by Mark Jones
Originally published in The Mountain Astrologer
The ideas presented in this article are meant as a commentary on the nature of two people coming together for an astrology reading. In exploring psychotherapeutic ideas for astrologers, I am not arguing for a psychological astrology, that is, a psychological method as the underlying astrological approach. This article is designed to introduce core insights from the world of depth psychology to assist the astrologer of any technical persuasion to understand some of the issues and dynamics that can arise when any two people meet for the purposes of guidance or healing.
An astrology reading involves a counselling dynamic. It sounds simple, but there is an underlying radicalism to what I am asserting: that regardless of your astrological approach — traditional, evolutionary, psychological, Vedic, medical, etc. — when an individual consults you for advice, help, and support, a therapeutic relationship comes into being, if only for one hour.
Furthermore, this is the case whether or not the client (or even, for that matter, the astrologer) is conscious of it. An astrologer may feel that they are simply disseminating their specialised information to a client; however, there is still a counselling dynamic that will stir certain forces within the client’s — and, potentially, the astrologer’s — unconscious. The reading may not occur in person; it may be recorded or in writing. Nevertheless, it includes a counselling aspect to the relationship.
My premise is that through being more conscious of core therapeutic ideas, we can better serve the realisation of our client’s true potential. If we exclude the client, we actually close down the greatest source of information and transformational potential that exists in the course of the session. For the birth chart is only a map. It’s a multidimensional map, for sure — one that can shift from flora and fauna, to geology, to social demographics and a route finder and back again! Yet, a map is not the territory. No matter how brilliant, it is still just a map and not the place itself. The place itself is the psyche of the individual, and the individual sits before you in the reading, literally or virtually. Ignoring this person is like ignoring the Grand Canyon to study the map of it instead.
Many people have been put off by the idea of psychotherapy, or therapeutic applications of astrology, because they associate the need for therapy with there being something wrong with them. Ira Progoff, in his 1963 work The Symbolic and the Real, raised the issue that psychoanalysis had come into being as a response only to people’s wounding, so its fundamental premise was based on the idea that there was something wrong with you. In his book, Progoff proposed a new term for therapist: that of evoker of persons. This rather beautiful concept completely reframes the notion of plumbing the depths of someone to find out what is wrong with them into an open process of encouraging their emergence. It frames the idea of the healer (therapist or astrologer) as someone who encourages another person to explore the true potential of their own being.
Even within this model of therapeutic astrology as a force to evoke the true potential of the individual, it can be very useful to understand certain defensive structures and psychological mechanisms, since people develop defences for good reason. Defensive structures are a key component of healthy human development. Yet, it is clear that they may also serve to block the growth of both the individual seeking a reading and even the astrologer.
Here, I seek to explain certain critical terms from psychology and explore how they might serve the natal chart reading. The ability of the astrologer to recognize and respond to defensive structures, within both the client and him or herself during the reading, will determine the degree of transformation that is possible for the client as a result of the encounter. I will explore the mechanisms of projection, transference, countertransference, reaction formation, and the formation of a false self; the representation of these mechanisms in the archetypal chart, when applicable; and the response by the astrologer that will most aid the client in a process of transformation. An example chart will illustrate the potential power of adopting this perspective when you are engaged in the astrologer–client relationship.
Many of the core insights of psychotherapy into the nature of our defence mechanisms stem from an exploration of projection. In psychological terms, projection refers to assigning one’s own unacceptable psychic content to another individual or situation. In many cases, the content projected is such that the person is in denial of its existence as a characteristic or emotion. Projection, therefore, is a mechanism that allows the individual to experience the denied emotion through painting others or the world in that colour. Difficult feelings that are commonly projected include hostility, grief, self-hate, pride, and criticism (of self and others).
This phenomenon can be explored through the dual rulership of the Venus archetype. Ruling both Taurus and Libra, Venus expresses how we experience both self-value and the value of the other. The yin, or inner Venus, in Taurus symbolizes the relationship to the self, the unconditioned needs of the self, and the capacity of the self to meet its own needs. The yang, or outer Venus, in Libra symbolizes the relationship to others, the needs of the individual as they are projected onto others, and the way that the inner reality is out-pictured and mirrored through the responses of others to the individual. Whilst projection can involve any or all of the astrological archetypes, the dual rulership ascribed to Venus is particularly useful for revealing how we feel about ourselves, which is so central to how we experience others.
Figure 1 illustrates the 150-degree aspect, an inconjunct or quincunx, from Taurus to Libra. In working with aspects, we find that the nature of an aspect is influenced by the sign that makes that aspect to the Ascendant (Aries) of the archetypal zodiac. Figure 2 shows that the inconjunct first occurs in the archetypal zodiac 150 degrees from Aries/Ascendant, where we encounter Virgo. Thus, using this approach, we can explore the significance of the inconjunct through an understanding of the Virgo archetype.
Following Leo (the culmination of self-development wherein the individual finds his or her greatest creative self-expression), Virgo serves as a transitional archetype in which the outgoing expression of self in Leo turns within (yin Mercury rulership). A process of self-adjustment and internal self-analysis commences, the purpose of which is to foster the ability to relate to others as equals — the goal of the next archetype, Libra.
The inherent challenge of the Virgo archetype is to reflect upon the differences between the instinctual self (Aries) and the persona, or mask that one wears around others (Libra), with objectivity and compassion. However, this may prove difficult. One may become caught in a trap of guilt and shame, of not being good enough. In this way, a process intended to be humbling can become, instead, mortifying. Thus, the inconjunct aspect is permeated with the mental–emotional conflict and potential crisis of archetypal Virgo, rooted in a negative self-assessment.
Therefore, when contemplating the dual nature of Venus through the inconjunct between Taurus and Libra, we see a potential for conflict between our attempts to meet our own needs and our attempts to seek meaning or fulfillment through others. This mental–emotional conflict and potential crisis form the basis for the phenomenon of projection.
Venus symbolizes how we project what we reject or believe to be missing within ourselves onto others in the forms of aversion and attraction (negative and positive projection). Any difficulty we have in meeting our own needs for security and self-worth becomes the basis for projection. Likewise, constantly judging another’s behaviour reveals the strong self-judgment and fear that underlie our specific belief that others need to behave within the parameters we have created for ourselves.
Viewing the zodiac as a developmental model, the phase of Taurus corresponds to what psychologists call the development of self and object constancy — the internalization of parental safety. (Self-constancy is when the child feels grounded enough to be or play on their own for a while; the interlinked idea of object constancy is when the child trusts the availability of the parent enough that they can be left alone, without feeling that the parent has left for good.) We see that, for many people, this stage was not fully realized, and recurring states of anxiety about their own basic safety or capacity to meet their own needs (stressed Taurus) fuel the need to control others (dual rulership of Venus) in order to preserve a veneer of safety in their experience. We can observe that most problems in relationships stem from unresolved personal feelings that block or distort the capacity to meet the inner needs of the self (Taurus). Relationships with others (Libra) are then coloured with the disappointments of the self-relationship or with unrealistic projections of how the other (Libra) can save the individual from themselves (Taurus). Most healthy relationships (Libra) emerge from a basic maturity in how we commit to meet our own needs (Taurus) so that we are not overburdening others with core unresolved feelings about ourselves.
In Figure 1, we can also observe the inconjunct between Libra and Pisces, which represents the potential conflict between our expectations in relationships and our highest dreams, aspirations, or ultimate sense of meaning. Even within a culture where the divine is minimized, the unconscious still yearns for that greater meaning. We see the crisis that may, and often does, occur when people elevate the meaning of their personal relationships to that ultimate level. By making partners something like gods or goddesses, they create co-dependency and/or relationship addiction, whilst veiling a fundamental fear of being alone (Pisces).
In the astrological reading, an examination of natal Venus can reveal much about the client’s inner world and tendency toward projection. This understanding can then point to areas of potential transformation by calling our attention to specific unconscious material that would not otherwise be elicited. If we can support the client in his or her present frame of reference, if we can help the client to acknowledge and accept the emotional underpinnings of projected (therefore unacceptable) material, it is possible to create an opening for the release of those emotions. Since many of the negative emotions that underlie projection stem from wounds that occurred earlier in life, gaining a perspective on these dynamics can provide a safe space to mobilize the resources of the adult self. From this point, one can reframe the past hurt and allow once-necessary defences to be understood as no longer required. Thus, a new perspective is allowed in, to replace the pain of the past.
Through the cardinal cross (Figure 1), we can begin to explore the roots of a more specialized form of projection that is often a key area for therapeutic attention: that of transference. In the process of projection, unresolved feelings are taken from within the psyche and placed outside, onto another person or situation. This is also the case with transference, but here the feelings tend to be very specifically those formed in relation to the parental figure during infancy or early childhood. Here, the stress of the Cancer–Capricorn t-square to Libra is evoked.
In infancy, the individual is completely dependent upon another to meet his or her needs. This elevates the role of both parents, especially that of the primary caregiver, to something akin to god in the eyes of the young child. This quite naturally evokes powerful feelings in the child that psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut has explained as mirror transference and idealizing transference.1
Mirror transference is simply the absolute need and requirement to be appreciated as your own unique self — just for being you. The importance of this need is illustrated in popular culture: Mark Darcy is singled out as the right man for Bridget Jones in the book/movie Bridget Jones’ Diary, when he says to her, “I like you very much, just as you are.” The last four words are repeated hypnotically by one of Bridget’s friends in appreciation of their significance.
Idealizing transference is, again, a simple concept: the need of the young child to experience the parents, for a time, as all-powerful or all-knowing figures. In experiencing the parents this way, the child is able to channel idealism into a positive relationship which allows the child to become constructively motivated, basing growth on the parental ideal. For instance, if Daddy is courageous and strong, then the child has an example of those qualities which they can emulate in their life.
Kohut saw each of these processes as legitimate needs of the infant — and, if unfulfilled, a source of developmental problems. We have all experienced parts of our upbringing in which these powerful needs were not met. It would be the rare parent who could provide unconditional acceptance, and many of us remember the natural part of our evolution when our parents’ human failings became evident. So, all of us will have unresolved feelings with respect to our parents. But those who have had a dysfunctional or abusive family experience will be more sensitive to these unmet needs and the manifestation of problems with mirroring and/or idealizing transference.
Idealizing transference has such a direct significance within the astrological world, because the very idea of approaching a figure who might “read the map of our soul” can evoke these feelings. This was illustrated when a conference attendee consulted me for her third reading of the weekend (in and of itself perhaps indicative of a struggle within), anticipating that the “all-knowing figure” before her would set straight the confusion provoked by the prior readings. The situation was loaded with powerful unmet needs.
The central t-square in her chart (not shown) — involving a Gemini–Sagittarius opposition across the 3rd and 9th houses, squared by Pluto in Virgo in the 7th house — revealed issues around gathering information and discriminating between different forms of knowledge. I could also see a pronounced need for validation from others (Pluto/7th) and a potential crisis about the lack of fulfillment of that need (Pluto in Virgo in the t-square). The reading could have begun with an exploration of this information, thus conforming to astrological conventions and protocol. Instead, I asked the client the following question:
“What would it be like, just for a moment or two, to forget about what others have said to you and to remember that you have a point of power and integrity within yourself which you can trust to help you go forward in your life?”
The client paused for a long moment and then began to cry with relief. This moment was a turning point — in the reading, in her experience at the conference, and in her life at that time. The previous two readings had presented conflicting information, and in her idealizing transference, she had placed so much power in the hands of those astrologers that such incompatible information had caused great distress. To be reminded of her point of integrity within allowed her a moment of freedom from that pressure, and she was able to come back to an experience of her own power. My understanding of transference, on both a theoretical and a felt level, proved to be invaluable. It allowed a context for our reading to include her lived experience as a person, not just a detached “reading” of her chart. She found this liberating, for she was then able to engage with the information, rather than feeling overwhelmed by it.
Without a certain degree of positive projection or transference, an individual would not be seeking a specific astrologer for a reading. In order to commit time and resources to a reading, a person will have experienced some positive idea of that astrologer’s work, either through a book, a public lecture, or a workshop or through recommendation from a friend. This level of positive projection is healthy and natural and can be used constructively by the therapeutically sensitive astrologer to establish trust and encourage personal empowerment.
To make the best use of this trust, astrologers must navigate any potential obstacles arising from the positive projections or transference energy that they are receiving. Positive transference has as many potential issues contained within it as does negative transference. In one significant way, it is even more problematic because the positive nature of the energy is especially seductive or beguiling.
Positive or idealizing transference can tempt astrologers into making statements that are beyond their knowledge, or that are overly specific and can be taken as a literal sign by the client who is desperate for a type of salvation. We cannot control how the information we discuss with our clients is ultimately taken in and acted upon. However, being aware of the level of significance that may be invested in our words, we can learn to qualify what we say. This is of special importance for a field in which there is the idea that the stars can tell you, “This is the way it is, or must be.” It is vital within the reading to continually affirm the power and choice of the individual before us.
An understanding of transference helps us to recognize the potential for countertransference. This phenomenon occurs when the energy of transference provokes, within the counsellor/astrologer, an emotional response that mirrors the original response of the parental figure. (See the Chart Example below.) This effect is disarming and requires that the astrologer be prepared to withhold reaction by sitting in silence, if necessary, because to act upon this emotion would reinforce the unmet need of the client, rather than fulfill it. Such emotions include (but are not limited to) the desire to help or rescue, pride, anger, fear, grief, and shame. Both the recognition and the skillful handling of evoked emotions are important abilities for a professional astrologer to develop.
Reaction formation is a defence linked to the tension between what a person believes they ought to feel in a given social situation versus how they are actually feeling. Certain difficult feelings are channelled into more socially acceptable or pleasing forms of behaviour. We can use the cardinal cross (Figure 1) to understand this: Strong parental or societal judgments (Capricorn) about what is appropriate behaviour around others (Libra) clash with the person’s feelings of vulnerability (Cancer). The instinctual body (Aries) experiences this as suppression (Capricorn), so the person channels self-expression (Aries) into a more pleasing form (Libra) to hide any anxiety (Cancer). This defence will often have been learned in the early home life in response to what the parents found acceptable (Cancer–Capricorn t-square with Libra).
One difficulty with this defence mechanism is how socially acceptable it is; the intent of the reaction formation is both to avoid the intrusion of unacceptable feelings into self-awareness and to provide a positive veneer for others. People are often afraid to explore someone’s authentic feelings if those feelings are suspected to be more difficult and socially challenging than the mask this person is presenting. For example, if a client responds with understanding when we arrive late for a reading, we may not wish to explore whether or not this is an authentic response.
To illustrate: A client was waiting for me to set up a recording device, and commented that the astrological conference she was attending, while enjoyable, was a strain, because she found herself smiling so much that her face hurt at the end of the day. When I asked her about this, she explained that she had a tendency to “channel” her social anxiety into constant smiling. I noticed, and pointed out to her, that she had continued to smile while she spoke. This prompted the client to express her anxiety about the reading and the reasons for that anxiety. Her comments became a powerful part of what we explored in the reading. This exchange, occurring before the chart was in hand, both quickened and deepened the reading.
The False Self
This crucial term, originating from the British psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott, is at the heart of many defensive structures and stems from neglect in the early environment. The mother and other primary caregivers are so crucial to the infant that he or she would literally die without their care and attention. The “primitive agony”2 resulting from any significant failure of the parent to care for the child becomes the basis of adaptive strategies in the child to elicit the required love and attention: “The False Self has one very positive and very important function: to hide the True Self, which it does by compliance with environmental demands.”3
If the false self is developed to any degree of significance, it will have impacted all areas of the individual’s life. This is particularly relevant whenever anyone recognizes that they are creating the same unsuccessful patterns in their relationships, time and time again — since the adaptive or compliant nature of the false self will create a split between their behaviour with others and their real feelings. As a result, the false self often becomes the primary reason an individual is seeking a reading, whether they are fully conscious of this or not.
Let us examine the birth chart of “Antiope” (see Chart).4 To take a partial, simple, but clear look at facets of this chart, we see that Pluto in Libra, the North Lunar Node in Libra, and a strong western hemisphere emphasize the significance of relationships for this young woman. The North Node’s dispositor, Venus, rules the 4th-house cusp and is placed in the 7th house conjunct Saturn, so Antiope’s relationship with her parents will likely have had a very direct impact on her capacity for successful adult relationships, and this issue is central to her evolution (North Node). Venus conjunct Saturn in Leo suggests that she may have been severely inhibited in her capacity for creative self-expression or even for achieving basic safety (ruler of the 4th house) in meeting her own needs (Venus).
Antiope was frightened of me. She would become sick with fear hours or even days before our meetings. A drunken father who left home early and a bullying stepfather had shaped her into a person who, quiet as a mouse, sat perched on the edge of the chair in my office (not an easy thing to do, since it has an incline that invites sitting back and relaxing). She was nearly mute but whispered that she had come to see me because she felt that she’d reached an impasse in her life and did not know how to go forward.
The unresolved father transference is obvious. The countertransference is sometimes more difficult to understand. At one point after a real breakthrough, my client went silent just as we were referring to the potential transformation that had occurred. In that lengthy silence, I experienced an unexpected feeling of anger. This was far from my authentic feelings for this young woman and her concerns. Yet, I was being invited, energetically, to play the part of the bullying stepfather: to push her forward or criticize her slow pace. I did not act on this feeling, which instead played through my energy field in silence. But the power of that feeling — hard to explain if you have not experienced the way countertransference can suddenly erupt — could easily have destabilized any healing work. Sometimes a few moments of silence are crucial to gather oneself.
An astrology reading is generally a high-cost and short-duration event. Long silences would represent a serious failure to deliver value to one’s clients. But to never include the possibility for silence, to never allow the moment to just be there in the space between you, is to minimize the power of the reading. Usually in a reading, I would argue for quality over quantity: People can take in only so many insights, so it is often better for the client to deeply understand a small number of key insights.
With Antiope, it was clear that she had developed a false self to adapt to her absent father and tyrannical stepfather. That this is not a true reflection of her Venus in Leo is obvious to an astrologer, and shows critical ways that the natal chart can guide therapeutic insight: The adaptive, quiet, disempowered little girl is a response to the Saturn conditioning and her dependency on others. To embody a more positive Saturn or fatherly role, I picked up my laptop cleaner, shaped like a frog, and initiated a game of catch, encouraging her to toss it to me while speaking; her repression was so severe that we needed to play through it to some kind of safety. “Froggy,” as he was christened that day, has now gone on to serve a number of my clients (most recently, he sat on someone’s belly as the embodiment of perfect love). Funnily enough, he has never cleaned a laptop!
By adopting a more playful and constructive embodiment of paternal authority (Saturn), I could offer a space for Antiope to experience herself momentarily without her usual hypervigilance, in which she was always prepared to be criticized or bullied, as her past experience would suggest. Whilst there is only limited opportunity in an astrology reading for this level of client interaction, to offer it, or even just to point to its possibility within a client’s life, is directly transformative.
I hope that what I present here can be of use generally within the astrological community. You do not have to be a psychotherapist to understand certain core concepts that have emerged from the world of depth psychology. Then, you are in a position to be able to use that understanding on behalf of your clients.
If, during the course of a reading, issues emerge that clearly require longer-term therapeutic care, and the client is receptive to working on that, then I recommend that every professional astrologer know a good therapist to whom they can refer potential clients.
By applying these basic therapeutic ideas, the astrologer makes possible a more genuine engagement with the real needs of the clients — something that, in the long run, will produce greater results for those clients and greater personal satisfaction for astrologers themselves, as they can participate more fully in the process of their clients’ change.
I hope that the overriding message of this article will encourage a direct personal relationship between astrologer and client during an astrology reading. A core part of the healing and guidance that can occur within such a session emerges from the direct contact between the two people present. Regardless of astrological approach, the quality of that relationship will impact the client’s life.
Chart Data and Source
“Antiope,” July 3, 1978; 10:00 p.m. BST; Tavistock, England (50°N33^, 04°W08^); A: Time is from mother’s memory. (We see, with the birth time being exactly on the hour, that it is probably not accurate to the minute, but we are not focussing unduly on time-sensitive parts of the chart.)
References and Notes
1. Heinz Kohut, The Analysis of the Self: A Systematic Approach to the Psychoanalytic Treatment of Narcissistic Personality Disorders, University of Chicago Press, 2009 reprint. (See chapter 2, “The Idealizing Transference,” and chapters 5 and 6, “Types of Mirror Transference.”)
2. Adam Phillips, Winnicott, Penguin Books, 2007, p. 21.
3. Donald Winnicott, Maturational Processes and the Facilitating Environment, Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis (London), 1965, p. 169 (italics mine).
4. The core approach that I use for chart analysis is clearly explained in my book, Healing the Soul: Pluto, Uranus and the Lunar Nodes, Raven Dreams Press, 2011.
© 2014 Mark Jones – all rights reserved