Mixed Emotions comes with a booklet that describes how to use the cards for things like decision-making, problem-solving, and conflict-resolution. But since the cards were published, new uses for them have come to light. Some of the most interesting ideas come from social workers, school counselors, speakers, teachers, and bereavement counselors who use the cards in their work. The following ideas augment what you’ll find in the booklet and add even more value to an already wonderful tool.

If you come up with a new use for the deck that you're willing to share with others, please let us know via the Contact page.

Inspiring journal writing

Officially, Charlene Ray is a “social worker” at an alternative high school in Langley, Washington, but she prefers the title “inner beauty specialist” given to her by students. She asks them to choose a card at random, and then encourages them to use it as a springboard for journal-writing.

Facilitating communication when speech is impossible

When Chaplain Ray Kellerher visited a stroke victim, he recognized her great frustration in not being able to express her thoughts. He found that the patient was able to indicate “yes” and “no” and to pick a Mixed Emotions card. Based on the cards she chose, he posed questions to her, and she was able to “tell” him how she was feeling. “It was a profound experience and brought Mary comfort and calm,” says Chaplain Ray. “We were really able to converse.”

Helping children develop emotional literacy

Katki Malloy, a school counselor in California’s Bay Area, finds that the illustrations on each card tell a story that draws children in. The children relate the story to their own personal lives, and then learn to attach words to the feelings depicted on the cards. “Instead of saying ‘I had a good weekend’ or ‘My weekend sucked,’ the kids have a way to come up with a new vocabulary,” says Katki. “They discover that feelings are okay to have, and that it’s OK to have lots of feelings at once.”

Encouraging audience participation

Motivational speaker Joe Tye, of Solon, Iowa, hands each of his audience members a Mixed Emotions card at the beginning of his presentations. He describes a hypothetical situation. Then he asks people who have a card that represents how they’d feel in that situation to stand. Audiences are often surprised to find how many emotions—and how many conflicting emotions—they can feel at the same time. “The Mixed Emotions cards provide me with a range of options for pulling my audience into the topic,” says Joe.

Zeroing in on feelings

For some people, 60 cards can be way too many to choose from (most people are surprised that there are that many emotions). Kelly Wisnefske is equine services manager and lead job trainer at Rawhide Inc., which serves at-risk teen boys in New London, Wisconsin. Based on what she knows of a boy’s case, and by employing her own empathic skills, she sometimes picks out specific cards and narrows the selection before a session. “Then, during the session, if the boy has a hard time describing or identifying his feelings, I have him point to or pick the card that seems to fit,” says Kelly.

Working with groups, particularly those centering around grief

Rex Allen encourages people in groups to pick a Mixed Emotions image that speaks to them, cover the words, and then walk around the group showing the image to the others. “I ask the members of the group who are encountering the card to look at it as if they were in an art gallery,” says Rex, who is grief support services supervisor at Providence Hospice in Seattle. He asks them how they responded to the image, where their response sits in their body, and how it speaks to their heart. Then he asks the person who originally chose the card what drew him or her to it, and how the image impacts him or her. “Only then do I have them identify the words on the card and whether or not the words are ‘in sync’ with their own response,” says Rex. “Sometimes they are, sometimes they aren’t.”

In her groups, Kathleen Albin encourages members to choose a card, and then talk about how the card they chose represents what they’re feeling. “It’s been pretty amazing,” says Kathy, who is grief support services supervisor at Stevens Hospital in Edmonds, Washington. “And people don’t always pick the ‘sad’ cards.”

A bereavement counselor in Tacoma, Washington, Jacqueline Farrell uses Mixed Emotions in grief support groups by laying cards face down and having people choose a card at random. She asks them to describe what they see and feel and how they relate to the emotion depicted on the card. “It seems there is no accident in the card they draw,” she says. “And it opens up deeper discussion.”

Helping disabled students keep their personal and work lives separate

Lisa Bartsch is a school-to-career counselor at Goodwill’s Institute for Career Development in San Jose, California. She works with mentally and physically disabled students. “One of the difficulties our students face is properly handling their emotions in the workplace,” says Lisa. “They have a hard time keeping their personal and work life separate. To properly handle their emotions, they need to be able to identify and contain their feelings, and that is where the cards are helpful.”

Because the students that Lisa works with have limited verbal skills, she relies heavily on the card illustrations. “The artwork on the cards makes it easier for them to name how they are feeling by looking at the picture. We talk a lot with students about their futures, and what they want, and we have had them choose cards like ‘confidence’ and ‘peaceful’ as goals—ways they want to feel about and approach their future.”

Lisa continues, “When students get ‘locked up’ verbally because they feel overwhelmed, choosing cards for how they feel helps them to communicate, especially when they have a conflict with their work situation or co-workers.”

Getting beyond the blank page in art therapy

Mixed Emotions has been surprisingly useful as a catalyst for art therapy,” says Brian Penrose, a psychotherapist intern in two Bay-area school districts. “Often, children have difficulty creating art with no starting stimulus. The vacuum of a starting point is sometimes overwhelming or anxiety-provoking.”

Brian invites children to go through the deck and select cards they’re attracted to. “We discuss these specific cards and unpack some of the content, energy, and hopes that surround each one,” he says. “Usually, themes, patterns, and a narrative gently emerge, and I offer them some paper and art materials to artistically depict what their inner experience is at the present moment. The visual representations on the cards seem to quickly stir their artistic creativities and unconscious, while the affective themes always lead to subject matter that is poignant and compelling.”

Learning how emotions evolve

Brian also uses Mixed Emotions to demonstrate how one feeling can lead to another. “I use the cards to help children understand how feelings can slowly change and evolve over time,” he says. “Spacing out the cards—with a beginning and end—allows children to see the emotional journey that parallels a difficult experience or trauma.”

Improving listening skills

Rhonda McCloud is a crisis trainer who uses Mixed Emotions to help crisis counselors connect with their own feelings. It improves their active listening skills and helps them identify emotions when they work with callers in crisis. 

Playing "emotional charades"

When Rhonda works with children and their parents, she lays cards face down on the table and asks them to pick one without letting anyone else see it. Then they either describe the picture, or tell of an experience they had that caused them to feel that emotion. It’s then up to the others to guess what the feeling is. So, for example, if someone drew the Embarrassed card, she might describe the picture of a woman standing naked in public, trying to hide her nudity. Or she might say, “This card describes how I felt when…”

Rhonda says, “The families don’t want the game to end and have so much fun learning.”

Eating for the right reasons

Psychotherapist Signe Darpinian, author of Knock Out Dieting: Creating Peace Between You, Your Body and Your Food, has her clients use Mixed Emotions cards to identify how they feel before they eat. Then she asks them to use their smart phones to take a photo of the cards they selected and email the photo to her. This gives Signe and her clients real-time information that they can talk about at their next appointment.

Teaching creative writing

Author Deb Lund teaches writing classes. Like all teachers of writing, Deb constantly reminds her students to “show” instead of “tell.” To help her students learn this, she asks them to draw random cards from the Mixed Emotions deck, and then act out the emotions they picked. This forces them to show—rather than tell—how an emotion feels.

Deb also encourages writers who are stuck to draw a random card and then wonder, “Which of the characters in my story could be feeling this emotion right now?”

Improvisational theater

Ethan, a young actor, uses the Mixed Emotions cards with friends to help them improve their improvisational skills. He has actors pair up and gives one member of each pair a number of cards. The card holder shows his partner a card, and the partner improvises, based on the emotion displayed on the card.

Helping coaches ask open-ended questions

As “Mistress of Fun” for East Bay Coaches, Sara Orem, co-author of Appreciative Coaching: A Positive Process for Change, put a card on each chair, so attendees would have one when they arrive. Sara asked each attendee to look at the card and, using a scenario with an imaginary coachee, to ask a question about the emotion displayed on the card. 

“Five volunteers stood to offer open-ended questions designed to elicit more information about that emotion,” says Sarah. “Two of the five said that they used the descriptors at the bottom of the card to formulate their questions. What a great tool for coaches!” 

Creating ceremony and ritual

You can embrace, welcome, and “call in” feelings by placing the cards that represent them on your altar if you have one. 

To let feelings go, you can identify them by going through the Mixed Emotions deck, and then write them on a rock using a permanent marker. I like to let rocks and feelings go by dropping them off a bridge into deep water. 

Patrick Davis used Mixed Emotions cards to create a rite of passage. Both of his parents died, and an 18-year partnership with his beloved ended, all within a three-month period. After two years of intense grief, he used his Mixed Emotions cards to create a rite of passage. 

“I lit a candle and set each card down, one at a time, to contemplate and celebrate this transformational season of life,” Patrick says. One by one, he took time to feel each emotion fully. 

“This rite of passage has been a capstone to much grief work, and I can truly say I acknowledge each feeling,” he says. “Thank you for providing a simple tool to demonstrate this rite of passage. After 20 years as a spiritual and grief guide to others, I feel affirmed on my own journey by the simplicity of holding, and then laying down, each card one at a time.” 

Supporting "The Work" of Byron Katie

The Work is a way of identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause anger, fear, depression, addiction, and violence—and then undoing those thoughts. The first step is filling out a “Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet” to gather information about a situation that makes you unhappy. 

Use Mixed Emotions cards to name your feelings and fill out the first blank on the worksheet. After you’ve filled out the entire worksheet, explore each belief that causes your emotions by asking the following questions. You can use your Mixed Emotions cards for steps three and four: 

1. Is it true? 

2. Can I absolutely know that it’s true? 

3. How do I react [feel] when I believe that thought? 

4. Who would I be [how would I feel] without that thought? 

Then you turn each belief around. For information about how to do The Work and a PDF of the Judge-Your-Neighbor Worksheet, visit TheWork.com. 

Supporting Nonviolent Communication

Marshall Rosenbeg’s Nonviolent Communication (NVC) is based on the assumption that all actions are attempts to meet unmet needs. Feelings point to needs that are met or unmet. In a nutshell, the NVC process boils down to four steps: 

1. Observation 

2. Identifying feelings 

3. Identifying the unmet need that underlies those feelings 

4. Requesting specific action

Use your Mixed Emotions cards to identify your feelings. For help identifying needs, or for more information about NVC, visit CNVC.org. 

Setting the stage for energy psychology techniques

 Tapping techniques such as Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) involve mentally “tuning in” to specific physical or psychological issues while tapping specific acupoints on the body. Use Mixed Emotions cards to help you identify what emotions and issues to tap on. For more information about Emotional Freedom Techniques, see EmoFree.com

Meditating on behalf of others

Tonglen, as described by Pema Chödrön, is meditation that you do on behalf of someone else. It entails “breathing in” the pain of another and “breathing out” whatever would bring him or her relief. Use the Mixed Emotions cards to identify both what to breathe in and what to breathe out. For example, a child’s suffering may make adults feel frustrated and powerless. “Breathing in” the child’s pain and “breathing out” love, comfort, and peace can make the adult feel empowered. However, it can also bring up negative personal feelings. At this point, the adult can shift the focus of the Tonglen meditation and do it on behalf of him- or herself and for those who are in the same situation.


Eventually, I got tired of saying that and when Ann Murkett asked if she could include Mixed Emotions as one of the many card decks on her divination site, I said yes. At last count, you’ll find 80 divination decks and Mixed Emotions there. How does it work? Well, say you have a question about a decision or a relationship. You can go here on Ann’s site and then get a reading by choosing a spread and typing your question.

Ann says, “Mixed Emotions touched my soul in 2003 or 2004 and I found I could use it with any tarot spread to get to the heart of the question asked–the cards are always on my desk. When I relaunched my site in April 2009, it was a natural candidate to sit beside the many tarot decks on the site. Tarot is there to give people pointers in their quest for answers–but Mixed Emotions can add their inner feelings, which may help in their search for understanding. Mixed Emotions will always be the one to help in any situation.”

Mixed Emotions didn’t quite fit Ann’s site without some modifications. Individual cards in the Mixed Emotions deck represent a feeling, but individual tarot cards have a deeper meaning. So I created questions for each card–questions that may help you explore the emotions you’re feeling more deeply and benefit more from the information they provide. You can print these out and keep them with your deck.

Setting goals

Choose cards that represent how you want to feel instead of how you feel now. Then ask: 

1. When have I felt that way before? 

2. What would make me feel that way now? 

3. Do I have the courage to do what it takes to feel the way I want to? 

Determining whose emotions you're feeling

Once you’ve chosen cards for any reason, ask yourself, “Whose emotions are these? Are they mine? My parent’s? My partner’s? My employer’s? Society’s?” Make sure you act only on the emotions that are your own.

Starting a conversation

Ask someone to choose from the Mixed Emotions card deck every emotion he or she felt throughout the day. Most people are surprised to learn how many emotions they actually feel, and identifying them helps develop emotional literacy. 

Create a spectrum of cards that shows another how you came to feel the way you do over time. For example, if someone is late for a meeting, you might show that your progressions of feelings went from frustrated to irritated to resentful to angry. 

Creating a home base for your family's emotions

Imagine coming through the door, taking a glance at the refrigerator, and knowing the general emotional state of each of your family members. Imagine discovering that your spouse is stressed, your daughter’s excited, and your son is discouraged. You’d know right away what to talk about at dinner, wouldn’t you? You could determine what your spouse is stressed about and whether there is anything family members could do to help alleviate that stress. You could find out what your daughter is excited about, and come up with ideas for celebrating her achievement. And you could discover what has discouraged your son and explore means of encouraging him.

To create an emotional home base for your family, all you need is a deck of the Mixed Emotions cards, some magnets, and as many copies of this sheet as your family needs (two family members per sheet).

Fill in the name of each family member in the blanks at the top of the sheet, stick the sheet to the refrigerator using magnets, and lay the Mixed Emotions deck on the counter beside the fridge. Then, encourage family members to pick the card that represents their strongest emotion when they come home each day, and ask them to stick it on the fridge under their names.

How Patterns Can Help Make Sense of Emotions

Daniel Au Valencia, Los Angeles chapter leader for the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, uses their* cards intuitively and organically.

Sometimes Daniel:

  • Creates branching paths centered around a dominant emotion.
  • Arranges cards in a circle to represent a swirl of emotions in which no single one is more dominant than the others.
  • Places cards in an "A, therefore B, therefore C" sequence.
  • Arranges cards according how they felt in the past, feel in the present, or hope to feel in the future.
  • Lays cards on top of each other to symbolize that some emotions are "buried."
  • Creates a rigid grid pattern of cards, representing groundedness.
  • Scatters the cards haphazardly, representing chaos.

After arranging the cards in this way, Daniel reflects on the reason for choosing each card, its relative position, and any relationships between cards. For example, they find that the "Unsure" card is often paired with either the "Receptive" or "Resistant" cards.

When Daniel is finished, they take a photo and put the cards away. Sometimes, they send the resulting photo to their therapist as a place to start during their next appointment.

"Irritations of the subconscious often dissipate after simply acknowledging them," Daniel says.

*Daniel prefers the pronouns they/them/their