The Gift of Reading the Tarot: Taking Clients Further Than You Have Gone


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…*



What does it mean to “take a client further than you have gone?” Let me nip a misconstrued idea in the bud…For the purposes of this blog post, I’m not talking about taking a tarot student further than you have gone or learned or studied. We’re not talking about tarot students or protégés at all here…that’s a completely different discussion!


In our context today we’re definitely talking about the interaction between tarot readers and clients. So what does it mean to take a client further than you have gone?


…We could be talking about a few different kinds of scenarios here.


In one context, this statement might mean addressing a problem or issue that the client has brought to the session about which you have no experience with whatsoever. Can you still perform a tarot reading for the client? It depends…


Good tarot reading ethics dictate that if the expertise needed by the client is outside of the tarot reader’s scope of professional practice, licensure, or certified authority…that the tarot reader should make this admission and refer the client to appropriate resources. (For instance,. see my “Full Disclosure” statement at the bottom of this particular blog post. I always try to make sure that I include this statement any time that I am writing a blog post regarding psychology or psychotherapeutic topics/themes. I might disclose a similar disclosure statement if I were writing about themes in the field of economics and stock market portfolios—another business field that I might have lots of opinions about…but for which I have no formal training outside of a college liberal arts class years ago and having read about national economic theory in media and periodical publications.) There are, however, a lot of caveats and fence-walking exceptions to this ethical standard…



Specific questions regarding issues of Psychotherapy, Finance, and Medical topics should be referred to professionals in those fields… They aren’t topics that a tarot reader can ethically address unless the tarot reader has received specialized training in the particular field.


If a client asks about different investment opportunities she is thinking about pursuing, and wants to know what her best options are through a tarot reading…is that something I can read in the cards for her?


Um… No. Unfortunately, I know a lot of tarot readers who would jump right into that one. But, no, trying to help a client decide between various investment opportunities by reading tarot cards is completely unethical.


However, rephrasing the question to an appropriately-themed topic about why there is a conflict between deciding among the various investment opportunities…that is an acceptable tarot question. Perhaps someone has been trying to pressure her to use her life savings to invest in a stock portfolio scheme that she isn’t comfortable with; she had intended to use the money for something specific and a family member had other ideas. Perhaps she is concerned about the moral standards of the company in whose stock she’s being pressured to invest. These are questions of the heart that are more appropriate for a tarot reading.


But if someone is asking you to flip a coin for them in regards to an investiture prospect for their life savings…tell ‘em they can either go flip their own coin, or that they should go spend their money on a personal finance manager or investment advisor who can direct the individual towards best investment practices.


…So that is the first scenario to which Dr. Yalom’s chapter could be referring. Another scenario might involve the client having an epiphany during the tarot reading session that is beyond the understanding of the tarot reader. For instance, something that the tarot reader says, or some random image within one of the tarot cards laid-out, may trigger a memory or resolution in the mind of the client about which the tarot reader might be out of the loop.


THAT’S OKAY. The whole point of a tarot reading is to inspire the client to make connections and see things in a different perspective. If an epiphany is triggered by something in the cards, or by something you’ve said…BRAVO…You’ve accomplished your task as a tarot reader. The client may or may not divulge his or her epiphany with you…they may or may not further describe to you their triggered memory. Whether or not it makes any sense to you, you don’t have to understand it. Your job is to express ideas and share information that is relate-able to the client. The client has no such obligation to try to make you understand in equal measure. As long as the client is satisfied with their epiphany/inspiration, the purpose of the tarot reading has been fulfilled.


Epiphany_two meanings


Yet another context for “taking clients further than oneself” is the case where a tarot reader might be dealing with his or her own cesspool of personal crises. Should the tarot reader be taking clients at times like these…when the reader is dealing with highly emotional issues that may or may not be influencing character and mental stability? There is a lot of debate among professional tarot readers about this scenario.


Most readers that I know—and I include myself in this category—opt to reduce their reading schedule, take personal time to process and focus on personal issues, get re-grounded, or take a break altogether from doing readings for others. After all, there’s that old adage that states you have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others. A recurrent simile is often made with the air flight presentation made by the service crew before take-off, during which the instruction is made that if the oxygen masks should fall from the ceiling compartments that parents should don their own masks first and make sure that they are secure before assisting small children who are accompanying them. The safety standard makes sure that the adult is secure and receiving acute assistance in order to better care for younger children who may need help. What seems at first like a selfish act, assures that parents are better equipped to provide that help after they have a supply of oxygen and won’t pass out halfway through helping someone else.


But that seems like an extreme example. Are tarot readers able to help other people with stressful issues while they are dealing with an unrelated crisis of their own? There are several people who think…yes.


Yalom, himself, quotes one of Nietzche’s aphorisms: “Some cannot loosen their own chains yet can nonetheless redeem their friends.” Some people were meant to be helpers. It’s their knack. Some people can set aside their own travails and be focused enough to help others as a priority. No one should feel guilty who needs a little extra time to recuperate from emotional trauma or stresses. (As I say, I fall into this category myself.) But some readers have that drive that allows them to focus through personal crises and make the client’s issue front-and-center. I think this talent runs in the same vein as the phenomenon of ‘learning’ versus ‘teaching.’ What I mean by that is…sometimes things that are difficult to learn on their own, become easier to master when the responsibility to teach the subject becomes the task. This is likely a psychological difference—when we are tasked with imbuing others with knowledge, we feel the responsibility to master the information at a different level.


Images from the RWS tarot that may illustrate Neitzche's aphorism

Images from the Rider-Waite-Smith Tarot that together may illustrate Neitzche’s aphorism that “Some cannot loosen their own chains yet can nonetheless redeem their friends.”


Perhaps some people are better able to assist others because they are able to refocus their energy beyond their own concerns, and are invigorated by the responsibility of doing and assisting for others before themselves. There is also the possibility that the stresses of personal crises can somehow inform the knowledge that a reader can pull from—like life lessons—that can serve as shareable, teachable instruction for others.


Believe it or not, this third and last scenario is a type of virtue—Charity. Charity had a slightly different meaning—or rather a broadened meaning—from the strict sense of “donation” to which we tend to attribute it with today. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance, charity was most often depicted as a mother-figure selflessly caring for young children. (Perhaps this returns us to that trope of a parent affixing the oxygen mask to a child on the air flight…)


This hermeneutical definition of Charity makes perfect sense if one thinks about it. Women were expected to sacrifice their selves for the safety and security and upbringing of young children. Human beings are a species that are completely helpless in their youngest years, and require total devotion by older members of the tribe or family in order to survive. In the Middle Ages and Renaissance—before industrialization and medical advancements—this was even more essential of a task. In many instances it was not only a necessity of population maintenance, but also a means of assuring that an older generation would have another generation that could assist them with the aging process later in life.


Images that reflect an older definition of “Charity.” From left-to-right: Charity from a version of the Minchiate Tarot (c. late 15th cent.—early 16th cent.); an etching print of Charity surrounded by dependent children by Hans Sebald Beham (1500-1550) “The Knowledge of God and the Seven Cardinal Virtues”); and a detail from a Renaissance etching depicting the virtue of Charity.


I’ll talk about the virtue of Charity in further detail in future blog posts, but let it suffice in this instance to understand that Charity provides for the act of service to others before one’s self. In the case of tarot readers, perhaps it is Charity that allows those special readers to bring clients “further” than they have themselves gone on an emotional or mental level—bringing others to enlightenment before they themselves had had the opportunity to have their own crises resolved.






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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