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…*
So there is a thing… a thing about human beings… it’s our brains, see? They have really, really active imaginations. It’s one of our most blessed gifts. It’s what has spawned and spurned creative advancement in the world—someone could envision it, so it became real. Call that spontaneous invention; call it scientific development; call it vision; call it the magick of genesis; or whatever else you want. Our imaginations can take us virtually anywhere—and sometimes, ultimately, quite literally anywhere. This talent of the imagination and bringing things into the realm of reality is one of our greatest powers. It may someday bring us to the farthest reaches of the universe or to one of the multitude of livable-zone planets we seem to be discovering recently, or it may even assist us in creating whole new universes in the future…
…But it can also do the more mundane things: like help us figure out the best way to surprise a friend with a surprise birthday party (you have to imagine how it’ll go down first, before you plan it, right?); or with creating the outline for a school history paper that will dazzle your teacher; or imagine the career path we want to lead while we’re filling out application forms for college courses; or even how to overcome the traumas that we’ve experienced in life so that we can move on with other dreams…
In Chapter 32 of Dr. Irvin Yalom’s book, The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients, the author discusses the fact that patients/clients are gonna do what they do…which is often confabulate their own impressions of how they want the therapist session to go, regardless of the context that you set down and eloquently provide for them. In on instance that Yalom relates, a patient of his refuses to ever really look him in the eye during any of their sessions. When he confronts the woman about this, she relates that she doesn’t want him “to have a narrative to his life.”
Well, it turns out that this woman had experienced the loss of so many men in her life, young and old within her family, that she couldn’t suffer the idea of the therapist’s human frailty and susceptibility to the potential for death—however remote that real possibility might have been. Her past traumas therefore affected her imaginative prognosis of the situation. And she therefore created—invented—her own context for the rules of the therapist session, which included creating an omniscient personae for Yalom, despite the fact that the therapist—Dr. Yalom—was convinced that only her acceptance of realistic human encounter would ever help her break through and overcome her past traumas. Pressing the matter seemed only to exacerbate her fear of Yalom’s imminent demise.
So it goes, sometimes, with tarot reading clients. Sometimes, no matter how many times you try to express you opinion—or even insist—that your readings do not involve reading the future, there is something about the culturally conditioned perception of tarot card reading that lends itself to clients’ imaginations making the leap to ominous and fabulous predestination expressed through whatever cards happen to fall on the table. Too often—even before a session begins—tarot clients have already created the aura of magic, mystery, and giving the tarot reader an undue amount of authority.
What do we do with these clients who refuse to come down to ground level, who refuse to notice that the calendar is currently stuck on today’s date, and who constantly press the earth forward on its route around the sun, waiting for prescient things to happen? Sometimes imagination can get the better of these people. And it’s a tricky business trying to drag them back out of their astral projection into the future. …Especially when on of the exercises of a tarot reading is to imagine what some of the possible future results of a client’s current actions might be.
One of the ways you can help your clients keep in perspective of the present is to phrase questions that force the client to accept responsibility for the answers. (This often entails focusing the onus of the responsibility on the client, and not trying to determine the thoughts, actions, or values of other people who are not present in the session, i.e.: the client’s ex-boyfriends, lovers, bosses, co-workers, etc.)
Another beneficial way to focus on the present can be using the Virtues as a reference—this is because the Virtues each have their own grounding values that require contemporaneousness. Temperance, or moderation, requires that we decide on moderation now in order to avoid appearing gluttonous in a future perspective; Strength and courage in the here and now allows us to face the prospect of the challenges we might face at work tomorrow; Justice requires that we dispense the wisdom of fairness in the current world if we hope to observe equity and peace for our children’s future. What is also required in conjunction with all of these other virtues is the oversight of Prudence—the weighing of past outcomes against present circumstance, in order to determine the best mode of action to accomplish Temperance, execute Strength, and dispense Justice in our futures.
When pressed to explain to a client why her overexcitable anticipation of seeing the future in the cards is imprudent, it sometimes helps to talk for a little bit about the application of the Virtues to the discussion and issues that the cards are helping to uncover. Bring the discussion back to the present. What about the particular situation revealed in the cards is exemplifying or practicing Temperance? What are the Strengths the client owns that can currently be recognized that may help if such an issue were to come to light? What Justice can we practice now that will prevent the foreseeable disasters we can imagine for the world around us? And most importantly—is the client taking into consideration how things have unfolded in the past while making questionable assumptions about her or his future?
Imagination plays a vital role in all of these questions above, but keeping our imaginations in check is an important function of healthy living and stability, too. Planning for the future involves imagination, but imagination outside of our scope of reality leads us to disappointments—and sometimes hurt—when our future becomes our present and doesn’t meet up to our imaginative expectations. This is not to say that sometimes the choices we make—with the best intentions— for our futures don’t still cause us to be hurt. But this is part of where Prudence comes to our aid as well…trying to value the experiences we’ve had, and allowing them to help shape better choices that we’ll make going forward…
And for those few clients that just can’t snap out of the imaginative realm of a magically foretold future? Well, clients gonna do what they gonna do… It is also a choice that clients make when they decide to believe the irrational imaginative foretelling they invent for themselves during the session. These clients are basically making a choice to give up their power of choice. Sounds crazy, eh? As long as you, the reader, are guiding the client towards making contemporaneous, realistic choices in the here and now—using the reflective and foresighted power of Prudence… as long as you’re not encouraging imaginative fantasies by making up future scenarios, or letting your own imagination project fantasies onto your client’s imagination… well, you’ve done your due diligence.
There are a couple caveats here… Many venues for tarot reading—Halloween parties, benefit events, and other venues where the reading is for “entertainment” purposes—don’t necessarily have to hold to standards of normal therapeutic readings. At such venues, the expectation is to provide light-hearted, novelty performances. And that’s what I classify them as: “novelty readings.” These are readings at venues where the volume of customers precludes anything other than 5-10 minute readings, where the reader simply rattles off definitions or immediate impressions from the cards that get laid down, and are not necessarily pertinent to the customer… It’s like a paper slip from a fortune cookie. They shouldn’t be specific; they should be generalized fortunes that could pertain to anyone. The customer—because you can’t really call him or her a client without garnering background information—can take what they want from the entertainment, but it should be readily designated as a “novelty” performance reading, and still not as an auspicious fortune-telling.
The other caveat is that you don’t have to read for people you aren’t comfortable reading for. If someone is adamant about getting their future told, and you are equally adamant that you don’t read the future…explain this to the client and let them know that you might not be the right tarot reader for the purposes that they were looking for. No harm; no foul.
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.