Jessica Dore On Tarot, Therapy & How The Two Work Together

The writer’s new book, ‘Tarot For Change: Using The Cards For Self-Care, Acceptance And Growth’ is out October 26th.

In an early chapter of her book, Tarot For Change: Using The Cards For Self-Care, Acceptance, And Growth, author Jessica Dore writes, “[Tarot] cards do have meanings, it’s true. But they — like everything else in this world — are not islands and they are not static. Their meanings shape-shift with time and in context, depending to a great extent on the beholder and what that person is ready, willing and able to receive.”

As a writer and investigator of the mysteries of the human mind and spirit, Dore has amassed a following for her interpretations of tarot cards — a practice that’s grown steadily in popularity over the last decade, especially through the visual medium of social media. While tarot readers are fairly common online, Dore is unique in her methods, combining more traditional aspects of tarot reading with behavioral psychology. Her multi-disciplinary approach to the cards indeed adds new context to the avenues of healing and self-exploration that tarot has always offered, and the results are often exceptionally effective.

Dore found her way to psychology through book publishing; after college, she worked as a publicist for a self-help and psychology book publisher, promoting clinical psychology manuals for therapists and self-help workbooks. In reading the texts, she realized how valuable their contents were and might be for laypeople who otherwise wouldn’t have access to the secrets of clinical psychology. In tandem, she began to unearth tarot’s connection to psychology and philosophy — especially the classic Rider-Waite-Smith deck’s underpinnings in Hermeticism, a Western mystery tradition. Though she did eventually go back to school to get a masters in social work and receive training as a therapist, Dore has maintained her role as “a go-between, an edge dweller, a walker between worlds.”

In Tarot For Change, Dore offers interpretations of each card in the major and minor arcana of the tarot deck, carefully weaving together the threads of popular psychological modalities like Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, traditional philosophy, and aspects of the modern human condition, like late capitalism and the proliferation of the online communities we live in. NYLON caught up with Dore ahead of her book publication to talk about the cards, psychology, and what’s next in her practice.

How does it feel to be crossing this threshold and have your book be coming out?

Right now I'm in anticipation. It’s been interesting, from turning in the final manuscript and having to let it go. That part was hard for me. Really just saying, okay, I can't make any more changes because so much of my work is just evolving, and digital publishing makes that more possible, you can revise things...

But I'm in a good place with it. I feel glad that the book was written when it was, I don't think I would've been able to write it. I wouldn't have been able to write it quite that way in any other time, but it was the right time for it to get written, and then, it almost felt like the kind of closing out of a chapter or the beginning of the new chapter in terms of my work and interests.

Why was this the only time you could have written it?

A lot of the ideas in the book were things that I was really immersed in, in the last 10 years, I guess from 2010 until 2020, or 2019 when I finished graduate school. And it was a lot of behavioral therapy specifically, which is a particular way of thinking about the human experience that I was really immersed in. My work in publishing first and foremost, and then when I went to graduate school, I was training in clinics with therapists who were doing behavioral therapy. So I was learning more about it there, and then a lot of those concepts are what made up the book and what's made up my writing over the last few years. I've learned about those things a lot and now I think my interests are kind of going in other directions. Had I not written the book right then, it just wouldn't have been written. I think it's good that there is a book that interprets tarot through that lens, because I didn't see anybody else doing that and I thought, well, that's cool and good to have it out there.

It's so interesting that it hadn't been because, the way that you lay it out, it feels like this aha moment of, of course, those things would be related. Why do you think the visual language of tarot lends itself so well to thinking about or talking about the kinds of behavioral therapy that have become more popular in the last ten years or so?

One of the things that I learned when I was at New Harbinger, which is the publisher where I worked, was the power of the therapeutic use and power of metaphor. There's a book, actually, called The Big Book of ACT Metaphors, which is all Acceptance and Commitment Therapy metaphors that therapists use. It's a book for therapists of different metaphors that you can use to help people understand things, like avoidance or just different struggles that we get into with ourselves. And how, when we kind of can better understand how to relate to our internal experiences, we can create some space to navigate those struggles differently.

Their whole thing is really based on this science of language and symbolic representation and stuff that I don't really understand, but I remember being around it a lot and understanding early on that Pamela Coleman Smith's Rider-Waite-Smith tarot specifically really draws on visual metaphor to get a point across. That's the language that it speaks, and so I think interestingly there is probably some science even, that supports why metaphor is helpful for people just in the way that we make sense of things.

Because I worked at that company, I was reading these books all day. And then I would go home at night and pull tarot cards, and it almost felt like the images on the cards were making the ideas more soluble for me in a way that just the text alone was not sufficient.

Everybody learns differently, so I think it's good when you have useful ideas to try to present them in as many ways as possible. Why not come from various angles?

Speaking to those various angles, you built up a practice and a following using social media to get some of these ideas across. What has it been like to watch your own audience grow, and then also to see this proliferation of accounts on all social media platforms exploring both tarot and therapy or psychology?

It's definitely been interesting, to the first part of your question, going along for the ride of what happens when people start paying attention to the work that you're doing. It's a really unique experience. And I mostly just feel really grateful for it. As a creative person, as a writer, I think that's sort of the greatest privilege, to have people who are interested in what you're doing. So that piece has been really incredible, and not without challenges for sure. And there's been a lot of stuff that has brought up for me too, but mostly, and overall, I just feel really thankful that there is a space to write and share images and ideas and that people are continuing to care.

As far as seeing the growth of people talking about different therapies and tarot and even the combination of the two, I find that exciting too. There are things we have to learn about because it's a new way of sharing information. I've been reflecting a lot, these last two weeks on Matt McKay, who is the founder or is the founder of New Harbinger, again the publisher that I worked at.

His story was that he worked as a therapist in Haight-Ashbury in San Francisco in the ‘70s. He wanted more people to have access to this information, these [therapy] modalities and these things that can really help. We can't get it to enough people just through individual therapy. So they started this book publisher to disseminate the information. And I think that's what's happening with social media now, because that's the technology that we have for sharing things and making them more accessible.

And obviously, there are challenges that come with that, that we're all having to learn about together. But particularly in terms of seeing people talk about tarot and psychology and therapy, seeing therapists posting about tarot and stuff, that's been really exciting for me. Because I think when I started, it was a bit more taboo. And then while I was in grad school and started kind of claiming that a little bit more, there still were not a lot of therapists I think, who were comfortable to be out about that they were using tarot in clinical work because it's not evidence-based. Depending on where you live, your licensing board might frown on using tarot in clinical work or something. So that's been pretty cool to see it becoming more normalized as this tool with some visual metaphors that can be really supportive for people.

As for your own relationship with tarot, do you still do your own pulls or ever read the cards just for fun?

I do still pull cards for myself, but not in the regular way that I once did. When I started reading, I would pull cards every day, for sure, usually twice a day, sometimes more. Now I've been really interested in just reading about things that I'm curious about and interacting with the cards that way, if that makes sense. I read things and then I'm like, oh, here is some language that describes how I understand the High Priestess or the Empress or the World.

I almost have them imprinted in my brain. And then I have a newsletter that I write reflections for. Cards are the pneumonic device that I can tether an idea to, to help me better understand it and process it. That’s looking for the cards too in stories, especially the Major Arcana. I've been trying to track them in myths and folk tales—you see those characters like The Tower or The Lovers, so watching how they behave in other contexts and trying to deepen my relationship with them that way, which I think is pretty cool.

Now that this book is done, what’s next?

I feel I've been working with tarot and thinking about it a lot for the last almost 10 years. I never really can quite put my finger on what year it was when I started reading cards, but since I started, I've been very obsessed, and only now do I feel like even after having written the book, have I scratched the surface of what the Major Arcana are driving at?

What is this map? What do these cards have to do with? I'm getting a little bit more into phenomenology and philosophy, trying to understand reality and even, and especially, I would say approaches to psychology that kind of go beyond; what I guess you would call transpersonal psychology, which is kind of looking beyond the self as the primary, sole and most important and significant unit of healing. That psychology is everywhere and psychologizing is happening everywhere.

And it's not just in human beings. It's this whole ecosystem that we belong to, and I'm really interested in that kind of stuff. I think it really builds on a lot of behavioral stuff to understand how this vehicle that you're in works. I have thoughts, feelings, behavior and energy, and those are the four suits. And then once I understand how those things work and I start getting better at managing them, then there's a greater reason for that beyond just the fulfillment of my own goals. And that's what the Major Arcana I think has to do with but, what is that? I don't know the answer, but that's where I've been and what I've been thinking about.

Bringing it to a more collective level it almost sounds like.

I think so, yeah. Something more relational and more, I think, ecological is the word that really comes to mind for me with the world of tarot. How do we live in capitalism? It's very individualistic and it's kind of set up to be that way. And what are approaches to psychology that can respond to the problems that’s created and address those things?

Tarot For Change: Using The Cards For Self-Care, Acceptance, And Growth is out October 26th and available for pre-order now.