Tarot Counselors

[Tarot card] readers claim to be able to describe a person’s life, his problems, hopes and fears, his personality and even his future. (more)

I recently watched a demonstration of Tarot card reading. The reader threw out various interpretations of the cards she placed, in terms of the subjects personality and life, and watched the subject carefully for reactions, moving the interpretation closer to options where the subject seemed more engaged. Though the subject was a skeptic, she admitted to finding the experience quite compelling.

Contrast such life readings to school career counselors. Economists have long been puzzled by the lack of student interest in career info. Career counselors usually refer to statistics about the income or graduation rates of broad categories of people given certain types of careers, colleges, or majors. Such advice may be evidence-based but it seems far less compelling to students. It is not connected to salient recent personal experiences of the subjects, or to outcomes in which subjects are very emotionally engaged. The advice is clear but uncertain, in contrast to the certainty and ambiguity of Tarot readings.

It seems obvious to me that many students would be more engaged by more Tarot-like career counseling. It also seems obvious that many parents and other citizens would loudly object, as this would be seen as unscientific and lower the status of this school, at least among elites. Even if the process just took on the appearance of Tarot readings but mainly had the usual career counseling content.

The high status of science seems to push many people to have less compelling and engaging stories of their lives, even if such stories are more accurate.

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  • Friendly-HI

    Create a “very special high quality personality test, the kind of highly developed science-based professionally constructed test a CEO would be tested with by a fortune 500 company”. Put in lots of qualitative personalized questions the students can answer in an open format in between the boring “on a scale of 1 to 10” lists so they feel like the test was highly personal and tailored to them and you’re golden. It doesn’t need to be tarot or voodoo, just make a big stink about how high status/value that scientific test is these kids get and they just might take it seriously.

  • The Tarot approach may well be better, as it addresses the drivers of behaviour. I knew a teacher who decided on her career at the age of five, because her own teacher had lovely red shoes and she assumed that that’s what teachers got to wear. The child ultimately grew up to become a good teacher. What use would stats or salary details have been?

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  • Robert Koslover

    Heh. I recall taking a vocational-counseling test back in high school that, after scoring, suggested I was best suited to become a dental hygienist. I went into physics instead. (I floss regularly, but only my own mouth.) On the other hand, a fellow student in college, reading some Tarot cards for my future wife, predicted that she would have a long and happy marriage. And that was accurate. 🙂

  • truth_machine

    “The high status of science seems to push many people to have less compelling and engaging stories of their lives, even if such stories are more accurate.”

    This claim, and the path by which you arrived at it, are stunning in their irrationality … but not surprising from an economist.

  • Curt Adams

    I think your article contains the primary reason that a Tarot reading is fun and guidance counseling isn’t: the Tarot reader is trying, hard and skillfully, to say things the client wants to hear, which the guidance counseler is trying to pass on information that’s generally not interesting and sometimes downright unpleasant. (How many high school sports stars would appreciate being told they haven’t the physical characteristics to compete in the pros? How many drama stars would appreciate learning the success rate for even an attractive and capable actor?)

    There’s probably something that could be done to make guidance counseling more fun – pushing more of the messages the student is receptive to. In the end what counts is what the student learns, so the desirability of a message is really (value of message)x(student’s desire to hear) rather than just the informational value of the message. But I think it would be a marginal effect.

    IMO the flash and color of a Tarot reading serves mostly to disguise the fact the reader is basically lying and I don’t think it would help any for a guidance counselor, quite apart from the screaming you’d hear from certain sections of the superstitious and the hyper-religious.

    Tarot cards can also be used more honestly for a kind of brainstorming but I don’t think that’s what you’re referring to.

  • endril

    Stuff like MBTI or “What color is your parachute” is sort of the exciting tarot version of non-supernatural counseling.

  • this would be seen as unscientific and lower the status of this school.

    Don’t underestimate the possibilities for counter-signaling. A school with a strong reputation for scientific rationality might countersignal its superior reputation for rationality by seeming to endorse an 18th-century superstition—just as Robin does in this post!

  • arch1

    1) Robin, this post seems to gratuitously inject (& then ignore) a pretty salient factor, which is that Tarot card reading as commonly apprehended is fundamentally fraudulent.
    2) A second reason parents may be apprehensive about a more personalized approach is lack of trust in the judgement or motives of the counselor.
    3) Based on limited experience w/ high school academic counseling (as counselee and parent), I guess that a mix of objective/evidence-based and subjective/advisee based advice is both pretty typical, and more effective than either category alone.

  • Granite26

    How many ‘customers’ does a guidance counselor have versus a fortune teller? What is the relative payment per session?

    Who is the actual customer for the guidance counselor? Is repeat business from the students important?

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  • Gustavo Woltmann

    More engaged, but more questionable perhaps. Gustavo Woltmann