Maritha on Counseling

Maritha Pottenger

I left you last issue with a plea to examine your beliefs about helping people, astrology, and particularly how you handle power. You may notice that power is a theme in several of the articles in this issue. Deciding whether or not people are in touch with their own power, and if they are, whether they are using it constructively or not can be a very tricky issue. We really need to be clear about our own ideas and values in that area so that we can be straight with our clients. I am going to talk about assumptions this time, which affect all that we do and are in this world.

It appears to me that most astrologers working with clients hold a few basic assumptions. These assumptions include: (1) Astrology can provide useful information which the clients may not know, or may be unaware of. (2) This information can improve the clients’ lives —both through uncovering blocks and conflicts and through discovering additional strengths and talents. (3) Clients will gain insight into themselves and their potentials from the astrologer’s input. (4) Clients will act on insights gained to improve their lives. Most of us short-cut these assumptions, thinking generally just that we “helping” our clients—that is, improving their lives.

With the first two assumptions, I have no quarrel. I happen to believe in the usefulness and value of astrology when utilized by a trained, intelligent and caring individual. (I know there is a lot of nonsensical, useless and even harmful information spoken and printed in the name of astrology. That is why I think it takes a concerned, trained and intelligent person to winnow out the useful and healthy parts of astrology and discard the rest. The remainder of our journal will be presenting various parts of astrology we find useful. As always, we ask that you keep both a skeptical and an open mind, trying what we suggest, and keeping only that which works for you.) If I did not believe in the potential of astrology, I would not use it. However, I feel that ethical people in the helping/healing professions must take the responsibility to engage in this process of questioning and analyzing. Simply to swallow anything without chewing it over thoroughly is bad for both physical and mental digestion.

Neither assumption 3 nor 4 is particularly clear-cut for me. Research suggests that the vast majority of people require action, particularly practice and repetition to change; insight alone is not enough—which belies Assumption 4. People must DO something with their awareness. In terms of Assumption 3, many people see counselors, astrologers and teachers as simple information-givers. They present the data: the clients or students take in the data. Unfortunately it is not that simple. Human beings (fortunately) are not machines; many factors affect how input is received and dealt with. The motivation of the student or client is very important, as well as attentiveness, intelligence and other client-based factors. Similarly, there are counselor (astrologer) based factors which affect how information is received. Indeed, research (See reference to Carkhuff and Berenson) indicates that education, counseling and psychotherapy can be for better or for WORSE!. We can help our clients improve and we can “help” them to deteriorate. These changes, in both intellectual and emotional areas, can be accounted for by the teacher’s (astrologer’s) functioning on four facilitative dimensions—independently of the extent of the teacher’s / counselor’s / astrologer’s knowledgeability and competence in subject matter. The four facilitative dimensions are empathy, respect, genuineness, and concreteness.

Empathy is used to mean the ability to almost get into someone else’s skin—to be able to feel the feelings of another person. This requires sensitivity and openness. Respect is for this person as a unique human being. We believe in this person enough to be honest with him/her. We believe each human being is important because each is a totally unique individual. We are committed to aiding the development of each person in his/her own path. We do not always like WHAT a person DOES, but we acknowledge each person’s right to be WHO s/he is. Congruence or genuineness means that we, as helping professionals are in tune and at harmony within ourselves. We are not fighting ourselves. Incongruence is common in our society and occurs whenever anyone “says” one thing on one level and gives a contradictory message on another level. An example is the father who says (in words): “Come here, son, and give Dad a hug.” while his body language is withdrawn, closed, defensive, essentially saying, “Go away.” Similarly, the tone of voice can negate the words, etc. Some people call incongruencies “crazy- makers” because continual contradictions do tend to help create disturbed people and disturbed relationships. We’ll have more discussion and examples of incongruencies later. Concreteness is the ability to be specific, to focus on the exact issues and problem and not get lost or go off into great abstract, philosophical questions. Later issues in The Mutable Dilemma will include more examples and exercises to practice these four core dimensions. Meanwhile, try a little self-examination and take a guess at how well you would rate on a scale of one to five on these four dimensions.

Beyond not dealing with severely disturbed or non-communicative clients, the astrologer has minimal influence over client-based variables. The initial contact of an astrologer (whether by phone or in the interview) will generally do most to set the tone of their interaction. The astrologer can encourage openness, interest and attentiveness, or the astrologer can encourage boredom, apathy, and a closed mind. Much of this is through role-modeling. If an astrologer is bored, angry or turned-off, the mood will often infect the client as well. Similarly, excitement and pleasure can be contagious. For that reason, I recommend astrologers avoid seeing clients when the astrologer is really depressed, anxious or bored—unless the horoscope provides you with some excitement and involvement.

Beyond our role-modeling, as a counselor we set the parameters of our relationship to the client in the initial interaction. This may occur on the phone when we set up an appointment. Or it may occur in the initial interview. We set up a variety of parameters with our clients. Some are such simple things as the setting (time and place) for the consultation. Generally, we tell the client directly how long (approximately) we expect the interview to last. We let them know whether and when (before, during, after) we want questions. We apprise them of the cost to them. We give them some idea of the possible benefits they can receive from consulting with us.

Some astrologers do this parameter-setting in a very indirect way. E.g., they may say nothing about questions, and become irritated when asked questions. After a few attempts, the client comes to realize questions are not welcome. Clients generally give up asking at that point, although some will continue to try. Most clients will feel frustrated, angry and resentful—often cheated. I strongly suggest that an astrologer be as clear as possible with all these details in the very beginning. View yourself as arranging a contract with your client. You are offering such and such possible benefits for such and such a price. Your client is expected to come at such and such a time and behave within certain set limits in terms of listening, talking, asking questions, etc. It is very important to engage the client in this process of contract setting. Thus, one of the first questions to ask a client is, “Why do you want to see me?” I recommend asking this before you ever make an appointment. Often the answer will reveal that the client expects you to do something you have no intention (and quite possibly no right or ability) to do. E.g., a client may want you to “save” his marriage. It is often possible still to work out a contract, if you are both clear about what you want and have to offer. For instance, with such a client, I would say that I believe it is up to his wife and himself to do the work of saving their marriage if they decide that is what they want. I would let him know that an interpretation of his chart would provide insight into what he tends to seek in other people, including marital partners, what some of his blocks and blind spots are. I would emphasize that I might be able to offer him some insight and awareness about himself and his relationships that could be helpful, but it would still be up to him and his wife to utilize that information. And I would mention the possibility of referring them to professional help with or without seeing me if they felt the need of additional support to act on insights.

One of the most basic things we do in our interviews is to present our world- view—implicitly or explicitly—to our clients. By world-view, I mean our unique perspective through which we interpret the world and all we experience, our subjectivity. Each of us filters our experiences in our own way, depending on our past experience, feelings, and what we believe is true, real and morally just. We see not what is there, but our conception of what is there. If reality differs from our conceptions, we squeeze, bend, fold, spindle and mutilate it until it fits our view of the possible. We are ALL selective attenders: we “see” what fits our beliefs about reality; we do not see what does not fit.

Eric Hoffer presents some extreme examples in The True Believer, but all of us engage in interpretive processes and selective filtering of the world to some degree. For example, someone who is convinced that all astrologers are frauds will notice all the fraudulent astrologers he meets. He will NOT notice (or attend to) the non-fraudulent astrologers he meets. Or he will interpret their actions as fraudulent (even though others would not do so). I am not saying such a person is “bad” or deliberately seeks out and focuses on fraud. Our beliefs about truth and reality generally function below conscious awareness. We seldom question our world-views because we are generally unaware of them.

There are at least two reasons I can think of to examine and become aware of our own basic assumptions about reality. One is that our assumptions do operate as blinders, limiting us from fuller experience and potential. Psychology has recognized the self-fulfilling prophecy: if we believe something is so, it tends to be so. If we believe something is not, it tends to not be. Children who were actually of average intelligence were taught by teachers who believed them to be either very bright or dull (in terms of I.Q. tests). The children performed as the teachers expected. The supposed “bright” ones did exceedingly well; the supposed “dull” ones did poorly. We do this to ourselves often in life, putting excessive limits on ourselves and believing we cannot break them.

A second reason for examining world views is communication. It is often very difficult for people with very different world views to communicate with one another. Each thinks s/he is arguing about reality; usually each is arguing about his/her conception of reality. Imagine a committed atheist discussing the California drought with Anita Bryant. If neither is in touch with their basic assumptions, they both believe they are arguing about reality, and the discussion might become very heated. If each realizes s/he is arguing on the basis of a few (unprovable) assumptions, the possibility of some agreement arises. (This does not guarantee agreement, but opens up the possibility of it.) Our disputants might find a third frame of reference which they can both relate to, such as the drought is a “warning” to Californians to cut back on their excessive consumption of water, whether that warning is seen as God’s personal judgment or a logical consequence of continued waste.

In our interviews with clients, our world-view is present—either implicitly or explicitly. If we keep it implicit and indirect, the likelihood of heated argument increases. There will be clashes whenever our clients’ assumptions differ dramatically from ours. And both of us are likely to argue without being really clear as to what we are arguing about. So the dust never settles. If we make our world-view explicit, we still may have major differences with a client, but we are much more likely to be able to agree to disagree. In my experience, if I put my biases and opinions (which is what world-views are; they are ultimately theories we cannot prove) out-front, clients can accept them and deal with them in an interaction with me. The clients may not agree, but they know what my position is and can interpret my information accordingly. They feel an openness and power in the exchange. If I keep my views implicit and hidden, clients may feel that I am subtly trying to brainwash or convince them. My philosophy and beliefs are not open enough for the clients to fight directly, so they feel threatened and uneasy.

It is my hope that more and more people in the helping/healing professions are in a constant process of self-examination and transformation. Such people are very aware of what they present to other people. They have ideals and values and they follow them. Ethical professionals consider their impact with each individual and try to fit their interventions to each specific client’s needs. Responsible practitioners are aware that we ALL make value judgments in our interpretations; it is a part of the human condition! However, honest astrologers admit their value judgments and are willing to examine and change their beliefs if it seems appropriate. It may be corny, but I feel the patriotic statement: “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” is quite appropriate in this context. Growth is a continuing process of looking at ourselves and others and learning and changing.

In my initial interview with a client, I make clear my world-view. I discuss assumptions about reality and share mine. I bring up the self-fulfilling prophecy. I emphasize that I believe many of us suffer from self-imposed excessive limits (based on our assumptions about ourselves and the world). I let clients know that part of my value system is that humanistic astrology widens options, increases choices—never narrowing potentials. I share my other beliefs (which I am open to discussing in greater detail and exchanging ideas/ reactions with readers in later columns if desired) with clients: (1) My belief that a horoscope is a SYMBOLIC map of the personality, but not a mold; that the individual has myriad potentials and choices and can CHOOSE more or less fulfilling ones; (2) My belief that EVERYTHING in the chart has BOTH positive and negative potentials; nothing has to be bad and nothing is guaranteed to be good; (3) My belief that change is always possible; the individual is NOT fated to be a certain way; (4) My belief that change usually requires action and often concentrated physical, mental and/or emotional effort and practice to occur. (A sidelight of this belief is that I mention I am willing to see them more than once or to refer to outside professionals if they feel the need to continue working on changing with the help of an “objective” professional. (5) My belief that the problems shown in the horoscope are common, human dilemmas which we all share to a greater or lesser degree, and in different combinations; (6) My belief that the horoscope shows character and NOT specific events.

Sharing these beliefs with my clients serves several functions: (1) It makes my belief system clear. Clients can choose to agree or disagree and feel straight about it from the outset. (2) I set several other parameters of the interview in disclosing my beliefs. (a) I tell them I will be talking about character and if that is not what they want, to find another astrologer. (b) I tell them I do NOT predict events. Again, they can go elsewhere if they are seeking predictions. (c) I let them know I view our consultation as a place for insight and understanding, but they will have to ACT on that understanding for change to occur in their lives. That is, I define our time together as one for discussion and insight. Change must be carried over to the rest of the life as well in order to be successful and lasting. (And I am open to aiding that change in later interviews if needed.) (3) My belief system also opens clients up to the influence of what are called “curative factors” by Yalom, in The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy. A few of these factors apply specifically to group psychotherapy, but most are also useful in individual counseling, including astrological consultations.

Yalom’s curative factors will be discussed next issue.

Thank you for listening, thinking and caring.

Copyright © 1978 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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