by Bob Mulligan
In November of 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 Astrologers Retreat. This was a powerful, groundbreaking, life altering encounter for all of us. The power of our peer supervision model surprised even those of us who have been in this group work for many years. Each astrologer had their own unique experience, but all were positive in the extreme. We responded to each other with a deep unveiling honesty. One well seasoned astrologers told me it was the most powerful and significant event in her life.
A peer group is composed of consulting astrologers who meet in order to discuss specific consultations. These groups serve both the emotional and professional needs of the practicing astrologer; they create a practical foundation for an astrological community. All astrologers seeing clients need to be able to discus what goes on in their consulting room. Just talking about work with clients is therapeutic, but it is even more helpful when it happens with another practicing astrologer. A group of practicing astrologers is even better. Historically, this hasn’t happened.
Yet, every helping profession incorporates a process of peer review. Sharing experiences, ideas, and problems is a necessary and healthy step for progress. This type of sharing: fosters a more truthful public perception of the field, sets astrological community standards, and systematizes the way our service is delivered. Today, development of our field is not so dependent on discovering and practicing more refined and proven techniques; instead, growth is dependent on the field providing a system and method for each practitioner to process his or her personal and professional needs.
Two major blocks have impeded the natural development of peer supervision groups: ethical astrologers don’t violate the confidence of clients; astrologers don’t easily trust anyone else with the details of their practice. Peer Group work gives every astrologer a chance to share without creating either of these concerns. After astrologers have completed their studies and are seeing clients, peer groups provide: a way to improve counseling skills, a direct method for personal growth, and way to clarify business practices. Peer Groups provide a safe, structured, and positive environment for this added dimension of self-understanding.
These groups are the “blueprint” for the profession to take its next step forward, providing a continuing source of personal renewal for each astrologer from the very beginning to the end of their professional life.
In 1974 I started my career as a professional astrologer. At the time there was very little interaction between professional astrologers, and none that I could find that was intended to help new astrologers earn a living. In 1989 a group of like minded professional astrologers formed an organization to talk about professional astrological issues; how to set fees, when and where to advertise, ethics, different methods of earning a living, geographical and cultural differences, the difference between astrology and psychology, and more important, how we can help and support each other. This group is now known as OPA (The Organization for Professional Astrology).
Our system for supporting each other is the Peer Supervision Group. Even through we borrow many techniques and ideas from other fields, this work is specifically designed for astrologers. We developed this technique of peer supervision over twelve years of trial and error. We had many different explorations, (and we still experiment) to find what methods give the most solid results. Peer supervision is now the “backbone” of our work in assisting each other.
The purpose of doing this work is so that we understand ourselves and our clients better. Astrologers fortunate enough to participate in a peer group have seen their work with clients improve and their business expand. As an astrologer’s business increases, the quality of his or her work tends to improve. Peer supervision allows astrologers to re-evaluate work with clients by accessing different professional opinions. The group provides an opportunity for getting help with problematic clients, to see when repeating issues with client indicate a difficulty, and to learn about various strategies in client work
We want to see a better, more consistently useful astrology offered to the public and we want astrologers to live more fulfilling lives. Peer work helps us achieve both of these goals. Ultimately, peer group work inspires astrologers to do better work. As astrology itself is a path of self development, these groups in their own way assist in a deep unraveling of the mystery of life for each astrologer.
When we 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 of increasing the bonding and trust between the members of each supervision group. We have discovered some principles lead toward this goal. These principles have in turn found expression through a small group of rules or suggestions.
These guidelines are intended to encourage safety and openness with our colleagues. As we become more open and trusting, less defensive, we are able to go deeper into the real issues that have held us back as astrologers. As this happens in a group, participants start reaching out at a deeper level and become available to each other. This connection between people makes it possible to overcome many personal limitations (primitive barriers) and allows us to maximizing our potential as astrologers.
To a certain extent, the rules for each group will switch slightly depending on the competence and experience of the members. Also, each group has a leader who’s unique style and personal preferences impact procedures. Rules that we use may change from time to time as we find better ways of accomplishing our goals of improving the methods of modern astrology. Even the procedures described earlier are meant to express higher principles.
This outline of rules for peer group work is intended to express an attitude, a teaching, and methodology for building a healthy professional astrology community. Here are some basic rules worth adhering to:
1. Confidentiality. It is important that the identity of the client is protected. When charts are passed out, the name has been removed. The client’s name is not used; the astrologer has reason to assume that no-one in the group will recognize who the person is by the description. Astrologers should avoid using any client who is a public figure or well known.
2. Privacy. Everyone in the group keeps the confidence of the session. This means that group members don’t discuss what goes on within the group with others outside the group. Further, discussion over charts and sessions only takes place when the group is in session. This is an important boundary. When you are in a group meeting, you stay at it until the group meeting is done. But, you don’t gossip or carry on side conversations about the chart or person in question after the session…If necessary, the group can revisit a past discussion the next time the group is together.
3. Group sessions are closed. That means that a new person doesn’t join in when the group is engaged in discussion over a member’s interaction with a client. This principle is usually extended to mean that discussion 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. Most ongoing groups extend this principle by not accepting new members into the group during a year of monthly meeting, then to open the group to new members at some time of the year.
4. We are positive. Comments and suggestions should be aimed at encouraging each astrologer’s strengths. We 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 group is to instruct through 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 relationship with client, not about the particular person’s chart. Studying to do better astrology is something that every practicing astrologer works on every day. However, here is not the place to take up this study.
6. Be willing to be open, both as a presenter, and as a group participant. Because the group is closed, group members can develop openness with each other. Groups cannot be very successful without the participants being open with each other during the group meetings.
7. Help see limits. Know when a referral is a good idea; to another astrologer, to another type of professional, to an organization or group. Peer supervision groups can have an invaluable role in helping each practicing member establish healthy boundaries with their clients.
8. Acceptance of different styles and different systems. Every astrologer will have a different way of approaching a session and a different way of counseling. We need to be able to accept variation in approach as well as differences in systems, i.e. Vedic, Chinese, Classical etc. In some communities and groups we will have practitioners from many different systems.
9. We only talk about appointments that have already happened. We don’t look at chart of clients that the astrologer hasn’t seen yet. To discuss upcoming sessions is a very useful and valid study technique but is a waste of time and energy during peer group meetings.
We use a peer model for this work because there is the greatest chance for genuine transformation when we are working with our peers. Further, it helps others to be open and building when they know that they are on equal footing with the other members of the group.
Each group has a leader, trained to facilitate the process. Just as a group of people in a car needs a driver to in order to reach a destination, each group needs someone leading towards a goal. The group leader is the driver, the person knowing the destination. This person keeps the members going in the right direction and has to decide when the major work is over and when to switch directions.
Our group leaders have been in 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 a group of 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 session of the peer group work, the leader will present a chart and case history to the group, explaining what happened and sharing the residual discomfort. After this presentation in each subsequent session through the day, each participant presents a case history and receives advice from the rest of the group. The pace of the work should be fast enough that everyone stays involved and interested. This can only happen if the group has been prescreened.
Everyone in the group needs to be seeing clients. This doesn’t mean that the person has to be earning all, or even part, of their income as a professional astrologer. It just means that everyone needs to be able to offer up a chart from a session and not have to be stumbling over the technical aspects of the astrology.
There is a time in a session of peer group work, where people seem to wander in their attention and observations, this is when the work on this client is done for the time being. The group leader and maybe the whole group can acknowledge this.
A wide variety of issues are discussed with each case history; how the client came to the astrologer, did the astrologer and client have reasonable expectations, how did the astrologer feel toward the client, what was going on in the astrologers life at the time of the appointment, etc. It takes some trust in the group, and in the group process to present your most challenging cases to the peer group. Often we want to present chart of clients that show us in the best light. After all, we are presenting to our peers.
Sometimes when we present a case that is really difficult, we aren’t so willing to admit what really went wrong. But, if we are brave enough to take this step, we have the ability to see some things we might otherwise have missed. I have taken the extra precaution of asking a few of my clients to be able to use their case histories publicly. This following example is from a session where the client gave me permission to use her chart in this context. This person is a successful business woman. She asked me to help her decide what to do with her life. Her sessions with me at the time were difficult because she would ask me to sort out the strangest predicaments. She would ask me my opinion, I would give it, 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 offered up that she perhaps wanted suffering and justification more than love and acceptance. This person was right. I knew it as soon as I heard it. This noticeably altered my work with this client. For one thing, we were able to discuss her need for martyrdom and feelings of being special.
Also, her addiction to being smarter, better, more right than anyone else. This eventually gave her the gift of being able to see more clearly the foundation of her decision making, and to make better decisions.
At a one day workshop each participant is assigned to group composed of five astrologer, one of them being a group leader. During the day, each participant will present a case history, starting with the group leader. Immediate benefits come from improving skills, but the residual blessing is in learning how to develop intimacy with other astrologers.
At a one day workshop groups can be preset, as they are at our weekend retreats. This is a balance of age, geography, level of experience, synastry, etc. Special care is given to separate couples and close friends into different groups. This allows a group energy and intimacy to build more rapidly. Trust becomes the big factor that lets the group function harmoniously. Ongoing local groups contain the astrologers living in the area. This is a more random method. Circumstances construct our group.
We tried using a more random method from group construction at early OPA one day (or shorter) meetings and we found our pre-selected group experiences worked better. With an on going group experience, a local group, the inherent unbalances in the mix of participants usually gets worked through in time. For a one day workshop, the pre-setting of groups is a virtue aiding speed of access to the deeper aspects of the peer supervision experience. This is why, pre-registration is necessary.
After past peer supervision workshops, some individuals have taken the experience home with them and started a local group. Sometimes astrologers become enthusiastic about the work then find it hard to generate this kind of interest amongst local astrologers. Building a workable local astrology peer supervision group can time, but as many past participants can tell, it is worth the effort. If a local group is not an option, you can still get supervision a number of other ways: a personal supervisor, group work over the phone, e-mail contact with other astrologers, etc.
Some entire groups from past workshops have stayed connected with each other. In one group participants e-mail each other at the Full Moon each month. A group that I was in, has maintained telephone contact and we all assist each other with various aspects of our careers. Some participants have gone on to get individual supervision from one of the members of their group. Structured sharing with another astrologer friend can be so very helpful.
Peer group work is changing the face of astrology by helping the field become a more standardized and accepted profession. When astrologers talk to each other in earnest, amazing insights occur. We have all the tools we need. Now is the time to put them to work.
OPA can help you stay involved in the per work in three ways: One, we have an astrologers retreat every year. This is a greatly expanded version of the peer supervision workshop. Two, we supply discussion in our monthly e-news and our quarterly Newsletter “The Career Astrologer” on various processes and techniques of the peer supervision work. Three, we are happy to send a group leader to an area for a weekend workshop in peer supervision to help form a local group.
The Annual OPA Astrologers Retreat has expanded this peer supervision concept to a three day retreat which we have every year. We found that peer work on day one allows us to develop intimacy and trust. On day two, each astrologer gets to practice their astrological and counseling skills. Within their group, each person develops a business plan on day three. A one day experiential workshop in peer work lays a firm foundation to go further along the path of astrology.
Please join us in transforming ourselves and the field.
Learn about the OPA Retreat where Peer Group work is emphasized.