From here I will be quoting from Donna Cunningham’s entry into the anthology book Communicating the Horoscope, edited by Noel Tyl (1995, Llewelyn Publications). Look at my last two posts for more insight about the book.
Her chapter is “Solving Problems: Key Questions to Ask Yourself and Your Client”. She has a master’s in social work (MSW) and has worked knee-deep in the counseling world in various settings including psychiatric hospitals. She has also practiced astrology since 1969.
Counseling (or psychotherapy) combined with astrology is a combination that I’ve been reflecting on in the last three articles and is a very specific therapeutic emphasis that, I would say, does more than psychotherapy or counseling without astrology. As a friend who works in the coaching field says, “I think everybody should be in therapy.” For those of us who are mentally healthy, it can still unlock hidden areas of potential growth.
Her approach is helpful, to say the least. It does posit that (like in the last essay I drew from in my last post) the astrological chart is an important tool for problem-solving IF someone is used to looking within for the source of difficulties. However, there are many therapeutic tools that astrologers don’t necessarily have, and early on she drives home the most basic point:
“Many astrologers are more accustomed to telling than to asking — to monologue rather than dialogue. An extreme example was an astrologer who gave a demonstration reading at a conference I attended. As he assured us he did in his private sessions, he conducted a one-hour, rapid-fire tap dance around the volunteer client’s horoscope. Only at the end did he indicate that he would now accept a question or two from her. This was not astrological counseling, it was a performance. In no sense could it be considered problem-solving. Few of you would exclude the client in that fashion. However, a great many consultations are closer to a monologue than a dialogue. This style often arises out of a lack of understanding of the importance of asking the right questions and listening attentively to the answers.”
There are many ways to ask the right questions and listen attentively to the answers. I have developed a few of my own and am generally pretty intuitive about them. I do this with clients and friends. (Doing it with friends is great practice.) Cunningham first delineates the problem-solving apparatus:
- What is the problem?
- What is your contribution to the problem?
- What are your options?
- Where can you turn for help?
In particular, the second question should not be spoken verbatim. The practitioner can use the second, and all of the questions, to generate a series of questions that not only helps the client feel comfortable but also gets the client moving in the right direction. So she lists a few questions that can be spoken verbatim:
- What, exactly, do you mean by that?
- Could you give me an example?
- Can you say more about that?
- How often does that happen?
- Is it worse sometimes than others?
- What seems to make it better?
Obviously, not even close to an exhaustive list, and, in my view, more general questions than I would ask to a specific situation that presents itself. I myself would love to mentor others as to the kinds of questions that go off like light bulbs in my head during discourse with a patient, that I might be compelled to ask. I might argue that it would help the practitioner immensely to take a journalism course or two, particularly in interviewing.
In texting with a friend, she said:
“He replied, ‘I’m sorry, I know you work so far and you’re under-appreciated.’
Where the heck did that come from?”
I replied, “How did it make you feel?”
She said, “Touched I think. Emotional.
“Seen? Maybe. Not sure.”
So most clients, particularly women, want to feel seen. At several points in my conversation with my friend, about particular people she wanted to get involved in, I asked, “Do you feel seen?”
It’s a great question to ask, in terms of expanding your client’s or friend’s psyche, making them value themselves more, showing them that you care about their life. Those of us who take courses of study, practical ones that encourage personal growth, can often, in these courses, discover new themes and questions we can ask of others to simply improve their sense of self. It goes above and beyond what Cunningham has proposed.
Cunningham, on the other hand, is focused on helping the client identify problems that they might be avoiding. It’s a different approach, and in character for one with an MSW. Nonetheless, she comes up with a schema of questions for us to ask of our questions, as follows:
- Are your questions open-ended, or do they only result in yes/no answers? (Open questions stimulate discussion.)
- Are they leading questions, subtly guiding clients to give the answers you want or feel comfortable with?
- Are your questions relevant to the client’s issues or are you off on a tangent that is more interesting to you?
- Are you convinced that your preconceived answers hold the solution to the client’s problems?
- Do you believe you have the right to ask clients for details, or do you think the chart holds all the answers?
- Have you made the client comfortable with asking you questions about anything the chart shows?
In other words, the clinician (or astrologer) damn well better be self-aware about how they are affecting others. We astrologers have a lot of power; it must be used judiciously, and kindly. Do not go straight into the interpretation; ask questions that draw out a three-dimensional picture of the client’s reality.
Clients often give symptoms rather than the real problem. The author delves deeper into her own psychological knowledge wherein she says that the symptom, as distressing as it may be, serves a valid purpose in the psyche. Some dysfunctional traits are actually highly functional ones, once you entangle their true intent. The protect or excuse the sufferer from things that are even less pleasurable or more frightening.
Cunningham does then go through several different planetary configurations and what they typically mean:
- “You see this pattern (money neurosis where the client struggles with money despite having all the potential and none of the roadblocks to making a decent living) often in birth charts with a strong 8th House or with outer planets in the 2nd. With Pluto in the 2nd, for instance, financial dependency may be a means to manipulate and control a partner or family members.
- “The tendency for the symptom to be an unconscious effort to resolve another, deeper issue is particularly true of chronic physical ailments — generally seen in the 1st or 12th House, rather than the 6th. (As suggested earlier, illnesses connected with the 6th may be related to life-work crises.) I am often impressed with how the body says no for us when we can not.
- “Many clients who are enmeshed in difficult situations don’t even know they have options. They see the situation as set in stone and haven’t even considered other ways of handling it. Their thinking has become rigid, being a conglomerate of values and operating principles they learned from their parents and other influential elders, from the church, or from the way things were done 20 to 40 years ago. (You see this rigidity especially in the fixed signs or earth signs.)”
She goes into more detail about how to help the client weigh options, to wit:
- “Which of these options do you favor?
- What would be involved in implementing that option?
- Do you have the skills/resources you need to do that?
- How would that choice affect others close to you?
- What would be the best possible outcome of that choice?
- What could go wrong? How could you prevent it?
- What would be the long-term result of your choices?
- What impact would it have on your other priorities?
- Do any other options have more favorable results?”
Again, this a set of general questions that can be tailored to the astrologer’s speaking style and the client’s specific situation. The practitioner can also engage in reframing, and help the client to do so as well. Cunningham also discusses how our attitudes can color our entire sense of reality. “One vice president may feel fortunate and grateful for the same job that leaves another vice president in the corporation feeling dead-ended. In both cases, the situation is the same or similar, but the emotional experience is totally different.”
As with other astrologers, transits activate some of these issues for the first time at some point in life, often after the consultation.
This should give you a basic overview and examples of what Donna Cunningham is trying to convey about what makes successful therapy and counseling using astrology in her practice.