Come on now admit it: You know you've got at least one. And you don't have to be a professional tarot reader to have them, either. I'm talking about that client, friend, or relative that causes you to inwardly groan when they want a tarot reading, because you know that they're going to take up a lot of your time and ask you for more than you expect to give them, or more than they've paid for. Rather than confront the person, you acquiesce and give them what they want at the expense of your time, your energy, and in some cases, your money. Then they expect it again the next time, the beginning of a vicious cycle of expectation or entitlement that can make you upset and angry every time that person asks for a reading.

What we often forget as readers is that a tarot reading is an exchange. You are exchanging your skill, time, and energy to give the client the message. The client (and I use the term 'client' to mean whoever may be sitting opposite you, whether they are paying you or not) is giving you something in return. It could be just as simple as their gratitude, but if you are reading professionally, they are providing you with money or something else of value as well. And while it sounds mercenary, the client should be giving back to you an equal amount; if they do not, then they are taking advantage of you.

So how do you balance giving enough without giving too much?

1) Get used to saying NO -- and sticking to it 'No' is so liberating! Yes, it can make you uncomfortable the first few times you say it, especially if you pride yourself on being there for someone as a reader whenever people ask it of you. Remember that you pick your clients. You are not obligated to read for anyone who asks. This is true for professionals and non-professionals.

People often feel they need a reason to say no. My answer to that is, appropriately enough, "No, you don't!" If we don't have a reason to refuse, then it becomes the excuse we use NOT to say no. But you don't have to justify your reasons or elaborate. And once you say no, mean it by following through. Arrange another time to do a reading if you like, but don't let a client think that if you refuse and they keep after you eventually you will give in.

I remember having to refuse to read a particular client when she came in sobbing; needless to say, she was very upset and really wanted some reassurance from the cards. As much as I wanted to help her and was compassionate toward her situation, I told her that I wouldn't read her that day because of her emotional state. I also had to refuse a client who drove from 45 minutes away for a reading. She assumed I was reading that evening and I wasn't. She tried to guilt me into reading for her, but I wouldn't budge.  And you shouldn't either.

2) The quid pro quo -- an even exchange for the professional tarot reader. Professional tarot readers charge a price for a certain amount of time or for a particular spread, and when it's over, it's over. In that respect, it's a little easier to stop because unless the person is prepared to increase the amount of money with respect to the time and energy you will give to the reading, you will stop. Even so, some clients will try to get as much out of you as you are willing to give without any regard for your time or energy. For example, the customer will want a general overview and their work will be the main focus of the reading, but at the end they might say, 'What about my love life?'

At that point, I gently explain to the client that the reading they requested is over, and that if they'd like to pay for an additional reading, I would be happy to oblige them, assuming I have the time and energy to do it. This won't always work when you take walk-ins and people sign up for readings and are waiting in line, so I will remind them of the possibility of doing a telephone reading. Occasionally, I will pull one card on the additional topic they have suggested, read it for them and take no more than 30 seconds to do it. It strikes a balance between giving away lots of free time and seeming too mercenary.
One client took up a lot of my time asking me to re-cap what I had already said and requesting additional readings with other people in line behind her. To nicely cut her off the one day, I told her that I would be happy to set up a phone reading with her. She called a week or so later and I spent almost two hours reading for her on the phone; since I charge by time on telephone readings, what she paid me for my time was definitely an even exchange.

3) This time it's personal. Saying no to a 'client' can be more difficult when that client is a friend or relative.  Then you worry what your refusal will do to your ongoing relationship. But this is when it is especially important to stand up for yourself, because sadly, our families and friends have the potential to take advantage of us more than strangers. And often we let them do it.

Knowing yourself is the first key to winning this battle, folks, and this is where you must leave your ego behind. If you want to be the center of attention with your cards, you may find that you get more than you bargained for. So don't say that you have cards on your person unless you are prepared to use them. If you are tired, sick, depressed, or plan to consume alcohol on a given occasion, don't pull out those cards. And you have to know when to say, 'Enough is enough.' That can be hard, especially if you're enjoying yourself and your clients are getting a lot out of your expertise. 

Knowing others is also an important factor. If you know that your uncle is going to ask you to read him at the next family reunion next month and you'd rather not, leave your cards at home. If you know that your grandmother is going to want a reading on your next visit but her memory isn't so good, cut down your reading to a more manageable size. If your friends plan to ask you to read at their Halloween party, arrange for something in exchange. If asking for money makes you uncomfortable, then arrange something else, like having them buy you a meal, for example, and decide in advance what is fair to you.

Friends who want constant readings on the same topic can be a problem. You dread hearing that they have a new boyfriend because you know they're going to want a reading to know how it's going to turn out. To have your skills trusted is fantastic, but it can be draining. Put a limit on them by saying, "I'll read you every [INSERT LENGTH OF TIME] on this topic, but not more. And then stick to it."

4) Client confidentiality is essential. Asking for free readings is not the only way that friends and family can impose on your tarot skills. They can also ask you to divulge information discussed in readings you do for other friends and family members, which puts you in a really bad spot. Sadly, this has happened to me on several occasions, and as I stated earlier, because these clients are close to you they may feel entitled to the information.  No matter whom you are reading for, no one is entitled to know the contents of anyone else's reading unless the client specifically gives you permission to share them.  I really try hard to be nice, because in many cases the third party is showing concern about the well being of your client by asking. I usually answer the question with, "I can't discuss that with you. Why don't you ask [CLIENT]?" If being nice isn't working and you are pressed more than once, I usually go with "None of your business."

The bottom line is that you MUST expect an even exchange with all of your clients, especially relatives and friends.  Respect your skills and yourself enough to say "no" when necessary, and to receive something in return for your readings. 

I wish you balance and wisdom as you move forward in setting boundaries in your tarot practice.

~by Rev. John Marani

Rev. John Marani, Jr., has been studying the tarot since 1989, and began his professional tarot practice in 2005. He is a Certified Tarot Consultant from the Tarot Certification Board of America, a member of the American Tarot Association (ATA), and a regular article contributor to the ATA Quarterly Journal. John studies Witchcraft with Tradition of the Witches Circle (TWC) in Occoquan, VA, with its Head High Priestess and founder, Rev. Samantha Harvey. He is the Head High Priest in Training and the Priest of Tarot for the TWC, and teaches astrology, Reiki, and tarot classes at 13 Magickal Moons of Occoquan, VA, where he also regularly reads tarot and does astrology consultations. John is an ordained Minister with the Ministry of Light Interfaith Church in Occoquan, VA. In his spare time, John is a Dungeon Master, and die-hard computer and console gamer.