The Gift of Reading the Tarot: Encouraging Client Self-Disclosure


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…*



It’s a big deal for a person to seek out a tarot reader and divulge personal or intimate details about life to a total stranger. But everyone’s different. Some people don’t have any kind of social discretion valve and are willing to share just about anything. For other people, they know they might need to talk to someone, but dragging the details out of them is like getting a stuck piece of corn kernel out of your molar.


Reading people is just as delicate and artful as reading the tarot cards. Every individual is a different story, each with their own varying social skills, and comfort in human interaction situations. There are tricks to the trade—ways to make clients more quickly feel at ease and relaxed. I’ve discussed several of these in previous blog posts. These tactics might involve meditative approaches, ritual, creating atmosphere or rapport, and playing games—even so subtly that the client might not know it—as a psychological ice-breaker.


Sometimes you have to carry the session…and sometimes with a personable client you can let ‘em ride their own wave. The most important rule, however, is to be gentle with the client. It’s not an opportunity—no matter how distasteful or offensive you might find the client sitting in front of you—to turn the session into an admonishment or a personality-lesson. (Actually, there are egregious or abusive situations where it could be…). Whomever you are directing your reading to more than likely needs a little ego-stoking. This is most easily done by acknowledging and focusing on the content that the client has divulged.


That sounds pretty simple and direct. But how does a reader do that…gracefully? First of all, be engaged. Don’t be zoning off on your own haphazard problems. Listening is an art and it’s how you make people feel like their words and story have value. Look at your client while she or he is offering you their story.


Being engaged might also mean that you paraphrase what your client is saying to you back to them. I know that might sound like a basic competency, but it’s an elemental method of confirming what you’ve heard from your client, as well as letting them know that you are paying attention. It stands to reason that if the client understands you are listening attentively, he or she will feel more secure and trusting of you and be more willing to divulge deeper information. (That’s what “rapport” is…trust and confidence in a human interaction.)


Next, allow yourself to reveal how you feel about that information. Some textbooks on communication will tell you to avoid revealing personal feelings about a matter. But actually offering your personal feelings or interpretation of the client’s story is a way of offering a type of intimacy. Again, you don’t want to be admonitory…you want to be gentle. Perhaps a client has revealed to you that they’ve been involved in a secretive affair. You don’t have to be all righteous or prudish about that fact. (There might be good reasons behind it.) But maybe you express some sadness by prospecting how shocking the surprise might be if the client’s spouse were to find out. This expresses gentleness without accusation for the act of infidelity. It encourages empathetic thoughts for others within the client’s perimeter without condemning or condoning. See how that works?


After establishing this rapport and acknowledging the content of the client’s words or story…then we can get into the knitty-gritty…



Dr. Irvin Yalom expresses two forms of investigating the client’s content further—he classifies the information as either Vertical disclosure or Horizontal disclosure. Vertical disclosure “refers to in-depth disclosure about the content of the disclosure.” In other words, Vertical disclosure is more akin to what I’ve called “getting to the core question.” This might be subconscious material that the client hasn’t faced yet. It has to do with distilling feelings down to a point where the client has to come to grips with an elemental decision and why he or she might have had trouble seeing the crossroads at that particular decision point.


The Vertical disclosure might be achieved through a series of “Why”-questions. There is a basic statement or scenario offered by the client: “I can’t face being alone.” (Why?) “I’ve never been alone before.” (Why?) “Because I’m afraid it would mean I’m insignificant.” (Why would you feel insignificant?) “Because I was ignored by my parents growing up…” (BINGO!)


I don’t suggest that you repeatedly ask your client “Why?” over and over again…it’s rather annoying as you might imagine. But hopefully you get the gist of distilling down to more and more relevant disclosures through the “why”-interrogative. Being ignored by one’s parents growing up is a more relevant and precise issue than not being able to face being alone. It doesn’t mean that you can ameliorate the client’s feelings of abandonment as a child, but it provides a better foothold for approaching choices to overcome those feelings or addressing them in a reading spread.


The other information classification—Horizontal disclosure—is more forthright. It has to do with the reason that the client has decided to disclose his or her information, or what the catalyst was for wanting to come to a reading and disclose that particular story. The client’s “can’t face being alone” statement could have been preceded by a fight with a boyfriend or partner, or the partner’s threat to leave or breakup the relationship. While this information might be considered “surface” data, it might also provide some clues or context for the reading spread.


Don’t be discouraged if the client ends-up not being forthright. As noted above, some clients take longer to warm up to the intimacy involved in a tarot reading. You’re apt to get your reading fee regardless of how far the client decides to go with his or her disclosure. The more you hone your reading sessions (and reading individual personalities) the quicker you may be able to get to the client’s core issue—the knitty-gritty. Don’t punish your client for their reticence, however. No client deserves to feel worse going out of your reading session than they did coming in. Some people are on their own timeline for disclosure and facing the changes they inevitably need to make.





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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