Psychoanalysis came about with Freud in the early 20th century. Before then, people weren’t talking in earnest about their feelings. Astrology, of course, is older than psychoanalysis. I’m sure that natal chart readings predating Freud were more mundane and less psychological. Astrology took a different shape in the 20th century, when psychological astrology was born. Before then, we used horoscopes for deciding when to sail ships, erect buildings, go to war, plant crops, etc. Emotions were less important.
We wouldn’t have the astrology that we know today without Jung. The earliest writings on psychological astrology came around his time, in the early 20th century, when astrologers combined Jungian psychoanalysis with astrology. Archetypes and childhood development became key in analyzing someone’s birth chart. Later in the 20th century, the branch of astrology known as psychological astrology happened. Was this because of the spiritualist movement? Was this because of the century of the self ? The culture of narcissism?
While not all astrologers today look at a chart from the standpoint of childhood psychological development, the astrology that is most popularly practiced in a consultation mimics techniques that come from psychoanalysis. ISAR’s consulting skills and ethics course teaches consulting astrologers to practice “active listening,” to act as a counselor. Astrologers must not impose themselves, but rather let the consulted come to their own conclusions.
While it is a functional system, astrology is not necessarily standardized. However, there are organizations which issue consequences for harmful or unethical practices. It is unethical, according to ISAR, to instill false fear or hope in a client, maybe by doing unnecessary delineations. Even if you can approximate someone’s death, an organization like ISAR would revoke your certifications if you did.
It’s important for astrologers to stay in their lane. If you’re not properly accredited, it’s illegal to give financial advice, so a disclaimer is required. If you haven’t studied medicine, then why practice medical astrology? As someone who is not a mental health professional, I feel unqualified to speak so in depth about diagnoses, but am more than happy to hear someone out. The responsibility to refer an astrology client to the appropriate professional rests on the astrologer’s shoulders. Astrologers need to be ready to redirect their clients— to have a Rolodex of references ready to go.
It’s not uncommon for astrologers to speak to someone in a crisis. Mental health crises are extremely common these days. Diagnoses as well. How does an astrologer discuss mental illness in the birth chart without any awareness of symptoms and treatments? Humbly and ready to ask questions, and only when provoked. It’s uncomfortable, not only because mental health’s invisibility makes it taboo to talk about, but it’s intimidating when it’s not your area of expertise. Words need to be chosen carefully so that they don’t cause harm. Astrologers need to be ready to pass the torch onto someone more qualified, and to be honest about their abilities.
Is it controversial to believe that mental illnesses are treatable? To say that a mental illness appears in someone’s chart can imply that these things are set in stone. To someone who doesn’t have an intimate relationship with astrology, this can make them believe that they’re predestined to feel sick forever. That is harmful. The natal chart breathes and changes with time. Certain aspects of the chart are activated at certain moments, via transits, profections, or progressions. It is popular in psychological astrology, however, to imply that the birth chart reflects the individual’s psyche at all times. It’s a “promise”. Everyone is dealt a genetic hand at birth, but our environment shapes us and should not be taken for granted. There are studies that show genetic predispositions towards ADHD and depression, but these can be triggered by events outside of our control and lifestyle.
An astrologer that doesn’t know enough about bipolar disorder cannot say enough, but in an astrology consultation it’s more important to listen and reflect rather than to be prescriptive, especially when dealing with things outside of your range. Someone with bipolar or anxiety can talk about certain episodes or moments with an astrologer, and an astrologer can use astrology to find key dates and patterns that match their stories, but not every astrologer has studied psychology.
It still feels very sleazy, personally, to use predictive astrology techniques when discussing mental health. To tell someone with depression, “you might be feeling down whenever this happens months from now,” can make depression seem more inescapable than it already does. When is certain information useful? Without identifying the core issue, it’s just a lot of information and the reading becomes overwhelming for everyone involved.
If someone doesn’t say, “I’m going to need a lot of motivation and energy months from now,” then maybe saying, “I see Saturn’s going to be conjunct your natal moon, looks like you’re going to be predisposed to feelings of melancholy and loneliness,” is unethical. Maybe all predictions are unethical! This is why ISAR teaches providing multiple delineations of one aspect, both positive and negative, so that all bases are covered. This way moon/Saturn can also be seen as “a moment of tremendous commitment and long term perseverance.”
While people who pay for consultations love nothing more than to have an astrologer circle around their natal chart and tell them who they are, why they’re like that, the prescriptive nature is not necessarily ethical either. It seems harmless for an astrologer to tell someone “you’re a Libra, so you’re indecisive!” But there are 1,001+ websites that can say the same thing. Telling people things that they already know might be a waste of time when there are two living, breathing people interacting with each other face-to-face. It’s entertaining, but is it useful for healing and reflection? Or maybe someone just wants to use their time being entertained by some supernatural party trick.
If someone wants to use astrology to understand their mental health, then astrology can offer an alternate perspective, outside of things that are so standardized and rigid. There is the risk of being made to think that certain natal aspects imply that mental diagnoses are not something that can be treated or worked with. Keep in mind that astrology is just a reflection of what’s present.
Pluto was discovered on February 18, 1930. Its discovery was announced on March 12, 1930. Psychoanalysis reached the United States slightly earlier, around the turn of the century, but was made popular in Europe a few decades before. Pluto, one of the newer planets, is associated with psychology and the unconscious mind. The outer planets Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto have gotten their meaning from things happening in the world around that time. For instance, Neptune is associated with film and cinema. I don’t really know exactly how Pluto came to be associated with psychology, but it’d be worth revisiting this episode of The Astrology Podcast.
I think the most effective way to use astrology is by having a guiding question or topic, and then using the horoscope to develop the conversation around that topic. I don’t think it’s always helpful to be prescriptive. There are systems in place, of course, that can help to initiate the reflection process.
Most of the modern associations we have with planets are so heavily influenced by the psychological astrology movement and we don’t even realize it. There are a few things that can signify mental health and wellness in the birth chart. The moon can represent emotional inner world, or what you need to feel safe. The sun is our “ego” or consciousness. Mercury is our mental processes. Mars is our motivation or willpower, or even defensiveness. Saturn is our fears or stressors. Venus desires.
The 12th house is often used to delineate mental health, dreams, the subconscious mind. Pluto also has strong associations with the unconscious mind and behavioral loops. Look at the 12th house and the conditions of the planetary ruler of the 12th house to get more informed about the general topic of mental health in your chart. While I do think mental health is a holistic thing that cannot be targeted in one piece, looking to the 12th house can give more insight into the unknown or unseeable. The 12th house is not visible from the ascendant or rising sign, so it represents things that are not visible to you.
Earlier in pandemic season 1, I read a pirated copy of Liz Greene & Howard Sasportas’s Seminars on Psychological Astrology, which are transcripts of a really incredible lecture series. It was the most well rounded introduction to childhood psychological development I’ve ever read. In fact, it was the only one I’ve ever read. They’re not only astrologers, but also psychologists. It was interesting to read this after following the traditional, historical, ancient lineup, because much of what they were delineating as astrologers made me do the typical pretentious, gatekeepy astrologer scoff. But I recommend these books if you want to learn more about psychology and astrology combined! I’m sure there are more out there, but I haven’t read them personally.