Mental Health Media

Tarot Cards as a Self-Help Tool

Before I get into how I use tarot cards as a self-help tool, I want to clear the air and talk about the cultural fear some of us hold about this practice.

I grew up believing tarot cards were dangerous, evil, and that they were “del diablo” (Of the devil).  This cultural fear was passed down to me by my parents, aunts, and uncles and their parents (who more than likely heard it from their parents). I never questioned this fear, I just thought it was true, so I believed it, which a lot of us do growing up. My family didn’t actually have experiences with tarot cards to say things like, “tarot cards ruined my life” they also didn’t know the history of tarot cards.

Years later, when I began to question a lot of things in my life, I began to understand that people find comfort in ideas and beliefs that I find uncomfortable. That doesn’t mean they’re wrong and it doesn’t mean that my cultural fear is right. My feelings of discomfort were rooted in the lack of knowledge and overwhelming uncertainty I had about tarot cards.

Uncertainty = discomfort = judgement (in my case).

I invite you to reflect on the story you hold about tarot cards by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Why am I scared of tarot?
  • What did I learn about tarot growing up and from who?
  • What is the story I hold behind this practice?
  • What do I know about this practice and its purpose?
  • Have I ever discussed this with someone who has years of experience and knowledge of the practice?

Next time you feel uncertain and uncomfortable about something try this instead:

Uncertainty = curiosity = exploration = awareness = understanding = comfort

I’m almost getting to the good part, I promise. But first, I want to share some common misconceptions:

Misconception #1: The only purpose of tarot cards is to tell the future. 

I am not a tarot reader. I do not practice divination; I cannot predict the future, nor do I want to. Tarot cards serve a higher purpose in my life– introspection, reflection, self-awareness, and planning.

Misconception #2: Tarot cards are dangerous or evil.

Images on cards have been used as tools in psychological tests for years (e.g., Rorschach Inkblot Test or Thematic Apperception Test). Similar to these psychological tools, tarot cards hold psychological themes related to mental health, financial health, physical health, etc. Tarot cards reflect different aspects of life and can help you think about things differently.

Misconception #3: Each tarot card has a specific meaning and means the same thing every time (e.g., the death card means you’re going to die)

Each card does have major themes, but the meaning of each card depends on the person, and the moment in time, it’s interpreted. Just like we change every day, so can the meaning of what you interpret.

Misconception #4: Tarot has no practical use

This misconception is the one I want to focus on because the most important aspect of using tarot (for me) is to apply what I learn from them! This is where tarot cards become a self-help tool, empowering tool, healing tool, etc.

Okay. Here’s the good part.

I use tarot cards and oracle cards (they are different). Tarot decks come in different shapes and sizes, but they usually have 78 cards and have a set structure (major arcana and minor arcana divided into four suits). Oracle decks also come in different shapes and sizes, have less structure, and are as unique as their creator. Oracle cards have images and words along with a book that explains the meaning. Oracle cards are just as helpful as tarot cards.

Once you choose a deck (I use the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck) an easy way to start your practice is to pick one card a day or a week and engage with the card. I usually pick a card on Monday and set intentions for my week based on that card.

The following is a description of how I use my cards:

  1. Engage with the card— what colors, shapes, symbols, numbers, and images do you see? Does it remind you of something or someone? This step helps me connect with my imagination and creativity— symbolism is powerful.
  2. Notice how you are feeling— self-awareness— are you feeling open and curious?
  3. Use your intuition first to interpret the card and give it meaning. Then use an online resource or book to read up on the theme of the card.
  4. Self-reflect— what in your life (past/current) could be connected to these symbols. This could bring up past/current behaviors, patterns, beliefs, or situations.
  5. Introspection— examine how these past/current states of being are impacting your life (positively/negatively).
  6. Planning— do you have control over these things? If so, what can you do about them? What steps can you take to change these behaviors patterns, beliefs, or situations?

Oracle cards, on the other hand, are easy to engage with if they come with a book, some don’t include a book and you are encouraged to use your imagination and intuition.

When it comes to tarot cards, I still haven’t learned the themes of all 78 cards. There’s a lot to learn, and like everything else I talk about, you won’t see progress without practice. I use online resources such as biddytarot.com and tarot.com to learn about the cards. These websites function as a glossary for the tarot deck and give their unique perspective on each card. I chose these two resources because I like how they speak to me personally. I encourage you to find the tarot reader who speaks to you and interprets cards in a way that feels good to you. Follow your intuition.

Here are some of the tarot readers I follow on IG: @fortuneandflow, @thetrapwitch, and @mysticmondays.

I, also like to journal about each card I pull. This helps me conceptualize the card in my own words, give it meaning, and it’s also the main component of the benefits I’ve experienced because it’s where I reflect and build self-awareness.

The practical aspect of using cards is when you do something with what you learn. The cards are simply reflections of things you already know, but maybe you forgot, you’re unaware, or you’re avoiding. Here is an example I recently came across in my tarot deck— The Devil Card reminds us that we have the choice to break patterns that make us feel small. The “self-help, empowering, healing” benefits occur when you choose to do something with the information you learn from the card (i.e., break patterns, let go of limiting beliefs, trust your intuition).

In my therapy practiceI offer clients my support and guidance to engage with the cards in the same way. I use the cards in therapy when clients ask me to do so or when my intuition guides me to offer it.

My offer usually sounds like this:

  1. I always ask for the client’s permission to use the cards first— not everyone is interested or ready. If they say no, I respect their decision and leave it as an option.
  2. If they agree, I explain the following:
        • The way I use tarot cards is primarily to tap into your intuition, imagination, and creativity. I am not a tarot reader, and I cannot predict the future.
        • Interpreting pictures can be difficult if your mind is preoccupied with anxious thoughts like “what if I’m wrong?” With this exercise, you’ll begin practicing how to listen to your intuition, which helps build self-esteem while letting go of self-doubt and quieting your inner critic (the one that says “you have no idea what you’re doing!”).
        • During the process, I reassure my client’s by stating the following: “I will support and guide you by pointing out symbols and interpretations along the way as well as explore what your inner critic might be saying to hinder your process.”
        • The most important thing to remember is that you will feel confident the more you practice.

Some clients ask: “what exactly am I practicing?” I explain: you’re practicing how to trust yourself— your intuition. You’re practicing self-reflection, self-awareness, and introspection.

Some people find it easy and intuitive to engage with the cards, others have a tough time. I would say I was somewhere in the middle when I started. I have to give a massive shout out to Fortune and Flow for gently opening my eyes to a practice that has changed the way I live my life. This has truly been a self-help tool for me.

Lastly, I say “self-help” because you are the expert of your life, not the cards. The cards may hold specific themes, but ultimately you give the cards meaning not the other way around.

I hope my experience has shed some light on the potential that these cards have to help us live healthier and happier lives. Thank you for reading and connecting to my experience.

Love & Light,

Sonia Fregoso

Sonia Fregoso is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT #104403). She earned her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of Southern California (USC) and her Bachelors degree in Psychology from the California State University of Los Angeles (CSULA).

Sonia was born and raised in the Los Angeles community of Boyle Heights. Sonia is passionate about serving her community, creating spaces for healing, and spreading the word about holistic approaches to healing. Her approach to helping others is rooted in her learnings of being human first, therapist second. She is known for her openness, calmness, and humor as she helps clients share their story arming them with tools to encourage the self-healing process that can lead them to find and feel relief. She utilizes her education, personal experience, and intuition to guide her holistic approach that honors the relationship between mind, body, and spirit. She also uses a combination of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Narrative Therapy as well as intuitive, holistic healing approaches.