When astrology harms more than heals

Lunar eclipse illustrationNote: Although I am mainly talking about astrology for this piece, the concepts explored here can be related to anyone with a related practice in metaphysical or spiritual work.

This piece may be updated as needed in order to reflect evolving discussions around mental health. We can always do more to learn and improve.

I’m having trouble figuring out how to start this piece. Not because I can’t find my words, but because I have too many.

It doesn’t help that my heart is heavy. It’s been that way for some time now. And anyone who’s been on this earth a little knows that heavy hearts come and go and we can never be sure how short or long their visits might be.

I’m feeling this way because I’m concerned about things I’m seeing in my work as an astrologer.

Lately, I’ve noticed a number of people coming to me for astrology readings with the intention to heal trauma or other struggles that astrology is not equipped to fix.

And as an astrologer, I am not trained to handle such needs as it is.

(I also read tarot, though I am writing this piece from my astrological work because it’s where these types of scenarios have come up, though they can certainly arise across many metaphysical practices.)

But I am reminded of how much responsibility there is when we work with people in a spiritual capacity. Most people come to a reading because they want to hear about changes that are coming. They want to hear that their lives will be better than they are right now.

There is so much trust, so much openness between a client and a reader. And there is also a lot of hope, as people want to hear something helpful, reassuring, or motivating.

When trauma shows up in an astrology reading, things get more complicated.

For example:

35 - Girl in forestWhat is an astrologer to do when a client wants to know about the transits that were happening the day a traumatic event took place? 

What is an astrologer to do when a client asks them when they can expect to heal emotionally, or psychologically from a past trauma? 

First, it’s important to recognize that learning astrology does not make you a mental health professional. While there’s a common saying out there that getting a reading is cheaper than seeing a therapist, we need to be appreciate the nuance of such an idea:

Even if a reading is cheaper than therapy, whether it’s tarot, astrology, or anything else, it’s not the same as seeing a therapist – unless a reader is also trained as therapist and uses metaphysical modalities in their work.  

Intuitive arts like astrology may have a therapeutic effect, and can be a complement to therapy with the right reader, but astrology is not therapy in and of itself and shouldn’t be used as a substitute for it.

When I have clients who bring questions about healing that I am not trained to work through with them, I remind myself why:

Astrology does not give me the language I need to work with trauma.

It does not give me the framework that a clinically-trained therapist has.

It does not give me a baseline of care from which I can begin to counsel a client appropriately.

And sometimes, a reading can make things worse.

Someone can be a great astrologer, but that doesn’t mean they will be a great counsellor, or a gentle presence during a tough conversation.

Soft skills like sensitivity, compassion, and maturity should always be present in any type of reading, but not everyone has these traits in equal measure.  

Clients also need to be mindful if they are seeking answers to struggles in their lives.

For example: What purpose might it serve to know what was happening in the skies the moment a painful event occurred?

Astrology was not created to heal trauma; it is actually quite a modern development to use astrology for our personal growth or psychological evolution, and even then it can be limited.

If an astrologer takes a fated approach, or says, “everything happens for a reason,” or, “well with these difficult aspects you can to be working on throughout a lifetime,” they may be doing more harm than good. (For the record, I don’t believe that astrology is about fate – our lives can grow, evolve, and change.) They may also create new fear for a client who then could worry about what might happen if they experience certain transits again.

To leave someone believing they were somehow destined for a certain trauma to occur, or that they have to live with it as part of a spiritual “lesson” can be, at best, too simplistic a response to something much more complex – something that a counsellor would work on over months or years with a client.

Which brings me to another point: Readings are often single-session experiences where a client may see an astrologer once, whereas counselling relationship between a client and therapist is built over time.

Astrologers may do more harm than good to try to gloss over or repair a traumatic event for a client in a short span of time – but they also have to be mindful that it’s not within their capacity to take on clients for ongoing counselling, unless they are trained to do so.

But there begins another problem, which is that so many people go into work like astrology because they feel called to serve. They want to help people.

But being an astrologer does not make anyone a healer.

Neither does being a tarot reader, Reiki master – you name it. I know there are many spiritual and intuitive practitioners out there who do call themselves healers, and I want to acknowledge once again that these practices can be healing.

It can actually be harmful for an astrologer to take on the role of martyr or saviour in attempting to fix or heal their clients. Just as doctors and surgeons can develop a God complex, readers must admit they are not immune to such ideas, either.

There’s no question here that having a reading that affirms or validates your feelings, or that helps you feel witnessed and supported, can have a healing effect.

Dark WoodsSo while these practices can be vehicles for healing experiences, metaphysical practitioners of all kinds have to keep their egos in check when clients need more help than they can provide.

“Astrologers, no matter how they see themselves or how the public may view them, are merely human beings like any others, with limited knowledge, limited understanding, and limited experience,” writes Stephen Arroyo in Astrology, Psychology, and the Four Elements.

I’ve really felt for clients who have told me that past experiences have blocked them from having successful relationships, or that they can’t move on from something that happened and it’s preventing them from moving on in other areas of their lives now.

I’ve had clients sometimes come hoping that a reading will tell them exactly when they can expect to feel better, or when they will be able to trust someone again, or if they will meet someone who will take their pain away.

Or they wonder when the day will come when they can expect to “get over” something from the past so that they can have healthy or sustainable relationships, careers, and other endeavours.

But there may not be a specific day that the pain lifts, or that the past loses its power or hold over someone – and it might not happen without some work.

And while I can help to give them insights into their lives to some extent, I can’t answer every question or support every need.

The relationship here really becomes a two-way street: Astrologers need to be delicate with the trust placed in their hands, and clients need to be aware that a reader of any kind cannot take on the responsibility of another person’s healing.

If a client knows they need to move past something, or heal a part of themselves, they may need to take initiative with someone other than an astrologer and a different type of professional support.
Especially if they have had an experience that is affecting their perception of the world, or preventing them from doing the things they want or need to do in every day life. clever-visuals-763889-unsplash

I have referred clients to other supports when I’ve been able to, but I always remember those sessions so well, and I often wonder how things have worked out since we talked.

I also wonder: Did I handle things as well as I could have? Did I do the right thing?

I acknowledge that there can always be room for improvement, as there is always more to learn about being a listening ear for someone.

I also recommend that people who are seeking therapeutic help from an astrologer or other reader should be mindful that while some metaphysical practitioners, including astrologers, might call themselves healers, it doesn’t mean they are.

Be careful in following claims that sound too good to be true – they usually are. And remember that therapists and other mental health professionals are healers, too.

Also remember that readings are not meant to be a quick fix, and sometimes it’s necessary for practitioners to share that message – and be grounded enough in their own practice to admit it.

So what’s an astrologer to do if they are unable to support a client with trauma, therapy, or emotional healing – but the request shows up in a session?  

First, stay in control, and stay compassionate. Abruptly cutting off a session or telling someone, “You need to see a therapist” can lead to a painful experience on the client’s part – don’t do that.

Don’t assume someone isn’t already getting other support – they may be hoping a session with you can bring added insight. Just explain that you’re not trained to answer those questions, but explain what you can help. Use it as an opportunity to redirect the consultation back to something you can help with.

And build a referral list so that clients aren’t left hanging. Get to know counsellors, psychotherapists, and trauma-informed practitioners. Don’t push help on your client, though: Remember that not everyone is ready to seek professional help. Remember, too, that building a relationship with a therapist takes time, and there are a lot of people out there who had bad experiences with mental health professionals.

Again, don’t assume anything, and don’t diagnose a situation by telling someone what kind of help they need.

Simply say, “I’m not able to help with that, but if you’d like to explore that more, I can refer you to someone in the community who might be able to help.” Let your client respond as to what feels most appropriate for them.

If a question or topic begins to go in a direction that is beyond your expertise, let them know you’re not able to answer that and guide the session back to something you can help with. Have a list of referrals that you can offer if someone is seeking additional support beyond what you can do.

Knowing your capacity is key to ensuring that you’re not doing more harm than good. Because even the best intentions can lead to pain. Don’t take it upon yourself to be everything to everyone, no matter what kind of intuitive work you do.

Until next time,

Liz xo

For further reading:

What to do when your tarot client is suicidal, by Theresa Reed
The Astrologer’s Guide to Counselling, by Bernard Rosenblum, M.D.
Astrology and Psychotherapy: Ethical Considerations, by Glenn Perry

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