Tarot cards were once considered objects of occult, witchcraft, and divination. In recent years, however, these illustrated decks of cards have seen an unprecedented uptick in popularity. Particularly among young people seeking new approaches to healing, wellness, and spirituality, tarot cards are beginning to show promise as a clinical tool.
The idea of using tarot cards in psychotherapy is not new. Psychologist Arthur Rosengarten has authored the book “Tarot and Psychology” and dedicated his life’s work to bridging the art of tarot and the science of psychology. It is often reported that the rich metaphor and imagery of tarot decks can stimulate instant introspection and prompt deep reflection in therapeutic work.
The following are just a few ideas for incorporating tarot into group therapy sessions. Feel free to come up with your own ideas, or ask patients for feedback about what might work best for them. Be sure to check in with patients about their comfort levels and potential concerns around the cards before using them in practice.
I often compare the cards to the classic Rorsarch test to “demystify” them a bit; what matters most is how clients make sense of the cards. In therapeutic settings, the cards are used to access inner wisdom and encourage reflection—never to predict the future.
1.Ask clients to choose cards that represent their mental health challenges.
Spread a deck of cards (or more than one, if the group is large) out on the floor, face up. Ask patients to choose one or a few cards that represent what it feels like to live with their particular mental health challenges. Clients do not need to know the meanings of the cards—the illustrations are so rich with imagery and symbolism that they’ll be sure to find images that feel like a fit.
Once they have chosen their cards, reconvene the group and invite clients to share what they’ve chosen, and why. This allows people to find new ways of looking at their challenges through image. It also presents an opportunity for clinicians to share metaphors that may help clients understand the nature of their struggles.
2. Ask clients to choose cards that represent what it would feel like to be fully recovered.
Spread a deck of cards (or more than one, if the group is large) out on the floor, face up. Ask clients to choose one or a few cards that represent what they imagine it would feel like to be recovered from their particular mental health challenge.
Recovery is, of course, a unique process for everyone, and patients will likely be drawn to a diverse set of images to describe how they envision recovery. While recovery may feel like utopia for some, for instance, it may evoke feelings of terror and anxiety in others. There are cards to match a vast range of experiences.
Once individuals have chosen their cards, reconvene the group and invite participants to share what they’ve chosen, and why. Processing may present an opportunity to discuss what recovery means to them and why it’s worth it, as well as to address any potential roadblocks or barriers to recovery.
3. Ask clients to choose cards blindly.
Some clients who are familiar with tarot may appreciate the opportunity to choose cards in a more traditional fashion; blindly, with the cards facing down. If so, ask them to choose one or a few cards, depending on their preference or time constraints.
Once they have chosen their cards, allot time for them to ponder the meanings of the cards—either through their own intuitive interpretation, or by looking up the card meanings in a book, in an app, or through a Google search on a smartphone. Depending on the group, clients may wish to spend time journaling what they came up with, or processing as a group.
As with any group activity, to be sure that group members are given the opportunity to ask questions, bring up concerns, or choose an alternative practice in case they feel uncomfortable. People who choose to participate will be inspired and intrigued by the cards as they uncover new perspectives surrounding their situations, challenges, and successes.