Maritha on Counseling

Maritha Pottenger

The past two columns have given you some counseling theory. It is my experience that theory does not “stay” with me unless I have seen it applied. So this issue (Virgo—appropriately) is devoted to concrete examples of some of the information presented in past issues.

I pointed to Carkhuff and Berenson’s four factors as perhaps the most important qualities a counselor must have. We will examine some “high” “low” and “average” examples of those four qualities. “Average” will be defined as neither adding to nor subtracting from the client. “Low” means diminishing the client. “High” means enriching the client.

If I exhibit “average” empathy, I do not change or distort his/her meanings. I do not “lay my trip” on the people I work with. If my empathy is “low,” I may do any of the above: not listen to the client, distort what s/he says, try to impose my values on him/her, etc. “High” empathy means I not only hear all my clients say, I hear what they do not clearly articulate. I help them clarify and reach feelings they had not expressed fully. I deepen their experience.

I chose the words “high” and “low” deliberately. “High” serves to emphasize that these qualities are amenable to training and practice. People can (and do) increase their levels of empathy, respect, genuineness, and concreteness. It requires caring and concentration, but is very possible.

The most exciting part of Carkhuff and Berenson’s research (for astrologers) is that there is no relationship between these four qualities and the amount of education OR experience of the person. Graduate schools are seldom set up to teach empathy, respect, genuineness and concreteness. (They generally teach one how to take tests and write long papers.) According to Carkhuff and Berenson, the four vital qualities WERE amenable—and relatively quickly—to training specifically directed at enhancing them. So, a concerned astrologer can, through training, raise his/her levels of empathy, etc. And the training does NOT have to be long and drawn out nor in a traditional school.

Carkhuff and Berenson also found no relationship (positive or negative) between years of experience as a counselor and these four basic qualities. Some people begin with low levels and are still at low levels twenty years later. Some began high and stayed high. Some improved over time. The old astrologer who has practiced for years has no built-in advantage, but neither has s/he a handicap. Nor does the young, fresh astrologer have any advantage or handicap.

The third major point I feel is of importance from the work of Carkhuff and Berenson is their findings about the average level of these qualities in a variety of societal relationships. They looked at levels of empathy, respect, etc. between best friends, paraprofessionals to clients, therapists to clients, etc. On a 5.0 scale, the “average” level for almost everyone studied was 2.0 which was less than adequate. (3.0 was defined as adequate. 2.0 means people were mishearing, distorting, over generalizing, missing the point, minimizing the importance of the other person, sending out double messages, etc.) In other words, the average level of understanding communication was poor, over a broad range of interpersonal relationships. People are getting less than adequate support. Is it any wonder they flock to therapists, astrologers, etc.—looking for what they are not finding out in the world! Hopefully, all of us, as astrological counselors, want to reach an adequate level as soon as possible and improve beyond that as much as possible.

I find it very difficult to split empathy and respect. I think respecting a person helps us to empathize, and I doubt we can be very empathic if we lack respect for an individual. So I will mix those two qualities together in my examples.


Client: “I’m concerned about my relationships. I don’t seem to be meeting the kinds of people I need. Somehow they don’t find me.” Body language: Posture drawn inward, slight twitching of hands, little eye contact.

Low Level

Astrologer: “What you need to do is take responsibility and get married. Stop this running around.” OR

“This is not a good time to pursue relationships. More satisfaction lies in your work houses.” OR

“You poor dear! Let me give you the phone number of this wonderful man/woman I know.”

Adequate or Average Level

Astrologer: “It sounds like you’re unhappy about your lack of present relationships and not sure what to do.” OR

“I guess you would really like a satisfactory relationships RIGHT NOW and are hoping I can help.” OR

“I hear that getting a satisfactory relationship is very important to you and a place for us to focus in our time together.”

High Level

Astrologer: “Must one wait until relationships come or can people actively seek relationships?” (Also possible: How have relationships come to you in the past?) Basically, this client is putting all the responsibility on the other person to arrange a relationship. The use of language (“...they don’t find me.”) is very passive. Help client get in touch with his/her unfulfilling pattern of expectations and behavior. Then more fulfilling patterns can be developed. OR

“How do you feel right now in your body?” Client is saying s/he wants relationships in words, but his/her body is avoiding relating to me right now in this room. I would assume some conflict in that area and probe to find out what is going on. Each person has his/her own style of confronting a client’s incongruity—some more gently, others more directly and forcefully. That decision is an individual one for you to make concerning your own preferred, comfortable style, plus the individual and situation involved. OR

“Would you be willing to try a little experiment?.....I want you to lean forward, look me right in the eyes and tell me what kind of people you hope to meet.” This is another gentle confrontation. I am asking for ACTION to change unfulfilling patterns of behavior. Often action, even a very small one, has much more impact than tons of insight.

Obviously there are many more possibilities—as many as there are astrological counselors multiplied by their inventive quotient. Each astrologer must choose her/his particular intervention, depending on her/his own style and especially upon the client and the situation involved. These are literally the first three examples that popped into my head. There are always other options! Very, very rarely (perhaps never) is there a single “right” answer in any situation. It is imperative that we, as astrological counselors, remain aware of our multitudinous options. How else can we help clients discover and uncover their truly vast array of choices!


Low Level

Astrologer: “I’m thrilled to meet you.” (Bored tone of voice, no eye contact) OR

“No, I don’t mind questions at all.” (Looks at watch, sighs, answers questions hurriedly with irritated tone of voice) OR

“Of course you can do it if you really want to!” (Pats client on head like a child. Voice condescending. Implication: “You’ll never want to HARD enough.”)

Adequate Level

Astrologer: “I’m really excited about meeting you.” (Voice is excited, but body droops.) OR

“No, I don’t mind questions at all.” (Does not look at watch. Voice is matter-of-fact, but handles questions very rapidly or withdraws slightly each time a question is asked.) OR

“Of course you can do it if you really want to!” (Voice a bit too hearty. Astrologer is trying to convince self as much as client.)

High Level

Same words. Voice a bit louder than usual, tone excited. Body has a forward tilt and a bouncy impatience like, “Something good is about to happen!” Eyes are bright and making good contact with client. OR

Same words. Friendly smile also. Relaxed, unhurried demeanor. Each question received with pleasure and answered completely, without rush or irritation. Manner and posture invite reactions from client. OR

“Of course you can do it!” or “You can do it!” Eliminate qualifiers; they breed uncertainty and doubt. Qualifiers are often a subtle discount (put-down) of ability. Tone of voice is emphatic, definite. Demeanor is confident. The body is energetic, outgoing.


Low Level

Client: “I’m really interested in people.” Astrologer: “Obviously you are a person of wide interpersonal concerns.” OR

“People will always be a source of great involvement and energy in your life.” OR

“Humanity is of major importance to you.”

Adequate Level

Astrologer: You seem to want to know a lot about people. Are you interested in working with people? OR

“It sounds as though the people you associate with are very important to you. Is that correct? OR

“Interest in people might lead to humanitarian causes. How do you feel about that?”

High Level

Introductory note to all three: “in order to do my job most efficiently, I need to be really clear about what you need and want....”

Astrologer: “Are you particularly interested in the people close to you? If so, what one specific relationship would you like to explore first?” OR

“Are you saying you would like to indulge your curiosity about people professionally? If so, what careers have you considered?” OR

“Your interest in people might lead to crusades on their behalf. Is there a specific political or social cause or movement you have been drawn to or involved with?”

As I said, all counseling involves at least one unique individual relating to at least one other unique individual in a given time and space. What we do, what we say, how we say it, how we are, is very much our individual expression. There are few universal rights and wrongs. I am presenting these examples as guidelines, as a flint to strike creative fires in you. They are NOT the only possibilities and they are certainly not any kind of Gospel. Take them as a stimulus to help you formulate your own ideas about high level empathy, respect, genuineness and concreteness.

Thank you all for listening, thinking, and caring!

Copyright © 1978 Los Angeles Community Church of Religious Science, Inc.

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