One of the most common questions I am asked is whether I use Tarot in my private counseling practice. I do not have a simple answer to this inquiry for there are various layers to the question as well as the response. I would say “Yes” and “No” and something in between.
As a Tarot professional who has studied Tarot for over 40 years, I cannot help but draw from the encyclopedic wisdom of Tarot. This awareness is often present in the background of my work with counseling clients, without the need to actually draw the cards. I may apply “Tarot Numerology” to a client’s birthday to peek into their life purpose/challenge from the Tarot’s point of view.
I was recently interviewed by a new age store owner interested in scheduling reading dates for me in his popular location. I didn’t have my Tarot cards with me, but was able to perform the entire sample reading based on his birth date and my ability to describe the associated cards. He offered to schedule me immediately as a reader although I had not actually used the cards.
Taking this question on face value, assuming that using Tarot only means drawing cards, I would have to say that I rarely mix the two, Tarot cards and professional counseling sessions. There is an ethical boundary to consider here. If a counseling client wishes to have a Tarot reading, then making a Tarot appointment would better serve that interest and give the Tarot cards the full attention they deserve. To slip into Tarot reading applied as an interpretation of the cards for the client’s issue may sidestep the skills and training of the mental health professional.
In the reverse, turning a Tarot consulting appointment into a counseling session, without the client’s explicit permission, can be a boundary violation, especially if one is not a mental health professional. This is where I would make a referral for the client to support them in making a commitment to healing issues that may have been exposed in the Tarot reading.
When counseling clients request Tarot cards, I set up a specific Tarot appointment for that purpose. For Tarot clients who seek counseling, if it feels appropriate, I may offer my professional Soulful Counseling service, or I make a referral to a local resource in their area, when possible. I tend to keep the activities separate, while the clients may embrace both modalities. Another consideration is that counseling clients work through issues over a series of sessions, and for this reason I offer a sliding scale fee for my service. Tarot sessions usually stand alone so I charge my full rate, without the discount.
In those cases where a Tarot client clearly wishes to work on deeper issues utilizing my counseling skills, we make a very intentional appointment knowing we are combining these modalities. This recently occurred when I was working out of town and the client wanted to take full advantage of my in-person availability. She scheduled two hours for us to go more deeply into her material, using cards and counseling.
Fortunately, I do not bill insurance companies for my service, a professional and ethical decision I made over 20 years ago. The mixture of Tarot cards and counseling could pose legal challenges, especially in Clinical Psychology biased bureaucracies.
There can be exceptions to this question about whether to include Tarot cards in a counseling session. I once had a counseling client show up and request a Tarot consultation at the beginning of our counseling session. Fortunately, my office-mate had a Tarot deck (Osho-Zen) available, which I whipped out and created a layout to match the concerns the client brought to the session. I overlaid the healing concepts of Carolyn Myss from her teachings on Energy Anatomy with a seven-card chakra spread.
A beautiful example of how to introduce Tarot cards as a healing tool within the context of a professional mental health relationship is described by Arthur Rosengarten in his classic book Tarot and Psychology (2000). He tells the story of a young man in his dying process who has come to work on end of life issues. After focusing several weeks of therapy on his client’s relationship to his deteriorating health, exploring his agnostic beliefs and perspective upon death, and supporting open-hearted closure with his life partner, friends and family, Rosengarten realized that the last piece of their work together was to assist his client in “finding himself.” Rosengarten suggested his client select a Tarot deck of his liking and proceeded to design a creative art therapy process to help his client organize the important aspects of his life into a meaningful order.
Inna Semetsky writes about the power of Tarot Hermeneutic in the therapeutic relationship as a tool for education and human development (see my review of her book Re-Symbolization of the Self (2011)).
Within the context of counseling psychology when applied by a trained professional, Tarot cards are most powerfully utilized as a psychotherapeutic tool, much like classic techniques such as the Rorschach test, Sandplay Therapy, Art Therapy, and can be combined with Dreamwork, Gestalt Therapy, Expressive Arts Therapy, Dance/Movement Therapy, and, in my own unique approach, used as an extension of Process-oriented Psychology (my Master’s in Psychology degree).
Yet, as Tarot readers, one does not need to be a trained mental health professional in order to integrate some of these techniques. As many of my readers know, I promote counseling skills and ethics for metaphysical and Tarot consultants in order to raise awareness and effectiveness for working with clients. My book An Introduction to Transformative Tarot Counseling describes and offers examples of these powerful techniques.
Utilizing counseling skills within ones scope of practice, in other words, based on ones professional training or credentials, such as mental and/or medical health, legal and/or financial consulting, is an appropriate blending of Tarot with a counseling approach. The key is to refrain from creating a diagnosis, prognosis, or prediction. To learn more about my “Tarot Counseling” style, please read my article “What is Transformative Tarot Counseling?”.
Tarot and counseling is a growing area of interest today. I look forward to learning from and sharing this powerful modality with other professionals and the greater Tarot community.