In October 2020, Jude Hinson lost his job, his house and his grandfather. Then her fiancé left her, all within a week.
“I felt completely out of control and fully responsible for the situation I found myself in,” Hinson recalls. “One thing I found incredibly helpful was using tarot as a way for me to look more objectively at my situation. It gave me some hope.”
Tinson had been reading tarot cards for over a decade. When the going got tough, they helped her make sense of her situation.
In addition to reading maps every day, she continued to see a therapist once a week and take medication for depression and anxiety. Now that she is better, she still draws cards about once a week.
Tinson is not the only one to seek solace in the tarot.
And tarot card readers have (at least anecdotally) reported an increase in business during the pandemic as people grapple with uncertainty.
“People were looking for the most important messages,” says Fahrusha, who has only one name. She worked as a tarot card reader for over 35 years.
Tarot may be more and more common, but not everyone is familiar with the practice. Although its historical origins are not certain, tarot cards probably appeared in the 14th century, imported from Turkey to Western Europe.
“Tarot… is a deck of cards with culturally derived meanings that you can use for spiritual, artistic and storytelling reasons,” says trauma therapist Aida Manduley, LCSW, who uses pronouns them / them.
Manduley sometimes pulls cards for clients during sessions and says it’s a useful tool. Still, they admit it’s not for everyone.
Read on to find out what professional tarot readers think about the pros and cons of using tarot for mental health.
There are several benefits to using tarot cards for mental and emotional support and healing.
It turns personal care into care of the soul
For generations, people have turned to organized religion to find meaning in their lives and strength in these troubled times.
More than a quarter of American adults said they saw themselves as spiritual but not religious, the Pew Research Center reported in 2017. That’s an 8% increase from 2012.
Tarot cards are part of this trend.
New York-based tarot writer and reader Cindi Sansone-Braff calls tarot a spiritual practice that helps people understand each other better.
“Sometimes when people are anxious and depressed, it’s a sign that their souls need nourishment,” says Sansone-Braff. “Tarot connects deeply with the soul. It is a very good vortex to open the subconscious and the collective unconscious… and to understand what is happening below the surface.
It can complement therapy
You don’t have to choose between seeing a therapist, taking medication, and reading the tarot. Like Hinson, many find tarot to be a valuable part of a holistic approach to mental health.
“Tarot isn’t a universal panacea for your mental health – but for me it’s a big part of my mental hygiene regimen,” Hinson says.
Sansone-Braff sees clients who take similar approaches.
For example, she would refer a client with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to a therapist. Yet she says she can often play a role in helping the person as well.
“I can help them deal with some of the lessons they may have learned [in therapy]”, says Sansone-Braff.
The tarot can open the dialogue
Sometimes Manduley’s customers have a hard time opening up. Tarot can help start the conversation.
“If a person pulls out the death map and their understanding of the death map is different from mine, now is a great time for us to talk about how the same situation can lead to different stories and interpretations.” , they say. “[The death card] doesn’t have to be a negative thing, and we can use it to talk about life changes.
This dialogue can help Manduley discuss solutions with customers. For example, maybe the person will next take out a turn card, which symbolizes a sudden change.
“It can open the door for you to think about changing a relationship, and maybe you didn’t allow yourself to think about it before,” Manduley says.
It is more and more representative
Manduley says some of the old tarot card games play on gender and class stereotypes.
“In many traditional card games, tarot cards are gendered and framed in male and female,” they say. “There is an inherent hierarchy, like kings and queens, which is the monarchy.”
But Manduley notes that some artists, like Emily Lubanko, Margaret Trauth (aka Egypt Urnash), and Fyodor Pavlov, are releasing decks that go against these traditional notions. It can help people better understand their mental health issues.
“For people who don’t see themselves represented in an organized religion, tarot is a way to engage spiritually,” says Manduley.
The factors below may discourage you from pursuing tarot in your personal practice.
It could go against your beliefs
Although fewer adults in the United States adhere to organized religions than ever before, many still do. For these people, tarot readings can contradict religious beliefs. If this is the case for you, the tarot may not help you.
“[Readings] would make them feel guilty for turning to tarot cards, ”says Fahrusha. “It’s going to cause them stress.”
If you are skeptical this will not help you
Other mental health treatments, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and group therapy, have been the subject of much research to support their effectiveness.
In these forms of treatment, you speak and contextualize the behaviors. It forces you to take a step back and think critically and logically about yourself.
Tarot is also a critical self-reflection tool, but it has not been studied as intensely. While it requires you to examine your motives, actions, thoughts, and beliefs, it also requires a certain degree of faith that the card you draw can be a source of information on these topics.
In order for tarot to work, you have to “suspend disbelief” and open something that may seem surreal. Not everyone can do this.
“If you’re not open to it, it won’t help you,” Sansone-Braff says. “It will only make it worse, because you just won’t hear anything being said.”
It is not a replacement for therapy
Sansone-Braff points out that some people should always see a therapist, and Manduley agrees.
“The use of tarot is not a substitute for professional mental health advice, medication or treatment plans,” Manduley said.
Manduley adds that under certain circumstances tarot could worsen a person’s mental state.
“The use of tarot may be contraindicated in clients with severe and persistent mental illness who exhibit active paranoid or psychotic symptoms, as these can sometimes be exacerbated by the use of tools with imagery so rich and intense meaning, such as [those in tarot],” they say.
There is room for a misinterpretation
Because cards have multiple meanings, it is possible to misinterpret them or use them to confirm pre-existing biases.
Sansone-Braff has had many clients calling her, asking if they should get the COVID-19 vaccine. They told him that they got the death map and felt it was the universe telling them not to get shot.
“I said, ‘Not necessarily. Let’s draw two more cards, ”she said. “One person got the strength and health cards. I said, “Maybe this tells you that if you get your COVID-19 vaccine, you won’t die and will have health and strength.” We tend to interpret cards to mean what we want them to mean.
Sansone-Braff also advises clients to speak to a healthcare professional about decisions such as vaccinations.
And for non-medical life choices, such as career or relationship changes, Manduley suggests consulting more than one tarot reader.
“As with most things, if someone wants to go strong on the cards, get a second opinion,” they advise.
As with any treatment, tarot will help some people and not work for others. The litmus test is simple: does it make you feel better?
“If you get a read and you don’t feel at peace, that’s not good,” Sansone-Braff says. “Even though I deliver difficult messages, they are delivered with love and to help. If it’s causing you anxiety and you can’t do something because of a map, then it will only do more harm than good.
Tarot may not be ideal for people with certain mental health diagnoses, especially those that include symptoms such as paranoia, psychosis, or obsessive-compulsive behavior. Talk to a mental health professional to help you decide if tarot is right for you.
Some people turn to tarot to help support their mental health. Tarot cards can help you strike up a conversation with a therapist, find meaning in your life circumstances, and identify solutions.
There is a spiritual component to tarot cards, which may appeal to those who do not associate with organized religion. Having said that, tarot may go against your faith, or you may find it hard to believe it.
It is also not a replacement for therapy, although it can complement it.
Because cards have multiple meanings, it can be tempting to see what you want to see. Experts say getting a second opinion can help mitigate confirmation bias.
The bottom line? If tarot cards make you feel more at peace and help you feel better, they could be a good resource. If they don’t, you can move on.
Beth Ann Mayer is a New York-based writer. In her spare time, you can find her training for marathons and arguing over her son, Peter, and three furbabies..