By Greg Bogart, PhD, MFT
New program hailed as possible harbinger of future trends
Doctors in the Hospital Pirovano’s Barrial Mental Health Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina, are referring patients to a new therapeutic astrology workshop organized by staff therapist Claudia Rico. In the workshop, titled Knowing Yourself Through the Stars, “emotions and feelings are mixed with astrology to help patients understand the ‘why’ and ‘what for’ of every life experience, whether it was a good or painful experience,” Ms. Rico reports.
This is a very exciting development, and possibly a harbinger of future trends. The hope is we will all hear more about the work Ms. Rico and her colleagues are doing with psychiatric patients and how astrology is benefiting those individuals. I celebrate the open-mindedness of the Argentinian hospital and would like to think that in the future more hospitals could implement similar programs. It would be fascinating to let participants in such groups offer their own reports of whether they gain something valuable from the experience.
It may come as a surprise to some people that astrology could actually be useful and relevant to mental health care. Many of astrology’s critics hold the view that astrology is unscientific or fatalistic and implies a doctrine of predestination that could potentially disempower and cause some adherents to lose a sense of their own free will. For these reasons, it is viewed by skeptics as incompatible with the aims and methods of mental health care. This can be a valid critique.
There are indeed astrologers who speak in a fatalistic manner about planetary influences, such as the negative effects of eclipses or various planetary debilitations. But this isn’t a basis to write off the entire field of astrology, as there are so many practitioners who use this knowledge to empower and inspire others, strengthening their will and commitment to self-improvement. Viewing the birth chart as a symbolic portrait of the individual’s subjective life world, astrologers utilize it to gain understanding of personal identity and the unfolding of the life story and its key phases. We study planetary placements and formations to evolve ourselves, to envision our potentials and strive to actualize them.
One of the leading trends in the field of astrology over the past sixty years has been the growth of humanistic, psychological astrology, which interprets the planets psychologically, as representations of our varied human drives, motivations, and activities, such as feeling (Moon), thinking (Mercury), relating (Venus), asserting (Mars), planning (Jupiter), working (Saturn), and reorganizing (Uranus). Analysis of the birth chart is a way to know oneself more clearly and objectively, to clarify personality type and characteristics, and to understand family relationships; it elucidates the individual’s primary interests and motivations and shows how people are organized differently from one another. Psychological astrology teaches that our state of wellbeing and mental health can be positively affected through a trained form of attunement to nature’s cycles and phases, indicated by celestial patterns. We observe the correlations between cycles of planets and the cycles within a human lifetime.
Psychological astrology differs from traditional astrology in its developmental language, suggesting paths to developing various faculties and facets of the self. In this approach, we relate what is happening in the sky to what is happening inside us, within the human psyche. For example, Saturn—which traditionally was viewed as a negative, malefic planet associated with suffering and adversities—is approached as a signifier of the internal ordering, organizing principle. It represents our responsibilities, the kinds of life structures we seek to construct and sustain, and the work we need to do to adapt and attain stability. Thus Saturn has a constructive meaning rather than being viewed as a malevolent external force.
Therapeutic astrology is the application of celestial symbolism to psychotherapeutic process, for the purpose of achieving emotional healing and self-integration, to understand a person’s life history and the origins and history of problems in adjustment. Thus, we give hope to those who are discouraged and hopeless, provide a vision of what’s possible for that individual, form a picture of what could be, and provide specific strategies for making changes happen.
Therapeutic astrologers are a small but growing group of mental health practitioners who are also schooled in astrology and who work to demonstrate that astrology can contribute to psychological maturation and enhanced personal development. We utilize the birth chart and transits to gain an overview of the life history, identify important stress points, assess current developmental tasks, and acknowledge specific life passages we’re experiencing and their specific meanings.
Suffering, struggling, or depressed individuals can learn to understand their situations in the light of planetary symbolism. Maybe they have been subject to the weakening, disorganizing effects of Neptune, which may be exacerbated through alcohol and chemical dependency. Or maybe they’re struggling to meet the challenges of material life and practical decision-making that are associated with transits of Saturn, which pose a series of tests that are best satisfied by hard work and sustained effort. Or perhaps they are suffering after a tumultuous relationship during a difficult transit involving natal Venus. Perhaps they have a challenging group of planets in the fourth house and have faced adversities in the family. Astrology allows us to perceive ourselves as unfolding within an organized cosmos and to glimpse the way things appear to happen for a reason. So our suffering and challenges aren’t meaningless; they are purposeful and intentional.
I believe the time has come to uplift mental health care by integrating meditation, yoga, dreams, and other forms of spirituality—the perception and experience of being part of a larger wholeness. Astrology is founded on that awareness and puts it into practice in every nuance of its doctrines and techniques. It offers a basis for strategic action through time—a template that is specific to us as individuals. Seeing various areas of life accentuated at specific moments by planetary transits provides a foundation for conscious personal development.
As a psychotherapist, I can attest that astrology has enabled many of my clients to find meaning, order, and direction in their existence. Astrology can be helpful as an adjunct to psychotherapy for individuals in treatment—as a way to track the natural fluctuations in mood and energy states that we all experience, to understand the specific challenges that led to their psychological distress, depression, or disorder, and to find a clear direction for the future so they can begin to do something positive to improve their situation. I have found that psychotherapy integrating the symbolism of astrology to identify pressing issues and concerns can be clinically sound as well as immensely catalytic, and I have documented many case studies in my books, Therapeutic Astrology (Dawn Mountain, 1996) and Planets in Therapy (Ibis, 2012).
Personally, I’m not in favor of using astrology to try to diagnose specific disorders. I feel that is problematic because there’s so much variation in how people respond to planetary placements and energies. Thus, I don’t believe we can find one astrological signature indicating paranoia, bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, sociopathic personality disorders, and so forth.
Nonetheless, it can be beneficial to understand how particular symptoms and problems may emerge as expressions of specific planets in a person’s natal chart or transits. For example, Mars: anger, discordant relationships, sexual problems and fixations; Saturn: depression, rigidity, fear of change; Uranus: mania, defiance, irresponsible behaviors; Neptune: denial, delusional thinking, addictions, relational victimization; Pluto: paranoia, domineering traits, violent outbursts. This knowledge may be used to modify dysfunctional traits and behavioral patterns and thus to refine the personality and improve a person’s state of emotional and mental health. The proof of astrology’s validity is ultimately found in the successful adaptation to life demonstrated by those who study and practice its core principles.
There are people for whom astrology is contraindicated and instances where it is not appropriate to use it—for example, someone who is in the grips of an active psychosis, or someone who uses astrology to abrogate responsibility and to feel disempowered and victimized by fate and destiny. No competent therapeutic astrologer would support that attitude.
Many of those who identify as therapeutic astrologers are mental health professionals trained in assessment and diagnosis, and it is part of their job to assess whether someone is delusional, or paranoid, or hallucinating, and thus unlikely to benefit from astrology. A person needs the intellectual capacity to distinguish literal interpretation of planetary influence from metaphorical and poetic interpretation. We need the ability to distinguish a symbol from a concrete reality. Thus it becomes possible to approach the symbolism of the sky not as a set of determining influences that limit us, but as a language offering an array of choices.
This is not to say that astrology is a panacea that in itself will cure people of mental illness and distress. It is knowledge that must be properly taught and studied—clearly presented and deeply meditated upon. It provides hope as well as images of the most favorable action to undertake at any given moment. It inspires us to undertake life-transforming projects with a sense that this is the shape of things; this is the way things want to happen.
Certainly there are those who are not readyo use astrology, who have an external locus of control and think things just happen to them and they have no volition. Then astrology is counterproductive and contraindicated. All medicines are contraindicated for some individuals. I’m not saying this is a medicine that’s right for everyone. But it can be a powerful tool for many people who learn to live in accordance with their own true nature and to move wisely with the rhythm of planetary cycles through various stages of life, informed by astrology’s unique time perspective, which no other human discipline or field of study provides.
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Tags: : therapeutic astrology, birth chart analysis, Claudia Rico, Hospital Pirovano’s Barrial Mental Health Program, humanistic psychological astrology, nature’s cycles and phases, psychotherapeutic process