• Wren McMurdo Brignac

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?


…fortune-telling.


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.


…catastrophizing.


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.