Aleix Mercadé – Astrology as a therapeutic tool

ABSTRACT: Astrology is a millenary practice that is in crisis due to its numerous internal problems and its resistance to scientific rigor. This paper reviews these problems and tentatively and constructively proposes an alternative based on the integration of astrological experience and the XXI-century psychology knowledge. We will present a case where astrology was used as a tool for the psychotherapeutic treatment of Teresa, a woman with a major meaning-of-life crisis after the traumatic loss of her 15-year-old son in a traffic accident. This paper attempts to set the bases of the natal chart utility (map of the Solar System at the moment and place of birth) in order to personalize the evaluation and treatment.

Keywords: Astrology, experimental therapy, transpersonal psychology, philosophy, existentialism, interdisciplinarity, comprehensive astrology, spirituality, grief, suffering, trauma.

1. A paradigm in crisis

Astrology suffers from a range of problems and inconsistencies that require a revision of many of its principles and body of knowledge. My motivation for such a revision is not based on contempt towards this discipline but on the love of knowledge that can improve in the same way as all human knowledge has done and continues to do so.

These problems and inconsistencies are right in front of our noses. They can be easily observed and comprehended in this discipline’s concrete and applied practice. A minimally critical attitude and some detachment from our identity (and pride) towards astrology are the only things that we need to observe it.

The are certain situations that make us suspect that something is not going well in the practice of the astrologer with the consultant:

  1. The natal chart seems more important than the person sitting in front of us; that is to say, the map prevails over the territory. Therefore, an astrological consultation usually consists of “interpreting the natal chart,” describing and making a conceptual analysis that is based purely on astrology.
  2. The language used during this analysis tends to be highly abstract and ambiguous, very inferential due to the symbolic languages, which hampers its comprehension and thus facilitates cognitive phenomena such as the Forer Effect. This effect assumes that the consultant subjectively perceives a high degree of accuracy in his psychological analysis despite that this is not the case.

III. The fact that circumstances (non-astrological factors) enable (and simultaneously limit) the wide range of possibilities for an astrological symbol to be expressed concretely is ignored. That is to say, circumstances act like a catalyst that manifest the infinity of the archetypal reality, the same way that quantum phenomena, of a probabilistic nature, collapse and define when the environment pressures them to be (to exist concretely).

  1. During the analysis, the astrologer tends to project his personality, values, and personal preferences, skewing and projecting his own map onto the consultant. This, in turn, represents a risk for the consultant as well as a gross violation of ethics.
  2. The astrological body of knowledge is assumed to be correct. It becomes dogma. There is a massive assumption of its concepts and principles, naive disbelief of theoretical knowledge from which everything is inferred. In the most extreme cases, the fact that astrology is conceptual knowledge is also denied, as if feeling without mind were something pure, which we know does not occur this way (Mercadé, 2021).
  3. In general, and related to the previous point, induction is visibly lacking, and the astrologer bases his wisdom on his own semi-divine authority or on texts considered sacred, underestimating and denying the remarkable progress of knowledge in the last decades, human fallibility, the existence of bias and subjectivity as contaminants. I think that we have to stop repeating what others have said (and the abuse of deduction), and curious and critical observation must come into play (the inclusion of the hypothetical deductive method).

VII. Instead of encouraging a revision and a constructive debate, the irreconcilable divergences among different astrological schools and thoughts still remain a taboo, probably because of the lack of reliable methods that allow contrasting advantages and disadvantages of each perspective.

VIII. We don’t think about the consequences of the fact that symbolic language can be materialized in multiple ways and that it becomes impossible to be sure how the natal chart is going to manifest beforehand (horizontal development). That is to say, the same archetype can be manifested in different behaviors and, at the same time, the same behavior can be a manifestation of different astrological archetypes.

  1. Nor do we don’t reflect on the fact that the natal chart is a potential (vertical development). You cannot say someone is this way or that way just by looking at the natal chart, omitting all the non-astrological factors that enable or complicate releasing this potential.

X, We forget that astrology is a systemic discipline and, instead, we resort to biased interpretations, especially in the most popular astrology.

  1. Although we astrologers keep connecting the symbolic to all kinds of mundane matters (psyche, body…), there is very little interest in interdisciplinarity, as if the astrologer could only be an astrologer. In our society, we have lost the figure of the interdisciplinary wise man that had always gone hand-in-hand with the figure of the astrologer.

XII. It seems we have forgotten that we are dealing with highly subtle knowledge and it is pretentious to think that we dominate it or that somebody dominates it.

XIII. After mentioning the previous omissions and ignorance, we can conclude there is an important lack of humility, critical spirit, patience, and intelectual and spiritual depth, as is typical these days.

2. Revolution

The up-to-date astrology I propose is an astrology that integrates past, present, and future; art, science, and spirituality (Mercadé, 2021a). It embraces the wisdom of tradition but without idolizing it and being aware of its limits. It appreciates the integration of psychological points of view, such as Liz Greene’s or Howard Sasportas’s, or the spirituality of Richard Tarnas or Eugenio Carutti, but with the critical and scientific spirit of our time.

The revolution that I propose retains key elements such as the systemic and holistic approach. Astrology is, therefore, a universal matrix that reconciles everything, which turns it into the most interdisciplinary discipline, that is, the discipline that needs to know the most about other disciplines. Due to astrology’s deeply structural and slightly superficial nature, it must have a close link with the specific knowledge mentioned by the astrological concepts. For instance, if we talk about the importance of communication for Gemini, we will have the chance to understand this archetype better than if we delve into the current knowledge about communication or comprehension, to which astrologers from the past did not have access. The same happens when we talk about personality, behaviors, difficult emotions, pleasant emotions, or other psychological concepts. Psychology has matured considerably during the last decades. The astrologer who aims to help others to know themselves better has access to infinite knowledge that helps him have greater solidity and depth in his astrological analysis. Therefore, it would be a significant limitation to practice astrology without psychology, the same way as it would be restrictive to practice chemistry without physics or economy without mathematics.

This astrology would be holistic and systemic due to its integrative framework. However, on its own, it would be one more tool. That is, I propose to provide therapy with astrology, not astrology with therapy.

 

Another important characteristic of the revolution I propose is that this astrology would not reject science or the related critical thinking, as this rejection leads to reductionism and limits our perspective. I think that rejecting something because of its limits instead of valuing it for its possibilities is not a good approach. It represents limited thinking in its purest state. I do not think there is a better or worse perspective, but a whole range of perspectives that can be combined, knowing what each one can contribute. The past had its own theoretical frameworks and, therefore, it is important to become aware that we astrologers tend to practice astrology that is contaminated with many metaphysically outdated principles (in the case of Traditional Astrology) as well as with too restrictive, and sometimes naïve, concepts such as the ones from theosophy, psychoanalysis, and New Age (in the case of Psychological Astrology).

Of course, integrating science into Astrology implies an enormous epistemological challenge, although it would allow overcoming many problems:

1) It would contribute with ways of controlling induction and deduction processes, providing creative quantitative and qualitative methodologies.

2) It would foster a critical spirit and minimize truths based on authority. I think that authors like Geoffrey A. Dean (2016) or Julián García Vara (2016) would be great examples.

3) We would have a more solid knowledge, less prone to the most subjective extravagant speculations. In the previous congress, I had already presented experimental evidence to confirm that there exists reality in Astrology (Mercadé, 2019 a).

4) We would open the interdisciplinary dimension to its full extent. We could build bridges with Physics, as did Demetrio Santos (1978), or with Biology, with special reference to José Luna (2022) and his recent dissertation on the possible relationship between astrology and epigenetics.

5) Astrology would enjoy greater social acceptance and institutional support because, although it would still be partially pseudo-scientific, many brilliant minds and souls would become exponentially interested (let us not fall into the prejudice of thinking that a scientist cannot be both sensitive and spiritual).

Therefore, the thorough study of astrology implies being able to quantify astrology, of which there is some tradition and for which certain astrology software has been developed from multiple criteria. I will briefly share  below (without mentioning all the exceptions and nuances) the criteria I personally use when I look for correlations among different psychological phenomena and astrology:

Also, I share below some provisional results with some psychological phenomena:

In practice, a conjunction between Sun and Saturn in Cancer would count as “Capricorn.” That is, as you can see in Table 1 (measurement criteria), I use astrological sign concepts to group archetypical qualities such as the ones from signs and planets. In Table 2, I selected the archetypes that stand out from the rest. For example, in the cases of Asperger syndrome (Chart 1), these percentages were revealed:

GRAPHIC 1

All theses results should be taken with caution. They are obtained from very reduced samples (a mean of n=25), with a snowball sampling approach and a statistically deficient treatment. These results are based more on case studies rather than quantitative strategies and, therefore, they must not be generalized in any case but be taken as a starting point. The great challenge of quantitative astrological research, apart from relying on Astrology quantification criteria (Table 1), is to rely on large quality databases.

For those astrologers who reject that science can be a part of Astrology, I will present the following situation:

Could you discriminate a person’s natal chart against another one that is false just by talking with that person at a specific level of depth?

If the answer is yes, then you would be accepting a way of scientifically “capturing” astrology, because repeating this test would mean proving something that is supposedly impossible. However, if the answer is no, then I would ask you two more uncomfortable questions: 1) What information can you then obtain from a natal chart? And 2) Then, why do you tend to speak in contrasting terms?

It is hardly arguable to refuse to accept that astrology could become a science.

By all means, the astrology I propose would not be entirely scientific because the wisdom and philosophical, artistic, and spiritual sensitivity that we currently have access to would also have their place.

In conclusion, based on all of the above, my proposal is that astrology should remain open to receive the influence of its time, being able to transform itself and mature, which, of course, will lead to its own problems.

3. The therapeutic-clinical model

This model is based on the importance of the context and other non-astrological dimensions when analyzing a natal chart. This implies that, in a consultation, the territory is explored; that is, the consultant is asked about his life, circumstances, relationships, feelings, thoughts, and actions. All this allows analyzing how he experiences and has experienced his natal chart, measuring how (horizontal development) he is developing his potential  (vertical development) and what this development has been like. We know that two individuals with the same natal chart live very different lives, as they come from parents with different natal charts, and genetic and sociocultural contexts. We could say that, from an archetypal point of view, they have very similar lives although the specific expression looks very different. However, although we assume that everybody develops his natal chart “his own way,” there are also non-astrological and unfavorable circumstances for the manifestation of the involved archetypes. Thus, we can find people who don’t manifest their natal chart (or part of it) or do it imperceptibly.

This way, astrology turns into a tool (it has always been), into a map that serves us and that we use for our main goal: to help the client understand and know himself, understand his strengths and weaknesses -both the developed ones and those that are still a potential. And all this knowing the current reality so that we can visualize at which point he is, what barriers he is encountering to move forward, or simply what he could improve.

It is crucial to highlight that this model emphasizes the client’s current significant problems as well as his reality, avoiding speculations or talking about unlikely possibilities. Hence, there is a real interest in the person, respect, and a humble approach, recognizing one’s ignorance when accepting something categorically. We perform astrology with flexibility and not with certainty, and this requires the astrologer to do some personal work to avoid counterproductive countertransferences

I firmly believe that the knowledge of psychology we currently possess is specially useful for astrological practice. We must also consider that to offer therapy and to diagnose, one must be a registered clinical psychologist, so one must be careful not to invade these competences. However, both for the astrologer who is interested in using astrology to understand other people at a psychological level and for therapists in general, this approach allows for a much deeper and more accurate astrological analysis as well as for providing more useful and personalized advice.

Hence, what does astrology contribute to the therapeutic context?

  1. The natal chart is just one more map that, combined with other tools and therapeutic knowledge, enables us to know the territory with greater clarity and depth.
  2. We can study natal charts that are similar to our client’s and use them as a model, both for inspiring role models to be imitated and for learning behaviors to be avoided.
  3. When we analyze the arousal of problems or certain types of experiences, transits and synastries allow us to identify what is going on, what is at stake, and what issues appear. This is particularly useful when the diagnosis is confusing.
  4. We can understand why we have certain energy patterns that make us tend to experience certain events; why we attract certain events or people. The systemic nature of astrology allows us to understand our natal chart as if it were a molecule with given links to the outside that are designed to attract or repel certain types of molecules, and this facilitates some connections and hinders others. This must not be considered in terms of guilt. We do not cause suffering abuse or for a relative to suffer an accident. We are part of multiple systems where all those involved interact with everyone else.
  5. Symbolic language, far from determining, allows us to open up options. Each archetype can manifest in several ways and, therefore, the astrological language is especially useful when a person is living in a very rigid way. That is, the natal chart will propose a wide range of activities aimed at substituting the problematic behavior while maintaining motivation. Or, if there is no problematic behavior, related activities will simply be proposed.
  6. The natal chart allows us to have a global comprehension of who we are, and this is useful for setting goals that are full of meaning and life purpose. This is especially useful after a crisis due to extreme situations like typical problems of our time.
  7. The natal chart model presumes a given internal systemic structure (and not only external) that enables us to visualize and naturalize that we, as individuals, are internally multiple, with different facets and sub-personalities that can be connected to each other in multiple ways.
  8. The natal chart facilities self-acceptance and acceptance of different ways of being, independently from what is established as normal in our environment. In other words, it allows us to accept the little quirks that make us unique, to reconcile our unique normality.

I could have mentioned other contributions from astrology, but they would be less exclusive, such as the fact that it allows reflection and peace due to naming facts, emotions, and behaviors that caused too much distress or uncertainty.

4. Case study

4.1. Exploring the territory

I am going to present the case of Teresa below. Teresa is a 47-year-old woman who was my client ten years ago. I have changed her name and other biographic data due to privacy issues. Teresa visited me to receive therapy because she wanted to feel better and know herself better, know what to do with her life, and find the meaning in her life. She came to me after a desperate night, feeling sick and thus, suffering a lot. However, she would later discover that she had been disoriented for many months. Her husband had been encouraging her to go to therapy for a long time. From the start, she was very kind and committed. She had never gone to therapy before but she trusted that it could really help her.

The following analysis contains the elements that were analyzed both during the entire therapy and more recently, years after finishing treatment. The main aim is to provide an example of how the natal chart can facilitate the work in a therapeutic context.

Teresa was working in a multinational telecommunications company. She had studied engineering and held a good post in the sector. She grew up in a very religious family (Catholicism) and considers herself to be a believer. Nevertheless, she now reports a crisis of faith. She is married and has three children. Two years ago, her youngest son, 15-year-old Alberto, died in a motorcycle accident due to a highly improbable mechanical failure (the motorcycle was in good condition). His father, who was driving, survived with very few physical consequences. They were driving in the city, not speeding, but unfortunately, when Alberto fell, the impact was fatal, and it was impossible to save him. He died a few hours later.

All the gathered information was really useful to better understand Teresa’s case. It seemed that she was undergoing a major meaning-of-life crisis, as she explained to me. It was not really something new because she had never really known what motivated her, but this crisis was a whole different story, much more profound and painful.

It was clear she did not mourn her son, and this would be the central issue of our sessions and the starting point that would help address the meaning-of-life issue. At that time, I did not use any test that would have allowed me to rigorously check her diagnosis but instead, I relied on scientific literature (Worden, 1997).

She had always liked alternative therapies such as Traditional Chinese Medicine and Astrology. She had studied Naturopathy and massage, despite never having worked in them because her job had totally absorbed her. She had considered changing her profession to alternative therapies, but she finally refused to do so.

Teresa was living a religious faith crisis. She stopped believing in God after the accident because she could not understand why God could have allowed her son, who was a great person, to die.

Teresa grew up in a very demanding and little emotional family, with a parental authoritarian style (few displays of affection or of grieving). She had a pet, a dog, and when it died, she had a really hard time and could not understand why it was not there anymore.

4.2. Map analysis

Teresa was born on September 10, 1965, at 4.30 pm in Madrid:

The most essential information of this natal chart can be found in Virgo, where we can find the Sun and the Sun’s disposition, as well as two outer planets. The 8th house, which is considered to be analogous to Scorpio, would then emphasize Pluto’s features.

From my point of view, all the above statements would be the most relevant part of the chart. Also, it will be useful to analyze Mars and Neptune in the 10th House at some point, and the same for Jupiter in Gemini and Venus in Libra.

We could confirm the previous analysis with the research criteria (Table 1), from which we would obtain the following:

In the following pages, we will dive into the natal chart meaning, an analysis that we will always make from the real gathered information and, therefore, avoid pointless digressions.

When I am facing a natal chart, I always make a lot of assumptions about how the person is experiencing and developing his natal chart. In the case of Teresa’s Virgo-Piscis opposition, I came to the conclusion after hearing her story that it didn’t seem to be integrated. Her job as an engineer (although it was more a team-management and consultancy job) polarized her towards her Virgo side. All her different interests (massage and naturopath) could fit this sign. Even astrology was a way of analyzing and controlling everything for her.

Therefore, despite having Mars-Neptune in Scorpio, which is a position that should give a lot of energy to the water element of the chart, the was no evidence that she was internally experiencing the Moon-Saturn in Piscis because she had always had a literal, mental, superficial and naive approach to the Piscean phenomena and experiences such as religion, symbol, and death.

4.3. Integrating maps to understand the territory

The aim of the therapy was the integration of the described opposition, and this meant a deep analysis of death, loss, suffering, spirituality, and the meaning of life and, at the same time, we looked for the emotional processing and a non-rational experience of the aforementioned issues. Also, we aimed to know how to differentiate when we were facing something with human proportions, analyzable and controllable in a Virgo way, or, in contrast,  when we were trying to impose the human on the transcendent reality, a difference that Teresa was far from identifying and accepting. A person with an integrated Piscis wisdom would have faced the situation flowing with what life had brought her, but Teresa had never applied this coping strategy and, besides, she was not going to apply it to the loss of a son, which is an extremely difficult event to spiritually process because, as we will see, this type of experience involves our most primitive systems.

The Working Model is an interesting theoretical model to start analyzing this case. It describes the cognitive-affective attachment circuit (Romero, 2013). Teresa was (and probably still is) attached to her son, which is usual due to the instinctive processes that promote and enable maintaining the emotional ties. The attachment system, represented by her Moon in the natal chart, would have suddenly been interrupted, which is something that the attachment behavior tries to avoid at all costs. This would then explain the emotional reactions that appeared, such as pain, frustration or guilt, among others.

The experience of loss, which we experience in multiple situations (breakups, loss of possessions or status, etc.) is part of our existence and, for this reason, a very intense experience of loss, for example, the loss of someone close, penetrates to the core of our being (Cabodevilla, 2007). Loss is part of life and, at best, it helps us to take advantage of and face life with authenticity, it helps us to grow and to self-realize. It is an experience that reminds us how fragile and vulnerable we are, the fleeting nature of life, our finitude, temporariness, and inexorable destiny. All these conflicts with Teresa and the omnipotent controlling paradigm she was in. A person with strong Pluto in Virgo could even think that if he did everything perfectly, nothing bad could happen to him, as in the case of someone who believes that by eating a perfect diet, he is immune from developing illnesses, or who thinks that tragedy, although already present, is controllable and becomes obsessed, unsuccessfully seeking thoroughly inefficient solutions.

Loss due to death confronts us with the most radical loneliness, it imposes an empty silence and confronts us with the mystery of life (Cabodevilla, 2007). We are the only species that is aware of his own unavoidable death, and this produces the deepest fears, anxiety, and other completely normal reactions. Death is a taboo in the society we live in, like any painful and disturbing reality, and this tendency will probably increase as the effectiveness of medical treatments against all kinds of diseases and the new promises of immortality (such as the epigenetic treatment) advances. Paradoxically, the unawareness of death leads to the unawareness of life because life includes the certainties of death, pain, suffering, and mystery, no matter how much aversion they produce.

Usually, religious people experience death (their own or their relatives’) as less stressful due to the protection conferred by their convictions and rituals, such as prayers, which give meaning and adaptability (Villalba et al. 2012). And this makes sense because God’s will underlies everything Death is the path to eternal life, a better place, and, therefore, separation, which represents death, is “only” a part of this incarnate life, for there is an expectation of a reunion in the afterlife. Unfortunately, all these ideas were useless to Teresa. She denied believing them; her understanding of these spiritual principles was not profound. Teresa had always been aware that some mothers lose their sons or daughters most tragically, but her faith had remained untouched. Only when tragedy turned into a reality for her did her faith become conditional and personal because the religious principles that she knew how to repeat mentally did not apply to her case. Therefore, this strong cognitive dissonance was another cause of her vital disorientation because she resolved the aforementioned internal conflict by rejecting religion. This only worsened the meaning-of-life crisis and made it more severe. Of course, the therapy’s goal was not to help her recover faith in the religion she had professed. However, she could not cope with her situation without the reconstruction of her spiritual cornerstones, which would now be established saturninely; that is, with foundations as real and solid as possible.

Grief is a completely natural process that allows us to assimilate loss. It includes shock, pain, sadness, rage, guilt, loss of appetite, weight loss, sleep loss, difficulty concentrating, periods of denial, and other features. Grief is a necessarily painful process and there are some complications that could emerge. These difficulties impede opening up to life, love, and happiness.

The goal of the therapy was to assist Teresa, in a hard and painful process, promoting effort, courage, flexibility and balance, recovery of values, and connection with a life purpose. Giving enough time is of critical importance. Grieving is a Neptunian[2] process and therefore, pressure is not at all advisable. On the contrary, the therapeutic bond is specially Piscis: it is non-directive, extremely unconditional, and sympathetic. The client should be able to dive down the unlimited ocean of his being. Often, people going through a grieving process feel that the environment is censoring them, and this should not happen during therapy. Here, the Socratic dialogue is usually beneficial because the therapist is not playing the role of possession of truth but the role of an intelligent, humble, and curious questioning person.

I am going to use William Worden’s (1997) method, still a great referent in the grieving treatment, to delve into the therapeutic process.

Worden suggests four tasks to be done during the grieving process.

it took us 16 sessions to complete this journey through the four tasks:

1- Acceptance of reality.

2- Identify and express emotions.

3- External and internal adjustments.

4- Emotional relocation.

Finish this process, Teresa had returned to her life in an emotionally calm way and she was intellectually and socially active again. Of course, she was not the same person anymore, as she was now much more sensitive (more “watery”). The integration of the opposition motivated her to write (as well as engage in other creative activities), to help and support disadvantaged populations (such as the “menas”[3]) through NGOs while connecting with values like service and other related ones such as loving dedication and unconditional affection. This way, she recovered meaning, developed a much more mature and profound spirituality, with mystery finally integrated, believing in an unfathomable destiny and building meaning for her life and Alberto’s death.

[1] Traduction: Esther Andreu (revision: Virginia Navascues)

[2] It is Neptunian due to trascendental sadness, uncertainty, mystery, state of depression, victimhood, hope, etc.  Also, it is mainly Saturnian (accepting reality, lack, and death) and Plutonian (outbreaks, deep pain, void of meaning, coping with numbness, helplessness, taboo). However, due to the fact that tragic loss stirs the foundations of our being, our whole being requires readjusting and therefore, the entire natal chart becomes significant in our analysis.

[3] Protected foreign minors who entered Spain illegally, and who suffer from discrimination and racism. The lack of resources and support makes them highly vulnerable.

 

Content of this article was first presented on the 37th edition of “Congreso Ibérico de Astrología”, in Málaga – Spain, 19th of June of 2022.

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