It is imperative for ethical guidelines to exist when it comes to the Tarot. The history of the Tarot does have some twists and turns that promote suspicion. However, while seeking ethical structure as professionals, be it clergy, counselor, or something else, it is crucial that a fresh assessment be made based on good intentions and less from bias or stigmatic perspectives, the latter of which is already historically exemplified by official authoritative measures (i.e. the Roman Catholic Church).
Unfortunately, little structure exists when it comes to applying the Tarot to the public. As a result, some with little credentials and accountability have exercised this freedom at the cost of others innocently seeking guidance. Much of the abuse comes from the reader’s assumptions on divination. And this is a major stigma of the Tarot which causes a knee-jerk reaction even when evidence doesn’t call for it.
However, while divination has a long history in many cultures throughout the ages, this isn’t the only method of understanding and using the Tarot cards. In fact, the original reason for the cards were for playing games, as we do with playing cards today. A game equivalent to the use of the Tarot back in the 14th and 15th centuries would be that of today’s card game Bridge. (For a nice history on the Tarot see (Tarot Travel Guide of Italy by Arnell Ando).
Back to ethics. Our culture is evolving in seemingly rapid proportions. Even political groups are noticing the growing and powerful voice of our younger generation, which is bringing in a new set of lenses on how to see the world, the spiritual, psychological and emotional components included. (From a marketing perspective, the Tarot is increasing in financial profit). Coupled with a historical observation that demonstrates current truth on any healing profession seems to modify or grow with new perspectives and findings, the notion of maintaining an open stance to keep up with an evolving culture makes perfect sense. What we don’t want to do is maintain allegiance to strict systemic models or thought that assume human affairs should always be handled in such and such a manner.
But how? I have a short guideline that might serve to put into a professional forum. First, a new study of the history of the Tarot is in order. While the public might not take this route when giving opinions about the Tarot, as professionals we are obligated to investigate whether or not an idea or technique is worthy of therapeutic value. To do so, we must read afresh the mixed history of the Tarot, just as anyone would our own history. And when we compare notes, we will see that historical embarrassment and pride exists in most places.
Second, that Tarot is used by a growing number of professionals—clergy, psychologists, counselors—is a tell-tell sign that the Tarot has some therapeutic value. Certainly, we cannot discount these professionals who have taken an oath for the well-being of the community. Thus, rather than upholding to old and outdated assumptions, it pays to listen to why such a shift is occurring by well-intended minds. And this isn’t to say that evidence doesn’t exist to support therapeutic worth. Evidence does exist as to how the Tarot is helping people with personal guidance and growth. It’s just that without an open forum the information remains in the closet.
An honest appraisal of the Tarot by a group or board or committee begins with an assessment of one’s own. The Tarot might be foreign to one’s understanding of it based on what they read or the lack thereof. In truth, the Tarot has several similarities to already established systems. For instance, the clergy exists in a context where subjective elements of mystery, synchronicity, the divine, and symbols parallel the testimony of the Tarot. Likewise, in counseling you have accepted subjective techniques (i.e. the Empty Chair, guided imagery and visualization) and approaches (i.e. Existentialism, hypnosis, drama), which make the Tarot a fitting category. And even though these techniques and approaches might be (or have been) used for less than therapeutic reasons (See Hypnotism by George H. Estabrooks, a text on how hypnosis was used during the days of Hitler’s dictatorship), with proper guidance and accountability various healing professions employ them freely.
Third and last, setting parameters for the use of the Tarot is an appropriate measure. There are times to use the cards and times when we shouldn’t. Both clergy and counselors deal with a variety of issues, some of which would not be suitable to employ a method that awakens the unconscious. I find it significant that boundaries be set to encourage accountability and prevent a supposed freedom to deal a deck as you will. I’ve met not a few Tarot readers. Some scare me for the simple reason that they glorify the Tarot as if it is a cure all that can be dispensed at any moment. Professionals shouldn’t have this free-for-all approach. Flexibility is one thing; a blind, egotistical method isn’t.
For those who already employ the Tarot using a window of tolerance or celebrating a nice warm welcoming from their specific discipline, it is imperative that we maintain connections with reliable resources and that we continue our education even if it doesn’t fall in line with current accepted CEs for licensure renewal. Trying to get education as cheaply as possible in this setting should be out of the question. The reason is already obvious, but to add onto the list is the need to demonstrate to colleagues that the Tarot is indeed therapeutic. We just might be under a microscopic eye by already sympathetic minds who wish to remain in keeping with the pace of a changing culture. We want to do all that we can to avoid disrupting such opportunity.
How we educate those who seek us and those in our community is also key. The Tarot isn’t the only item that falls heavily under fire by preconceived ideas and extreme biases. Both sex and death, which must be (but often aren’t) dealt with by helping professionals, undergo much reaction. It makes the need for educating others crucial. We must demonstrate a well-established history about the cards, how it has been used and misused, and current shifts the deck is making.
Part of this education includes stating your intentions and methods clearly. Distinguishing terms such as divination and synchronicity, explaining whether you are using the cards from a Jungian perspective for the hero's journey or to discover subjective individual and relational patterns, conveying how intuition--which as Arthur Rosengarten states in his book Tarot and Psychology, most counselors use whether or not they notice--works when interpreting the cards, showing what deck you use and why, and illuminating whether there is spiritual or psychological intent in mind should be precursors to an actual reading. A consent form is handy.
And last, you want to be clear what role you activate when reading the cards. For instance, I have the convenience (and a GSL history to prove it) of serving as clergy or counselor. I distinguish Tarot reading from counseling. One reason is because I find the Tarot to be highly spiritual in nature. And I consider my work to be psycho-spiritual in nature. Depending on the state of practice, though, some do not need to dance such a fine line in roles. Second, Tarot reading isn’t counseling. While the Tarot complements therapy, the distinctions must be clear. And I believe that many licensed counselors and psychologists who use the Tarot would agree with me.
Recommended Tarot Reading for the Professional:
An Introduction to Transformative Tarot Counseling by Katrina Wynne
Jung and Tarot: An Archetypal Journey by Sallie Nichols
Notes on the Seminar Given in 1930-1934 by Carl G. Jung & Claire Douglas
Re-Symbolization of the Self by Inna Semetsky
Tarot and Psychology by Arthur Rosengarten
Tarot Shadow Work by Christine Jetti
The Hero of a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell
The Tarot: History, Mystery and Lore by Cynthia Giles
Trionfi.com (Tarot and Its History)
Ethics on the Tarot
A Dialogue with the Professional