Mental Health and Tarot

Those of you who follow the blog may be aware of how I feel about ‘Top 10’ Tarot cards when it comes healing. I blogged about it only the other week…. In my opinion, a simplistic view of what the Tarot can do for our health is less than helpful. So you can, perhaps, imagine how seeing a blog post about the Top 10 Cards for Mental Health Issues made me feel. The title enough was enough to fill me with misgivings and yes, those misgivings were confirmed upon reading the article.

Mental health is very close to my own heart, because of my personal experience with suffering for many years with depression and anxiety, as well as studying Psychology and Counselling (NVQ Level 3, Person-centred), though not to the point of gaining a professional qualification. The main thing I took from these studies was to know my limitations and that is why I do not use the Tarot as a mental health diagnostic tool.

Being a Tarot professional is hard enough. Most people simply don’t take us seriously and that is one of the reasons I do all I can to educate and help raise the standards for our profession. Using the Tarot to cross over and dabble in other professional areas is just the kind of thing that makes us all look like a bunch of quacks and cooks.

I do not doubt that the Tarot can be used to help clients with mental health issues in face-to-face counselling sessions by a qualified therapist, or that you can use it for yourself, as a mirror for the soul, even when you are struggling with some of the issues mentioned in the linked article. I have used the Tarot successfully myself for my personal development and edification, even when I was still clinically depressed, on medication and in therapy. In fact, I attribute my current state of contentment and wellbeing partially to in-depth work with the Tarot archetypes.

However, what is less helpful is a flippant attitude to the links between mental health and the Tarot, especially when reading for others. To even for a second think that you can diagnose a mental health issue by flipping a card and then turning over another for how your client can overcome this condition is absurd. Don’t. Do. It. Instead, if the client is present, look at the card before you together and open up to dialogue about the feeling aspect of it to see if the client wants to explore further. Labels only limit what you can do as a reader.

The article about the Top 10 Cards for Mental Health Issues starts with a paragraph on how people with mental health issues may sometimes turn to a Tarot reader for help and guidance. This is true, of course… but does this automatically mean that we should ‘go there’ in terms of trying to label or diagnose whatever underlying condition that may have contributed to the client seeking our health? Of course not.

As an aside: It could also be argued that it is part of the human condition to suffer from one or more of these in a lifetime and that labels aren’t always helpful, even outside a Tarot context. Some people, when given a diagnosis, start identifying with the condition rather than with self. One of the most helpful things I did for myself that helped me overcome chronic depression was to not use the diagnosis for self-identification.

The main reason why we should never ever (in a million years) diagnose our Tarot clients is simple enough: Tarot readers are not qualified to diagnose any health condition, including mental health. A professional Tarot reader always includes the following (or similar) in their ToC:

  • Professional legal, medical or financial advice will not be given

Please note that slapping a mental health diagnosis on someone is something that even a qualified psychiatrist often struggles with for the conditions mentioned in this article. I know this myself, having undergone an in-depth professional evaluation by the psychiatrist who was treating me for clinical depression, with regards to possible bipolar disorder. I came away with no diagnosis, which I was quite happy about, but she said she admitted that she wasn’t 100% about whether or not to give me one (!).

But what about using the cards for a mental health diagnosis to better understand the client so that we understand the root of the issue, without passing this information on to the client (as suggested in the article)?

Again, you simply cannot diagnose a mental health condition with one Tarot card. How would it be helpful to even try when you don’t know your shit? And unless you are professionally qualified to diagnose, you don’t know your shit. What is helpful is to explore feelings and that is certainly something you can do with your Tarot client.

Sometimes, a client comes to you and there is so much cognitive dissonance that you know something is a miss mentally. In those cases, you simply decline to read for the client and refer them on to someone who is better able to help. Other times, it is more subtle and you intuitively pick up on something.  Regardless of what you suspect that something might be, if you feel you can help the client, and the question is not directly about mental health but say a relationship or career prospects, your job is to simply answer the question. That is all you can do as a Tarot reader. Know your limits!

Finally, these ‘top 10’ cards do address issues that we can talk about within our limits as Tarot readers and that is enough. What we can do is create a safe environment for client to express their feelings. This includes when clients mention things such as depression and anxiety. From the feeling point of view we can always engage with them, be compassionate and listen actively. We just need to make very sure that they know what our professional boundaries are and that we, as Tarot professionals, never diagnose or confirm a diagnosis made by a third party.

A Tarot reader does not need to seek out mental health labels for people, if we do, we are transgressing our professional boundaries by diagnosing when we shouldn’t. The Tarot is not the DSM-5.

Blessed Be!

Lisa Frideborg