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tarot therapy 101

Curious about tarot? It's less about seeing the future and more about introspection. Here’s everything you need to know to learn more about the archetypes of your psyche through tarot.

tarot therapy 101

For the last few years tarot has been having a moment. More people are turning to tarot readers, or learning to read the tarot themselves, than ever before, which has led to some fantastic insights — and some fears among those who don’t necessarily vibe with its more esoteric qualities.

When I say “tarot therapy,” I don’t mean in a clinical sense. Tarot can be used to encourage introspection in the same way as any creative hobby.

What tarot isn’t

Before we go any further, here’s a brief overview of what tarot isn’t:

Tarot is not occult

For the non-believers, I want to make one thing clear: there is nothing inherently magical or occult about tarot cards. They’re fun illustrations on cardstock. That’s it! Their value lies in what you interpret from the stories told on those cards, and how you reflect on that interpretation in your own life.

Each standard 78-card deck is comprised of two groups of cards: The Major Arcana, which tell the “hero’s journey” of the fool through every significant stage of his life; and the Minor Arcana, which detail a particular experience along that journey — essentially the “filler arcs” along the way.

Tarot cannot see the future

While tarot can provide you with valuable insights into your past, present, and future, nothing is set in stone; what you read into your cards is based not just on your interpretation of the cards, but your actions thereafter.

For example, here’s a reading on how to cope with feelings of lovelessness and disconnection:

The last two cards explore opportunities for personal transformation and awakening — what they’re not doing is promising a guaranteed result.

In this reading, the querent is exploring lessons they can learn from past experiences to help them succeed in relationships in the present, so they can enjoy a happier, more loving future. The VII of Pentacles suggests that they will benefit from learning to follow their instincts over time, but it doesn’t guarantee that they will. Just like in clinical therapy, only you, the querent, can guarantee your own behavior.

What tarot is

Tarot is an exercise of self-love

So, now we know that tarot isn’t mean to divine the future per se, but it is excellent for helping you chart your own future, and plan ahead for potential challenges. Especially those where you get in your own way.

This is something a clinical therapist or psychologist can’t always get to the root of right away. They are, after all, a completely different person; they’re observing your behaviors and moods from the outside. Everything you’ve thought and felt has already been filtered to meet whatever societal expectations you have for yourself, conscious or subconscious; censored to avoid any obvious risks of shame; and repackaged to “sound good.” (It’s okay; we all do it!)

Tarot readings serve as a helpful supplement to talk therapy because they help you get in touch with yourself. If you’ve struggled to maintain a journaling practice or can’t afford to see a clinical professional, tarot is a valuable resource.

Tarot helps you empathize with others

In hyper-individualistic societies, it’s surprisingly easy to forget ourselves. We fall into patterns of endless productivity and achievement in a capitalist society and become machines. When we forget to care for ourselves, we stop honoring who we are and are more prone to losing our way in life, which opens the door to mistreating or neglecting others, too.

Tarot will never tell you that you’re doing great just because you’re “providing” or succeeding in your career; the cards report back not just your status as a contributor to a capitalist society, but on your physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health — and even how you can ask for, or give, support from others.

Alain de Botton writes:

“At its most basic, charity means offering someone something they need but can’t get for themselves. This is normally and logically understood to mean something material. We overwhelmingly associate charity with giving money. But, in its widest sense, charity stretches far beyond financial donations. Charity involves offering someone something that they may not entirely deserve and that it is a long way beyond the call of duty for us to provide: sympathy.”

Tarot is an exercise in being generous with our interpretation of our actions and situation in life, so we can approach it with a level head and a kind heart.

How to get started

Getting started with your own readings can be intimidating. Biddy Tarot is one easy and free resource to get started learning about the different basic associations of each card, from both the Major and Minor Arcana.

Labyrinthos also has a suite of resources, including a completely free app that’ll show you the basics behind doing a reading yourself in an hour or less. If you discover that you enjoy doing your readings, they have a tarot workbook that helps you to delve into the root psychology of each card — this allows your to relate more fully to the cards themselves and get even more out of your tarot therapy practice.

Aubrie Johnson profile image Aubrie Johnson
Aubrie is a neurodivergent artist, tarot reader and art therapy student. When not making stuff, she's birdwatching or out buying a book (knowing full well she has a tbr stack at home).