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Tarot for Mental Health: Cognitive Behavior Tools for Healthier Readings

Tarot cards appeal to everyone these days, not only to those who possess psychic skills. Like an art gallery in a box, it’s easy to connect with the cards and turn to them for guidance if the imagery is inspiring, no matter your mystical skills.

Art enriches our lives, and a deck can help us organize our thoughts, make plans for the future, prepare for all possibilities, and manifest what we want in life. One doesn’t need to be a high priestess of a coven or professional card reader to use the cards for these purposes.

Because Tarot cards have a history of connection to psychics, and mystics, those new to the art of reading cards may feel pressure to try and divine the future or reveal “unseen truths,” but for many, this may not be the healthiest approach.

A lot of us don’t know how to manage our thoughts in response to certain cards like The Devil, the Five of Cups, the Nine of Swords, etc. To the untrained eye, challenging cards can easily be perceived as “bad omens,” and this kind of thinking can ruin your day or lead you astray.

The good news is, we can learn certain mental strengths to avoid allowing the cards to control you and your thoughts. That way, when you pull a tough card, your mind knows how to use it as an opportunity rather than a sign from the universe that things aren’t/will not be going well.

Cognitive behavioral tools for approaching the tarot

In cognitive behavioral therapy—one of the most effective forms of mental health therapy in the world today—it is understood that there are categories of automatic thoughts that we must understand in order to control our minds and live a healthier life.

Taken from the book The Coddling of the American Mind by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, the following are distorted thinking patterns identified by cognitive behavioral therapists that can arise whether you’re pulling a single card for the day or laying out a larger spread for a more intricate reading.

These are automatic thoughts that, whether in life or in tarot card reading, can easily do more harm than good. When conducting readings for yourself, learn to say “no” to…

…mind reading.

Using cards to determine what other people are thinking creates distorted views of reality. The beauty of our thoughts is that they are private to all of us. For most, it is wishful thinking to assume you know what is going on in the mind of another being. It also robs us of opportunities to connect via conversations that deepen relationships and build trust.

To avoid this pitfall, keep the focus of the reading on yourself…

Say you pull a card to represent someone that isn’t you and you pull The Devil card. Instead of quickly telling yourself “this person is evil because he’s the Devil,” ask yourself what assumptions you’re making about that person that might lead you to believe they are a negative force. This switch allows you to think constructively about your automatic thoughts and deconstruct fear and avoidance.

Look into alternate meanings the Devil card may hold. This card is actually about temptation…how does that concept apply to your inquiry? How can you resist temptation in your life?


Predicting the future is a complicated task, but is it healthy to try? Perhaps not. Our minds were built to think about the future without actually knowing what lies ahead. Not knowing what’s to come while being able to imagine it is another one of the ways that life is beautiful.

To avoid fortune telling during readings, ask the cards to show you what is possible, not probable. Understanding this distinction allows you to use any challenging cards as opportunities to plan ahead, build safety nets, and be prepared for the good times as well as the challenges.


Assuming the worst when a “negative” card appears kicks us into fight, flight, or freeze mode. This is a primal state driven by fear, but there is no reason to fear what Tarot cards might seem to say. They are just cards, afterall.

For example, say you’re getting married and you’ve pulled The Tower card when asking about your upcoming nuptials. Your brain might automatically want to say “oh f**k! It’s gonna be a disaster!” You throw a fit and allow the card to cast a shadowy spell over your special day.

This is where you can train your brain to see The Tower card as an opportunity to plan ahead for the possibility that things might not go as planned (as is the case with many, many weddings) and you can emotionally and mentally prepare for the possibility of worst-case-scenarios without fearing them.

That way, should rain rule out your venue at the last minute, you’ll be able to take it in stride because earlier, the Tower card allowed you to be ready for anything. You have effectively used the Tarot to bring more joy and strength into your life.

…negative filtering.

You focus on the negatives and fail to see the positives. This kind of distorted thinking is a survival technique employed by our brains to help us avoid threats, but it can also be just a bad habit.

The Tarot is a symbolic story of any human life, so it includes challenging cards. Try to see these cards as just that: challenges that are not inherently “bad” as our brains might fear.

Instead of looking for all the negatives that might jump out at you from the cards, think critically about the situation and look for nuance and opportunities for growth. Examples include:

  • The Seven of Pentacles could indicate financial challenges, and also a jumping off point to dig into the numbers and find solutions.

  • The Nine of Swords could indicate stress and worry, but it can also be a reminder to stop worrying so much and maybe meditate more.

  • The Five of Wands could indicate infighting, or it could mean discourse that leads to stronger groups and greater balance between team members.


This happens when we read cards(and situations) too quickly or from a place of fear. Instead of savoring an image and working to apply the card meaningfully to your situation, you throw your hands up as soon as you pull a card that you’ve overgeneralized as “bad.”

To avoid this, look for nuance. Look for many possible meanings, and choose one or two that are the most constructive relative to your life. The Death card, for example, could make anyone anxious, but it can mean the end of just about anything. It also indicates a fresh start, the closing of one door and the opening of another.

…emotional reasoning.

This is a tough one to avoid, because “trusting your gut” and “follow your intuition” are popular phrases, especially in the “woo” world. The problem with following what you feel instead of using intellectual reasoning skills is that it’s very easy for our feelings to distort reality and perceive threats that aren’t there.

Think about it: our brains automatically worry about what-ifs, even if they don’t happen. This is a survival instinct and there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just tricky to discern intuition from instincts that are on high alert for things that could happen but could also not happen.

To remedy this, approach the cards from a creative perspective. Think of each image as a prompt to make connections between ideas, broaden your mind and see solutions you might have otherwise not seen.

…inability to disconfirm.

This is where you take a thought like “I’ll never find love,” and you don’t look for information that refutes that thought. Think of the Tarot like another person you’re in conversation with. Would you allow another person to tell you “you’ll never find love,” and just accept it as truth? Well, maybe you would, but I want you to be stronger than that.

Confirmation bias is where we unconsciously look for information that confirms our beliefs. To remedy this, practice intentionally looking for information in the cards that disconfirms your fears. This way, you get more than one perspective to try on for size.

…judgement focus.

You see things such as yourself, others, and events as good/bad or superior/inferior. By continuously measuring things against an all-or-nothing set of standards, you’re setting yourself up to fail.

Removing dichotomous thinking is one of the intentions behind the square shape of Dark Days Tarot and Mother Tarot cards. Instead of focusing on upright and reversed meanings (reversed cards are just plain confusing), we can see the messages in the cards as being layered with a meaning that is part of a circle or cycle such as the four directions, the four seasons, or the four elements.

This helps to release the brain from overly simplistic thinking patterns that limit our possibilities.

In summary…

If you aren’t a trained psychic or mystic—or even if you are—think of reading cards as yoga for the mind and emotions. If you can confront issues with grace while interpreting a spread, you’re training yourself to do the same in life. It is a meditative practice to watch your thoughts, and a deck of cards creates structure for doing so.

Remember: thoughts are spells unto themselves. By learning about cognitive distortions, we can practice identifying and addressing them as they arise in our readings, which will free up our minds to grow and learn, thus breaking any negative spells we cast over ourselves or situations in life.

We can become more resilient in the face of challenges, and more appreciative of the positives in our readings by slowly replacing distorted thinking habits with more constructive and nuanced ways of thinking.

We practice living better, and that shows up in our energy and ability to manifest what we most want out of life. It also charges our Tarot decks with plenty of positive energy that will bless us, our homes, and our magical practices.

I hope this list makes readings more fun, creative, and empowering for you!

Blessed be, blessed be, blessed be.

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