The Gift of Reading the Tarot: An Inspired Series


Tarot and psychology are crossing paths more and more as time moves forward and we progress in our understanding of the human mind. This is evidenced by the fact that one of the tarot community’s oldest tarot conferences—Readers’ Studio, a tarot conference organized around New York City—has incorporated a three-day symposium on Tarot and Psychology as part of the conference week. The symposium has been included during at least the last four years of the conference and appears to encompass greater significance each year of the event.


Last year, at the 2016 Northwest Tarot Symposium in Portland, Oregon, I attended a workshop presented by Dr. Arthur Rosengarten, a psychologist who happens to use the tarot in his professional practice. Rosengarten is the author of Tarot and Psychology: Spectrums of Possibility.


Arthur Rosengarten, PhD, and his book, Tarot and Psychology


Rosengarten’s workshop was an abbreviated discussion of his presentation at the previous year’s NYC Readers’ Studio. His workshop was almost an historical account of psychotherapy and touched on how the philosophers who introduced it to the scientific world coincided with much of the esoteric experimentation of the early 20th century. Rosengarten did present an example of his contemporary work engaging the tarot into his practice with a study concerning “Domestic Violence as Seen Through the Synchronistic Lens of the Tarot.” Not exactly light stuff, but his point was to explain how the imagery of the tarot could be integrated as a therapeutic relational reference.


There is a growing acknowledgement among contemporary tarot enthusiasts that a recognizable distinction exists among types of readers. Mostly I have heard of three schools: psychic tarot readers; intuitive tarot readers; and therapeutic tarot readers. The difference between these schools of practice is potentially explosive, and in truth have resulted in some heated debate among practitioners. If I am to be honest, I think that I fall somewhere on the scale between intuitive and therapeutic, but I would more comfortably associate myself with the therapeutic camp. While that statement tends to remove me from the “woo-woo” circle of tarot practitioners, it still raises its own problems and issues—mainly that while I am able to recognize and appreciate holistic therapeutic value in tarot reading, I am not a licensed therapeutic professional.


There are several people in the tarot community, however, who cross this licensed therapeutic professional–tarot practitioner boundary line. Arthur Rosengarten is one; Katrina Wynne is another. We are fortunate in the community to have the expertise of such trained professionals who, frankly, still advocate for the skills and benefits of professional tarot readers, regardless of school-style. That advocacy from the professional therapist community works to mollify many of the discordant opinions between the tarot schools themselves.


That said, Rosengarten’s fascination with the tarot is sometimes curious because he himself often seems to cross school philosophies. His investigative interests sometimes seem to drench themselves in the woo-woo side of things. But many of his professional positions seem intent on dredging tarot reading out of its curiosity-carnival pigeonhole and onto the spectrum of valid creative therapeutic technique.


Dr. Arthur Rosengarten at the 2016 Northwest Tarot Symposium

Dr. Arthur Rosengarten presenting his workshop at the 2016 Northwest Tarot Symposium


Perhaps the most significant statement that I wrote down during Rosengarten’s presentation was his distinction that “tarot is a process therapy; not an outcome therapy.” This would be significant on its own even if it weren’t reflective of the psychotherapeutic profession in general. There reason that such a statement is important is because psychology, itself, is currently experiencing a barrage of undermining attacks on its efficacy. Mostly, I think, this is due to the way that our American health system is set-up, with insurance companies demanding minimal time investment and definitive diagnoses so that [free-market] pharmaceutical prescriptions can be administered, and cases closed as quickly and efficiently as possible. When, in actuality, psychology is not a quick-service practice. In fact, the whole point of psychology is to engender long-term progressive mental healing without the need (necessarily) to resort to medication. Unfortunately, that is not the contemporary medical ideology of American insurance companies.


Now think about tarot—tarot readings are neither medical nor are they necessarily short-term solutions. The best tarot readings, in fact, engender clients to become self-empowered, and instill the client with new neural thinking processes (creative solutions) for addressing ongoing stresses. So one has to wonder…if America’s capitalist-free-market health insurance system eventually edges-out the beneficial profession of therapeutic psychology, will professional tarot readers become the last vestige of this non-pharmacological therapeutic art form?


It would seem like Professional psychologists like Rosengarten at least believe there is some value in investigating the similarities and benefits that tarot reading can afford. Rosengarten is not beyond advocating that scientific research be employed in order to put practices like tarot reading “to the test.” In this vein, Rosengarten quotes Abraham Maslow from his 1964 book Religion, Value, and Peak Experience, which presents the same suggestion.


Dr. Irvin Yalom and his book, The Gift of Therapy


Another book that Rosengarten recommended during that workshop was The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients by Irvin D. Yalom, MD (2002)—a book that I decided to acquire and read, if only because I have toyed with a graduate degree in Therapeutic Psychology. While it’s uncertain that this book will be the catalyst for a new career (especially when the profession is frighteningly under the duress of extinction), it is indeed inspiring in its gentle encouragement. The book takes a cue from Ranier Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, and the chapters are short reflections on various perspectives of Therapy. Each chapter covers a topic distinct enough that I was able to try to find some relationship to the art of tarot reading…


Now, don’t get me wrong—tarot reading, even at the professional level, is not a clinically licensed profession. Yup, I’ve gone through a certificate tarot school program, but it doesn’t make me qualified to practice psychology or psychiatry. The latter requires a medical degree, and would not only be unethical but criminal to practice without licensure. If you have read my blog for any amount of time, you know that I am fiercely opposed to tarot readers who unethically broach beyond their capacity for addressing clients with clinical-psychological (or psychiatric) issues. And yes, discovering if a client has psychological issues can be a tricky business. But if you have any concerns that psychological issues may be present in a client situation, the ethical thing to do is to stop what you are doing and refer the client to legitimate licesnsed professional services. Best practice would be to not abandon the client, but actually assist them in contacting professional services, if necessary, or at least following-up with a friendly inquiry to the client to see if they used the reference(s) you provided. (It is not, however, your responsibility to ensure that the client follows-through with getting the professional help they might need; only the client can make that decision for themselves. As long as you are providing the best advice—in the form of referral—you have done your due diligence. Client privilege—and freedom of choice—in this case, mostly recuses you from further involvement. Although, again, here I have to delineate circumstances, that you are recused from further involvement so long as the public appears safe from harm, or the client appears safe from him- or herself, etc.)


So as an exercise, I will be exploring each of Dr. Yalom’s chapters from the perspective of tarot reading. Sometimes I will try to express Yalom’s reflections as a tarot spread, and sometimes I’ll explore Yalom’s themes through the images of the tarot, and sometimes I’ll try to provide an exegesis of Yalom’s pedagogy for psychology students from the perspective of tarot reading, offering my own corresponding (or tangential) reflections as an experienced tarot reader…


Let’s for instance, take this passage from Yalom’s introduction:


“The existential psychotherapy approach points that the inner conflict bedeviling us issues not only from our struggle with suppressed instinctual strivings or internalized significant adults or shards of forgotten traumatic memories, but also from our confrontation with the ‘givens’ of existence.

“And what are these ‘givens’ of existence? If we permit ourselves to screen out or ‘bracket’ the everyday concerns of life and reflect deeply upon our situation in the world, we inevitably arrive at the deep structures of existence (the ‘ultimate concerns,’ to use theologian Paul Tillich’s term). Four ultimate concerns, to my view, are highly salient to psychotherapy: death, isolation, meaning of life, and freedom.”


So… Yalom has assigned four salient “ultimate concerns” to surviving daily human existence. If they are that conspicuous, then shouldn’t they be able to be found among the Major Arcana of the tarot deck? Let’s see…



RWS Death (XIII)



RWS Hermit (IX)



RWS Judgment (XX)


and Meaning of Life…

(there are perhaps arguable competing representations for what might depict this term; here are a few that could work… Perhaps, also, the very fact that several images might represent the ‘Meaning of Life’ means that it is not so determinate a subject, or that it is different for different individuals, or that it is indeed a thing that remains mysteriously ambiguous…)

RWS Priestess (II); World (XXI); and Hierophant (V)





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