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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, September 24, 2002

In psychic's chair, you're the one controlling your destiny

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By Keiko Ohnuma
Advertiser Staff Writer

"Are you a masochist?" the psychic asked, only blinking when I laughed.

"I ask the question seriously," he said. "What is pleasurable about this situation?"

It's the kind of thing a therapist might say — except that I had not spent an hour and $75 telling him what the situation was.

Clairvoyant? Maybe. In his case, probably. But that's beside the point.

I visit psychics in times of crisis — it is a secret refuge that many women take — and I'll tell you why, despite a sound liberal education, rationalist profession, secular upbringing, and even some benefit from conventional psychotherapy.

Like therapy, like religion, psychics offer a sense of hope, a story that makes sense of a hopeless situation. Of course, some are better at this than others. Some are just terrible. But they always offer an alternative way of looking at things, which I am free to accept or reject.

The story they tell in the space of an hour may be true or not, depending on what I do with it. The shift in perspective alone is often enough to get me thinking about the possibilities in a positive way again. But what makes this type of counseling more palatable than the socially acceptable kinds is the sensible relationship I have to the story and its teller.

I am the client, I am paying the money, and therefore I ask the questions that it is up to them to answer — and up to me to judge the validity of their response.

In the analyst's chair, or the church confessional, it's the other way around. I do all the talking, and they judge my response against the monument of tradition, science, scripture, or whatever. They set the standard of truth, and I conform to it — or need fixing.

Picking cards or offering my palm, I am not a "patient" before I even sit down. I am simply a person with a question.

There is no transference built into this relationship. The fortune tellers are not standing in for God. I tell what I wish, and accept what I like, pay my money and go home.

It's just a reading, not a truth set in stone. It is still up to me to make the decisions.

Getting a piece of advice does not require a year of sessions or a lifetime of tithing. The woman with the cards has no investment in the salvation of my soul. She has no investment in me at all once I leave her chair — which is what makes her viewpoint so valuable.

Women are more prone to turn to psychics in times of trouble because what troubles us often does not have clear right or wrong answers. Soothsaying deals in the irrational — and I mean this in a positive way — which is where many problems and solutions are born.

That's not to say that I don't also seek eternal truths, a system of beliefs, or a community of faithful — and there are powerful institutions ready to sign me up for that.

The psychic serves a different tradition, one in which women are not seen primarily as sick and sinful, but possessed of a wisdom — only momentarily forgotten, but always close at hand.

It is an investment in that forgotten truth, as simple as stepping behind the purple curtain, that amply justifies the price of the visit.

Reach Keiko Ohnuma at kohnuma@honoluluadvertiser.com.