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August 8, 2012

Psychics 2.0


Photo Credit: Helen Sear/Courtesy of Klompching Gallery

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One former client of LeRoy's, an attractive financial professional, was frustrated by her lack of a steady relationship. When LeRoy asked at what age her problems began, she blurted out "13" — she'd felt like an ugly duckling because of her glasses and bowlegs. This decades-old self-loathing had given rise to her current angst. In one session, they sorted through those feelings, and the woman left reconciled with her younger self. Powered by the force of her epiphany, she was more confident, open, and proactive in her love life than ever before, and within a year, she was married to an old boyfriend.

Marilyn Chase, a 32-year-old L.A.-based casting director, swears by her experiences with Rayne, whom she met in 2009, emotionally leveled by a traumatic breakup with the man she thought she would marry. "Typical talk therapy never worked for me," she says. "I'm good at analyzing myself; therapists didn't add much." Wary of the New Age connotations, she approached her first session with trepidation. But Rayne immediately sensed that Chase had had a bad experience with a man, describing her ex in vivid detail, from his blond hair and blue eyes to his athletic build. "We unpeeled layer after layer [of how I was feeling]. When I left, I felt lighter," says Chase. At a later appointment, Rayne asked whether something pivotal had happened to Chase as an 8-year-old. That was the age at which Chase, a child actor, made her first movie. She loved acting, but when she returned home from filming in upstate California, her friends at school thought she was stuck-up, and shunned her. The incident turned into a lifelong pattern of avoiding risks. With Rayne's help, Chase gathered the confidence to embrace the unknown and launch her own successful casting company.

THE CONCEPT OF A SIXTH sense has intrigued scientists for hundreds of years. David Myers, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, and the author of Intuition: Its Powers and Perils, explains that only a tiny portion of what we think we "know" is the product of rational thought. The rest, he says, comes from intuition, the fleeting, unconscious impressions we form about people around us, immediate insights processed without the benefit of logic or reason. Current research into the field uses brain scans and neuroelectrical recordings to track the chemical mechanisms by which intuition occurs in the brain. William Duggan, Ph.D., a senior lecturer at Columbia Business School and an expert on using "strategic intuition" as a business tool, points to seminal studies on the brain cells of sea slugs, which may offer clues to how intuition works in humans. But Duggan and other scientists put little stock in intuitive psychics. "They tell you that things come to them through the ether or from the universe," he says. "All the research shows that it's really learning and memory at work."

Cynics say intuitives, far from possessing special powers of perception, are simply excellent with people, employing techniques such as "cold reading" — picking up on unconscious physical cues — to make their revelations. Quacks and frauds hawking sidewalk palm readings and 1-900-number consultations don't help the industry's reputation, either. Amanda Freeman, the 35-year-old owner of SLT, a Manhattan fitness studio, threw herself a birthday party recently and invited an intuitive to give readings to her friends, but she was disappointed: "He was playing off the crowd, reacting to us rather than 'seeing' anything." Intuitives themselves admit that one bad apple can harm the practice's credibility. Day once visited a psychic healer who was working with several people in the same room. The healer aggressively confronted one woman, a diabetic, accusing her of lacking faith because she was still taking insulin for her condition. "I was sickened," says Day. "A doctor who makes a mistake has a license, and you can sue him. You have to be careful with paraprofessionals." Especially at the going rates. Individuals pay $500 for 45 minutes with Day; businesses shell out $2,500 per hour, or up to $10,000 a month, to be on retainer with her.

But in an age when iPhones, text messages, and Facebook take the place of face-to-face dialogue, perhaps real-time conversations, complete with physical cues, aren't such a bad thing. "There's a perennial, universal appetite for spiritual connection," says Jeremy Sherman, Ph.D., an evolutionary epistemologist at the University of San Francisco. He likens intuitives to the soothsayers of yesteryear and shamans of other cultures, and points out that for career women, "there's a huge premium on anything you can do to reduce uncertainty." Intuitives might be especially useful for those who otherwise lack honest feedback from friends or family about troublesome behavior.

Predictions that come true, of course, are powerfully seductive. "Tony had no idea I wanted to be a writer," says Rainville. "But he 'saw' the book, he said I could do it on my own, and he predicted my consulting business. He helped me become the person I wanted to be." Maybe she needed someone to believe in her. Maybe it was the power of suggestion. Or maybe it was meant to be. Whatever the case, for Rainville, it was an intuition worth paying for.

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