Chart Says One Thing
The Client Another
In previous columns we have defined the role of the counselor as that of
guide to the client's self-awareness rather than that of "god-like"
being who tells the client about his/her issues. We have also started
to explore ways to lead the client to better self-understanding,
recognizing that the basis for doing so is a climate of mutual trust
that the client and counselor build during their relationship. This
article deals with how to build that trusting relationship even when
what you see in the chart does not fit what the client expresses about
In a counseling environment, one could
say there are three realities present at the same time. One reality
is the client's --what he says about his life, his desires, his
Another reality is the counselor's--your interpretation of the client's
chart with your personality and your projections interwoven in it. The
third reality is the one that emerges during the session as the client
shares his views and as you directly or indirectly offer tentative
observations for the client's consideration--and validation or
Regarding the building of your
"reality" about the client, make a rule never to decide from a chart
what a client or her life is like! From the chart, you can have only
suspicions about the issues a client is dealing with. Only the client
herself can let you know whether or not she is aware of issues you
pick up in the chart and how she is handling them. The tentative
suspicions you have and the feelings the chart gives you are your
leads into guiding the client. It is of utmost importance not to
mistake your suspicions for facts.
Remember as you formulate your "reality" that your client has an eighth
house and Pluto and Scorpio somewhere in her chart. The placement of
these can facilitate the effective withholding of information from
you when the client feels she has to be in control of the situation!
She may withhold the key to an issue, the very fact which validates
(or totally invalidates) your suspicions--at least until sufficient
trust has been established for her to be comfortable about revealing
In addition to Scorpio, your client has a twelfth house and Neptune and
Pisces somewhere in her chart. Keep in mind also that each house is
the twelfth house of the one which follows it, and that every planet
and sign has a dark, hidden side. These planets, signs, and houses
can signify the unconscious suppression of information--information
you are after. In many persons you will find a layer in the
unconscious that is less guarded, and therefore more easily accessible
than a consciously kept secret. When you gently guide the client to
recognize her unconscious denial, you give her better
self-understanding, and establish more trust between her and you.
What do you do when you encounter
resistance from a client? How do you handle a major discrepancy
between what the chart indicates and what the client says? When do
you keep your mouth shut? When do you say something? How much do you
say? How do you present the discrepancy to the client? If the client
disagrees with you, what do you do? Do you back off? Do you stick to
the issue? When do you confront? How much confrontation is
acceptable? Is it safe to confront? (for you and for the client)?
Of course, there is not one answer to
any of these questions. The answer depends on the dynamics between you
and the client, the level of trust, and basically, what you
intuitively feel is the appropriate approach for this person.
However, there is one overriding observation you must make to decide
what approach will further, rather than destroy, the trust of a
client. The first and constant observation you must make is of the
client's awareness of his/her issues. When a client comes because of
a specific issue, it is pretty obvious that what you are hearing from
him fits your general "reality" from the natal chart, the transits,
and progressions. However, whether the client presents a specific
issue or not, there can be a discrepancy between what you see in the
chart and the client's expressed conscious reality.
As the client talks, you do two things
simultaneously. You listen to the words--you hear what is said, what
is not said. At the same time, you observe the body language--the
facial expressions, the tone of voice, the body stance, the apparent
comfort or discomfort with self, with the subject, and so forth.
As you begin to compare the "reality" you see and hear from the client
with your chart "reality", you may realize that these realities
conflict, or that one appears only as a fraction of the other, or that
the client's reality indicates something you completely missed in the
chart. Or any number of other comparisons may reveal themselves.
The counselor's focus and point of respect should be on the extent of the
client's awareness of her reality... BECAUSE this is the base from
which the counselor begins the delicate task of leading the client to
see a wider perspective, to discover previously unrecognized
potentials, difficulties, and so forth.
Remember that the client may have very
good reasons for curtailing her awareness of some of the realities on
her life. I have had occasion to work with someone who was keeping in
control very violent self-destructive behavior by a very early
decision to bury memories and keep facts about her life out of her
As a counselor, you never have the right to push the client any further
than the client wants to go - and you should have found out when you
first contacted the client, and again at the beginning of the session,
what the client's expectations are. Your role is to fulfil those
expectations, no more, no less. Never attempt to force the client
further than he appears to be willing to explore.
To illustrate some ways of bridging discrepancies between client
"reality" and counselor "reality", the following paragraphs describe
ways to deal with the rather prevalent and usually difficult-to-handle
issue of childhood abuse. From these examples, you can derive
parallels for handling other issues.
Suppose that a client's chart shows
potential for some type of abuse during childhood, and that you
recognize the client's expressed issues and behavior as typical of the
victim syndrome and low self-image of an abused child. He has given
you several hints about potential abuse without ever stating it
An indirect way to move into the
subject is to ask the client questions about the immediate family, the
close relatives, and listen not only to the answer but also to the
symbolic language the client uses to express himself. As you listen to
his response, you can raise or lower your level of suspicion
appropriately. Sooner or later, the client will become curious and ask
you why you are asking these questions--what you see in the chart.
This query gives you an opening to tentatively offer some part of your
chart "reality" for his consideration.
On the other hand, if the chart and the client's behavior warrant it, you
can be more direct with the client. You may carefully state that the
chart indicates a potential for abuse, and you want to know if the
client is aware of anything along these lines.
Whether you approach the topic directly or indirectly, it is important to
emphasize to the client that charts reflect only potentials, not
facts, and to gently feed back to the client what he has said that
made you suspicious of abuse, or the patterns in his life that might
have abuse as their cause. As you give this information to the client,
watch his reaction closely. The reaction can range from defiant denial
to calm acceptance and the relating of some appropriate memories.
In my experience, client reactions vary greatly. For example, several
clients admitted that indeed there was verbal abuse and emotional
abuse in the family but quickly added that there was "nothing
sexual". At this point, I saw Scorpio all over the chart! At a
juncture like this, it can be very tempting to say something like: "I
did not say anything about a sexual form of abuse; why do you bring it
up?" Because such a statement is a clearly challenging confrontation,
it can cause a breach of your client's trust and is better avoided.
Instead, simply take note of how defensive the client is about the
potential sexual aspect of past abuse. Raise or lower your suspicion
level. Simply keep it in mind and continue verifying (or invalidating)
the potential for abuse as you get to know your client better.
Another client response to the
suggestion of abuse is a down-playing of the extent and the
consequences of the abuse. The reasoning is that, compared to many
other people, what the client has been through is nothing at all.
Still another common reaction is to assert that, indeed, there had
been abuse, but the client has dealt with it a long time ago and all
is now fine. In both these cases, as you monitor the client's
reaction, you should bring up the discrepancy you are experiencing, if
any, between what the client's chart indicates, her words, and her
body language. It is a good time to feed back to the client what
clues she gave along the way that make you suspect that the wound
created by the abuse may need further healing.
If the client denies any form of abuse, notice how quickly she does so.
If she pauses for a minute and calmly answers: "No, not that I know
of," it could be that, indeed, whatever happened was not abusive, or
not considered abusive. It is important to remember that what seems
to you to be totally inappropriate behavior towards a child, may have
been for this child, in her everyday life, the only world she knew,
and it is going to take some time for her to realize the long-lasting
effects of her childhood environment. Denial can be totally honest
because the person is not conscious of that aspect of her past.
Continue working with such a person, keeping in mind your suspicion
that something has occurred which may have wounded her inner child
more than her adult self is aware of.
An immediate and strong denial to the suggestion of abuse usually
reinforces my suspicions of actual abuse, and it may reinforce yours.
If the client rushes to tell you that--no there was absolutely no
abuse in his family, that he had a normal childhood, in a very happy
family--hear the clear denial, raise the level of your suspicion, and
respect the client's denial. The more anger you sense in the client's
voice and body language, the stronger your suspicions may be. But
they are still your suspicions and not facts. The measure of the
strength of denial can also be a measure of the fragility of the
person facing you and his conscious/unconscious life-long effort to
keep traumatic experiences out of his awareness and the awareness of
others. His denial can be a pillar of his psychological
functioning--a pillar to be respected and not assaulted in any way.
In this regard, every counselor should take seriously the following
caution. As our suspicions build from our perceptions of the client
and his chart, there arises the very human desire--and danger--to want
to make our interpretation fit, and to want to prove the
abuse--sometimes even to prove it fast--no matter the emotional cost
to the client. Acting out this desire can indicate to the
self-reflective counselor potential abuse in his or her own past.
On the contrary, in many instances, you should back off and keep your
mouth shut. It is important to remember that there are times when
emotional pain must remain untouched, hidden from the client. Even if
the aspects indicate that it is a good time for the client to look at
these issues, remember that this is YOUR interpretation of the
client's chart. The client's actual readiness and desire to explore
are the criteria. Until you see them clearly, do not pursue an issue.
There can be many unconscious reasons
why a client is not willing to talk about any form of abuse. A typical
example is when, as a child, the client was told never to tell
anything to anyone or else something horrible would occur, such as the
death of her mother, or her own death. In a client with this buried
injunction, your insisting on the issue only reinforces her
unconscious fears of great impending danger. At times, getting too
close to the issue may render the client extremely destructive towards
herself or towards you. For example, are you ready to handle a client
who suddenly rushes head first toward the wall? How would you react if
a client threatened you?
How much abuse has the person gone through? How deep is the wound? The
chart is not going to tell you--even if it is "screaming" at you that
there was abuse. Know that a one-time occurrence can be as wounding
as repeated abuse. There could be satanic, ritualistic abuse that the
person's whole being is unwilling to reveal. Even if the chart
indicates violence, your wildest imagination may not have a glimpse of
what the client went through. Can you imagine a one-year-old little
girl raped by her father at gun point? Are you able to handle this
client's inner child suddenly coming forth, screaming and crying while
reliving the physical and emotional pain of the rape?
On the other hand, there can also be
conscious reasons why the client does not want to admit to or talk
about abuse, or any other issue to which you point. She may not trust
you to handle the situation. She may be doing healing work with
someone else, such as a "regular" psychotherapist. She may feel that
the reason she came to see you is totally unrelated to the abuse. In
such a case, the more you attempt to get her to "admit" that she was
abused, the angrier she may become. She may be very aware of the
issues you are presenting; she may have worked on them for years,
then come to you for something entirely different, and want you to
stick to her questions, not to play "therapist".
For these reasons, never ever confront a client on the issue of childhood
abuse. More than any other psychological issues, willingness to
explore the possibility of childhood abuse has to come from the
client herself. She has to come to the realization-she has to put
one and one together.
And one more
reminder to promote your safety and sanity: the most important reason
to back off, to keep quiet, is one that arises from you--not from the
client. This is when you sense that the client's issue touches
something in you. Constantly ask yourself: "How do I feel about what
is unfolding? Am I truly capable of handling this situation?" It is
never too late to back out and to refer the client to someone who is
in a better psychological space to support the client's process.