Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ethics: The Art of Professionalism

Christopher delaMaison, CPTR

    >>Ethics and Professionalism<<

Ethics, whether they are described as codes of conduct, policies, or statements of value, all seem to have a basic goal in mind, that of describing a set of rules by which an individual or a collective group voluntarily agrees to abide for both the benefit of the practicing individual, as well as the community being served. Such a set of rules serves as a contract with society, outlining the general principles that benefit both client and reader. For example, the ancient Hippocratic Oath was developed when the medical arts were much less "scientific" than they are today. This early oath helped affirm the well-grounded intentions of the early medical practitioners, and in turn became one of the cornerstones of the universal acceptability of the modern practice of medicine. In modern society, such codes of conduct are becoming a much more common occurrence. Many now seem to have a set of ethical values that are presented to the public, to help gain the trust of potential clients, as well as to facilitate acceptance by society as a whole. Such codes outlining ethical behavior and social responsibility seem to be the hallmark of professionals and their professional organizations.

A large part of the problem with the social acceptance of the esoteric disciplines can be directly traced to a lack of universally accepted ethical codes. There is no Hippocratic Oath for the astrologer or Tarot reader. Practitioners of these ancient arts are left to convey to the public, as best they can, any ethical standards they may have. The result of this unfortunate circumstance is the reinforcement of outdated prejudices perpetuated by unscrupulous individuals who would use these ancient disciplines to commit deception and fraud against the public. One needs to look no further than the recent "Miss Cleo" debacle for a graphic example.

To help remedy this situation, specifically in the field of Tarot reading, responsible readers are beginning to join professional organizations. Such organizations, while designed to help disseminate information to their members and provide for member services, are also demanding that their membership not only abide by but also actively advance responsible codes of conduct and ethics. While this is not a new phenomenon in the business world, given the public's preferred taste for seeking legal redress of grievances, it is a novel approach to improving the public face of a discipline that is often wrapped in the free-spirited, "anything goes" environment of modern occult culture.

One organization in particular, the Canadian Tarot Network, has incorporated the idea of having individual readers developing their own personal code of ethics into their certification program. All six certification levels offered by the CTN have a requirement that focuses on the reader developing, writing, and then expanding upon a personal code of ethics. The purpose behind such an emphasis on the inculcation of ethics is to instill into the certified reader a basic understanding of ethical practices, as would be applied by a professional Tarot reader. This basic foundation of ethical conduct is then built upon, as the reader becomes more experienced in reading for the public, and starts taking on ever-larger roles of responsibility in the Tarot reading community. This, in turn, serves to improve the reader's reputation, as well as the reputation of the Tarot community, as a whole. As in any other profession, the profession as a whole is judged in many cases, by the conduct of individual members, for good or ill.

However, there are a large number of individuals who would protest the development of "established certifications" and "mandatory ethical standards," as described by a professional organization. These nay-sayers, most of whom claim to hail from the esoteric community, object to such "rigidity," claiming it would detract from the spiritual qualities of a Tarot reading, as could only be experienced in a true "caveat emptor" environment. Such claims may be very well true, in that ethical standards may impose additional burdens on a reader's conduct towards a client. However, closer inspection of said claims usually proves that such burdens have less to do with imposing any spiritual constraints by the "establishment," than with the hampering of a practitioner's "less than ethical" business practices.

An example of a "less than ethical" business practice can be seen in my recent visit to a local bookstore that periodically offered Tarot readings. When I asked for a reading the lady at the desk declined to do a Tarot reading for me, and suggested that I consider an aura reading instead. The aura reading included a mini-counseling session, which concluded with a suggestion of which aromatherapy item I might purchase. After listening to her pitch on the aromatherapy items, I thanked her for the aura reading and left.

While I am not opposed to the insight an allied discipline would have to offer, I was taken aback by the suggestion that I needed to buy oils and/or incense sticks. I only wanted a Tarot reading, and nothing more. I admit I do like to shop and purchase such items from time to time, but that would have been at my prerogative to do so when it would have suited me. I made up my mind that day that if I were going to offer a service to the public, I would do just that. "Baiting" potential customers to enter an establishment by offering a service, and then switching to something else is a tactic I would never care employ as a business professional.

    >>Personal Code of Ethics to Professional Code of Ethics<<

With the goal in mind of creating a guideline of ethics-based conduct, as well as the above-mentioned experience, I began outlining what I believed would constitute a set of ethics I would want to uphold. I wanted a Code of Ethics that would serve not only as a personal guideline of ethical conduct, but also serve as a public notice of what I will, and will not, do for a client. After reading several examples, and listening to the advice of both my Tarot and astrology friends, I put together the following Code of Ethics:

I do not foretell the future with Tarot cards, nor will I refer a client to anyone who claims they can.

I do not provide advice concerning healthcare, legal, or financial issues. These are areas of concern, which need to be addressed by healthcare, legal and financial professionals.

What I will do is use the Tarot to provide insight into underlying issues concerning your question. It is up to the client to use what we might find in our Tarot reading to bring about positive changes in his/her life.

My Tarot readings will be conducted in a professional manner that is private and relaxed. The insight provided during the reading will be about the client only, never about other people in the client's life, including family members.

All information, insights or revelations brought to light during any Tarot reading will remain confidential. The only exception will be if the client expressly agrees to allow me to consult with my mentor on the outcome of a particular reading.

I will encourage my clients to ask questions, take notes, or record the reading as it takes place; so as to further my client's understanding of the nature of the reading and any insights it may reveal.

I will teach my clients about the insights and limitations of the Tarot. I will teach my clients that they have the responsibility to conduct themselves according to their conscience, and that the insights revealed by the Tarot are answers from their inner-self, and may be acted upon according to the client's free will and conscience.

I will always endeavor to express what insights I have been given during a Tarot reading in such a manner as to empower my client. My clients will never be asked to make any additional purchase of any kind, or be exploited for personal or financial gain.

I will respect the moral, religious and social beliefs of my clients, and will refrain from any judgment and criticism. I will adhere to the standards set forth by the ATA and the CTN, including the Code of Ethics of both of these organizations.

In assembling this Code of Ethics, I strived to include a number of elements which I believe are essential items in conveying the professional nature of my services to the public. Among them are the commitment to the delivery of consistent, high quality readings, confidentiality of the reading, an agreed upon understanding of the limitations of a Tarot reading, and a degree of sensitivity to my client and the problems they discuss with me. Two additional items, which I deemed to be vital components of a professional Code of Ethics, are the ideas of providing the reading as the primary service that I extend to my client, and that my Code of Ethics is compatible with the professional Tarot organizations of which I am a member. These last two items are key elements in the development of a "professional" Code of Ethics, from a personal code of conduct.

To begin with, the reading, whatever its outcome, is NOT to be used or leveraged so as to induce the client to purchase any additional services, products or items. While I do understand that many readers may work in shops that sell other items, such as oils, incense, etc., there needs to be some sort of ethical guideline in place that reduces or prevents the issue of "conflicting interests." The inclusion of such provisions in a Code of Ethics helps to alleviate such issues by letting the client know before a reading, that the choice to purchase any additional services or items should be considered separately from the original contracted reading.

Second, the ethical standards, which I make available to my clients BEFORE they agree to a contract reading, are compatible with the professional organizations with which I am a member. As a professional Tarot reader, I support the Tarot community through my membership in professional organizations, which support and advance the quality of the Tarot profession. As one person out of many, I have the opportunity and advantage of learning from the insight and experience of other members of a professional organization. Such organizations provide not only a forum that facilitates the exchange of ideas and methods, but also provides the opportunity to contribute to the profession by striving to develop and improve the qualities and ideals that are incumbent upon each member. My Code of Ethics may be something I might claim for myself, but it really is the combined influence of the professional Tarot community; examined, reviewed, and questioned by my peers with whom I claim membership.

    >>Ethics in Writing, Publishing, and Dealing with Peers<<

The label "Tarot professional" carries with it much more than the notion of simply being a responsible card reader. In today's society, more so than in any other time in history, the written word has become the standard method of transmitting ideas and learning, as well as conveying the thoughts and opinions of our peers and the general public. Today's Tarot professional must be an expert at locating and learning from the written material available, as well as being able to assemble his/her experiences and knowledge into written form, to be used by the next generation of professional readers.

Now, this is not to say that all readers must be accomplished authors, literary critics or experts in library science. However, a professional reader, like any other professional, should uphold the basic ethics incumbent upon those who create, edit and promote written materials that are used in our profession. In short, ethical readers should stand against the plagiarization of any materials, whether esoteric or not, and should endeavor to maintain the accuracy of any materials being published, properly citing references as well as avoiding distorting information in favor of any particular viewpoint or belief.

Much of the same can, and should, be applied to how we, as professional Tarot readers, deal with our peers. By giving credit to the appropriate references in our written works, we support and encourage our peers to freely contribute their thoughts, insight, and experiences to the overall knowledge base of our profession. These contributions, most of which become freely available to the public, serve to advance our profession and help bring the benefits of our services to the general public. It is interesting to note that many of the opinions of our profession stem from what the curious have gleaned from the printed materials available at local bookstores. Writing and publishing Tarot materials that reflect the high standards of our profession promotes the external image we project to the public, as well as to members of our profession. Creating these materials, and presenting them to our students and peers in an ethical manner, is of fundamental importance.

    >>Ethics of the Student-Teacher Relationship<<

As a college instructor, I have learned that a good teacher is NOT the chief dispenser of knowledge, but a facilitator of the learning experience. Assuming the role as an instructor places upon the professional reader an entirely different mantel of responsibility. As an instructor, the Tarot professional is in a unique position to convey the experiences and insights to new readers that have been gained over the course of a career. Doing so requires that the instructor approach the student neither as an equal nor as an authority; but requires that a middle ground be defined that allows for the learning experience to take place in a positive manner.

The Student-Teacher relationship is a very special bond that is created when two people interact to exchange ideas or information. In a very real sense, we are all both students and teachers. This relationship is more akin to the situation of a blacksmith. Just as a blacksmith bends and shapes his ironwork, so too does the working itself bend and shape the smith. There are no Tarot "gurus" located in far-away places that do not need the insight or experiences of others. Likewise, there are no students who do not in some fashion influence the perspective of their instructors. For this relationship to work, the student must be honest about wanting to learn the profession he/she is taking up, and the instructor must be honest about wanting to really teach the student. When both of these conditions occur, a student-teacher relationship is created.

To maintain this relationship, the instructor must be honest about REALLY wanting to teach the student. This can only be realized if the instructor is careful about maintaining the proper learning environment. This is why virtually all colleges and universities have guidelines in place that seek to prevent behavior that may be interpreted as fraternization, including rules prohibiting dating between the instructor and his/her students. Such policies seek to maintain a "professional distance" between the student and the instructor, which allows room for the learning process to operate, free from "outside" distractions.

This "professional distance" is not to be taken as license to treat a student as a number, but rather to maintain a level of compassion that will still allow the instructor the objectivity needed to function as a teacher. This sense of perspective is needed to successfully impart the abilities, attitude, skills and knowledge needed by the student to be successful in the Tarot profession. If the instructor cannot impart these qualities, or build the confidence of his/her students, then this relationship will fail both the instructor and the student.

The student too, has his/her responsibilities in this relationship. The student must be serious about learning the skills of this profession. There seems to be no limit to the number of "dubious" readers that are constantly in the public eye. While some of these individuals are no doubt products of poor training, many of these persons were perhaps never serious about REALLY learning the craft they claim to practice. Lured by the promise of easy money to be had at the expense of the general public, such readers seriously impair the image of the professional card reader, as well as the image of those readers who may consider joining the Tarot community. Students should realize, or if necessary be told, that the field of Tarot reading is a profession that will require a life-long commitment to continual learning and practicing. The appetite for learning must be present in the student, for the instructor to feed.

    >>Ethics for Working with Groups and Communicating with Peers<<

Working with large groups of people places an extra burden on the professional reader, in that the larger the group, the more exposure the reader has to the public, especially when filling the role as a group speaker. As any one will tell you, who has a background in public speaking, group dynamics provides a whole new set of challenges for the professional to contend with. Groups of people increase the problem of hidden agendas and goals, with which the reader/speaker must contend. I have personally seen this while participating in large group lectures, where the speaker is confronted with a wide variety of divergent views, insights and goals. It is often difficult, if not impossible, to maintain a professional discourse under such circumstances, especially if the speaker is working with an adversarial group. These are the times when a firmly established Code of Ethics will be of the greatest benefit.

The speaker must take considerable care to treat each individual in a group with respect and equity, as well as insist that group members also treat each other in the same fashion. As any group of individuals is a collection of diverse personalities, the speaker must take care to avoid comments, actions or behaviors that might be considered to be offensive to any particular individual. From my own personal experience, groups will often contain several sub-groups, or special interest groups, with their own ideas and agendas. Many times the agendas of such sub-groups will differ significantly from the intended focus of the group. It is the responsibility of the speaker to be able to address these special groups as needed, without loosing the integrity of the group's original focus by diverging into unrelated topics.

In many ways, speaking to a group of diverse individuals is not unlike trying to develop and maintain a student-teacher relationship with several people all at once. However, if everything works and the group participants are not too rowdy, the speaker may begin to see a rise in the group's "synergy." This is what the group participants will remember about the group experience, and invariably, about the speaker him/herself, even more so than what the original topic of discussion was about!

Similar to the challenges of working with large groups is communicating and working with peers in one's own field. Many readers find themselves "at arm's length" when dealing with their peers, or peers from other disciplines. Many times this problem arises from the perception, either right or wrong, on how a peer is perceived as being treated. Some readers tend to treat others they interact with as potential students or clients. This, in turn, may be misinterpreted as a personal slight.

From the standpoint of professional ethics, it would speak well for all Tarot readers to treat their peers as equals, rather than as amateur or junior readers. This would go far to instill a more professional image within our own ranks. There have been many instances where I have performed readings for others, only to learn that my clients were seasoned readers, with many years of experience. A professional bearing in these instances has earned for me their respect, which has gone far in establishing my reputation as a solid reader.

Likewise, as professionals, we need to show common respect and courtesy to members of other Tarot organizations, as well as those practitioners of the allied esoteric arts. While some practitioners of other esoteric disciplines tend not to acknowledge Tarot readers as professional peers, members of our profession should not respond in like manner. If we, as a society of Tarot readers, extend professional courtesies to all other disciplines in equal manner, then we, as a collective group, will benefit from the reputation of being seen by our peers, as well as by the public at large, as being a society of responsible professionals worthy of being accepted as learned esotericists in our own right.


In the end, it is up to the individual card reader to adopt and advance the idea of abiding by a code of ethics, when working with our clients. We alone are responsible for changing the public perception of professional Tarot reading, restoring it to a place of honor as an ancient esoteric discipline. Letting society slowly reverse the antiquated laws against "fortune telling" is not enough to accomplish the goal of restoring Tarot reading as a mature, responsible profession. Individual readers must consciously choose to adhere to standards of ethical conduct and accountability, and demand that their peers do likewise. Only a total commitment to excellence will see our craft established as a professional endeavor, worthy of the respect and admiration that it so richly deserves.

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