Friday, January 26, 2007

Sylvia Browne Controversy

I have been seeing a lot of stories about Sylvia Browne’s wrong prediction about the kidnapped boy who was recently found alive. Sylvia Browne has been wrong before, most notably on the Coast to Coast Show during the mining disaster.

This time however, Sylvia Browne has said "I cannot possibly be 100% correct in each and every one of my predictions. I have never claimed to be." Fair enough. Mediums and psychics are not perfect. We're human, we make mistakes. Just because she made a couple mistakes, that does not mean she doesn't have a legitimate psychic gift. There are odd times when I can't connect with certain people and situations ... yet most of the time it is clear to me that there is more than coincidence or “good guessing” at work in my intuition. I give Sylvia Browne the benefit of the doubt. In her many media appearances she has often had some stunning “hits”. These particular “misses” were tragic. The most recent case was obviously painful to this boy’s family, and it’s fair to ask if such emotional and tragic situations should be explored in the informal setting of a television show. This is one reason I don’t do informal “readings” when I make media appearances.

It is reasonable for the press to ask if a psychic has a real gift or not. I always knew within a few minutes into a reading when I was "on" or "off". It was obvious to me and to my client. When watching Sylvia Browne, John Edwards and James Van Praagh, I have always been struck by how certain they all seem, how direct they are, and how they all seemed to tell, not ask, at least most of the time. I believe they all have real psychic abilities. I have questioned some of that certainty though. Is it reasonable to bluntly tell a kidnapped boy’s parents that you feel he is dead, so matter of fact? Right or wrong, there are gentler ways to release that kind of impression. I did face this challenge once myself, with the parents of a missing boy. I described where I felt he would be found. I told them I could not connect with him, and felt he was likely in spirit. I could not be certain he was alive or dead, but I could not give them false hope. It was probably the hardest reading I ever did. In the end, I was right, but being right brought no comfort. In cases like this, I think Syvlia Browne would agree, most psychics would be glad to be wrong.

It is also reasonable for the media to question the fees of “top tier” psychics. I don’t advertise “readings” anymore, I rarely do them. I think a reasonable fee is $30-60 for a short reading for most psychics. Then again, most psychics are not best-selling authors who are on television regularly and who are swamped with requests for private readings. I don’t know what Sylvia Browne’s satisfaction policy is, but during my time as a consulting psychic, I offered a money-back guarantee, and during that time I could count on one hand the number of clients who asked for refunds. I encourage consumers to ask about these policies before they agree to any reading. Psychics do deserve to be paid for their time, celebrity brings a premium, but I think the bar for satisfaction should be higher when the fee is $700 for 20 minutes.

I do wish the media would question more whether or not the psychic is taking advantage of people, creating a cult-like following. I worked towards empowering my clients to make their own decisions, rather than depending on me. At times I turned away clients when it seemed obvious they were becoming dependent upon me. If my personal belief system was at odds with a client's religious beliefs or their own intuitions, I stepped aside. I did not and do not want to have a "following". My goal is to not to build a following, it is to encourage leadership and personal responsibility. When I see famous psychics starting up their own religions and telling others that they should not trust their own visions if they are not in accord with the famous psychic … I start to get incredibly uncomfortable.

I’d also like to see the media take a closer look at the “skeptics” they drag on their shows whenever a high-profile psychic attracts their cynical attention. I am particularly concerned about CNN's affection for James Randi, and their unquestioning acceptance of his claim to be making a legitimate offer of an award of one million dollars for proof of the paranormal. There is a good analysis here of why this test is deliberately designed to be unwinnable, yet none of the mainstream media I have seen so far have challenged Randi on his claim. The mainstream media continues to give this so-called “skeptic” a pass even though his own methods fall far short of the scientific method.