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The Mountain Astrologer

Astrology's Next Step: The Power of Peer Group Work

by Bob Mulligan

Astrology RetreatIn November 2002, astrologers from around the world turned off their cell phones and embraced the high mountain air of early winter at the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico for a life-transforming experience, the Astrologer's Retreat. This was a groundbreaking encounter for all of us. The power of our peer supervision model surprised even those of us who have been doing this form of group work for many years. All the astrologers had their own unique experience, but all were positive. We responded to each other with a deep honesty. One well-seasoned astrologer told me that this was the most powerful and significant event of her life.

Definition of Peer Group Work

A peer group is composed of consulting astrologers who meet to discuss specific consultations. These groups serve both the emotional and professional needs of practicing astrologers, thus creating a practical foundation for an astrological community.

All astrologers who see clients need to be able to discuss what goes on in their consulting room. Just talking about your client work is therapeutic, but it is even more helpful when you can do this with another practicing astrologer. And a group of practicing astrologers is even more effective.

Historically, our astrological community hasn't supported this type of process. Yet, every other helping profession incorporates a process of peer review. Sharing experiences, ideas, and problems is a necessary and healthy step toward standardization and collective advancement in any field. The process of peer review improves our professional competency. As this form of openness among colleagues in astrology becomes a normal adjunct to every astrologer's practice, the public will come to expect a certain standard of service. This type of sharing will eventually encourage the general public to form a more accurate picture of the astrological profession.

Peer work allows astrologers to understand each other better. We can build a stronger sense of community through dedication to a set of principles held together by a common vision. This was Ray Merriman's assessment in his article "Building an Astrological Community."1

During this period of world consolidation, the astrological field is becoming a more unified community. Every astrological organization participates in this globalization of the marketplace; we see a continual elevation of client expectations as they collectively hold us to higher standards.

communityToday, development of our field is not as dependent as it once was on discovering and practicing more refined and proven techniques, although this is always important. Through peer work, professional astrologers are now becoming increasingly conscious of their effect on their clients. When our service improves, the general public may form a more realistic idea of what to expect from astrologers. Peer work is a method of administering to the needs of professional astrologers and, through them, to each of their clients.2

Two major roadblocks have impeded the natural development of peer supervision groups: Ethical astrologers don't violate the confidence of their clients, and astrologers don't easily trust anyone else with the details of their practice. Peer group work gives every astrologer a chance to share problems and concerns without creating either of these situations.

After astrologers have completed their studies and begin seeing clients, peer groups provide a direct method of personal growth and a way to improve counseling skills and clarify business practices. Peer groups offer a safe, structured, and positive environment for this added dimension of self-understanding. These groups form a "blueprint" for the profession to take its next step forward — making a continuing source of personal renewal available for astrologers throughout their professional life.

History

In 1974, I started my career as a professional astrologer. At the time, there was very little interaction between astrologers, and none (that I could find) seemed to be available to help new astrologers earn a living.

In 1989, a group of like-minded astrologers formed an organization to talk about professional astrological issues: how to set fees, when and where to advertise, business ethics, methods of earning a living, geographical and cultural differences, the distinctions between astrology and psychology, and (more importantly) how astrologers can help and support each other. This group is now known as the Organization for Professional Astrology (OPA). The system we created to support each other is the peer supervision group. Even though we have borrowed many techniques and ideas from other fields, this work is specifically designed for astrologers.

This technique of peer supervision was developed over twelve years of trial and error. We had many explorations (and we still experiment) to discover what methods give the most solid results. Peer supervision is now the backbone of our work in assisting each other in the astrological profession.

Purpose and Goals

The purpose of peer group work is to better understand ourselves and our clients. Most astrologers who are fortunate enough to participate in a peer group have seen their business expand. As an astrologer's business increases, the quality of the client work tends to improve. In other words, practice makes perfect.

Peer supervision allows astrologers to re-evaluate their work with clients by gaining access to a variety of professional opinions. The group provides an opportunity for getting help with problematic clients, noticing when repeating issues with clients indicates that the astrologer has a difficulty, and learning about various strategies applicable to astrological consultations.

As astrologers, we want to offer better, more consistently useful astrology to the public. We also want astrologers to live more fulfilling lives. Peer group work helps us to achieve both of these goals. Ultimately, peer supervision inspires astrologers to refine their work. Since astrology itself is a path of self-development, these groups assist in their own way to unravel the mystery of life for each astrologer.

Guiding Principles

exchange - equals When astrologers engage in peer supervision, we meet as equals. This is different than going to a teacher, a therapist, or another astrologer for advice. This is an opportunity to submit some aspect of our work to our peers for review and comment. An atmosphere of trust is necessary for the work to be effective. As peer work has evolved, we always look for ways to increase the bond of trust between the members of each supervision group. We have discovered some principles that help to further this goal. These principles have, in turn, found expression through a small set of suggested guidelines.

These guidelines are intended to encourage openness and a feeling of safety in the company of our colleagues. As we become more open and trusting and less defensive, we can delve deeper and deeper into the real issues that have held us back as astrologers. We become increasingly available to each other as we learn to trust and to discuss our feelings openly. This connection between people makes it possible for us to overcome our personal limitations and barriers and allows us to maximize our potential as astrologers.

To a certain extent, the rules for each group will vary slightly, depending on the competence and experience of the members. Also, the unique style and personal preferences of the leader of each group will influence procedures.

The rules may change, from time to time, as we find better ways to accomplish our goal of improving the methods of modern astrology. This outline of rules for peer group work is intended to express attitudes and a methodology for building a healthy professional astrological community.

Here are some basic guiding principles:

1. Maintain confidentiality. It is important to protect the identity of our clients. When charts are passed out to the peer group, the name of the client has been removed. The client's name is never used in the discussion. The astrologer must have good reason to assume that no one in the group will recognize the person by the description. Astrologers should, therefore, avoid using the chart of any client who is a public figure or well known in the community.

2. Respect privacy. Everyone in the group keeps the proceedings of the session in strictest confidence. This means that group members don't discuss what goes on in the group with others outside the group. Furthermore, discussions about charts and consultations take place only when the group is in session. This is an important boundary. Astrologers don't gossip or carry on side conversations about a particular chart or client after the session is over. If necessary, the group can revisit a past case history the next time the group is convened.

3. Keep group sessions closed. This means that a new person cannot join the group when the group is already engaged in discussion of a member's interaction with a client. This principle is usually interpreted to mean that the session doesn't start until everyone is present, and no one leaves while the discussion is going on. Breaks are important. The group should take a short break between each chart example. Most ongoing groups expand on this principle by not accepting new members into the group during a year of monthly meetings but open the group to new members at some time of the year. In the Boston peer group, for instance, there is a time every fall when potential new members can attend meetings for a few months to see if they want to become a member of the group; the group would then be closed for the rest of the year. Limiting the group creates a feeling of safety, which allows ever-deepening bonds of trust and respect between the participants.

joinhands4. Remain positive. Comments and suggestions should be aimed at encouraging each astrologer's strengths. We must avoid attacking each other's weaknesses. Professional and personal weaknesses are best addressed with a teacher, therapist, or other astrologer. The major purpose of the peer group is to instruct by acknowledging, encouraging, and supporting each other.

5. Focus on the interaction of the client with the astrologer. De-emphasize the astrology. Make the session about the astrologer's relationship with the client, not about the particular person's chart. Practicing astrologers constantly endeavor to do better astrology. However, this is not the proper place to take up that study.

6. Be willing to be open, both as a presenter and as a group participant. Because the group is restricted and confidential, group members can develop trust in each other. Groups cannot be very successful if the participants are not open and honest with each other during the group meetings.

7. Know your limits. Know when a client referral is a good idea — to another astrologer, type of professional, organization, or group. Peer supervision groups can play an invaluable role in helping their practicing members to establish healthy boundaries with their clients.

8. Accept different styles and systems. Every astrologer will have a unique way of approaching a client session and a different way of counseling. We need to be able to accept these variations in approach and systems, e.g., Vedic, Chinese, classical astrology. Some larger communities and groups will have practitioners representing many different systems. Tolerance and diversity are healthy.

9. Talk only about appointments that have already happened. We don't look at charts of clients that the astrologer hasn't yet seen. To discuss upcoming consultations is a very useful and valid study technique, but it is a waste of time and energy during peer group meetings. We must focus on our interactions with existing clients.

Leadership and Overall Guidance

We use a peer model for this work because we have the greatest chance for genuine transformation when we are working with our peers. Also, people are more inclined to be open and constructive when they know they are on equal footing with the other members of the group.

Each group needs a leader who is trained to facilitate the process. This person must keep the goals in mind, maintain the focus of the discussion, and steer the group back to the topic at hand when the discussion strays. The leader decides when the major work is over and when to change directions.

team - leaderThe OPA group leaders have received various forms of training. All have been participants in other peer groups. They generally have good ideas about what works and what doesn't work. Even when group leaders get together to do peer supervision, one of them must be in charge of when to start and end a session, when to switch focus, and what kinds of questions to ask.

In the first peer group meeting, the leader will present a chart and case history of a problematic client to the group, explaining what happened and sharing the residual discomfort. After this presentation, in each subsequent discussion throughout the day, each participant presents a case history and receives feedback from the rest of the group.

The pace of the work should be brisk enough to keep everyone involved and interested. This can happen only if the members of the group have been prescreened. Everyone in the group needs to be actively seeing clients. This doesn't mean that a person must be earning all — or even part — of their income as a professional astrologer. It just means that everyone should be able to offer up a chart from a client consultation without stumbling over the technical aspects of the astrology.

There comes a point in a peer group discussion when the attention of the participants seems to wander; this is when the work on this client is done, for the time being. The group leader, and maybe the whole group, should feel free to acknowledge this.

A Client Example

A wide variety of issues are discussed with each case history: How did the client come to see the astrologer? Did the astrologer and client have reasonable expectations? How did the astrologer feel toward the client? What was going on in the astrologer's life at the time of the appointment? and so forth.

Astrologers need to trust in the peer group and the group process in order to present their most challenging cases to the group. Often, we want to exhibit the charts of clients that show us in the best light. After all, we are presenting to our peers. Sometimes, when we are discussing a case that is really difficult, we aren't so willing to admit what really went wrong. But if we are brave enough to do this, the group will help us to see some things we might otherwise have missed.

I have taken the extra precaution of asking a few of my clients for permission to use their case histories publicly. This following client, whom I shall call Sofia, allowed me to use her chart in this context:

Sofia is a successful businesswoman. She asked me to help her decide what to do with her life. Her consultations with me, at the time, were difficult because she would ask me to sort out the strangest predicaments. She would ask my opinion, I would offer it, and then she would argue against it. I would assert the alternative. She would argue against that. We would go round and round.

Someone in my group suggested that perhaps her attachment to her suffering was stronger than her desire for love and acceptance. This person was right. I knew it as soon as I heard the comment. This noticeably altered my work with this client. For one thing, we were able to discuss her need to be a martyr, her feelings that she was special, and her addiction to being smarter, better, more right than anyone else. Our discussions eventually allowed her to see more clearly the foundation of her decision-making and, therefore, to make better decisions.

One-Day Workshops and Weekend Retreats

At the one-day workshops that OPA conducts, each participant is assigned to a group composed of five astrologers; one of these is the group leader. During the day, each participant will present a case history, starting with the group leader. Immediate benefits come from improving counseling skills, but an additional blessing is learning how to develop intimacy with other astrologers.

Groups may be pre-selected as they are at the OPA weekend retreats, to achieve a balance of age, geographical location, level of experience, synastry, etc.3 Couples and close friends are separated into different groups. This allows the group energy and intimacy to build more rapidly. Trust becomes the element that lets the group function harmoniously.

In small towns or outside major metropolitan areas, peer groups have functioned over the phone, but local groups are usually formed from astrologers living in the area. This is a more random method where circumstances construct the group. For the OPA one-day meetings, as well as our annual retreats, we have found that pre-selected groups work better than random selection.

With an ongoing local peer group, the inherent imbalances in the participants are usually worked through in time. For a weekend retreat, when groups are pre-arranged to achieve a good mix of participants, less time is wasted getting to the deeper aspects of the peer supervision experience. This is why pre-registration is necessary.

Continuing Work

connectAfter attending peer supervision workshops, some individuals have taken the experience home with them and started a local group. Sometimes, astrologers become enthusiastic about the work but then find it hard to generate this same intensity of interest among other astrologers in their area. It takes time to build up a workable local peer supervision group, but as many past participants can tell you, it is well worth the effort. If a local group is not an option, you can still get supervision a variety of other ways: via a personal supervisor, group work over the phone through teleconferencing, e-mail contact with other astrologers, and so on.

Some entire groups from past workshops have stayed connected with each other. The participants of one group e-mail each other at the Full Moon every month. A group that I was a member of has maintained telephone contact, and we all assist each other with various aspects of our careers. Some participants have made arrangements for individual supervision from one of the members of their group. Structured sharing with another astrologer friend can be very helpful.

Conclusion

Peer group work is changing the face of astrology by helping the field become a more standardized and accepted profession. Astrologers have some responsibility to help to dispel the general public's misunderstandings about astrology. We need to be available to demonstrate astrology's inherent usefulness and truthfulness. The perception of the general public can be improved as astrologers themselves better understand what transpires in their sessions with clients.4 Peer group work is the next step in presenting a more unified service to the public. Unity of purpose conveys a more professional image to the world and helps astrologers to take their own work more seriously as a realistic guidance tool. When astrologers talk to each other in earnest, then amazing insights can arise. We have all the tools we need. Now is the time to put them to good use.

OPA can help you stay involved in peer group work in three ways: (1) We have an astrologer's retreat every year. This is a greatly expanded version of the peer supervision workshop. (2) In our newsletter, "The Career Astrologer," we offer discussion of various processes and techniques of peer supervision work. (3) We are happy to send a group leader to a particular area to conduct a weekend workshop in peer supervision and to help form a local group.

The OPA-sponsored astrologer's retreat is part of our continuing effort to improve the lives of professional astrologers. Our group leaders get together in person twice a year — just before the retreat and six months later — to review the whole process for themselves. OPA has expanded the peer supervision concept to a four-day experience.

Peer group work helps astrologers to develop intimacy and trust. It allows us to practice our astrological and counseling skills. This gives us a better understanding of ourselves and the options in our own lives and ultimately makes us better astrologers. Let us join together to transform the field of astrology.

References and Notes:
1. Ray Merriman, "Building an Astrological Community," from How to Start, Maintain, and Expand an Astrological Practice, 3rd edition, Organization for Professional Astrology, 2001.
2. In my book, Between Astrologers and Clients, I present the point of view that under ideal circumstances, when everyone is free to express their own unique creative energy (and everyone stays involved in the group process), the synergy creates a more useful and dynamic conclusion. Ignorance is the only enemy; no one should intentionally do anything unethical or harmful.
3. Through the years, we have experimented with the correct composition of pre-selected peer groups. We now try to establish groups based on the concept of genuine peers — people in each group being as close to same level of experience as possible. This means that beginners are in a group with other beginners, and long-time professional are in a group with other professionals, etc. Ideally, each person has no previous relationship to any other member prior to the formation of the group.
4. One of my reasons for writing Between Astrologers and Clients was to clarify exactly what goes into our work. This is very fertile ground for more thought and discussion.

Image sources:
All images: CC0 Public Domain, by pixabay.com

First published in: The Mountain Astrologer, Jun/Jul 2007

Author:

Bob Mulligan

Bob Mulligan has been a full time professional astrologer since 1974. He developed the peer group model as a mechanism for astrologers to help each other improve their lives and practices. He wrote the entire first edition of How to Start, Maintain, and Expand an Astrological Practice as well as editing the second and third edition, which contains chapters by many well known professional astrologers. Over the last 40 years Bob has written many articles, has given talks and workshops demonstrating how astrology can be used for spiritual development. Today Bob spends his time serving clients and students around the globe. He writes a free monthly newsletter explaining the influences for each day. He wrote the book Between Astrologers and Clients, authored the astrological chart interpretation program "Indra", and runs a correspondence school, The Mastery of Astrology™. In 1970 Bob became a follower of Meher Baba, and spends time in India every year. Phone 239-261-2840; e-mail: bobmulliga@aol.com; website: www.theastrologycompany.com

© 2007 Bob Mulligan - published by The Mountain Astrologer

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Current Planets
22-Nov-2017, 20:19 UT/GMT
Sun043'33"20s18
Moon1813'52"19s42
Mercury2232'23"25s45
Venus1916'11"16s34
Mars1936'19"6s40
Jupiter922'11"13s39
Saturn2650'54"22s27
Uranus2514'38"r9n13
Neptune1127'56"8s07
Pluto1735' 9"21s46
TrueNode183'30"r15n25
Chiron2423'24"r1n16
Explanations of the symbols
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