Everything Wrong with the Professional Tarot: Readers in Crisis and Spiritual Conselors with Mental Illness


Edit, March 2019: Disclaimer: Since this post has gotten way more attention than it was supposed to receive lately, I feel like my thoughts from a year ago need some updating. Re-reading this blog post of mine made me realize that I worded a lot of the things in here very aggressively, and with full awareness of the impact that my words may have. I do not fully agree with what this post stands for anymore but am purposefully leaving it unedited for the sake of the freedom of speech of my Self from the past. I also created a video response to this blog post on my YT channel, which is linked at the bottom of this post.

Do tarot readers and so-called spiritual counselors of all sorts have ethical standars for their work? Is it okay for a tarot reader with mental illness to read for people professionally? Do clients take the "tarot is not a substitute for therapy" disclaimers seriously? And finally, whose responsibility is it if a tarot reader's advice causes harm to the client? Let's talk about this shit!

In short, these things are not regulated by law nearly to the extent that they should be. This means that people who offer any kind of spiritual advice or counseling in exchange for money (without having any formal education in related fields, such as psychology, counseling or coaching) can choose their own ethical code  - if they choose to have any at all. It goes without saying that some people just want to get rich off of scamming naive clients, but today I'd like to focus on those who genuinely have good intentions and they feel an internal calling to work in this field, believing that they're actually helping people and making a difference in the world. Why? Because it can potentially be the most harmful.

It's really difficult, if not impossible, to have a serious, grounded discussion about things that are a matter of faith and belief. Tarot is certainly one of those things, considering how there's not one established and agreed upon version of how it works and what it does and how (and if) it can help you. The range of beliefs about tarot is rather spectacularly vast - from the stereotypical fortune-telling type, all the way to attempted use of tarot as a strictly psychological tool.

Taking a subject of faith and beliefs and combining it with any kind of "professional" counseling services is a recipe for potential disaster when not regulated. Let's take a well-established, highly regulated, supervised and standardised field as an example - psychological counseling or psychotherapy. 

Imagine you decided to go to therapy to get yourself sorted out. Now imagine that the specialist you went to turns out to be a fraud, with a fake diploma. Or imagine that mid-therapy you find out that your therapist is going through a crisis and is mentally unstable. Or imagine that they themselves suffer from a mental illness and they just happen to have an episode right now which twists their pereption of reality ever so slightly. Or imagine that they never use supervision and they just accumulate all the pressure and emotional baggage from all their clients' sessions, trying to cope with everything that they take on on a daily basis on their own. Or imagine that everything's perfectly fine with their education, supervision, mental health etc, except they happen not to inform you that they'd rather not treat your particular case because of interfering personal factors (for example your personalities crashing in the wrong way, or them not having enough experience with your particular type of case etc). Would you trust someone like that to treat you?

In psychotherapy world, these are some of the factors that a professional therapist would take as reasons to take a break and sort themselves out first, or simply not to take a case but direct a patient to someone more suitable. Why is that? Because psychologists and psychotherapists have an established ethical code that they must adhere to if they want to keep their standards on an acceptable level. These standards are there for a reason: to ensure that the patient/client does not get hurt in the process but actually receives the help they came for.

Now, some people will ask the question: But is tarot counseling even comparable with psychological counseling or psychotherapy in any way? That is often the grey area that is not explained enough by the readers themselves (probably because a lot of them have no clue). I imagine that many clients might get the wrong idea, despite all the "disclaimers", because the readers themselves often choose to present themselves in a way that may suggest they are highly evolved individuals who have "personal experience" in fields they are not actually prepared to tackle professionally. Psychology in itself is a big one - these days everyone seems to be an expert in archetypes and jungian psychology of the unconscious, everyone's a shadow worker and did an online course in counseling or coaching. One person was diagnosed as bipolar therefore they're an expert on the subject now. Another person went to therapy and suddenly they know all these "tips and tricks". You get the gist.

Now pair all of the above up with the element of faith and the supernatural and you're getting stuck in a muck. Apart from having your psychological needs and problems "taken care of", you're also receiving all these "channelings" and "downloads" and direct messages from gods, deceased family members, ancestors, aliens, angels and whatnot.
It's important for you not to misunderstand what I'm trying to say here. If you're one of those people who believe that they receive these kinds of messages from the "other world" / "disembodied intelligences", know that I'm not judging these beliefs. It is up to an individual what they choose to believe in, and I seriously have nothing against that. (If you're the client of such person, however, perhaps you should read up on the  Barnum Effect first - for your own sake and safety.)

What is important to understand is that this combination of pseudo-psychological help with matters of faith and beliefs is a truly dangerous combo. That is because we tend to swallow information whole - if one part of the message resonates with us (i.e. the supposed "channeling" from a goddess), there's a huge chance we'll accept the rest without giving it enough thought to detect bullshit (the pseudo-psychological advice). A great example of this are our political beliefs - if we support a certain political group for one specific reason that is important to us, we will often excuse or even support said group's other postulates, even if we don't really agree with them on a deeper level.

One thing can be said for certain - if a psychologist is considered to be unable to do their job well when they themselves are in a state of crisis, a mental illness episode, temporary  professional fatigue or burnout etc., then a tarot reader will also be unable to do their job well in such circumstances. And this, in my opinion, should be held as an ethical standard for any profession that deals with giving any kind of advice to people. In  other words - sort yourself out before you attempt to help anyone else sort themselves out.

I highly encourage every person offering any kind of counseling / healing work to take the time and effort to really think it though and come up with their own ethical code. The one created for psychologists is also great to use, if you'd rather adapt a pre-existing, well-made one. But even if you choose to adapt that, I still encourage you to give this whole tarot reading business a thought. What you come up with might even surprise you.

Let me tell you what I ended up with when I gave it a thought. But first, a super short background: I am a psychologist and at one point in my life I offered paid tarot readings to people online as an experiment. It was a short episode that lasted only a couple months before I couldn't handle it anymore. Why? Because I had the comparison between providing someone with psychological help versus this. And I realized pretty quickly that the majority of people who purchase services such as tarot readings are miserable people who desperately want the responsibility for making their own decisions and changing their lives to be taken away from them, to be told what is happening or will happen so that they don't have to change a thing, to have their fate forced upon them so that they can accept it and do absolutely nothing. If you are a professional tarot reader you know exactly what I'm talking about. Most of your clients are not these super creative and open-minded people who are looking for an outside perspective or a serendipitous push in a new direction of spiritual growth. Most of them are stuck and purchased a reading from you precisely because they want to stay stuck, because it brings safety and validation, and an illusion of "doing the work".

Have you asked yourself how many people you've actually helped and how many of them sunk deeper into misery or delusion as a result of the reading? It's impossible to know for sure if you do this work online. A client's feedback tells you nothing about their actual state. You've no idea if they're telling the truth about their situation in the first place - perhaps you're doing a reading for someone who presents themselves as a victim while the reality might be the opposite. Perhaps your client is mentally unstable - do you have enough knowledge to notice that and direct them to a specialist? And what do you do with the infamous but oh-so-common questions of heartbroken women about whether the guy is shanking another gal or having a kid with someone else? Or the poor, lonely elderly people who ask whether they'll find a community to belong to? Ever pulled cards for those instead of refunding them with a word of advice about not trusting in cards and spending their last pennies more wisely? You might give as many disclaimers as you wish but the truth is that as long as you offer people a photograph of a fish (cause it's not even an actual fish) instead of a fishing rod, you potentially contribute to their problems. Potentially. Because you have no way of knowing if and what kind of change your work is actually bringing to the world.

That is my perspective on this topic and why I personally believe that using tarot as a tool is perfectly fine, as long as you use it for yourself. I wouldn't be able to provide such services for people without my conscience eating me alive. I don't believe it works the way some people think it does, and I don't believe it does any good. It took me quite some time to come to terms with what I truly think about this, because (as you probably know) I'm a tarot nerd too. It's certainly not a new realization of mine, I hold this belief for some years now, but there are reasons why I chose to talk about it now (and was hesitant to talk about it so openly before). I imagine that most people who read this will disagree with me, and perhaps even feel deeply offended or accused of nasty things. I simply hope to bring some reflection and food for thought, you do with it as you please. 




My update VR after a year:




15 comments:

  1. What an interesting post! I don't necessarily agree with it all, but it awakened some great thoughts in me.
    Because of my experience I would say that I trust my cards and my readings very much, otherwise I wouldn't provide that service. But I was for a while stuck in an uncomfortable loop of people coming to asking me questions I see very unfit for card readings, like the ones you mention about "Is my man cheating?" etc... When I figured out that cards (in my opinion) are meant for spiritual guidance things started to make more sense. I looked through what I offer and deleted all my reading options, and started up new options with a clear spiritual focus. Business slowed down very much, but the clients that did come to me were so much more aboard on what the reading was meant to do (spiritual guidance) and were not interested in fortune-telling or quick fixes for poor relationships or unhealthy habits. Success, if you ask me!
    Interesting thing is that in my personal life I have been harmed by both professions that you mention. One psychologist that broke me 10 years ago saying "I'm a professional and I can tell that you don't have big issues and you don't need to waste my important time on your small problems" (this was after two suicide attempts in just 6 months). And then a tarot reader around a year ago insisting that me and my partner would soon break up and that my purpose is to spread my love among many different partners in life. I'm still happy with my partner and I have no interest cheering men up with my vagina sigh... Two harmful people that I hope have learned a lesson and shifted, but who knows?
    Oh where was I? lol In my view I find that alternative medicine/therapies/counseling can go hand in hand with the traditional kind, and it's important to see it as a case by case matter.

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    1. Such a timely and interesting post ~ I agree with you and also very much with Ania about using the Tarot for guidance about doing the individual spiritual work necessary for growth and learning from our experiences. I also have had some fairly hair-raising experiences with people from both professions you mention.Experts from all walks of life are susceptible to ego-driven foibles and lack of compassion or even ethics.I also wish people who seek to learn more or are looking for guidance were more discerning as far as BS goes.

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  2. When it comes to spiritual mentors/counselors and similar I am with you here. They need to have their shit together or refrain from client work while they sort it out. Regarding the previously mentioned tarot reader that hurt me I later found out she was going through big relationship problems, and it was in hindsight an obvious case of projecting her own break-up onto my happy relationship. Very sad to do, but not uncommon, eh?
    I see so many self-proclaimed experts out there that actually don't have their life sorted out and it irks me. Teal Swan makes videos about how to have a happy relationship while she has like 3-4 divorces behind her and her ex-husbands are openly talking about how she is horrible to live with. This isn't the only fucked up shit that woman does (far from), but it is one thing that bothers me.
    I just wish people would be able to discern for themselves who to listen to and why! Often we see the blind leading the blind and it's damaging for the actually helpful, healthy, people in this community/profession. I've seen people say that they are way down in their own depression and own therapy sessions, but that it is apparently just "helpful" when guiding other mentally ill people through tarot or similar. I could not disagree more! When you are in treatment and recovery like that you are not fit to lead others. Again; blind leading the blind! It's very irresponsible. They need to learn from AA where you must be sober for X days before you mentor others.

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    1. Great points! Just left a comment! :)

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  3. I love this post. You've spoken my thoughts.

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  4. The post and the comments really have me thinking! Someone reading the cards should have some stabilization in their life to give advice to others. Having smarts about how to handle difficult client situations and give sound advice. However, having a degree doesn't necessarily mean they are all together as such. Doreen Virtue has degree in counseling and psychology, whom I would not take advice from right now. When I read cards I am just a vessel from which the cards speak through. I center myself so I don't mix up my issues on to the clients or cards. I tell my clients that am I a not here to tell you what to do, I'm here to tell you what I see in front of me; what's laid out on the table. It is up to them to choose what to do with their life, because I know I am in no position to tell them how to live it. I don't use words like you have to do this or you must do that. On the flip side of the coin, people doing readings or using their abilities to help a client, need to realize that reading is not a substitute for getting attention, feeling special, feeding ego, telling others what to do, etc. Just because you found a spiritual path doesn't make you a guru, doesn't solve all your problems or the problems of others. Their intention needs to be clear as well as their logical mind. Why do you feel called to do this? Who is benefiting from this? Are you capable of this work in emotions and mind? Just because you bought a deck doesn't mean you should read, just because you got a degree doesn't mean you know everything. Find the healthy balance.

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  5. I wholly resonate with this and recently decided that I will not be reading for other people for some of the same reasons you listed, and also because of the energy exchange that happens, which actually takes a large toll on me. I love tarot and I will continue to use it for myself and encourage others to give it a try because it can be truly transformative.

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  10. Thank you so much for this post. It means alot to me and I will definitely need time to process this. I am a new tarot student and like using tarot as a tool to help facilitate tapping into my own intuition. I don't have any plans on ever reading for others.

    I definitely agree with you on the lack of regulation in tarot, but in all "healing" professions held outside of academia (psychotherapy, etc.). This even includes retreats and churches that make substantial amounts of money by combining religion/spirituality w/ healing & helping people.

    I have found that even with "regulated" professions like counseling, there is still so many loopholes in ensuring that the mental health providers are actually in the best state to assist others. I've personally had several negative experiences with therapists who had undiagnosed mental/emotional health issues; therapists who were racists and had hateful energies towards those with marginalized identities; etc. I've also seen many children and women be preyed upon in religious organizations.

    It's really gross and disheartening to hear about the damage that is done to people in the context of healing spaces that are supposed to safe and helpful. I think it's easy to see the potential harm tarot readers can cause their clients because tarot already has so much taboo and stigma towards it. Plus, there is a financial incentive for companies to push and promote tarot as a way to make money. Therefore, many people leap into tarot with ulterior motives or a lack of understanding of how serious tarot can be.

    But again, I definitely agree with lots of your viewpoints. I've definitely seen many people across all industries make lots of money from people who were obviously in pain and needed serious medical help. This is another point about people capitalizing off on other people's misery.

    Overall, I sometimes like to buy tarot readings as a form of entertainment and knowing that I am in control of my life and decisions. But I agree that many people who pay ridiculously high amounts for tarot readings may not understand this.

    Much love to you, this was a really needed and helpful post. The tarot community (especially online) needs more introspection and self regulation for sure.

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  11. Hello Joanna. This blog post came to my attention via a YouTube video response to the thoughts and topics you presented here. Funny enough, I have independently been musing along similar veins as you have here. I came to less definitive conclusions though. Not so much globally or universally, but for myself. Naturally. Oh, by the way, I saw that you listed my blog as one of the blogs you read! I am ever so flattered! I have to apologise that my blog has been dormant since 2016 as I was rethinking my next steps in tarot. There were various uncertainties for me and questions which I only slowly began to answer for myself recently. Among others are the very questions you posed here. The link to my blog as you listed on your page here wont work anymore. This is because I have not only renamed my blog, but also moved its URL. It is now called Flowers & Ashes. It is time. Three years on, I am finally moving my arse to go beyond tarot, albeit still in the middle of a long segway! Here is my own thoughts on the matter, posted on the 26th of January 2019. https://flowersashes.blogspot.com/2019/01/the-problem-with-psychologist-tarot.html I do hope there will be more conversations about this. Even if personally have made up my mind about what is right for me. Still. This is potentially a worth while topic which more open and frequent discussions might contribute to the continuing evolution of the art of tarot.

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  12. "Is it okay for a tarot reader with mental illness to read for people professionally?"

    This is the most vague and harmful comment ever. Mental illness could be depression, which believe me, a lot of people are struggling with while they serve you in many professional capacities, or it could be sociopathy. Clarify your shit.

    Ultimately though, all forms of spiritual belief are disconnected from observable, objective reality. That's what makes it "faith". So if you're willing to call all Judeo-Christians, Muslims, pagans et al, "mentally ill", then fair enough, but to me it's a really loaded question aimed at a very small subsection of people who do a lot less institutional harm than, say, the Catholic church.

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