The Empathic Tarot Reader: Transforming Pain into Healing

Estimated Reading Time: 9 minutes

By Joy Vernon. First published on the Biddy Tarot Blog in summer 2015. When I was searching for it this week to share with someone, I noticed it was no longer there, so I’m reproducing it here. I edited the article for clarity and optimization. I also added the “Additional Resources” section.

The empathic tarot reader feels like they take on the energy of others. In fact, we only reflect it. Realizing this lets us easily release the pain. Photo credit: Oxbow Bend at Grand Teton National Park, USA. Photo by Stephen Walker on Unsplash.

Being an Empath

When I was in college, my work study position was as a stagehand in the theatre. One day I arrived early for a rehearsal. I was sitting quietly, just being in the downtime in between everything else. Then a friend of mine came in and joined me. All of a sudden I was overcome with feelings of depression. I contemplated this strange turn of events. Then I suddenly said to her, “How are you feeling?” “Oh, I am so depressed” she said. That’s how I learned that I was empathic—I can feel other people’s moods as well as their physical pains.

I won’t dwell on how my life could have been different if I had figured this out earlier than college! Empathy is a psychic phenomenon that is not usually discussed, or for that matter recognized to its full extent, among the general population. But it is more common among those who are drawn to modalities like tarot or healing. Fear of the overwhelming sensations of empathy can even deter people who are otherwise talented readers or healers. At the same time, empathy is one of the qualities that can characterize some of the very best readers. If you are an empathic tarot reader or healer, read on to find helpful definitions and useful techniques for living and working as an empath.

Difference Between Empathy, Sympathy, Compassion

I tend to distinguish between empathic, empathetic, sympathetic, and compassionate. To me, empathy is the ability to experience the emotional or physical state of another. You feel it in your body as if you were them. I was doing a Reiki session on a friend once and suddenly I felt severe pain in my lower back. It was not a sensation I had experienced before and I wondered if it was because I was sitting on the floor. Then I remembered that he had said he suffered from lower back pain. To me the distinguishing characteristic of empathy is that you experience the sensation as if it were your own. It’s not in your mind, or a vision, or a knowing, but something that affects you as if you were suffering from it.

I use “empathetic” or “sympathetic” as being able to recognize what another person is going through without actually feeling it in your own body. “Compassion” is taking the recognition of empathy or sympathy to a higher level of spiritual awareness and understanding or even sharing the suffering of the person while radiating the light of healing from a place of Divine Unity.

Picking Up Other People’s Stuff

People who say they “pick up other people’s stuff” when doing sessions are empathic. The truth of the matter, though, is that you are not actually taking on another person’s pain, even though it feels real. You are a mirror reflecting their emotional, mental, and physical image. You are sharing it with them during the session and it is no more yours to take home with you than their wallet or cute shoes. It is only information. If you dive into the water in the photo above, will you find the mountains? No, they are not there. Likewise, the pain you feel in your body is only a reflection.

I recommend to my students that when they have experiences of taking on something from a client, that they say to themselves, “Yes, I understand, thank you for the information. I no longer need to experience this.” If nothing else, this puts us in the mindset that this is not ours, it is only our way of receiving the data we need to accomplish our work.

Protection vs. Oneness

When a student of mine, an empathic tarot reader, asked me about this recently she wondered how to separate herself from her clients. This is one of the biggest misconceptions about healing. True healing comes from a place of Divine Unity, in which we recognize all-that-is as being one with the Divine. Advice about shielding or bubbles of protection or psychic armor only reinforce that we are all separate. Separateness from the Divine is the cause of all disease. Being one with the Divine is the source of all healing. The key to successfully negotiating your empathy is to turn it into compassion through experiencing oneness with Divine Source energy.

Techniques for the Empathic Tarot Reader

The empathic tarot reader benefits from techniques that help them ground, connect to spirit, and release the specifics of the readings they did. Finding the right techniques for you will transform the pain of your gift into the compassion that characterizes a true healer. Here are some straightforward practices you can implement immediately. Also consult the Additional Resources section for more practices and philosophies.

Technique 1: How to Ground

The first step is to ground yourself. Grounding is one of the most basic concepts taught in most healing and spiritual modalities, although it’s not taught as often when learning tarot. You can use any technique you like to keep yourself grounded. A popular visualization is to feel roots extending from your feet, legs and the base of your spine. Feel the roots reaching down into the earth to stabilize you. You can also pull up additional energy from the earth, like a tree takes up nutrients.

Technique 2: Connect to Spirit

Next, connect to Spirit. When I started reading at fairs, I did a visualization in which I saw a beam of light coming down from very high up more or less centered between the client and me and stopping a few feet above my head. At that point above us, the beam split and one ray extended toward my crown and another ray extended toward the client’s crown, like an inverted V. Then I saw a beam of light connect my heart to my client’s heart, forming a triangle of light. (You can do this no matter where in the world the client is by picturing them in front of you.)

I don’t do this meditation very often anymore, but I did it a lot when I first started. I think it probably just happens naturally now. If I start to become too overwhelmed by my empathic connection during a session, I go back to the visualization.

Technique 3: Release Your Readings

The last thing you can do is release your readings at the end of the day. A popular tarot blogger mentioned in one of her blogs that she does a “reading dump.” She didn’t provide any more info than that, but it was suggestive enough that I was able to develop my own method. My practice was to perform this at home after a day of sessions, although it could be just as effective to do it at the location where you do your readings.

When I got home, as soon as I walked in the door, I would light a stick of incense and hold up my hands in offering, and say, “May my work and my clients be released to Divine Unity for the greater good of all.” As you can see, it doesn’t have to be fancy, just functional. It made a huge difference. As with the visualization, I did it regularly for a while when I first learned it, and then slowly stopped doing it. But now if I find myself thinking about a client after their session, I just release them using this technique.

Additional Resources for the Empathic Tarot Reader

The following articles and meditations might be useful for those who identify as an empathic tarot reader.

Basic Reiki Meditation. This meditation is grounding while also connecting us to our divine nature, and by extension to Divine Source. Includes written instructions and a downloadable mp3 recording.

Psychic Self Care. Tips on caring for your psychic self from a variety of professional psychics. For anyone who works with providing care to others or takes on the difficult emotional state of others, from hair stylists, aestheticians, and massage therapists, to psychotherapists, social workers, and peace officers. These techniques also work for any empath who simply needs to go out in the world. Especially useful after coming home from Walmart!

Spirit is Our Shield. On the topic of Protection vs. Oneness. I discuss the idea of shielding, protection, and taking on other people’s stuff in this article, introducing the concept from the system of Reiki that shielding separates us while connection with the Divine heals us and others.

The Three Diamonds. In this article I explore methods from the system of Reiki as well as non-Reiki methods to ground, connect to Spirit, and access compassion. Following these steps increases our ability to connect deeply with others in a way that is healing for us and them.

Are You an Empathic Tarot Reader?

If you are an empath in general or specifically an empathic tarot reader or healer and find yourself connecting too easily with others, I’d love to hear from you. I know many readers have developed their own ways of dealing with the difficulty of empathy. I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite techniques for working with this challenge? Please share your ideas in the comments.

I Work with Clients In-Person in the Denver Metro and Across the Country and Around the World via Zoom or Skype. Schedule Now!
Joy Vernon
Joy Vernon

Joy Vernon is widely recognized as an expert tarot teacher and respected community leader. With over twenty-five years’ experience teaching energetic and esoteric modalities, Joy brings expertise and practiced familiarity to her specialty of esoteric tarot, which layers astrological and qabalistic symbolism onto the traditional tarot structure. Under her leadership, the Denver Tarot Meetup grew into one of the largest and most active tarot-specific meetups in the world. Now Joy runs the Greater Seattle Tarot Meetup. Joy works as a tarot reader, astrologer, and teacher in Burien, Washington. To learn more, please visit

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  1. I am an empath learning my ability! Extremely drawn to tarot but I thought empaths were supposed to avoid mediumship of any kind? The images I see when I close my eyes & the energy/sickness I can feel around another has me paralyzed. Learning this gift! Not easy to navigate

    • Hi Lindsey! Welcome to my blog! I’ve never heard of empaths needing to avoid mediumship. However, I think using tarot cards is a good way to set a intermediary between you and another. Psychic practitioners generally work by connecting directly with their client’s energy or with their guides. But tarot readers work by connecting with the cards. The client also connects with the cards, either energetically through sitting for the reading or physically through shuffling, cutting, or pulling cards in another manner. The cards are, in a way, a receptacle for the energies of the reading. The tarot reader connects with spirit and connects with the cards, and yes, some also will connect psychically with the client, but this last is not necessary when using an intermediary tool like cards, runes, astrology chart, crystal ball, etc.

      You might like the beginning Reiki meditation, It helps ground you, and connect you to your own true self (not so open to the energy of others) and at the same time connects you to Source. Doing this every day, or even twice a day, helps prevent you from being swayed by others while strengthening your own energy through the connection to the Divine. I hope this helps! — Joy

  2. I am an intuitive, empath tarot reader. I have been reading socially for over 30 years, and began reading professionally over this past year, meaning that I am reading ALOT more often, and for a huge diversity of people. I have no problem being able to separate my feelings from my clients during a session, but it does drain me. I have to “dump” at the end of the day, and once I do that, I have no memory of the readings I did — almost like they are erased, my empathy for them disappears, and they become the stranger they were to me prior to sitting in front of me. HOWEVER, the more that I read professionally, the more “sensitive” I become in picking up energy around me, and I find myself feeling the feelings of others in my environment. In these situations, I cannot tell the difference between what is my feelings and theirs. As an example, I attended a meeting recently in which a person became emotional and began to cry expressing her extreme gratitude. I began to cry, myself, for no personal reason of my own, also feeling this “gratitude” that I otherwise would not have felt in this specific situation. It wasn’t until I got away from this person, later, that I realized what had happened….and I felt terrible! I pretty much “upstaged” her without meaning to. I am also picking up the negative energy of others as well, and can spend a full 24 hours feeling angry for no reason, and in some of these situations, I have had nightmares about the person whose energies I absorbed. I am not sure how to deal with this.

    • Hi Lori! Thanks for sharing your story! Yes, I had the same experience: when I was beginning to read, I used to remember every detail of every reading. Once I went professional, and started dumping the readings at the end of the day, I would have no memory at all of the reading, and often of the client (it would be nice to hold on to that so I remember them next time I see them!). And yes, you’re totally right, the more you read the more tuned in you become, which also means the more sensitive you get. Super great insight on what happened at the meeting, by the way.

      As to picking up and holding on to energy of others, I’m currently working with another client on exactly this situation. My recommendation is to do some kind of regular energy clearing/grounding/strengthening technique. There are many to choose from, so if you have one that you’ve tried in the past and it gave you good results, try working with it again. If you need suggestions, my very favorite is the Reiki meditation called jôshin kokyû hô. I teach it here in this post called Reiki Meditations. This is an easy and very useful meditation that can be performed as often as you like. The post includes a downloadable mp3 so you can take it with you. The mp3 is 20 min long, but once you familiarize yourself with the meditation (it’s quite easy) you can do it without the recording. Then you can spend as little or as much time as you need on it.

      Also, you might like to consider what astrological transits are affecting you now. For instance, right now Mars and Venus are coming together for a conjunction that happens on Feb 16 and then recurs March 5. Mars is the warrior and can represent anger among other things. Venus is love and relationships. This particular set of conjunctions is unusual because Mars is moving faster than Venus, which is not typical. Also, Mars is more strongly situated than Venus right now, so his energy is dominant. So all the weird anger, aggression, out of place ambition, and so on that you’re seeing around you at this time is being augmented by these planets. On a practical level the solution is the same — practice grounding and clearing meditations — but it makes an enormous difference to be able to rise above it all and see it from the level of the cosmos rather than from the discomfort of the mundane realm.

      Let me know how it goes!


  3. This is a new adventure for me. I have always felt other peoples energies and emotions and it has always been a lot for me. Since I was younger, I could feel the emotions of those around me and their energies. It’s been exhausted. While writing this I feel connected to my mothers energy even though she’s 30 minutes away. I have always been exhausted being around others for long periods of time. I am currently a manager and I have a difficult time with discipline because I can feel how others feel. I am also drawn to the spiritual world and recently did my first ghost hunt in an asylum. I could feel everything around me.

    I was gifted my first pack of tarot cards and I’m very ready to explore this side of me. I have never felt like I truly belonged anywhere and I was different. I’m in my mid 30s and I’m just exploring this side of me. I’m going to spend time reading about tarot and getting comfortable with my deck. I’m open to any guidance. Thank you!

    • Hi Kim! Thank you for sharing your story! My primary recommendation is a daily meditation practice. I particularly like the Reiki meditation called jôshin kokyû hô (here’s the link). It’s easy to learn and easy to do. You can start with just five minutes a day if time is an issue. Also, you’re in luck — just last night I posted my brand new Free Quick Start Tarot Guide. I also invite you to check out my tarot meetup. We cover general interest tarot topics on the third Saturday of the month. Enjoy!

  4. I have felt how people feel for as long as I can remember I thought it was normal but my aunt told me about a year ago that she was also an empath and ever since I have been curious about that side of me… I have always felt like a part of me is missing and like I should be doing something more I would love to learn more about both myself and tarot bc I feel like it would help me find myself and help me express who I am finally

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