Resorting to Psychics in Uncertain Times
The good, the mixed, and the troublesome of New Age advice on YouTube.
Posted Aug 31, 2020
Spurred by a compelling piece in the New York Times this May by Haley Phelan, “Will Coronavirus Kill Astrology?” I jumped on the internet and checked out a few popular tarot readers and astrologers. I wanted to know what they were telling their viewers while the world faced the chaos and uncertainty of the pandemic. I figured business was booming—and I was right. The New York Post reported local psychics were having a bustling summer. Lucie Greene, a cultural trends analyst, noted “a bump in traffic to horoscope-related stories.”
The Chicago Tribune featured an article about the increase of business for psychics featuring astrologer Dana Lynn Nuckolls who observed, “Ultimately we want to feel in control, and in times of a pandemic and economic uncertainty, humans feel inclined to get clear on exactly what we have control over, and how to use the limited allotment of time we have been given.”
New York magazine's article this August reported that clients were asking psychics about their worries over their families and the economy. Mary Miller, a clairvoyant tarot reader, exclaimed, “The calls tend to be frantic. People are absolutely tearing their hair out being with their loved ones 24/7. They’re asking questions about how to deal with their kids. We’re not therapists, but we fill that role.“
Curious after reading these articles, I took a virtual tour of 30 YouTube channels of popular psychics with the most subscriptions and views (often over 50,000). I also read the comments (typically 500–700 per video) for insight as to what viewers thought about how the psychics were helping them—and they were mostly satisfied. Most tarot readers and astrologers offered hopeful, uplifting, and genuinely feel-good messages. Many I watched were bright, entertaining, and often well-educated with impressive former careers. Many covered political and social issues as well as world events, often in a friendly, conversational style.
Fortunately, all of the psychics I watched on YouTube were enthusiastic proponents of the following helpful tips.
Helpful Suggestions of Psychics (Sampling of 30 Popular YouTube Channels Since May 2020)
- Take this opportunity to enrich your spiritual life. Meditate, journal, pray, create daily spiritual practices, read spiritually uplifting writings.
- Be mindful of the natural world around you. Get out and enjoy nature.
- Extend your compassion and help others. Call your loved ones and friends to check-in.
- Volunteer for a good cause and offer your service to others.
- Take this time to heal your body and soul. Eat well, exercise better, sleep more.
- Practice gratitude and appreciate your blessings.
Unfortunately, however, a few of the psychics I viewed espoused spiritual platitudes from New Age belief systems stemming from the 1970s that I thought might be harmful to lonely, isolated, or grieving people. More troubling than their predictions from their tarot card spreads or planetary alignments, they discouraged their viewer’s fears and “negativity.”
Two popular psychics channeling together told viewers that this pandemic was supposed to happen to make us more spiritually conscious. Our souls “chose” the pandemic to spiritually heal ourselves and make us stronger and wiser. They repeatedly told viewers to rid themselves of “fear-based” and “ego-based” thoughts so we could benefit from the “gifts” of the pandemic.
I recognized that the approaches of some of the psychics could be defined as spiritual bypassing. This is when spiritual teachings are used to avoid (bypass) addressing difficult emotions, unresolved psychological issues, and deny the reality of suffering. Robert Augustus Masters, psychotherapist and author of Spiritual Bypassing: When Spirituality Disconnects Us from What Really Matters, succinctly describes this: “Spiritual bypassing, a term first coined by psychologist John Welwood in 1984, is the use of spiritual practices and beliefs to avoid dealing with our painful feelings, unresolved wounds, and developmental needs.”
Psychology Today blogger, Ingrid Clayton, Ph.D., (“Beware of Spiritual Bypass”) says, “Spiritual bypass shields us from the truth, disconnects us from our feelings, and helps us avoid the big picture. It is more about checking out than checking in—and the difference is so subtle that we usually don't even know we are doing it.”
Here is a summary of the most troublesome teachings of some psychics I viewed on YouTube—echoing New Age beliefs that could potentially be used for spiritual bypassing.
Common Tenets of New Age Thought That Are Often Used for Spiritual Bypassing
1. Positivity at all costs. Be positive, and if you are not, you will manifest (attract) negative outcomes (e.g., you might lose your job or get COVID-19).
2. “Fear-based” thinking is discouraged. Rid yourself of fear. Replace fear with unconditional love. One exasperated psychic told her viewers in the midst of the lockdown, “You guys sure sent a lot of fear-based questions today!”
3. Rise above your ego (and intellect). Suppress your ego or detach from it. You cannot ascend to higher levels of consciousness if you are attached to your ego. Let your heart and intuition guide you.
4. Your thoughts create your reality. Similar beliefs about creating your reality promote the Law of Attraction (made famous by author and speaker Esther (Abraham) Hicks and Rhonda Byrne, author of The Secret): You create the life you want by envisioning it clearly and repeatedly. But if you are not following the Law of Attraction well enough, and you allow your fears to take control, then the desired outcome you envision will not manifest.
5. Everything happens for a reason. The bad things in life were supposed to happen to you. Indeed, your misfortunes are designed for your spiritual growth. These beliefs are echoed in popular sayings, “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.” Or, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
6. No one can hurt you unless you let them. The Course in Miracles (channeled by author Helen Schucman and later promoted by Marianne Williamson) is a great proponent of this belief. Lesson 26 preaches, “Nothing except your thoughts can make you think you are vulnerable.” This means you are invulnerable to what people do or say—you have a thick skin, spiritually speaking.
7. Your soul has a sacred contract. Before you were born, your soul chose the suffering you are to undergo. (This is what I found the most disturbing.) Similarly, “It is God’s plan.” Or it is your karma.
The psychics I watched preached that before you incarnated, your soul made a contract (an agreement) to withstand all the trauma and misfortune in your life. So, your soul chose your abusive parents, chose your boss who fired you, chose your illnesses, and more. According to adherents of this belief, the hundreds of thousands of people dying from COVID-19 chose this before they were born.
For four decades, these beliefs have been promoted in self-help books, spiritual retreats, personal growth conferences, and classes, and still remain popular on hundreds of YouTube channels. During the 1990s and early 2000s, as a rehabilitation counselor and grief consultant, I facilitated support groups at cancer resource centers and hospices. Support group participants frequently spoke about creating your own reality and keeping positive above all else, particularly referring to the work of Louise Hay, author of You Can Heal Your Life. “Did my negative thinking attract this cancer?” “If my chakras are not balanced, will my cancer get worse?” “If everything happens for a reason, can you please tell me what is the reason for stage IV lung cancer?” I also remember long, difficult conversations while working with patients with HIV-AIDs in 1996 who were troubled about soul contracts after reading Anatomy of the Spirit by Carolyn Myss.
I’ve witnessed the shunning of vulnerable people in spiritual groups who spoke openly about their fears and were criticized because they were too “fear-based” or not positive enough. I’ve seen spiritually shunned people fall into suicidal ideation and relapses in substance use.
And still, in 2020, it was disheartening to hear some of the psychics during this pandemic trying to “comfort” their viewers by espousing the very same platitudes. They claimed that the dying people around the world from COVID-19 were going to be fine. “They will be OK.” “Their souls have chosen this.” These comments spiritually bypassed over the grief of some of their viewers. I would have preferred for them to say, “This is so terrible.” Or, “What difficult times we are living in.” This would acknowledge and validate our collective grief and uncertainty— to honor our humility together.
Fortunately, most clinicians are trained today in these issues, but I dearly hope no spiritually seeking person who follows a favorite psychic, spiritual coach, or book of teachings (including other fundamentalist beliefs) will ever receive a dismissive response from a therapist, let alone a friend. And if a spiritually shell-shocked person shows up in our lives grappling with their failed attempts to banish their fears, live only with love and light, or rise above their egos so they can ascend to the fifth dimension to become a starseed, I hope we would offer our empathic listening, sincere compassion, and respect. We can warmly welcome them back to their true feelings and give them a safe place to land.