Skeptics should take aim at, challenge, and ridicule psychics who claim to carry on conversations with the dead that only the psychics can hear.
Their victims, however, should be approached with caution, compassion, and a well-thought plan. Skeptic leader Susan Gerbic revealed how she handled the delicate subject with a believer named Ken who had become enamored with one of today’s more prominent psychics, Thomas John. She relates, “People who seek him overwhelming believe Thomas John is in contact with their dearly departed. It’s extremely sad to watch people preyed on by these grief vampires who are trying to get a hook into their desperation and trust.”
A combination of gullibility, stubbornness, and a desire to believe works in the psychic’s favor. Gerbic related about a skeptic leader who was at a psychic show where the performer claimed to be mentally reading – but not looking at – questions audience members had jotted on pieces of paper the psychic was holding. He purported to be able to put the pieces to his head and receive the message telepathically. But before doing so, he put on his glasses, a superfluous action if he wasn’t going to read. The skeptic asked a believer who he was attending the show with, “Did you see that?” The believer answered that she did, but that they should keep quiet so as to not upset the spirits.
This anecdote reveals how tough it can be to bring someone around to the truth about psychics. Along those lines, Gerbic wrote about her difficulty convincing Ken that John was fraudulent. He remain entrenched even after Gerbic showed him how John had used Ken’s social media posts to glean information about him, then wow him with a hot read.
Ken was so impressed with John that he produced a YouTube video of the reading, praising the psychic vampire for his accuracy. According to the video, John correctly noted the following: Ken planned the funeral for the father of his roommate, Judy; Ken helped procure military recognition and medals for the deceased; that Judy had sold her father’s car; and that the father was married to a woman named Anna, who preceded him in death. John also revealed that he had seen a vision of the father and Anna dancing in heaven.
What seemed to Ken be a series of irrefutable hits was instead textbook hot reading. Gerbic and her associates found that Ken regularly mentioned Judy on Facebook, and there were multiple posts about the medals, Anna, the car being sold, and about Ken’s plans to attend the show. As to the celestial tango, Gerbic noted this is a claim that cannot be tested and is therefore of no value. Ken’s only response to all this was that there was no way John could have known what he did. The Backfire Effect kicked in since Ken had invested so much time, emotion, and money into believing John was a psychic.
Ken also revealed that he is close to death himself and said John’s words provide comfort about the situation and about his associate’s passing. Put another way, John had found another desperate victim to prey on.
We should extend sympathy to such victims. Hot and cold readings done skillfully can amaze the recipient, especially if they are unfamiliar with how they work. And Gerbic noted that, “Cold reading can come at you so fast that you can barely process what is being said.” But when you watch the taped version, pausing to digest it bit-by-bit, the misses and the manipulative techniques are seen more clearly.
Though well meaning, a skeptic can sometimes add to the victim’s burden by snatching away their hope, albeit a false one. Some of those who have come around to the skeptics’ way of thinking related that realizing it wasn’t true was like losing the loved one again.
And whether it involves dietary choices, financial decisions, or psychic readings, people will respond coldly to being told they are being ridiculous. They will shut you down and not hear anything else you have to say. So a sound strategy might be to talk about psychics in general or bring up specifics from another case and avoid addressing the victim’s personal experience altogether. Certainly don’t try and completely invalidate what to them was a powerful emotional experience. Maybe leave them with an article on cold reading and suggest they peruse it later, without you being present. Ask them a few days later what they thought of it. One doesn’t need to be a psychic to see that such an approach would be more likely to succeed.