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Listening Between the Lines

By Joanna Watters

Can you imagine being in any close relationship in which the other person is never, ever allowed to interrupt? And can you further imagine that, should you both start talking at the same time, the unbreakable rule is that it’s the other who must give way, without hesitation and always in good grace? There is no question that this person will continue to give you their undivided attention — you know for a fact that their phone is already switched off and the door firmly locked to intruders. When you are ready, and only when you are ready, will they speak, not with the impatient agenda of foisting their own opinion when you pause for breath, but to guide you through the twists and turns of your own understanding. Every syllable they utter is a testament to the fact that not only have they been hanging on your every word, they’ve analyzed it as well. Little wonder that we fall in love with our therapists, but if you had such a relationship what would it feel like? I suggest the answer might be “unnerving”.

Why? Because generally we do not invest this kind of effort into our day-to-day relationships. In truth, we probably don’t come anywhere close.

It’s recognized in the world of therapy that the desperate need to be understood — the primary need for someone to listen and to listen well — is at the root of widespread unhappiness. The unvarnished truth, sadly, is that to bask in such total attentiveness one has to pay for it. Like prostitution, the one-way street fills a genuine need but is artificial. It’s not “real life”. Furthermore, the experience is so intense that it has to be limited to the “therapeutic hour” of 50 minutes at a time. This is why client work can, if overdone, be exhausting — for the yawn-suppressing therapist.

As any working astrologer or therapist will acknowledge, the success of a consultation rests heavily on the act of effortful listening. Mercury, retreating through the mute dark waters of Scorpio as I write, reminds us that in this analytical process we are not listening just to what is actually said, we are also listening between the lines. Sometimes we are listening mostly to what is not being said, attempting to dredge up the precious silt from the teeming riverbed of the unconscious.

How Does the Astrologer Listen?

The worlds of therapy and astrology overlap, as a consultation is not just about the horoscope as an objective exercise. The coming together of astrologer, client and chart makes for a dynamic trio, pulling a reading into other realms and nearly always into the world of therapy. You will of course get the occasional genuine “I’m just interested” client, but they’re rare. This puts the astrologer in the rather tricky position of taking up the role of temporary therapist and, while the world of psychotherapy can manage very nicely thank you without any input from astrology, the same cannot be said the other way around.

Stay with me. This is where it gets interesting. One of the main things that distinguishes the astrologer from the therapist is the time factor. In therapy there are repeat appointments, usually over a very long period of time, during which the client will “unpack” their own personal issues at their own pace. With astrological work there may be a second or even third appointment, but there are many “one-off” consultations and the astrologer does not have the luxury of being able to return to a key point at a later date. However, the astrologer does have something that the therapist doesn’t — the horoscope.

The counseling astrologer has, therefore, to develop a highly specialized kind of listening. To grasp the astrological advantage of zooming in on a symbol as it comes into play we are not just listening to the client, we’re listening to the planets, too. We’re constantly converting the client’s words into another language, that of astrological symbolism. Much of this conversion goes on in the astrologer’s head and does not need to be spoken out loud in terms of explaining the actual astrology, a misguided attempt that only ever generates one mystified question, “What does that mean?” It pays not to lose sight of the fact that the majority of clients won’t even remember the sign of their Moon or Ascendant at a later date as it doesn’t have the same fascination or meaning for them as it does for the astrologer. They are less interested in the astrology than they are in what the astrologer has to say.

Breaking the Rules of Therapy

Only when the astrologer, client and horoscope come together can astrological information then be translated into meaning. It is the astrologer’s task to hold all the threads of informing, illustrating, interpreting, counseling and — oh yes — predicting, as the consultation unfolds. It’s also the astrologer’s job to keep the reading moving. If you’ve done any consulting no doubt you’ll have experienced the client who quickly shows every sign of settling in for the afternoon. This is in no small part due to the treat of a captive audience — someone to listen to them.

However, this begs the question: can you listen too deeply or for too long? Even with the best will in the world most people’s concentration will start to waver after listening to someone for more than 15 minutes. The astrologer, for the sake of uncovering the point of the reading and getting the message across in the allotted time must, perforce, know how to interrupt.

Conversely, I know that some astrologers like to start by doing most of the talking themselves but holding forth is a risky move, one that can alienate your client and block interaction. I personally prefer to get the conversation going as quickly as possible. The client always speaks their chart and, as long as you are fluent in astrological symbolism and able to locate their story in the horoscope, their words will always guide you to what is important.

In terms of how to interrupt, the important thing is not to talk over the client so that you both end up fighting for the same airspace. If you really are faced with a full flood of painful outpourings simple body language is often the best. Choose a suitable pause and stem the flow with a light touch on the arm, firm but kind eye contact, and a reminder as to why they are with you — for you to give them your findings. “Let me elaborate a little on how this is showing in your chart, because I think it might help you to make more sense of what’s going on, and for how long.” Often if I’m approaching the end of the reading I’ll say, “Well, we have another ten minutes, is there anything in particular you’d like me to recap or focus on?”

Being a careful interpreter – and interrupter – means that we must feel our way through each individual reading, picking up on what to translate and what not to, where we should expand and where we should abbreviate. All of this involves keeping your client engaged and listening to you, as much as they expect you to listen to them. Simple visuals of any kind will assist the effort of listening and understanding. I often sketch as I go along, such as simply drawing a circle with the horizontal line across it to show the Ascendant-Descendant when talking about relationships, or a planet on a dotted line to show a transit.

I also always work with some past transits or progressions first, rather than current or future. This establishes the client’s confidence in the astrology as well as in you as their astrologer, and there is no more effective way of capturing someone’s serious attention than demonstrating how their chart has already been accurate in terms of reflecting their individual life changes or events.

So, the ideal consultation is, in my view, a dialogue and not a monologue, and the listening/talking ratio is therefore different from the psychotherapist/client dynamic. In both, however, there is always a place for knowing when we should simply shut up and let the client talk. This can make a crucial difference to the success of a reading. Whether the conversation flows naturally, or whether the astrologer is constantly having to find ways to interject, the aim is to talk “with” the client and not “at”. It is a unique relationship that somehow exists in that twilight world between the therapist’s couch and the psychic’s crystal ball. Listen well — and the cosmos listens straight back.


About the author
Joanna Watters is a full-time practicing astrologer and tarot reader. She has practiced in London, Cairo and now in Greece on the island of Lefkada in the Ionian, where she has lived since May 1995. She started her own company in 2002, The Greek Island Summer School. She is the author of Tarot for Today and Astrology for Today. These books have now been translated into ten languages and are available in 14 different countries. You can find out more about Joanna on    


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