The Gift of Reading the Tarot: Engage in Personal Learning


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…*



“Therapists must be familiar with their own dark side and be able to empathize with all human wishes and impulses.” (p. 40)


“Self-exploration is a lifelong process.” (p. 41)


One of the challenges that I’ve presented to myself with this challenge of re-imagining Dr. Irvin Yalom’s book The Gift of Therapy as a creative engine for exploring tarot reading, is that he presents lots of different ideas in some very short chapters. Translating those ideas to the realm of tarot reading doesn’t always come down to a single theme. Take for instance Yalom’s chapter entitled “Engage in Personal Therapy” as an example of what I’m saying… The first quote above might relate to the exercise by some tarot practitioners of “exploring the shadow side” of one’s personality. This practice is meant to help us understand our holistic selves—acknowledging that not everything is ice cream and rainbow unicorn farts in the world. Each of us has a shadow side which in therapeutic circles might be better acknowledged as our “Id,” or as our selfish impulses, or as our temptations, or as our fetishes, or as our less-than virtuous selves. This shadow side of ourselves doesn’t have to always be a shameful, negative counterpart to our publicly presented character. Our shadow self or our Id self is part of what make us interesting and unique. And a lot of shadow archetypes and characteristics are socially-conditioned to be regarded as shameful (which is a shameful thing in itself…).


There are tarot decks  and tarot books that are specifically designed (and named) to explore the shadow side of ourselves or the querent in a reading (although shadow archetypes can be found in virtually any tarot deck already). And you can find lots of information online about doing shadow work with the tarot—for instance, there is a whole section devoted to it at And this tarot web page by Madhavi Ghare at gives a wonderful explanation of shadow work with the tarot.


The second quote above presents almost a wholly different theme: “Self-exploration is a lifelong process.” I mean, it could be related to the first quote…as in, overcoming the societal shame-inducing regard for all of our shadow characteristics might take a life-time of practice and re-assessment and confidence-building. But what Yalom is actually referring to is more straightforward…Yalom is advocating that therapists engage in the therapeutic process—as patients themselves—as a way to explore different schools of thought and different disciplines and therapeutic techniques. Not only is it an acknowledgement that everyone can benefit from therapy at various times in their lives, but that it is an autodidactic way of learning and expanding understanding within one’s own field of therapeutic expertise.


This we can relate to in the tarot enthusiasts community. For the theme of any tarot conference you might have the joy of attending in your lifetime will always first and foremost be: “Never stop learning, because there is always some thing new to learn in the realm of tarot reading.”


This doesn’t even necessarily mean you have to learn tangential schools of metaphysics such as astrology, or Caballah, or numerology, or Christian mysticism, or Celtic mythology, or totemic animalism, or shadow archetypes, or any of the other vast array of esoteric studies that can be related to the universalism of the tarot. What I mean to convey here is that even learning a new card-reading technique, a new spread that helps enlighten the Fool’s journey, or reading a book that gives a different perspective on the card meanings…can all contribute to your being a better card reader. There’s no end to the breadth of knowledge about the tarot we can learn, and there’s no end to the breadth of knowledge we can garner from the tarot itself.


So join your local tarot Meetup group. Find a tarot conference that’s scheduled for your corner of the world. Get a tarot reading from another tarot reader you admire. Buy a new tarot book with a perspective you haven’t seen yet. Start a tarot consortium with some readers in your area. And, see what you can learn…




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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