The Gift of Reading the Tarot: Create a New Experience for Each Client


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…*



In Dr. Irvin Yalom’s Chapter entitled “Create a New Therapy for Each Patient,” he makes a poignant case against the current system of health insurers and health administrators bound to adhere to the strict reimbursement guidelines that have been institutionalized in the health care and mental health care industries, as well as in pharmacological disbursement. He notes that diagnosis has become so structured and standardized that real individuated therapy becomes harder and harder to practice effectively. If insurers are only willing to support specific diagnoses and treat every individual as a standardized human-mechanized vessical which requires homogenized prescriptions, there can be no nuance to be argued for individual variation, abnormality, fluctuation, aberration, or divergence from the norm.


But ideally, “the flow of therapy should be spontaneous, forever following unanticipated riverbeds; it is grotesquely distorted by being packaged into a formula that…deliver[s] a uniform course of therapy. One of the true abominations spawned by the managed-care movement is the ever greater reliance on protocol therapy in which therapists are required to adhere to a prescribed sequence, a schedule of topics and exercises to be followed each week.” (p. 34)


In the world of tarot reading, we are lucky to be outside the purview of insurance providers and institutional establishments. Curiously, without institutionalized oversight, our clients also feel more free to indulge their stories with fewer inhibitions and less reticence. In fact, depending on how many years you might’ve been doing tarot readings, you might think that you’ve heard it all.


Some themes repeat themselves. Every love relationship feels unique…and yet love is a universal experience. The circumstances and dynamics of the work place affect us all differently…and yet work is a four-letter word for just about everyone. So we tarot readers often fall into the trap of categorizing reading sessions into the tropes and universal experiences of relationship readings, or work concern readings, or life purpose readings, or financial concern readings, etc.


…in some ways this is unfortunate, because as noted above, every story—every client—has its own/ his or her own individuated nuances and particulars. So it’s not really fair to a client for a tarot reader to say, “Oh, well I’ve heard this story before a million times…” …because although we might’ve heard something similar, every client’s story is unique.


True…being able to group those unique stories into a category gives us a basis from which to start. There is a certain amount of universality from which we can pull some basic facts about your love strife. And there is a certain amount of everyman-trope that can be acknowledged about your workplace stress and co-worker conflicts. And there is a certain amount of collective generalization that can be said about your personal search for meaning in the universe…


Let’s talk about creating spreads—because this is often the thing that turns out to be how we treat each reading session as unique. Most readers have standard spreads that they use, whether it’s the Celtic Cross, or a simple three card past-present-future spread, or maybe you’re a one-card-draw genius. Personally, I think it’s fine to use a tried-and-true spread over and over again with clients. You can think of the spread as the “universal” part of the equation about a client’s issue. The thing is, you need to assign a specific indicator or question for each card in the spread…and this is the part that individuates and distinguishes the reading to the individual client’s issue.


Trying to decide what type of spread to use? Or maybe you want to be brazen and learn how to create spreads on the fly? If you’ve been studying the tarot, then you already have a lot of the tools you need to invent creative spreads…


For instance, we know that each of the suits represents a different characteristic of the human experience: Swords represent the mental realm; cups represent emotional experience; coins represent physical, worldly, or bodily concerns; and wands represent creative endeavors. After determining what type of core issue might be based on the client’s story, you might chose one of the suits that has relevance to the issue. Then turn the suit into a spread…

Creating a Swords-shape spread

Creating a Cups-shaped spread

Creating a Coins-shaped spread

Creating a Wands-shaped spread

These are just examples; if you want your wand spread to look different, try a different card layout to make it look like the wand you envision. You’re also not restricted to using the suits or the elements when conceiving a spread shape. Got love relationship work to do? Make a heart-shape with your cards. Got financial issues to deal with? Make a dollar sign-shape.


I also can’t tell you what each specific card is designated for… that’s the second part of what’s entailed in creating a spread…and it deals with what we were talking about above—the specifics, the nuances, the individualization based on the client’s personal story and details. Don’t let it be hard—a lot of traditional spreads have designated cards in common: the significator; what the real or “core” issue looks like; what “crosses” the core issue; etc. These are all fine “standard” card designators. But learn to be specific to your client’s needs. A general designation or question will tend to garner a general answer; a specific designator or question will tend to garner something deeper.


The point is that here we have struck a balance between the routine of perfunctory or contrived card spreads…and the tailored intimacy required within those card spreads to adapt to the particular nuances of the client’s needs, character, and interests. As Dr. Yalom quips: “I try to avoid technique that is prefabricated and do best if I allow my choices to flow spontaneously from the demands of the immediate…situation. I believe ‘technique’ is facilitative when it emanates from the [reader’s] unique encounter with the [client]….[E]very course of [the session] consists of small and large spontaneously generated responses or techniques that are impossible to program in advance.” (p. 35)**





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.


**In quotations taken from Dr. Irvin Yalom’s book that are presented here, some terms are exchanged in order to make their pertinence relevant to the art of tarot reading. In particular, “therapist” is often replaced with “tarot reader”; and likewise, “patient” is often replaced with “client” or “querent.”





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