Tarot, Therapy and Keeping it Safe
In a matter of weeks I will be an official, grown up, licensed therapist, a journey that has taken me nearly 10 years and a few nervous breakdowns. I am also student of tarot. Recently, there have been some discussions about the intersection of therapy and tarot in several Facebook tarot groups. In response to these conversations I have decided to start a series of blog posts about who therapists actually are, what ethical and legal standards we adhere too, counseling techniques that anyone can use in their tarot practice and ways we can work to incorporate the good work of therapists and tarot readers together to provide an awesome experience for our clients.
For our initial post, I would like to outline the qualifications for therapists, why you should be careful about using therapy language in your tarot business and some helpful protocols we can take from traditional therapy to keep everyone safe and happy.
Who or What is a Therapist?
There are three categories of professional licensures that are qualified to provide psychotherapy.
· Psychiatrist- Psychiatrists are medical doctors, completing four years of medical school and four years of residency. They can prescribe medication. Psychiatrists do talk therapy, but many focus on medication management and psychological testing.
· Psychologist- Psychologists are doctoral level therapists. Their schooling typically takes about six years. The majority of states do not allow psychologists toprescribe medication. Psychologists work in private practice and agencies, but many conduct research or are counselor educators in universities.
· Licensed Counselors- Licensed Counselors hold a master’s degree in a related field and have completed two years of post-graduate supervision. There are several types of licensed counselor including: MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor), and School Counselors. The designations vary by state and specialty. Licensed counselors can diagnose, but cannot prescribe medications. Licensed Counselors work in private practice, community agencies, schools and as continuing education instructors
In addition to these basic requirements therapists are regulated by state boards which require continuing education and continued testing for license renewal every few years. We are bound by the ethical standards of our professional associations as well as state and federal laws related to counseling. Counselors must meet documentation requirements and requirements for professional supervision determined by their state board and their employer. After completing a masters or doctoral degree many counselors go on to acquire training and certification in specific models of therapy or specialty area. These certifications can often take years and require a work, time and financial commitment similar to that of obtaining masters.
Are you still with me? Are asking yourself “Why should I care?” Well, you should and this is why…
Using Counseling Terms in your Tarot Marketing Can Cause Problems
As you now know, therapists are highly trained and closely regulated. I have seen the words therapy, counseling and talk of popular counseling theories and techniques bandied about the tarot community by folks who are not licensed therapists. This concerns me.
The words therapy and counseling should not be used without careful consideration. I know this is the point in the conversation where I might piss folks off. Oh well, feel your feelings. Safety for readers and clients is a top priority for me as a counselor, reader and human, using the words therapy and counseling in relation to tarot offerings can be dangerous for everyone.
Counselors carry malpractice insurance for a reason. Half of any graduate level ethics course consists of horror stories about therapists being sued, losing their livelihood and sometimes their freedom for things that honestly, seem out of their control. In our training, we learn about ways to prevent and manage this possibility and it’s still scary as hell. Laws vary by state, but certain terms are in fact regulated and using such terms could result in legal trouble. For example in North Carolina the phrase “counseling practice /practice of counseling” is only for use by licensed professionals. Unfortunately, people don’t always read disclaimers or understand the nuances of your marketing materials. Even if the term is not regulated certain words and phrases imply certain qualifications. I don’t want to see well intentioned readers in a courtroom because of poor word choice or unmet client expectations.
The second issue is possible harm to the client. If you are advertising a counseling service then counseling level issues will naturally come up. Are you prepared to handle someone who has been triggered and has a panic attack in your reading room? Do you know the protocol for assisting someone who has suicidal ideation? What do you do if abuse or neglect is disclosed? Once again there is a high potential for the situation to go south and when that happens folks look for someone to blame. Being unaware of proper crisis protocols is a liability for the reader and harmful to the client.
But…I give good advice/ read a Malcolm Gladwell book / went to therapy/ have a bi-polar cousin
Ya’ll, I know that tarot readers and therapists are empaths, helpers, fixers and generally want to make the world a better place. We have had such a profound experience healing with tarot that we want to share it with anyone and everyone. I wholeheartedly believe that people don’t need degrees to provide support to other people, that traditional therapy is not the only therapy and that even someone with a whole alphabet behind their name can be an unhelpful asshole. Yet we live in a world of laws and ethics and serious mental illness. It’s a litigious society and pissed off people don’t care about your good intentions. As tarot readers we can all agree that we want to do no harm. My first tarot teacher said that part of our job was to undo the damage done by people who bought a deck at Barnes and Noble and started reading professionally the next day. It’s the same with providing therapy services or tarot readings dressed up in therapy language without the proper knowledge. We need to know our boundaries and help people get the level of care they deserve.
What can I do?
There are a few protocols we can borrow from traditional therapy to help us make sure we are taking good care of our clients. One of these is called informed consent. Before therapists begin therapy we give our clients a document called a professional disclosure statement. This is a very detailed description of the entire therapy experience. The document includes information on therapist credentials, theoretical orientation, client’s rights and how the therapy is conducted. The client signs the document and it is reviewed at the beginning of the first session. Many tarot readers have similar information on their websites, detailing what kinds of readings they do, how they do them, personal ethics and what topics are off-limits. One important detail that we can take from the informed consent protocol regards confidentiality, most specifically duty to warn and duty to report. This means that things are confidential unless the client plans to harm themselves or someone else. I highly recommend including this in your own documents. My suggestion is that readers develop their own professional disclosure statements and have it available online so that clients can review it before the reading. If reading in person, have a few on hand and always set aside time to clarify and answer questions.
What do you do if someone has a panic attack or other major episode in your presence? Most importantly do not bombard them questions or start offering unsolicited advice. Everyone has different needs in this sort of situation. Simply ask the “What can I do to help you right now?” and then do it. Your job is to be less anxious presence in the room. If they do not calm down in a reasonable amount of time offer to call a friend or family member to pick them up. Always get a verbal conformation that they are alright before they leave and document this. If they ask to go to the hospital call the ambulance, don’t take them in your car. If they threaten to kill themselves call the police. You should ask for an emergency contact on your professional disclosure statement.
The final thing you can do is have a list of referrals available. All states have different mental health systems in place. Many now use the LME (Local Management Entity) or MCO (Managed Care Organization) system. This is a central agency which oversees mental health in each region. Each LME/MCO has a 24 hour hotline staffed by licensed therapists. They will assess the client over the phone and refer them to the proper service. This is not just for crisis situations, but other everyday mental health services as well. If your state does not use the LME/MCO system, they likely have some sort of crisis hotline. Do some research and have this number on hand at all times.
Congrats if you made it this far! I know this isn’t the sexiest or most tantalizing information, but I hope it was helpful and most of all helps keep you and your clients safe. Maybe it will inspire some you to go out and become professional counselors yourselves. I do not profess to be an expert in all legal or therapy related topics, but please feel free to contact me at tarotninetynine@gmail with questions or comments.
Next time we will be talking about basic counseling skills that you can use to strengthen your relationship with your tarot clients and enhance the reading experience.
I also want to give a shout out to Chelsea Smith for providing the space where this conversation started, you can visit her at http://www.noblelionprints.com/ and to Fiona Benjamin who suggested that I share this information with the world, she can be found athttp://www.modernfortuneteller.com/