Vedic Astrology and Transpersonal Counseling
Dennis M. Harness, Ph.D.
The role of the Vedic Astrologer as a consultant, counselor, and spiritual guide requires basic training in counseling and effective communication skills. This is especially true in the Western world, where an emphasis is placed on therapeutic astrology. Although technical skill and predictive accuracy are essential in Vedic astrological training, they are not enough to produce a competent astrological counselor. Empathy, compassion, intuition, and a good "chartside manner" should also be cultivated in developing one's therapeutic skills. A wise astrologer knows not only how, but also when to share difficult aspects of the natal chart with a client. The focus of this paper is to explore common challenges in the astrological consulting room and to provide solutions to these potential pitfalls in practice. But before addressing some of the more interesting challenges of astrological counseling; a few comments on the history of modern psychology and its relationship to astrology is warranted.
Dr. C.G. Jung, the respected Swiss psychiatrist, had a keen interest in astrology. He stated that "astrology represents the summation of all the psychological knowledge of antiquity". Dr. Jung was a pioneer of transpersonal thought which emphasizes the importance of exploring issues "beyond the persona" or personality. In their groundbreaking text, Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology, Walsh and Vaughan state, “Jung himself was the first Western psychologist to affirm the importance of transpersonal experience for mental health”. Transpersonal psychology invites us to embrace the deeper dimensions of spirit and soul. Psychology, which literally means "the study of the psyche or soul”, had lost touch with its true spiritual purpose of exploring the soul during its academic development.
Most of the psychoanalytic and behavioral schools of psychology have chosen to follow a more mechanistic, medical model of human behavior. Although these disciplines are essential cornerstones in the field of psychology, the emergence of humanistic and transpersonal psychology have brought the rebirth of psyche or soul back into psychology. In contrast, transpersonal psychology has always embraced the Vedic knowledge and wisdom of the East in attempting to understand the deeper spiritual dimensions of human behavior. However, the acceptance of astrology as a viable diagnostic technique for understanding human behavior has not even occurred in the transpersonal realms of psychology.
It is interesting to note that C.G. Jung often used astrology as a diagnostic tool in his clinical practice. In a letter written to the prominent Indian astrologer, Dr. B.V. Raman (dated 9/47), he writes:
"As I am a psychologist, I am chiefly interested in the particular light the horoscope sheds on certain complications in the client's character. In cases of difficult psychological diagnosis, I usually get a horoscope in order to have a further point of view from an entirely different angle. I must say that I very often found that the astrological data elucidated certain points which I otherwise would have been unable to understand."
In a French astrological magazine, a few years later (1954), Jung also wrote: "One can expect with considerable assurance that a given well-defined psychological situation will be accompanied by an analogous astrological configuration. Astrology consists of configurations symbolic of the collective unconscious. The planets are the Gods, the symbols of the powers of the unconscious."
By contemplating Jung's words, a common goal of both psychotherapy and astrology emerges. That is, both disciplines are attempting to facilitate the unconscious aspects of self in becoming more conscious. Vedic Astrology or Jyotisha, which means the “science of light”, can be a profound tool for bringing light and clarity into the dark caverns of the unconscious. Perhaps the transpersonal psychologist of the future who does not use astrology; will be analogous to an astronomer studying the stars without the benefit of a telescope. As Psychologist Richard Tarnas has stated “Psychology textbooks of future generations will look back on modern psychologists working without the aid of astrology as being like medieval astronomers working without the aid of a telescope”. The integration of transpersonal psychology with astrology has the potential to occur as we move into the new millennium.
Through predictive techniques such as the different dasha systems, Vedic Astrology reveals a bird's eye view of the developmental life cycles reflecting the soul's karmic patterns or samskaras as they come to fruition. Astrology has demonstrated great potential as an accurate diagnostic tool in the hands of trained counselor for deeper psychological understanding, vocational interests, relationship dynamic, health issues and spiritual evolution. An effective astrologer provides the client with potential strategies in selecting more effective discriminative action. However, the choice of action should be left in the hands of the client. We should not be "playing God" in the life's of our clients. Unless you are a fully enlightened being, the choice you make for your clients make be wrong. An astrologer of ethical integrity is a choice revealer, rather than a choice maker.
Paramahansa Yogananda's guru, Sri Yukteswar was a great astrologer. In Paramahansa Yogananda's classic book, Autobiography of a Yogi, Yukteswar states that "the natal chart can be rightly interpreted only be men of intuitive wisdom: these are few". Yukteswar's warning is important to keep in mind when attempting to make definitive predictions about a client's life. Thus, an astrologer may be more ethically sound, by speaking in terms of potential trends rather than specific future events. A Vedic astrologer must understand the "laws of karma", for even accurate forecasts need to be accompanied by right understanding of the significance of client’s life events. That is, what is the life lesson that is being taught at a given moment in time.
For example, a client may be entering a nineteen-year Saturn Dasha. Saturn is placed in the eighth house in its debilitated sign of Aries. There is a strong possibility of a death issue that may surface during this planetary period. However, whether the actual events are the death of a loved one, a business loss, health issues or a more symbolic death/rebirth period in the client’s life are all of the above is speculative at best. To counsel the client on developing spiritual detachment, prudence in business, or improving their diet and exercise to make them more capable of handling any health challenges they my encounter during the Saturn cycle. If they are spiritually inclined, Vedic remedial measures such as Saturn mantras, prayer, pujas and hatha yoga to increase physical and emotional flexibility during Saturn’s sojourn may be recommended.
Astrological Counseling Styles
In regards to astrological consulting, three basic styles are prevalent. The first and most basic method is an Informational style. This involves the astrologer making either an audiotape and/or written analysis of the natal chart and sending it to the person. If the consultation is done face-to-face; little dialogue takes place with this format. This presentation style reflects a major difference between astrologers and psychotherapists That is, astrologers are paid to talk, and psychotherapists are paid to listen. The problem with this approach is that it allows little, if any input from the client. It is often difficult to assess completely from the chart alone, the client's motivation and state of consciousness. The natal chart does not necessarily show the intention or effort that a client is making to actualize their potential and how they are healing the challenging aspects or yogas in their chart.
I remember giving a consultation to a female client with a Kemadruma Yoga where no planets were placed on either side of the Moon, no aspects to the Moon and no planets were found angular or in kendras from the lagna or the Moon. In his classic text, Three Hundred Important Combinations, Dr. Raman writes that this yoga can reflect a person who will be "dirty, sorrowful, doing unrighteous deeds, poor, dependent, a rouge and a swindler". In fact, the infamous O.J. Simpson has this yoga in his natal chart. Whereas, my female client's Kemadruma Yoga manifested into her work with Mother Theresa; helping the sick, the dependent and the poor in the streets of Calcutta. She is currently one of the charity organization's chief advisors. There is always some mystery how a specific aspect or planetary yoga may manifest in an individual's life.
The second basic style of astrological consulting is a Counseling style, which can involve an in-depth dialogue between the astrologer and client. This can be done either face to face or by a phone consultation. A good astrologer is usually very intuitive and can read much from the physiogamy and facial expressions. When giving a consultation by phone, I often request that the client send a photograph and letter stating their concerns and questions to assist in creating more empathic connection. Literally, the client wants to be seen on all levels of being. As mentioned previously, the astrologer should receive some basic training in effective counseling skills such as: building rapport, empathy, effective listening and unconditional positive regard toward the client; diagnosing mental illness, and not flooding the client with negative or challenging aspects in their natal chart. Astrological knowledge that does not consider the immediate emotional well being and state of consciousness of the client can cause great psychological harm, especially if forced prematurely on a client. The counseling astrologer must be able to discern what is appropriate to share at a given moment. It is also essential that the client leave the astrological consultation with a sense of hope, faith and empowerment rather than fear, doom and gloom. In contrast, the astrologer must not "sugar coat" the consultation by avoiding all challenging aspects in the natal chart.
The third basic style is Psychotherapeutic astrology. This type of astrological counseling is rare and has its challenges. It would involve utilizing the natal chart as a diagnostic tool to enhance the weekly therapy sessions. As mentioned earlier, astrology was a diagnostic method that Dr. C.G. Jung used in his therapeutic practice. Psychotherapeutic astrology allows the client's view of their life lessons to be shared with the astrologer over the course of therapy. It is difficult to cover many issues in-depth when the client is not seen for more than one to two hours a year. Psychotherapeutic astrology encourages the client to ask questions and give responses anytime during the consultation. As mentioned previously, the primary drawback of the single "astrological reading" is the necessary condition of minimal client participation in order to cover much ground in the session.
While counseling astrology is usually brief and aimed at specific problem areas, psychotherapeutic astrology is more long-term with a genuine relationship developing between the client and astrologer. Psychotherapy involves improving the person's inner personality structure, whereas counseling helps the client to deal more effectively with immediate problems without requiring significant internal change. Since traditional psychotherapy involves the therapist in the role of witness and a listener, presentation of astrological information would need to be given with care and may not be appropriate with certain clients suffering from mental disorders such as chronic depression, schizophrenia, paranoia, etc. Astrology can create a magical transference with the client seeing the therapist as the one who knows all and has the “magic pill" for instant recovery. This can create unrealistic projections that get in the way of the natural healing process that is taking place in the therapeutic relationship between client and therapist. These issues will have to be addressed as more therapists begin to integrate astrology into their therapeutic practice. Most importantly, the astrologer should be trained and licensed to practice psychotherapy.
In my own astrological practice, I have had many psychotherapists’ refer their clients for an astrological consultation and then also listen to the audiotape of the session to gain further insight into the client's psychological issues. The psychotherapist can utilize the astrologer as an "Archetypal consultant" to point out the hidden strengths as well as potential blocks in the therapeutic process. C.G. Jung often emphasized the importance of discovering what archetypal myths the client is working with in this lifetime. As we know, astrology is an excellent tool for revealing life lessons, themes and personal myths pertaining to one's individuation process. It is important to remember that the basis of astrology is mythology and symbolic language. Exploring the myths and symbols of the planets, signs and nakshatras can be very enlightening during an astrological consultation.
When chronic psychological disturbance is observed, astrological therapy may be inappropriate or detrimental to the therapeutic process. A client suffering from chronic psychopathology such as depression or schizophrenia may need psychotherapy more than astrological counseling. If the astrologer is not trained in psychotherapy, they should have referral sources in their local community. It is a competent and ethical astrologer who knows when to refer a client to a qualified health professional.
Astrologically, I have seen afflictions to Mercury and/or Moon involved with mental disorders. Papa Katari Yoga may be present with Moon or Mercury scissored between two challenging planets. Afflictions to the Fourth house of emotional contentment and the Fifth house of intelligence and discrimination may also be prevalent. Close conjunctions of Rahu or Ketu with the Moon may also be challenging to the client's mental health and addictive tendencies. Saturn's conjunction or aspect to the natal Moon also tends to reflect a melancholy mind, which can lead to a depressive illness. Saturn's transit over the natal Moon (Sade Sati) can also reflect times of dysphoria. Of course, any hard aspects to the Sun, the First house or its lord can strongly affect the general health and emotional well being of the client.
The planetary periods (dasha or bhukti) of a weak planet will also make the individual more susceptible to psychological disturbance and low self-esteem. However, it is important in the therapeutic process to hold the belief that any planetary position or aspect holds a positive potential for personal growth. Using words such as "afflicted", "weak", “malefic” or "bad” during a consultation can generate fear, shame and low self-esteem. Speaking in terms of a planetary aspect in the natal chart as an opportunity for growth and reframing the situation in a positive light is a more effective method of empowerment.
Challenging Client Styles
Each client that comes to the astrologer is a unique soul and should be treated as a special manifestation of God. However, certain client styles may be more difficult than others to work with. The following are a few of the challenging personality styles and their general characteristics that you may encounter in your astrological practice.
(1) The Professional: This type of client has usually been to at least a dozen astrologers,psychics, numerologists, tarot readers in the last twelve months. They want some person of authority to make their decisions for them. They have a strong case of "psychic dependency" which interferes with them exerting their own will.
(2) The Skeptic / Confounder: This client does not believe that astrology is credible and would enjoy proving you wrong. This can be the resistive husband that is brought to the consultation by the wife or the person that is given the consultation as a birthday gift. Even if your natal chart analysis is correct, they may deny your interpretation. This type of client enjoys playing "stump the astrologer".
(3) The Agreeable Client: In this client's eyes, you are God, incarnate. Every word you utter is the gospel truth. They see you as infallible. Be careful though, because if someone makes you God; the Devil is not far behind. If your predictions do not come to pass, you may experience the proverbial, fall from grace.
(4) The Confessional: The client may see you as the priest or Father Confessor to absolve them of their sins. They may also want you to condone the behavior that they may feel guilt about. Depending on your own ethics and morality, this can be a very challenging situation placing you in a God-like role.
(5) Rescue Me: This is the client looking for the "magic pill” and by the astrologer waving the magic wand, everything will be fine. They also want to know when Prince Charming is going to arrive or what are their lucky numbers for the lottery. After the session, the astrologer may feel mentally and physically drained.
(6) The Victim: They believe that the difficult aspects in their natal chart are further proof that God is punishing them. The goal is try to help them release the role of "playing victim" and become an active participant in turning their life around. They created their karmic situation, so they can also heal it. They need to know that there is light at the end of the tunnel, and that it is not a train.
Through awareness of these challenging client styles, the astrologer need not "fall prey", reinforce or perpetuate these ineffective client strategies. The astrologer can be aware of the “games” being played and hopefully guide the client toward more meaningful strategies of personal growth. Often these client styles are unconscious patterns and care should be taken in sharing this information with a client.
The Astrologer’s Shadow
The astrologer must become aware of their own shadow issues that they bring to their practice. One common shadow characteristic of many astrologers is that of narcissism and grandiosity. The astrologer must be careful not to collude with a client's grandiose projection of the astrologer's greatness, no matter how good it feels! The possibility of the astrologer working out unresolved ego problems of their own grandiosity with their clients is always a danger. Remember, astrologers are fallible. We need to acknowledge the limitations of astrology. The “astrologer’s shadow” must be revealed and acknowledged through one’s introspection, personal therapy and peer group supervision. It could be helpful to have a colleague or supervisor listen to one of your taped sessions to give you helpful feedback. One of the most important benefits in creating ethical standards and guidelines is to help students and professionals to face their individual as well as collective shadow issues. Interestingly, the term “charlatan” comes the ancient “chaldean” astrologers who abused the sacred art of astrology.
How the astrologer philosophically holds the issue of fate and free will must also be explored and clarified. One’s attitudes and belief systems can greatly color how astrological information is presented to a client. Since Vedic astrology is based on Hindu religion, one should be sensitive of forcing one’s religious beliefs on a client who may not share your spiritual views. However, the Vedic philosophy underlying the foundation of Indian astrology has to be addressed by the practicing jyotishi. The great Hindu astrologer and guru, Swami Sri Yukteswar eloquently stated that:
"A child is born on that day and at that hour when the celestial rays are in mathematical harmony with his individual karma. The horoscope is a challenging portrait, revealing his unalterable past and probable future results. The message boldly blazoned across the heavens at the moment of birth is not meant to emphasize fate, but to arouse man's will to escape from his universal thralldom. What he has done, he can undo. None other than himself was the instigator of whatever effects are now prevalent in his life. He can overcome any limitation, because he created it by his own actions in the first place, and because he possesses spiritual resources that are not subject to planetary pressure."
Swami Sri Yukteswar goes on to emphasize that "Superstitious awe of astrology makes one an automaton, slavishly dependent on mechanical guidance. The wise defeats his planets-, which is to say his past- by transferring his allegiance from the creation to the creator. The more one realizes his unity with spirit, the less one can be dominated by matter. The soul is ever free; it is deathless because birthless. It cannot be regimented by the stars." He concludes by saying: "by prayer, by will power, by yoga meditation, by consultation with saints, by use of astrological bangles- the adverse effects of past wrongs can be minimized or nullified". Thus, one's personal destiny must be accompanied by personal action. The keynote of empowering astrology is that it assists the individual take discriminative action in regard to their life decisions.
In summary, it is imperative to support and motivate the client to take a more active role in their spiritual growth and healing process rather that emphasizing a fated existence that cannot be changed. One of the greatest strengths of Vedic Astrology is its use of remedial measures such as prayer, mantras, yoga, meditation, yagyas and gemstones. Acharaya Varahamihira in the Brhat Samhita has described the qualities of the ideal astrologer. He wrote that "the astrologer must be clean, efficient, bold, eloquent, possessed of genius, sincere, not timid in assemblies, not to be overpowered by fellow students, expert, well versed in the art of performing rituals of both curative and preventive types and suggesting remedial measures". Thus, the astrologer is called upon to be part healer, priest, counselor, mystic, choice revealer and friend. And finally, the astrologer should emphasize to the client that one's own will combined with the grace of God may be stronger than any challenging astrological influence. Namaste.
Bhat, M. Varahamihira’s Brhat Samhita. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1981.
Jung, C.G. Man and His Symbols. New York: Bollengen Press, 1964.
Raman, B.V. Three Hundred Important Planetary Combinations. Delhi, India: Motilal Banarsidass, 1983.
Walsh R. & Vaughan, F. Beyond Ego: Transpersonal Dimensions in Psychology Los Angeles, CA: Tarcher Publishing, 1980.
Yogananda, P. Autobiography of a Yogi. Los Angeles, CA: Self-Realization Fellowship
Copyright 2007 - 2009 D. M. Harness