Secrets of a Telephone Psychic

Ever wondered just how accurate those telephone psychics are? You've probably seen the TV commercials: a bunch of women chatting it up on a couch, boasting about their psychic abilities, urging viewers to call their own "personal psychic." Just who are these people anyway? I decide to find out.

The first step is getting the phone number. I watch TV for a couple of days straight hoping the commercial will come on. Of course, it doesn't. So I search the Internet and turn up hundreds of web sites for psychic hotlines. I dial the 900 number for the "Psychic Friends Network" and reach a recorded message.

"Welcome to the Psychic Advisor Line, where you can get answers about love, money, success and more. The cost of this call is only $3.99 per minute, and you must be 18. The average length of this call is 10 minutes. If you are under 18 or do not wish to be billed, please hang up. Billing will begin in 3 seconds."

Silence. "Please hold on while we connect your call. Stay on the line and one of our psychics will be right with you." More silence. "If you know the psychic advisor you would like to speak with, please enter their 4-digit number now, or stay on the line while we select one for you." More silence. "You are now connected to your psychic advisor." Some new age music plays for about 25 seconds -- $1 worth of my psychic time. "You are now connected to your psychic."

At long last, my personal psychic comes on the line. A pleasant female voice says, "Hello, my name is Sandy."

"Hello," I say, thinking that since she's psychic, she'll automatically know my name.

"Hi there."


"What's your name?"

"Uh, Jane..."

"Hi, Jane. How are you today?"


"And what can I do for you today?"

I wasn't prepared for this. "Well...I don't know...I just thought I'd give it a try..."

We both laugh. "Give it a shot and see what's up," she says.

This seems like a good time to probe her for information. "Are you really psychic?" I ask.

"I'm a card reader," she says. "I have a lot of psychic ability, which I think anybody who does any type of reading has to have. I prefer to call myself a spiritual counselor. A lot of it's just kind of being in tune with people. And I have a tremendous amount of mileage in life because I'm older."

When I ask, Sandy reveals that she is 55. She says that most card readers use Tarot cards; however, she prefers a regular old deck of cards. "I've tried to learn how to do the Tarot cards and they mean nothing to me," she notes. "And yet I can turn over a regular deck of cards and get some kind of information about 95 percent of the time."

Sandy has been doing readings for about ten years, the past four as a telephone psychic. But these clairvoyants are not sitting around on a couch chatting, as we've been led to believe. They're spread across the country, in their own basements and living rooms. Sandy wasn't even sure which psychic hotline she was hooked up to. She explained that when she goes online, she calls a number, keys in a code and is then hooked up to a computer somewhere.

Sandy operates her psychic hotline out of her house in California, in conjunction with her watercolor painting. "I have my cards all lined up and ready to go, and in between calls, I do the watercolors," she explains. "Today I've been pretty busy. Yesterday I was on for a couple of hours and didn't get anybody."

Still, she seems to enjoy it. "You get to talk to people from everywhere, like you and I, and just have nice conversations and hopefully help some people," she says. "You also find that as you do it, you help yourself, because you begin to see yourself there and it helps to answer a lot of your own questions."

Most people call about love, relationships or money, she tells me, and the cards give her a good starting point. "We just kind of tell you some different paths that are open. Of course, the choices are up to you, because it's still free will...most people have their own answers."

Although my personal psychic is costing me $4 a minute, Sandy reveals that she makes only 20 cents a minute. "We're 1099. They don't take our taxes," she explains. "And this company is very good about paying. They pay us once a week."

Because of all my questions, she assumes that I'm interested in being a telephone psychic and gives me a number to call, along with her extension. "If we get a referral, we get a pat on the head," she remarks.

"So do you have to have psychic ability to do this, or is there some kind of training people can take?" I ask.

"I guess you have to have psychic ability," she says. "My personal belief is that psychic ability is just kind of listening very carefully. Most people just don't have the clarity. I think people in general become more psychic as they get older, because the everyday living stuff gets out of their way."

Ah I'm paying $4 a minute for someone to listen to me. This brings to mind the scene in "Crocodile Dundee" where Dundee explains to his over-analyzed girlfriend that whenever anyone in his Australian territory has a problem, they just tell Wally and Wally tells everyone else and voila, no more problem!

Anyway, back to my personal psychic. Since I don't know exactly what to say, I just tell Sandy I'm in a rut. She wants to know the color of my hair and eyes. Red hair and hazel eyes. Am I married or divorced? Married.

From this information (and, presumably, all the questions I asked about being a psychic), the cards are telling her that I'm lost and looking for a new direction. That I'm experiencing some kind of separation. That she sees some instability and a temporary home in our lives. This last part is astonishingly accurate, as we recently moved into our own home after living with my parents for several years.

But the cards also say some pretty vague things that could just as well apply to an 80-year-old sheep-herder in Bolivia. Like: we've reviewed our plans and are trying to figure out where we're going, but the plans are on firm footing. That I shouldn't waste my energy looking for answers elsewhere. I have all the answers within me. I just need to restore my self-confidence. I'm on the verge of striking a nice balance in my life. There's another move in store for me. Hey, wait a minute. This grabs my attention.

"What do you mean?" I ask worriedly. "Like a physical move?" (I don't intend to move ever again.)

She calms me down by saying it doesn't necessarily mean a physical move. It could be a career move or something else. Even though I don't know this woman, she has a pleasant voice that is somehow comforting to me.

"I see a lot of movement of energy now," she goes on. "For a while, it seems like you've gone over hill and dale, but you're coming into a very positive phase. You are about to come out the victor, although for this particular moment, you may not feel that way. Everything for personal happiness is right within your reach. It may get just a little bit darker before it gets brighter, but it's a temporary thing."

Blah blah blah. I am growing weary of all this vague stuff. Then she gets specific. Says my husband will have some business dealings with two people -- a fair-haired man and a practical man with brown hair and brown eyes, possibly an olive complexion. husband's family is olive-complected. And very practical.

But there are some obstacles to overcome, some entanglements, she continues. At this point, we get cut off. Oh no! Since she had given me her extension earlier, I call her back. She says the company automatically cuts us off after so many minutes, so that some psychically- obsessed person doesn't run up a humongous phone bill.

Sandy continues by giving me information about my husband that I already know: he's an entrepreneur, has a good spirit, a good sense of humor, and a positive attitude.

Since the clock is ticking and she's not telling me about the entanglements, I sort of hurry her along at this point. She says that overall my cards look good. "Everything looks really good for you. You're doing really well."

I don't need a psychic to tell me that. But, you know, it's kind of comforting and reassuring to hear it from someone. Unfortunately, I don't think it makes any difference whether I hear it from my personal psychic or my next-door neighbor. Good thing for the phone psychics that a lot of people don't know that.

Fiber-Optic Fortune Telling

Fortune tellers used to ply their trade in carnival tents, using tea leaves and crystal balls. But the traditional tools of the trade have been replaced by fiber optics and 900 telephone operators. Thanks to modern technology, psychics are now available 24 hours a day at the touch of a button. And Americans are pushing that button by the millions.

Fiber-optic fortune-telling has become so hot that calls to psychics now constitute one third of all 900 numbers called. The Psychic Friends Network alone receives some 10,000 calls a day. And thanks to television infomercials hosted by celebrities, psychics have become downright respectable. As an article in the Los Angeles Times put it, television infomercials have taken psychics "out of the shadowy, hocus-pocus world of the supernatural and marketed them as friendly advisers on a brightly-lit talk show."

So who's dialing the numbers? Lonely people. People in trouble. Women call to ask if they're pregnant. Men call from jail, asking for legal advice. One woman called to ask if her husband would continuing beating her ironically, for running up a huge phone bill calling psychics.

For some, the calls become an addiction. A paralegal secretary named Christine Winer was sent to prison after embezzling $30,000 to pay for calls to Psychic Friends. Worried about her future, Winer says she became "obsessed" with the need for psychic advice.

In other words, people are calling to get some sense of control and predictability in their lives of insecurity and heartache.

And who is on the other end of the line? Anyone with some spare time and a phone line in their home. Donna Kenworthy, author of "A 1-900 Psychic Speaks," says she spent the last three years giving psychic advice to people over the phone -- often while she was in the nude.

The 53-year-old Kenworthy says the worst part of her job wasn't trying to predict the future in her birthday suit, it was trying to fit household chores in between the 10 to 12 hours she spent each day giving readings.

And not everyone who called Kenworthy wanted psychic advice. One customer freaked her out by confessing to a murder, while another caller was a Satan worshiper who spent 30 minutes asking for advice about casting spells.

In "Secrets of a Telephone Psychic," author Frederick Woodruff details his years as a telephone psychic. "Short of suing people as a way to maintain a lucrative, self-employed status, working as a phone psychic can provide a decent level of cash flow," he says.

According to Woodruff, lots of people make a substantial living working for some of the busier psychic lines. "One woman I know is bringing home a decent two thousand dollars a month by making the lines her main source of income," he says. "Other friends who work part time as artists or writers or full-time students enjoy the convenience of setting their own hours and working from their homes to bring in an extra $300 a week."

Requirements of the job, he says, include a good speaking voice that can project emotion and enthusiasm, as well as the ability to find creative solutions to unexpected problems.

Maybe those clairvoyants in the carnival tents with their crystal balls weren't so bad after all. At least they made an effort to create an aura of psychic phenomenon.

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