Unfinished Business: Astrology’s Gift to Psychotherapy

Maritha Pottenger

In examining astrology as a potential psychotherapeutic tool, there are a few qualities which come across most dramatically. Although these ideas have been presented in other articles in past Mutable Dilemmas, I believe they are sufficiently important to warrant repetition.


Regardless of one’s particular therapeutic modality (Freudian, Adlerian, Jungian, Gestalt, Psychosynthesis, etc.), most clinicians would agree that one’s family of origin is like a crucible. It sets the tone and the pattern for many of our later reactions and relationships. This is not to say that we cannot change and grow. What else is life about? What higher goal for psychotherapy? However, our early experiences of loving, begin loved, and not being loved seem to create deep channels. Like ruts in the road, we tend to tread those familiar paths again and again.

Metaphysicians have remarked on the “Test/Retest” policy of the cosmos. What we did not deal with optimally, we will face repeatedly in life. We (usually unconsciously) recreate similar scenarios. We rehash our past. We get involved with people who elicit the same sorts of feelings, images, and reactions as we had in the past. They push the old, familiar buttons. We recapitulate, rehearse, replay, ad infinitum. The psyche recaptures the same old dilemmas in an attempt to achieve mastery and transcendence. (Eventually, it works!)

One of astrology’s finest gifts to the art of therapy is a map which lays out people’s major projections—the qualities each individual is likely to live out through others, and the people s/he is likely to attract/choose to manifest those qualities. A horoscope helps us to pinpoint, quickly and easily, where a given individual is apt to once again confront Daddy, Mommy, Sister, Brother, etc. We see where unfinished business from our early family crucible may rear its head. We note circumstances and arenas in which we are likely to “rubber-band” back into old, early feelings. This clarity gives us a tool for truly coming to terms with some very basic issues!


Let’s consider a few examples before I delineate general principles. One client had Neptune in her 3rd house. This client also had a stellium in Taurus in her 10th house. Now, a double-earth (Taurus in the 10th house) stellium individual is likely to cherish tangible results, measurable definitions, and accomplishment in the “real” world. In many ways, this client’s chart (call her Mary) emphasized her capable, responsible side. Neptune, by contrast, represents our imaginative, fantastical, whimsical, escapist side. Neptune knows no boundaries, no limits, and does not fit easily into material reality.

Mary was not comfortable with the side of her nature symbolized by Neptune, so she had disowned it. Since the psyche strives for wholeness, she merely pushed her Neptune into the unconscious, and attracted Neptunian individuals and circumstances to bring in that missing element she preferred not to acknowledge in her own being. Since the 3rd house has to do with brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and collateral relatives in general, Mary “happened” to have a very Neptunian sister.

My earthy client was an accountant. Her sister was a musician—and a flake (both respected Neptunian roles). The sister regularly got into trouble with the “real world” (usually in terms of money or being taken advantage of, being too soft-hearted) and the accountant (Mary) would rush to the rescue. Of course, playing savior is also a respected Neptunian role. The problem was, Mary saw all the Neptunian facets of her sister as negative and to be rejected (particularly within her practical soul). Mary rescued because she felt she “had” to; after all, this was family. But she did not see her Neptunian (savior) pattern as positive.

To change the pattern, Mary needed to find some constructive outlets for Neptunian themes in her life. A little questioning revealed that Mary used to love playing the piano, but gave it up when her sister was identified as the “artistic” one. The accountant sister felt a real yearning for the merging experience that can come through music (and other aesthetic experiences). She elected to develop more of her own artistic side and to feed it, appreciate it. In other words, she sat the god Neptune down at her table, fed him, and made him welcome. He no longer had to crash the party through her sister!


It is worth noting that projection involves a two-way street. Just as the accountant (Mary) was letting her artistic sister play out her Neptune, so was the artist letting her earthy sister play out her practical nature. We might suspect that the artistic sister needed to learn to reclaim her Saturn (or other earth factors in her nature) which she had “given over” to her pragmatic sib. (I do not have the sister’s chart.)


I mentioned, in HEALING WITH THE HOROSCOPE, the example of a woman who had the Moon in Pisces in the 4th and Ceres (the earth mother asteroid) in the 5th. Upon hearing her astrologer note that her experience with her own mother was likely to strongly influence her ability to comfortably nurture her children, the woman began to cry. She explained that she had been raised in a very traditional household with a father, several brothers and an ill (Moon in Pisces—one variant) mother. As the female, this woman, from an early age, was expected to cook, clean and pick up after all the males in the family. She blamed NOT her dictatorial father, but her ill mother for not doing “her” job.

This woman now had a little Sun in Pisces son. She picked on him constantly, nagging, criticizing and resenting him and then feeling terribly guilty about it. With the insight, she could see that she was reacting to her son as if he were her mother! (The son had his own agenda and was appropriately developing health problems.) Old, leftover resentment and anger at the ill, incapable, incompetent (dreamy? imaginative? gentle?) mother was being directed toward this child.

With this recognition, the woman could redirect her focus. She could start doing more Piscean activities herself (healing, artistic, compassionate, creative activities). She could do forgiveness exercises for her mother (and herself) and let go of the past. She could begin to notice all the capable, healthy qualities within her son and encourage those. The pattern does not change with a snap of one’s fingers, but insight is a beginning step, followed by grounded action for change!


Another case was a woman who had Saturn conjunct Pluto in Leo in the 7th house. Her father (Saturn) had been a dominating bully and the whole household breathed easier when his work took him on the road. The woman (who had Aquarius rising and Sun/Mars conjunct in Capricorn in the 11th) early on identified with freedom. She kept her independence, not wanting to be controlled in relationships (as her father had controlled her mother and tried to control her). As she grew older, however, and recognized her own power, she was just as concerned with the issue of not controlling others! She became aware that it would be easy for her to bulldoze others (in often well-meaning ways) simply because she is a very strong personality. She has worked with discipline, effort and patience (Saturn) as well as depth psychological insights, probing and facing the dark side (Pluto) to confront and transform this issue. She is currently maintaining a healthy balance of power in her committed partnership (7th house) but realizes that it takes effort and constant awareness.


For a plural example, I know of several people with Moon conjunct Pluto who are working out intense power issues with their mothers. Typically, Mom is initially seen as power hungry, a “heavy” manipulative, controlling, emotionally or otherwise abusive, etc. (Mother may also deal with addictive issues, hermit tendencies, or totally withdraw and retreat from the world.)

Until some progress is made with this issue, these individuals tend to mix pain and nurturing, healing and hurting. They will often set up intimate relationships (Pluto) which revolve heavily around issues of emotional support (or lack thereof). They typically “rubber-band” back to mother in their interchanges with a mate. They may have to deal with manipulation, power plays, intimidation, threats, subtle emotional blackmail, withdrawal, etc. They may seek someone to give them the unconditional support they always wanted (and never experienced) from Mom. They may strive to be the totally giving, nurturing figure in intimate exchanges (hoping to get back what they give out). As long as they are attempting to satisfy an old hunger in the present time, they will be frustrated and resentful.

As an individual gets in touch with his/her own “dark” side and personal need to seek mastery and control, mother can be forgiven (and seen as a fallible human rather than some monster). The individual’s sense of inner power increases along with healthy channels to manifest it in the world (such as competitive business, sports, games, politics, etc.). These people can become comfortable SHARING the nurturing in a relationship—no longer setting up situations where they possess either ALL or NONE of the power. They can take turns with a mate in being supportive and protective, while each has an inner core of strength and ability to cope (and respects the capability of the other as well). [Once they seat the god, Pluto, at their table and feed him, he no longer needs to ravage the place as revenge for being ignored.]


Having contemplated a few examples, the following are some general principles which have worked for me.

(1) People are complicated mixtures of drives, needs and desires. Most of us have inner conflicts and ambivalences. One way to deal with such inner tensions is to project (disown) a part of our own nature.

(2) Since the psyche tends to seek wholeness, whatever is projected tends to be brought into the life through other people. (We attract others to live out those rejected parts of our own psyche.)

(3) Projection is a two-way street (often involving astrological polarities). Each person is living out something for the other.

(4) Projection usually means OVERDOING whatever qualities are involved. These attributes are usually carried to an excess, in some unfulfilling fashion, by the people manifested our projections.

(5) The horoscope is a map of POSSIBLE projections. Projection is most likely when one part of a horoscope is at odds with the bulk of the chart (e.g., one planet with conflict aspects to most of the chart and in a sign/house that is a “minority” by element and/or quality; one corner of a grand cross or T-square which has little likeness to the chart as a whole, etc.).

(6) Any planetary conjunction can potentially be projected. Conjunctions to the Moon, Saturn, Sun and Ceres (earth mother asteroid) are particularly significant as they are parental keys and issues connected to them can be deeply rooted (including preverbal). We may “rubber-band” back to old feelings, reactions regarding that parent when dealing with issues/people of the planet making the conjunction.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Pluto: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in intimate contexts, where issues of shared pleasures, possessions, money and power arise.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Neptune: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in mystical contexts, where issues of escapism, savior/victim roles, co-dependency, compassion, infinite beauty and grace are involved.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Uranus: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in unusual contexts, where issues of friendship, freedom, individuality, uniqueness, unpredictability, networking, groups and innovation are concerned.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Chiron: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in issues involving education, philosophy, ideals, goals, and our images of perfection.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Saturn: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in pragmatic contexts, where issues of responsibility, obligation, guilt, achievement, status, career, practical power and reality abound.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Jupiter: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in idealistic contexts, where issues of faith, religion, world view, beliefs, values, trust, optimism and the “greatest good” are in focus.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Pallas or Juno: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in partnership encounters, where issues of equality, justice, fair play, balance, aesthetics, harmony and sharing are the focus.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Ceres: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in our own parenting roles, in a work context, or in situations where health is an issue.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Vesta: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent situations involving efficiency, productivity and doing a good job. This is particularly likely to involve work or health.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Mars: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in aggressive situations, where issues of assertion, personal will, anger, self-expression, personal freedom, action and health arise.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Venus: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in the context of love or money. Our handling of pleasure (and capacity to enjoy or not the physical, sensual, aesthetic world) will be strongly influenced by parental archetypes.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Mercury: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in any intellectual/communicative context. Our capacity to think, to express ideas, to deal with the world of the mind will be strongly influenced by the parent(s).

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Moon: we may “rubber-band” to a parent in a nurturing, vulnerable or dependent situation. This could be in terms of taking care of others, or looking to them to care for us.

Sun/Moon/Saturn/Ceres conjunct Sun: we may “rubber-band” back to a parent in any context involving our sense of self-esteem, our ability to take pride in who we are, to feel significant, noticed, appreciated. Our ego is on the line and we may replay old scenarios regarding our worth.

(7) The themes symbolized by a planet can potentially be projected onto the people associated with the house which that planet occupies (or rules). Thus, planets in or ruling the following houses might be projected onto these people:

1st—one’s body and appearance

2nd—one’s possessions and finances (or people who deal with them)

3rd—siblings and other relatives

4th—nurturing parent (or one who was supposed to nurture)

5th—children and lovers

6th—colleagues and coworkers

7th—partners (and “other people” in general)

8th—mates or people who arouse our deepest emotions

9th—religious/inspirational figures, beliefs, values

10th—rule-maker parents and authority figures (including boss)

11th—friends, groups, organizations

12th—one’s unconscious mind (motivations we do not understand)

(8) Integration requires that the individual begin incorporating the disowned qualities into his/her own life in MODERATE, positive forms. (People living out projections tend to overdo/exaggerate the denied qualities.)

(9) Integration is an ongoing PROCESS. It is rarely something one “solves” and never has to deal with again. We meet our basic issues on successively higher levels.


Let’s look at one planet for a final wrap-up. Wherever the Sun is in the horoscope, we need to shine, to be recognized, admired, appreciated, loved and validated. If we are not comfortable with that part of our nature, we may face these issues initially through other people. Following are a few very basic, simple sorts of statements that might be uttered with the Sun in each of the houses. (Many other possibilities exist; I am only supplying one.) The key point is, if there is an issue around being noticed, or significant, it is probably a solar issue and the house will help to show us the people, places, and circumstances with whom we are likely to face that solar issue.

SUN IN 1ST: Everyone stares at how I look (what I do).

SUN IN 2ND: I have to buy the absolute best (to feel worthwhile).

SUN IN 3RD: My sister/brother/relative is a ham.

SUN IN 4TH: My mother is a hysteric.

SUN IN 5TH: My children are self-centered, arrogant and grandiose.

SUN IN 6TH: My co-workers get all the recognition.

SUN IN 7TH: My partner has to be the leader in everything.

SUN IN 8TH: My mate demands that everything be his/her way.

SUN IN 9TH: I admire people who are confident and willing to take charge.

SUN IN 10TH: My father was domineering, selfish and childish.

SUN IN 11TH: My friends have incredible magnetism and charisma.

SUN IN 12TH: Sometimes I just blurt out incredibly egoistic proclamations and I do not understand where they come from!

If we are seeing solar themes in excess around us, the solution is to integrate these drives, in a moderate, positive fashion into our own lives. This could include taking up little theatre, sales, promotional work, advertising or any onstage activity (including teaching). We might adopt a hobby that can bring admiration or applause, play more, create and recreate. We could feed our inner child with love and affirmation, make love or engage in any activities which revitalize us. We could listen more to compliments and seek positive feedback. We could take a leadership role in anything we feel is important. (We seat the god Helios at our table and feed him.)

Of course, the house placement of the Sun is NOT the only key to self-esteem issues. We must also consider the sign of the Sun, the house RULED by the Sun (Leo on the cusp) and any planets in and/or ruling the 5th house (the Sun’s natural house). All forms of Letter 5 in the astrological alphabet would contribute to the picture (and help map potential projections).

The strongest statement would be another planet conjuncting the Sun. If, for example, Mercury conjuncts our Sun, our ego is on the line in terms of our mental abilities. We need to be admired, recognized and applauded for our thinking or communication skills. We are ego-vulnerable in terms of our intellectual capacities. If we deny our solar dynamism, we may initially admire and look up to scintillating speakers and charismatic intelligentsia. The more we deny it in ourselves, however, the more we will attract others who overdo. Eventually we will note that those other people are overbearing, arrogant or grandiose in how they say things. We will find they tend to dominate conversations and insist they are right and know the answers to everything.

Again, with projection, we do not want to do what others are OVERDOING, but rather to incorporate moderate, positive forms of the theme into our lives!

Because the Sun is a secondary key to our father or father figure (after Saturn), the picture gets more complicated. Everyone’s capacity for dynamism, magnetism, charisma, vitality and self-confidence is apt to be strongly affected by a father figure. And the “cosmic state” (house and sign placements, aspects, rulerships) of the Sun will tell us about where we might “rubber-band” back to issues with Daddy.

If, for example, the Sun is in the 7th house, we may pick a partner who pushes the same buttons as Daddy did. Our self-esteem is on the line in terms of sharing, equality, justice, and fair play. We may overdo the need for excitement, dynamism—or we might project and choose a partner who carries those qualities to an extreme. If so, our partner is apt to be a mirror—or the opposite extreme—of our father. The partner elicits the same sorts of responses and reactions as we had with Daddy, around issues of attention, limelight, notice, love given and received. We have a chance to do it right this time—to learn to share the stage, to each have a place to shine, to be validated and appreciated as a special human being.

Similarly, if the Sun conjuncts a planet, we have self-esteem issues connected to the nature of that planet, but we also may “rubber-band” back to father in terms of those issues. Thus, the Sun conjunct Mercury may “snap back” to a father who was a hail, well-met party type and couldn’t be depended upon. Or, the individual may snap back to a father who constantly embarrassed them so that they felt too self-conscious to say much of anything. Etc. The exact scenario is unimportant. The major issue will revolve around the mind and communication in terms of self-esteem, love, attention and positive regard, and the early reactions and perceptions of the father or father figure will be key. By acknowledging the contributions (and hindrances) of the past, we are free to move in different directions in the future. By incorporating positive manifestations of what has been denied, we can eliminate the need for painful projections in our lives. (The psyche seeks wholeness; if we re-own our disowned qualities, we need not unconsciously draw in others to “do it for us.”)

The past can help illuminate the future. The better we understand our roots, the more wisely we can choose between our current options. We look backward not to be stuck in the past, but in order to move forward more fully, confidently and positively!

Copyright © 1989 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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