Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Psychics vs. psychologists

There's an interesting case being considered this week in Chesterfield County, Virginia.  [Source]

The county zoning laws require "fortunetellers" to practice their craft in a part of the county that is not, perhaps, very inviting -- an area that, in the words of the article in the Washington Post, is "populated by trailer parks, towing lots, lumber yards and utility service buildings."  A woman named Patricia Moore-King, who operates under the name "Psychic Sophie," challenged this law, and wanted to rent space in a building containing the offices of psychologists, licensed therapists, and so on.  The owners of the building refused, and Moore-King sued the owners and the county zoning board.  When the lawsuit went to court, US District Judge John Gibney sided with the defendants, saying that the laws were reasonable, and furthermore, that Moore-King's "practices are deceptive."

Moore-King, for her part, is challenging Gibney's decision in a federal appeals court.

So I took a look at Moore-King's website, to see what she's about.  First thing I noticed was that she calls herself "Legitimate-Accurate-Direct-Honest."  Second was that she charges $100/hour.  As far as her qualifications go:
My many years of study, application and/or teaching of metaphysical subjects, spirituality, and modalities include: Astrology, tarot cards, numerology, development of psychic abilities, psychometry, Reiki, natural healing, clairvoyance, telepathy, crystals, clairaudience, positive, spiritual healing energy and prayer, meditation, runes, chakras, clairsentience, auras, paranormal phenomena, parapsychology, metaphysics in general, dream interpretation, new age / Hermetic philosophy, palmistry, color, and Kabala / Kabbalah.
From her FAQ page, regarding how we should think about it if she gets an answer wrong in a reading:
Similarly, if your psychic provides an answer that seems out of perspective or unrelated to your question, it could, in fact, still be the answer! For example, if you were to say, “I want a relationship now”, you would expect your psychic to say who, what, where, etc in their response, but, what if your psychic’s intuition prompts him / her to ask, “Did you start a new job recently?” On the surface, this response is out of perspective, unrelated, and to your frustration, not directly answering your question, but what if this relationship you seek is found at your new job?
What she does when confronted by skeptics:
Since the... host pays for my psychic / tarot card readings, skeptics will try it as a lark. Usually these new encounters go very well; however, I remember one such man, whose initial behavior was quite belligerent and insulting at his approach. Almost taunting me, he made it very clear that he thought what I do is a joke and his sitting before me was for his amusement only.
When I told him that he was cheating on his wife and stealing from his business partner; his chin dropped to the floor as he looked nervously to the next table where his wife sat, fearful that she had overheard.
Well.  I think we've seen enough, haven't we?

To reiterate something I've said in this blog many times: I would not presume to say that psychic phenomena of various sorts are impossible.  However, after reading about, and seeing video recordings of, many (possibly hundreds) of alleged psychic phenomena, I have never seen a single one that was even moderately convincing.  Not only has every one fallen short of the evidence that most scientists would consider adequate, the amount of equivocation and rationalization that many psychics use leaves me with no other choice but to dismiss the claims as nonsense.  So, when Psychic Sophie gets it wrong, she actually got it right, it's just that you don't recognize it yet!  And if I come to her with a skeptical attitude, she'll announce publicly that I'm cheating on my wife!  (For heaven's sake, if she did that to me, I think my chin would drop to the floor, too, but not because what she's saying is true.)

A more interesting, and subtle question, has to to with the original problem -- should psychics be allowed to practice next door to psychologists?  It's not as easy to tease the two apart as you'd think.  Psychologists and psychiatrists are, for the most part, using scientifically supported modalities for helping their patients deal with mental/emotional issues; but I've seen more than one licensed psychologist or therapist slide over toward the middle of the spectrum -- for example, a therapist I took my son to when he was ten to help him deal with the frustration he was experiencing because of my divorce apparently also did, in addition to conventional therapy, "past-life regressions."  (Needless to say, I did not avail myself of this facet of her practice.)  Others I've seen combine reasonably reliable techniques (cognitive/behavioral therapy, psychodynamic therapy, interpersonal therapy) with chakra realignment, auras, crystals, astrology, and so on.  It's not just an either/or, unfortunately.

Judge Gibney was right, in my opinion, to relegate Psychic Sophie and others like her to a space well away from the offices of legitimate, licensed psychologists.  But applying that decision (should it stand in appeals court) might not, in practice, be so easy to do.  Woo-woo thinking is insidious, and slips in all too easily if we let it.  (Consider all of the homeopathic "remedies" on the shelves in reputable pharmacies, right next to the vitamin supplements and cold medicines.)  As usual, the best thing to do is to encourage critical thinking, and (especially) teach it in schools.  Armed with the tools of rationality, any potential clients of Psychic Sophie and her ilk will find better ways to solve their problems -- and she'll be out of a job.  No lawsuit necessary.

2 comments:

  1. "My many years of study, application and/or teaching of metaphysical subjects, spirituality, and modalities include: Astrology, tarot cards, numerology, development of psychic abilities, psychometry, Reiki, natural healing, clairvoyance, telepathy, crystals, clairaudience, positive, spiritual healing energy and prayer, meditation, runes, chakras, clairsentience, auras, paranormal phenomena, parapsychology, metaphysics in general, dream interpretation, new age / Hermetic philosophy, palmistry, color, and Kabala / Kabbalah."

    This phenomenon is something I have seen all too often. Woo-woo practitioners trumpet proficiency in a wide range of metaphysical "arts."

    Counter to their intended goal of giving me piece of mind that they are a seasoned, learned scholar of these "arts," it actually diminishes the capacity and relevance of all of them.

    It's the equivalent, imho, of saying:
    "I'm a biologist, geologist, physicist, mathematician..." etc.

    You either master one "art" or you are a Jack of all trades, master of none. This also implies that these "arts" that she is referring too, must be rudimentary and elementary, that she could have the time, money, and ability to learn all of them in a fraction of a human lifetime.

    Her paragraph doesn't impress me. It actually proves how much of a joke these "arts" are when they stand up next to bonafide science.


    Science is the tortoise.
    Woo-woo is the hare.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I think I've only ever met two psychics who have been accurate (scarily so) in their readings. Not sure how the hell they did it, and it still puzzles me to this day.
    The rest were awful, and if they got something wrong, they tried to relate it to something else I'd done.
    My family has a long history of being into the supernatural, so I encountered these people a lot throughout my life. I get readings from them just for fun, and for analysis.

    ReplyDelete