The Gift of Reading the Tarot: Removing the Obstacles to Growth


Inspired by Dr. Irvin D. Yalom’s book The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients, I am looking at each chapter through the perspective of tarot reading…*


Chapter One deals with asking what the obstacles are that keep us from self-realization. More to the point, it is about assisting the client to identify what obstacles might exist, and helping the client think about ways that those obstacles might be removed. With luck, as Yalom states, “The rest would follow automatically, fueled by the self-actualizing forces within the [client].”


Here is a spread based on this concept:


"Removing the Obstacles to Growth" Tarot Spread


You might notice that this spread looks a lot like a representation of how Gnosis works—the soul realizing barriers to enlightenment, wending its way through those challenges to achieve knowledge.


The "Seeker" card from Uusi's Pagan Otherworlds Tarot

The “Seeker” card from Uusi’s Pagan Otherworlds Tarot, an ideal significator card.


In this spread, Position 1 is a “signifier” card for the client. Several contemporary tarot decks conveniently contain a designated signifier card—for instance, Dame Fortune’s Wheel Tarot, and the recently released Pagan Otherworlds Tarot. If you are not using a deck that contains a separate signifier card, you’ll have to determine one from your standard deck. Often, readers help the client to choose a signifier among the court cards, but you are not restricted from using absolutely any card in the deck. You can even spread the cards out face-up and let the client choose one that they admire or for which he or she feels a particular affinity with the art.


Treat this spread as a game. Use the signifier card and move it up through the “obstacle” cards. Leave the obstacle cards face down and only turn them over one at a time as you compare the signifier card against each. Noticing relationships, similarities, differences, conflicts, contradictions, agreements, directional relativity, elemental attractions or repulsions, etc… read how the signifier approaches the question for each obstacle. Engage in discussion with your client (or yourself if you are doing a personal reading) to determine whether “removing” each obstacle is possible, or difficult, or challenging, or (for whatever reason) impossible. Make the point of the game trying to eliminate or remove each obstacle “challenge” with victory in the game being the achievement of reaching the “goal” self-realization position at the top of the spread and the removal of all obstacle cards. If your client (or you) find yourself at an impasse or conflict with one of the obstacle cards, then you know that this is an area that needs some work in the future before the spread/game is attempted again.


(Note that you don’t have to have so many “obstacle” cards in your spread…if you need a shorter spread, simply choose two or three of the obstacles to tackle—or even one. The spread pictured above might take quite a long time depending on how involved the discussion becomes! You can also come up with your own “obstacle” cards pertinent to the client’s [or your] situation. i.e.: “What are the obstacles that have belayed a sense of hope?”; “What are the obstacles that prevent establishing a proper sense of ‘home?'”; etc.)


If your client (or you) are victorious in removing all the obstacle cards, does the original significator still feel “right?” If you prefer, you can allow the client to draw or select a new significator card that more fully represents his or her new empowerment following successful victory in the game…perhaps discussing the differences and changes between these two cards can be a type of ars memoria (a totemic reminder) for the client to recall whenever he or she feels themselves becoming “blocked” in the future.




Although I am exploring Yalom’s reflections on the profession of Psychology and Psychiatry, I do not claim or pretend to have any training in either of those professional fields. I am simply interpreting Yalom’s reflections and concepts from the perspective of the art of reading the tarot, which although it is a talent for which I have had certified training and for which I have several years of professional experience, is not a clinical or licensed profession or activity. Readers of this blog are reminded that unless you have training and a license in the psycho-therapeutic arts, that you should NEVER be diagnosing or attempting to diagnose a reading client for clinical symptoms. Rather, you should always refer the client to seek professional help if the concern arises that the client’s issues may be related to or appear to be psychosomatic in nature.





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Posted in Discovering Meaning in Imagery, Psychology of Tarot, Tarot Business, Tarot Reading, Tarot Spreads and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , .

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