Well! 22nd July’s post on the ethics of astrological practice, a topic to which all we astrological practitioners should return from time to time in my opinion, generated a great deal of interest over at this blog’s Facebook page. My dialogue there, with thoughtful astrologer Sellieve Ezra Neptune, made it clear to me that the question of responsible astrological practice needed to be pursued further.
Here is Sellieve’s challenging question: “I do have a question for you Anne 💚. If you tell people that they should only get a reading from an astrologer who has lots of experience reading charts, how does someone get that experience if someone inexperienced isn’t worthy of giving readings yet? It’s that same catch 22 of, “can’t get a job without experience, can’t get experience without a job”. I am an aspiring professional astrologer, with a decade of learning under me, but the number of professional readings I have given is not too many…”
This is a very fair question, Sellieve, and it does indeed look as though I’ve presented a Catch 22. The last thing I want to do is discourage potentially effective astrologers like yourself from ending up as serious professional practitioners.
There are a number of ways from which to approach this question, and I do not claim to have all the answers – a brief post can only cover a few key bases. However, here goes! I should state at the outset that I am based in the UK, so am not very familiar with the specifics of what constitutes professional regulation in other countries.
Mainstream v Maverick
The advantage of belonging to one of the traditional professions recognised by mainstream society e.g. medicine, the law, teaching, accountancy etc is that one has to go through pretty rigorous training and professional licensing in order to be able to practice. This does not rule out bad practice, but it does mean it is kept to a minimum, and offers legal redress to people who have been on the receiving end of such practice.
However, astrologers especially in this reductionist age are very much NOT regarded as being in the mainstream of professional practice, and it is possible for anyone to set themselves up as an astrologer with no training, regulation or background counselling experience whatsoever.
In an ideal world, it should not be possible for people to do this. But as we all know the world we live in is far from ideal. I think the reality is that it is never going to be possible fully to prevent people from abusing their fellow citizens as described by Donna Cunningham in my earlier post, ie Awful Things Astrologers Say to their Clients.
Increasing public awareness
However, it is my hope that the public is more aware these days of the difference between responsible, quality astrologers and dangerous amateurs. In recent years, much progress has been made in training and monitoring astrologers through such reputable bodies as eg OPA, ISAR, NCGR and the AFA in the US, where very high standards are set for what is expected of practising astrologers. Likewise, eg The Mayo School of Astrology, The London School of Astrology, Mercury Internet School of Psychological Astrology, the Faculty of Astrological Studies and the Centre for Psychological Astrology in the UK.
I studied with both the latter bodies, and am a member of the Association of Professional Astrologers International to whose ethical codes I subscribe.
In order to protect ourselves legally, the APAI advises its members thus in dealing with clients:
- Explain briefly and in general what astrology is and what astrologers do.
- Explain the limitations of the techniques employed, for example: astrology is a symbolic language and offers a balance of probabilities rather than specific certainties.
- Describe the service(s) to be provided, for example: character analysis, compatibility assessment – and the scale of fees.
- Emphasize that astrology is not scientifically proven and that no reading can be 100% accurate.
- Explain, nevertheless, that APAI astrologers will work to the best of their knowledge and abilities in the preparation and delivery of the services to be provided.
How we begin…
Most of us who end up as astrologers have a similar route. First, we encounter astrology in a range of different ways depending on who we are and what our context is, this encounter leading us to being fascinated and compelled to take our interest further.
In my case, I encountered a couple in a launderette in Bath, England in the 1970s who took me home with them, did my chart, and told me I was likely to end up studying astrology or something very like it in seven years’ time. At that time I was both engaged in another professional life, and a dismisser of astrology from the dismissers’ standard base of knowing nothing at all about it. However, they were right…
Then we practice, on friends, family, anyone who would like their chart read – hopefully sticking to the basics of Sun, Moon, Saturn, Ascendant and Midheaven, and even more hopefully, having some awareness of when one is getting out of one’s depth – not going too far into wounding other people through our own lack of expertise and knowledge.
From amateur to professional
It should take quite a while of doing this before one’s thoughts turn to whether becoming a professional astrologer is a realistic possibility. In a follow-up comment to her original question, Sellieve partially answers it herself, by pointing out the following:
“…Not everyone comes to an Astrologer looking for serious advice, sometimes they want a theatrical presentation of their personality, or they find astrology interesting but don’t want to study it themselves… In this such case I think it is better to refer these kinds of clients to less experienced professional astrologers, people like me and other millennials. If someone wants to see an astrologer for counseling, if they want light brought onto a difficult situation, then it is best to refer them to a psychological astrologer, or someone with more impressive credentials than me…”
In the end, how much one gradually realises through this process of initial dabbling the amount of power and responsibility one is taking on by reading peoples’ charts is dependent upon the degree of self-awareness, experience and maturity one has acquired by this point. Personal integrity, which no-one can teach, is also a major factor in determining the path people take when they realise they wish to practice as professional astrologers.
I think that the best possible start for a would-be astrologer is to place themselves at the outset within a clear framework of ethics and guidelines which all the reputable training and monitoring bodies provide and follow those guidelines to the best of their ability.
An excellent recent book to acquire in helping this process along, is OPA (the Organisation for Professional Astrology) ‘s The Professional Astrologer which is a comprehensive guide to all aspects of setting up an astrology practice. Do acquire this book, Sellieve, as soon as possible! Master astrologer Donna Cunningham’s Counseling Principles for Astrologers is also an excellent guide for astrologers at this very important stage of their careers.
One of the best books I know which covers the practical, ethical, moral, psychological and spiritual dimensions of being an astrologer is The Astrologer, the Counsellor and the Priest. by Liz Greene and Juliet Sharman-Burke, based on a seminar given at the Centre for Psychological Astrology in 1996,which I had the good fortune to attend, and which was comprehensive, practical, and thought provoking.
Setting up a practice – some practicalities
Sellieve has added some more comments over on my Astrology: Questions and Answers Facebook Page regarding how to go about setting up an astrology practice to which I responded as follows:
” …I think that you probably need to look around a few astrologers’ consultation/tuition web Pages – you are welcome to look at mine for some ideas –and set up a professional web page stating your approach, what you do and don’t do, qualifications, background relevant experience, and fees. And join a reputable professional organisation eg OPA, if you haven’t already. And set up a professional email only to be used for your practice. [You will also need to think about how you wish to be contacted initially, where you are going to practice with attendant privacy, recording policy, etc etc.]
I think if you set a context for yourself so that you know clearly what you are doing, who you wish to draw to you by way of clientele, and what your professional boundaries are, then get out there doing a few talks and maybe offering a small beginners class for starters, all that will help.
I set boundaries by saying to people who want me to comment on their charts, that I only do that within the boundaries of a professional consultation. It’s a sacred art, after all, so it should be practised with appropriate respect for both yourself, your client, and astrology. If people want a reading, they can go to your Page then get back to you. That saves a lot of time and energy.
And of course, if people are enthusiastic and open minded without trying to get bits of a reading from you informally, then talk astrology with as many people as wish to hear about the Real Deal as opposed to eg playing ‘Guess my sign!”. Something I never do, incidentally…”
Disclaimer – or not?
One of Sellieve’s later comments concerned the question of adding a disclaimer to one’s publicity, advising that astrology is “for entertainment purposes only”, something which she found disquieting in the same way that I or anyone else would who considers that what they do as astrologers goes into a considerable degree of depth and can not be described as entertainment. Here, I can only speak for myself: I would never add such a disclaimer to my publicity, since I consider a high standard of practice to be my greatest protection against any likelihood of legal action.
She adds “…astrologers could potentially find themselves in a predicament when a client takes an astrological prediction very seriously and it doesn’t come true, or if the astrologer gives advice about what to do in a relationship, the client can hold the astrologer responsible for anything that goes wrong…”
Here we come slap up against the reason why, in my view, anyone wishing to take themselves seriously as an astrologer, or be taken seriously by members of the public as a responsible person, needs to get themselves at the very least some counselling skills training (if full counselling training is not at first a realistic option for whatever reason, often finance) as well as having the experience of being in the client’s seat themselves.
Many counselling/therapy training courses will offer cut-price counselling sessions with trainees in supervision. In this way, counselling or therapy of a satisfactory standard can often be obtained without too great a financial outlay.
An important part of an an astrologer’s job is to combine the natal horoscope with transits, progressions, and other directions in the heavens at the time of the consultation to help clients clarify situations in which they find themselves, so that they can then make their own decisions regarding what to do.
Making definite predictions and advising people what to do diminishes clients’ free will and confidence in themselves, although in the short run it might afford them some temporary relief to hand over those choices to the astrologer – upon whom they can later dump the blame and perhaps threaten legal action, when things do not turn out according to either predictions or advice given.
This is but a brief sketch. I hope readers will flesh it out for themselves – starting with the suggestions made for organisations to join and reading to do, enabling them to become clearer about what taking the first steps to becoming responsible professional astrologers involves.
There is far more support available now for the Millennial generation of emerging astrologers like Sellieve, than there was when we baby-boomers started out. That’s great, and how it should be … one of my great pleasures at this stage in my life is to pass on some of what I know and have learned – usually the hard way! – to the generation of talented young folk now arising.
And – thanks so much to Sellieve Ezra Neptune for prodding me into action on this most important topic!
2000 words copyright Anne Whitaker 2016