealing with human beings. I believe the important action is to recognize our subjectivity, work with it, and be prepared to change our point of view if another one is offered which seems superior. The danger comes when we get locked into our subjective viewpoints, because we believe they are actually objective—“reality”.

As a rough rule of thumb, I suggest you not work with anyone who “makes” you feel fairly or extremely uncomfortable. Even though that client may not be severely disturbed, your level of discomfort will probably be too high to provide any useful counseling. 1 further suggest, however, that you try to understand the discomfort this individual rouses in you. Such unease generally points to blocks within you which need to be dealt with and solved for you to keep growing as a human being and as a counselor. I will discuss this issue of counselors learning to recognize their own projections and blocks through interaction with clients in greater detail later.

The counselor, traditionally, is “objective” and does not offer advice; clients are supposed to make their own decisions. Conversely, psychotherapists are seen as immersing themselves in the lives and problems of their clients. Clients more often have intense feelings about a therapist than for a counselor. And, depending on the school of thought, a therapist may be exceedingly full of advice and decision-making, or very “non-directive.” Much of this distinction, however, I believe to be false. Even a “non-directive” person directs. We all give cues in our posture, positions, tone of voice, eye movements, gestures, noises, and actions as well as the words we say or do not say. In fact, sometimes these more subtle “directions” have more influence than any direct advice giving. Life is a process of relating to and influencing other human beings. This is one way of getting what we want in life. We may as well admit our power to affect one another.

Of course, this means that the client is influencing the astrologer, as well as the astrologer influencing the client. However, there is a power differential in an interview with a client. Generally, the client is seeing the astrologer in the setting, at the time, under the conditions the astrologer sets. The client is paying the astrologer a fee. The client views the astrologer as “more knowing” in some area—plus whatever extra power many clients give to the “mystical” or “magical” aura surrounding astrology. But astrologers have a choice as to how they deal with that power and what they do with it. Much again depends on the individual client. With some clients, you may decide it is very necessary for you to keep a lot of power. With other clients, you may directly and immediately try to share the power. With still others, you may decide to take the power initially, but build a process of helping the client to take more and more of his/her own power back.

Your decision on how to handle the power in an interview or series of interviews will depend partially on intuition (and we will have more later on the role of intuition in counseling) and to a large degree on your interpretation of the client’s horoscope: is this a person who needs to learn to take and use power, a person who needs to learn to give up some power, a person who is comfortable with sharing the power, etc. This, of course, also requires that we astrologers are enough in touch with our own characters and horoscopes to be aware of our own tendencies and patterns of handling power. If we are out of touch with our own tendencies, we will meet them in the world over and over again until we come to recognize that part of ourselves we did not want to see. (This is roughly the process of projection: we are drawn to people who will reflect to us parts of our own selves. If we are blocking a part of our own character from awareness, we will see that part over and over again in the people we meet—usually in exaggerated form—almost as if life is shouting at us to get our attention.)

This column has to end somewhere. I ask that all of you out there think about what your idea of the counseling role of astrologers is; get in touch with why you want to do astrology and work with people; examine what helping people means to you; mull over what kind of a helping professional you want to be; and look at yourself and your horoscope in terms of how you handle power, particularly in interchange with other people. If you care to write, please do.

Thank you all for listening, thinking, and caring.

Copyright © 1977 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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