Some psychics offer more than visions of the future. But are the “counselling” services putting people at risk? There’s a call for greater regulation, writes Crikey intern Soren Frederiksen.
Robyn Lester is a registered nurse, psychic (“clairvoyance, clairsentience & psychometry”) and “counsellor”. Lorraine Janice offers clairvoyant readings, bush remedies and holds a “Diploma of Counselling”. Kristy V ”tells you what your best friend won’t” through “psychic counselling sessions”. Along with visions of the future, hotlines to the dead and connections to past lives, many psychics and mediums are providing counselling services they aren’t qualified to deliver. One industry insider says it’s putting lives at risk. “It is fraught with so many potential dangers,” Gabrielle Gawne-Kelnar, a psychotherapist and counsellor who wants the government to step in, told Crikey. “People with no qualifications might be unable to spot particular problems that need quick, competent referral and treatment. It ranges from critical, life-threatening dangers to unqualified advice about how people should deal with issues in their life.” While most qualify their counselling services with terms like “psychic”, “holistic” and “spiritual”, some psychics advertise themselves as generic “counsellors”. As Kristy V — who offers her services via telephone, SMS, email and Skype — offers:
“Psychic Counselling is for you if you have concerns that you wish to understand and explore with the goal of letting them go. Your Psychic Counselling Sessions support you to transform yourself.”
As counselling remains a self-regulated industry, it’s not illegal. But, says Victorian Skeptics president Terry Kelly, “it’s an issue if they’re passing themselves off as some sort of qualified professional therapist and giving the impression that they have qualifications that they don’t have”. “It’s very hard to control,” he said. “Certain professional bodies have their own standards, their own accreditation, but there’s no particular control over what people put in an ad, or over the phone, or on a shingle outside a shop.” The Australian Psychics Society doesn’t involve itself in its members’ more tangible pursuits, but president Simon Turnbull says critics should think before dismissing his members’ qualifications. “There are quite a few psychics who do a cross-over situation and learn some kind of therapy,” he told Crikey. “Some of them are counsellors or therapists, and they’ve done courses that would support that.” Qualified or not, psychic advice doesn’t come cheap: an hour-long session can set patients back as much as $260 — more than double the average dental check-up. And such counsellors can still operate without oversight — something the industry’s professional bodies are pushing government to provide. The Australian Counselling Association and the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia both accredit and regulate their more than 5000 members. But 2006 census data puts the country’s counsellors at 16,000-strong, meaning more than two-thirds of the industry is accountable to nobody. “If you don’t want to play by the rules and don’t have education in this area, you don’t have to join,” Gawne-Kelnar said. “If people give advice that is dangerous, who would know?” The consequences can be dire. Dealing with a relationship on the rocks, Sydney woman Rebekah Lawrence attended a course run by a “somatic psychotherapist” in 2005. The sessions were sold as “a journey to the core of the human spirit”, but the experience triggered a psychotic episode, and Lawrence jumped naked from a window to her death. In 2009, New South Wales Deputy State Coroner Malcolm MacPherson found the course, which explored “high states of consciousness”, “ego defences” and the “stages of consciousness from child to adult”, had stressed Lawrence to the point of madness. MacPherson recommended regulations “to protect vulnerable members of the public”, none of which have been legislated. “Something needs to happen,” Gawne-Kelnar said. “But it doesn’t look like much is going to any time soon.”