Guest post by Brooklynn McMurray
Tarot as a Therapeutic Tool
When tarot is presented as a tool – specifically in a clinical or educational environment- it is often easily dismissed. Many people misunderstand tarot on its most basic level, and therefore miss out on the changes it can have on your thinking, perception, and overall life. Tarot is a divination tool that taps into the collective unconscious to give us insight into the events of the past, present, and future. Tarot is also a very powerful, yet underutilized, therapeutic tool. Tarot helps to reveal the subconscious thoughts and projections of the user. Much like the Rorschach test, the cards merely serve as pathways to the unconscious self. Tarot is all about self-realization, which is in turn the ultimate goal of therapy. Tarot merges many different aspects of therapy, and truly molds itself to the user. Although many view tarot as a future or prophecy based art, using it therapeutically proves much different. Tarot empowers the person receiving the reading to make the choices they need to make. Tarot is not concerned with lingering on the how, or why. It simply presents things to us as they are.
As a professional counselor and professional Tarot Reader, many people ask about were my work intersects. Every client – every time! I use both so often I have come to call it Tarophy. Every reading I give is a counseling session in its own right. When you have someone coming to you for answers there will always be life coaching and counseling involved. Giving a reading involves exposing fears and shortcomings. It involves exposing obstacles and moving past them. Some people come to me with hopes of me magically fixing their lives or the cards revealing some hidden truth that will change everything. As a therapeutic tool, tarot is perfect because it does just the opposite most times. Tarot shows us things that we almost always already know. This can be extremely frustrating – until we understand why. Tarot shows us things we know (cards) and gives them meaning (the spread) and clarity. Very rarely do the cards reveal something unknown, but rather they help us look inward and understand the patterns of life, and the reasons why things happen the way they do. When we work with the cards consistently we learn the part we play in creating and shaping our own environment. Most readers are not predicting the future, but merely helping to shed light on what has been there all along.
Power in Symbols
“They are psychological images, symbols with which one plays, as the unconscious seems to play with its contents. They combine in certain ways, and the different combinations correspond to the playful development of events in the history of mankind. These archetypal ideas, of a differentiated nature, mingle with the ordinary constituents of the flow of the unconscious, and therefore it is applicable for an intuitive method that has the purpose of understanding the flow of life, possibly even predicting future events, at all events lending itself to the reading of the conditions of the present moment. It is in that way analogous to the I Ching, the Chinese divination method that allows at least a reading of the present condition. You see, man always felt the need of finding an access through the unconscious to the meaning of an actual condition, because there is a sort of correspondence or a likeness between the prevailing condition and the condition of the collective unconscious.” -Carl Jung
Can we not agree with Jung that humans have always longed to tap into our subconscious? And not only that, but into the collective unconscious as well? Almost everyone I talk to about tarot can remember feeling drawn to it or terrified by it as a child. When we look at a traditional tarot deck it is steeped in sacred imagery from many different cultures. It all seems so intriguing and esoteric. I loved the imagery and the colors of my grandmother’s deck growing up so much, it was the most beautiful work of art to me. Even as a child I felt like there was something there – some knowledge to be gained, something to be accessed. When she gave readings to those who came to see her, it was like a secret between the two of them and the cards. I was so fascinated by how intently they would listen to the words my grandmother spoke, and studied the images on the cards. I just knew that if I studied them hard enough, that I too would learn those secrets. The presence of tarot in pop culture confirms – there is a definite allure to the cards.
So where does tarot’s therapeutic power come from? The visualizations that occur because of the cards allow an honest and straightforward conversation to take place between the reader and readee. When you can see a representation of what you are feeling placed before you, it is hard to run from your truth. It encourages you not to fall into negativity, but to see that there is always a positive outcome in any situation – and it empowers you to seek it for yourself. Tarot can help us remove the barriers that keep us from making clear decisions in our life by presenting things in a way that are both mentally and visually stimulating. Tarot is a visual language of awareness. It operates through sacred symbols and archetypes, outside of the logical and conditioned parts of our minds. Its imagery intersects many cultures and resonates with all regardless of race or social status.
You don’t have to have someone else read for you to reap the therapeutic benefits of tarot! Many people feel that you cannot be objective enough to do a self-reading. When we use tarot, it illuminates our current and past patterns of thinking and shows us the potential outcome of these patterns. When we are open to the cards, the common barriers of doubt and self-censorship are overcome. We are then able to be fully honest with ourselves in a self-reading, and the cards may be able to reveal things to us that we hide even from ourselves.
This spread is extremely simple and I use it for clients that really don’t have experience with tarot, but are very open to it. This may be a bit plain for more advance readers, but I find it is useful for all. Really focus on the reaction the imagery of your particular deck evokes in you, and be aware of your thoughts as you pull each card.
Draw 5 cards and lay them in a straight line, one after the other.
Card 1: How do I view me?
How you see yourself right now, in this life stage.*
Card 2: How does the world view me?
How you are seen in the community, or by those around you.
Card 3: What is my true desire?
Your goals, passions, desires.
Card 4: What is my greatest obstacle?
What you need to overcome.
Card 5: What is my greatest strength?
What you need to celebrate.
*This is the first and most important card for me when I work with someone – it identifies serious issues or strengths immediately based off of the clients’ self-image.