Okay, on to today’s rantiness.
NPR has a show called Day to Day, and they occasionally feature stories from teens at Youth Radio in a special segment called What’s the New What. The idea is that the kids get to fill in the “What”s, highlighting some trend happening right now. So far they’ve done mismatched clothing, lack of chivalry, and psychics replacing psychologists. Uh, yeah.
Let’s play One of These Things is Not Like the Other. When I was in high school ten years ago, the clothes didn’t match and boys were jerks, but only the hopelessly gullible went and got themselves conned by “psychics.” Now here we have the reputable NPR informing us that for teens today, Psychics are the New Psychologists. Really? Really, NPR and Youth Today and Day to Day and Alyssa Wagner, the teen who did the piece? I find it hard to believe that Alyssa speaks for her generation, or even her school, or even her entire group of friends, so I’m not too concerned with psychic therapists becoming the hottest teen trend since toad licking. But the piece annoys me for several reasons: first, because it misrepresents a generation as gullible fools, and second because it’s targeted at that generation and lends some legitimacy to something that is a total con.
Alyssa states in the piece that she sees more teens turning to psychics in place of psychologists, mentioning a friend of hers who spent three months in therapy following a bad break-up with her boyfriend. After those three months, she felt that she hadn’t really made any progress. The correct thing to do at this point (if she really did have some kind of psychological problem) is to try another therapist, since they’re all different and one may be better for her than another.
The incorrect thing to do is to waste money on someone with no training as a therapist, who will simply flip over some tarot cards and then spin a line of BS at you. Even if we’re just talking about a wealthy teenager who doesn’t have any actual problems, the psychic is only harmless this time. The positive reinforcement from that situation might make that teenager more likely to seek out a psychic instead of getting real help later on, when there might be more serious issues. Alyssa mentions that even some psychics will tell people to go see a real therapist when it’s serious, but guess what? Many psychics won’t. And no psychics, regardless of how nice they are or how much they believe they really have magical powers, are actually psychic.
Because we always have new people joining us every day here on Skepchick, I’ll give you a quick overview of what’s really happening when you visit a psychic:
1. In the Mood for Paranormality: the atmosphere, the exotic knick-knacks, the headscarf, the music, and the sign out front that says “PSYCHIC” all put you in the mindset for giving this person more credence than they deserve. Most people go to a psychic expecting to see an actual psychic, so they’re more likely to attribute banal things to the psychic’s powers.
2. Cold Reading: most psychics will let you tell them all they need to tell you. “Cold reading” is the act of looking a mark (i.e., gullible person about to get conned) up and down and making certain assumptions about who she is. A psychic might see a teenage girl and immediately assume she has fears about dating, stress over grades and college applications, and ongoing fights with her mother. It will mostly be general stuff that you think only applies to you, with a few specific details thrown in as a risk. You’ll be more likely to remember the details that make sense to your life, while forgetting the details that don’t really fit you.
3. Hot Reading: while cold reading is done on the fly, a “hot reading” can be performed if the psychic already has some info on you. Don’t be surprised, it happens — in the NPR piece, the girl mentions that she refers her family and friends to the same psychic she sees. That psychic is sitting pretty, since now the moment your cousin walks in the door, she can magically “see” that cyst she had removed last year or the house she’s thinking of buying.
4. Stuff You Haven’t Even Thought Of: as much as you can learn about the sneaky things people like “psychics” are doing to con you out of your money, there are at least ten other things you haven’t even considered. Like, the Google search she did on your name, or the time she happened to see you buying a pregnancy test at the CVS, or whatever. You can watch those old TV shows that reveal the secrets of magicians and still get fooled by Penn & Teller. Why? Because no matter how smart you are, you’re still pretty easy to fool . . . especially by people who get paid to fool you.
Remember kids: Not Getting Conned is the new Getting Conned.