Pretty Mental Health Tools

I wasn’t planning on posting about this project since the idea was to create a personal tool that would help with my mental health. But it took an insane amount of time and I worked incredibly hard on it so I wanted to document it.

The concept of this project was to create a personalized artistic interpretation of the Internal Family Systems Therapy Model represented through the mysticism of Tarot Cards. The IFS Therapy Model, informally known as parts work, is based on the theory that every person is made up of subparts that work together in different ways to make up a person’s identity or personality or whatever word works best when describing who a person is. The therapy part is the process of identifying these parts, their triggers, strengths, and needs, to achieve balance. Balance is when a person is centered and, “…which members of a human system have equitable access to the responsibilities, resources, and influence they need” -IFS Institute.

While I was doing this work in therapy a friend of mine proposed that we should design our own personalized Tarot Cards. Of course, illustrating my interpretation of the classic deck of Tarot Cards wasn’t interesting enough for me (eye roll). I wanted to completely design my own from the ground up based on my parts’ work so it could be a therapeutic tool. But I am not going to dive into my artistic process here, I just want to explore the insanely over complicated I-have-no-idea-what-I-was-getting-into concept.

Ok. A Tarot deck is made of 78 cards, 22 Major Arcana and 56 Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana are split into 4 suits Wands (earth), Pentacles (air), Cups (water), and Swords (fire). The Major Arcana is made out of archetypes, a concept created by the swiss psychologist Carl Jung around 1919, which is a “fundamental pattern of thought that’s inborn and found deep in every human’s subconscious mind” – Tarot Archetypes of the Major Arcana & Minor Arcana by Amelia Fisher. The Minor Arcana are broken up based on the four basic elements of life recognized in Greek philosophy, a theory by Empedocles of Acragas around 500 B.C – ish (in case you were unsure if this was a blog post or article it is very much a blog post). Each suit has a different theme and each card has an influential meaning, as opposed to the Major Arcana which is more of a full-fledged character. If that makes any sense.

So that is my basic understanding of the philosophy behind Tarot Cards. My plan was to loosely apply that to IFS Theory and personalize it. Which was incredibly difficult.

My deck comprises 39 cards. 11 Major Arcana and 28 Minor Arcana. The Minor Arcana consists of 4 suits; Mirrors, Weeds, Stitches, and Blades with 7 cards in each suit.

The Major Arcana revolves around the actual work a person needs to do in IFS. I broke it up into 3 categories for myself. States of being, issues, and solutions.

The Minor Arcana are my actual parts organized into four categories. Mirrors represent an idea of self-actualization, I view these as my core innermost parts. Weeds represent my “Managers”, to use an IFS term. These are more my day-to-day coping mechanisms, most of them anxiety-based problem solvers.

Stitches represent what I think of as “Distractors”. The closest term in IFS would be Firefighters but I took liberties with that theory. I think of these parts as the ways I interact with the world. Blades represent my protectors and exiles, which are always closely connected in IFS. These are the parts I have tried to suppress to protect myself and the hard-core active defense mechanisms parts.

That is the deep dive into my concept behind the project. I try to draw a couple of cards every day to reflect and center myself. I find them both beautiful and comforting. Definitely not a cure-all, but anything that forces us to stop and take a minute cannot be a bad thing, right?

The best part (haha) about IFS theory is that there are no “bad” parts. If a part is “misbehaving” it is just because it is misunderstood and not getting what it needs. It is a wonderful way to understand and accept yourself for the good and the bad and to break down your strengths and weaknesses and how they can be used to serve you best. Again not a magic cure-all and I still struggle with centering myself but it makes therapy feel more fun like I am telling someone a story.

Stay tuned for the artistic process video if I ever get around to it :).

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