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How Tarot Cards Are Used to Help Mental Health

“There's all these different ways of helping people see that for themselves through the tarot cards.”

Teen Vogue

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An array of tarot cards

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In the past, I had mostly stayed away from tarot cards for fear of what they might reveal — that something terrible was waiting for me, that my true love was going to leave me, that I was going to be broke for the rest of my life. But when I stumbled upon Jessica Dore’s Twitter account, my limited view on tarot completely changed. The mental health professional reads tarot cards through a therapeutic lens — every morning she shares a card on her feed, and each interpretation, which touch on topics like relationships, boundaries, and guilt, not only helped ease my anxiety, they encouraged me to reflect on it.

Many others like Dore who practice tarot use these ancient cards as a tool for mental health. Whether it’s the burning building on The Tower or the bound woman on the Eight of Swords, the imagery on each card can act as a prompt for exploring and processing feelings and experiences.

“The work that I do is really focused on trying to help people figure out what it is that they want, what is important to them, what are their values, and then also what is getting in the way of them moving in that direction,” Dore told Teen Vogue. “There’s all these different ways of helping people see that for themselves through the tarot cards.”

The way people have read tarot has evolved over centuries, but many believe them to be a tool for divination or looking into the unknown. Others say that’s not the case, noting they’re simply tools to help you better understand the world around you. While each reader has their own approach, the story behind the tarot has remained the same. “Tarot cards are the story of an archetype journey for the soul and its transition,” said Bri Luna, the founder and creator of The Hoodwitch. “You start off as The Fool [a card symbolizing innocence] and you end at The World [a card symbolizing wisdom].”

As Luna pointed out, the relationship between tarot and psychology actually goes back decades. It was studied by well-known psychoanalyst Carl Jung, who considered tarot cards a tool for accessing the subconscious. But you don’t have to have a background in psychology, or even be super familiar with tarot, to benefit from therapeutic card readings.

“I think that there is so much space within tarot to find meaningful strategies that go beyond the card reading,” explained Dr. Rachel O’Neill, a therapist with Talkspace. “For example, looking at the card and just taking in what you are seeing, and even using it to practice acceptance without judgement. Be objective, instead of saying what does this mean, is this a bad card or a good card, just kind of accept the card and ask how is this personally meaningful to me?”

According to O’Neill, one of the most beneficial aspects of tarot card reading for mental health is the development of the ritual. Much like meditation, the practice of reading tarot can help with mindfulness and bringing attention to yourself in the present moment.

“To start the day I’ll pull a card to see how my day is going to go,” said Lisa Nwankwo, who uses tarot as part of her morning routine. “I use it for guidance. Based on the cards that come up, it might be something that is ‘negative’ like The Tower. Instead of thinking, OK, today is going to be a bad day, it just reframes how I am going to approach this day. It gives you a different perspective.”

For those who practice tarot as a tool for self-reflection and meditation, many feel it can help them better understand their behaviors and experiences in a non-confrontational way. According to Dore, this practice can also help encourage self-compassion.

“Beating yourself up about your dysfunctional behavior isn’t the way to change, in fact it’s likely to make you feel less confident in your ability to make desired changes thereby stifling your ability to do so. Instead, try self-compassion. Everyone makes mistakes,” Dore tweeted after she pulled The King of Cups, a card that can signify emotional balance.

“If you understand better why you’re doing things, why you’re compulsively over extending yourself or having bad boundaries,” said Dore, “it’s easier to give yourself a break.”

If you are interested in starting your own daily card reading practice, Luna suggests finding a deck with imagery that really resonates with you. Your pulls can be used simply for personal reflection, or even as a prompt for journaling. As you become more familiar with the cards, you can apply them to your own life in different ways.

“My advice is to really use tarot as a way of inquiry and not confirmation,” said Nwankwo. “Ask a question like, where should I focus my energy for the day? Honestly the best ways to make an internal change towards your health and wellness is to feel like it is coming from you, with tarot you can have ownership over that because you are guiding yourself.”

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This post originally appeared on Teen Vogue and was published December 27, 2018. This article is republished here with permission.

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