Return to Practical Guides for Skeptics


by Tony Youens

Tony Youens has twice appeared on television posing as both an astrologer and a tarot reader and on both occasions he was accepted as 'genuine' by the sitters. The tarot reading was for Meridian TV's 'Focus' and the most recent programme was 'The New Zodiac' by Pioneer Productions which was shown on Channel 5, Monday 16th April 2001. Tony who is available for lectures also bends spoons, reads minds and occasionally predicts the future.

These guidelines were originally published by ASKE as a booklet.



This booklet has been written for three groups of people. Firstly for those about to consider visiting a psychic for the first time, secondly for those who have already consulted a psychic and therefore know a little of what to expect and finally for those who are perhaps simply curious to find out how a psychic actually operates.

The work of the psychic is probably one of the hardest areas to investigate. Books written on the subject are almost always authored by believers and therefore totally uncritical and of little use to the potential customer. If you were buying a new or second hand car you might be able to get advice from various sources such as a friend in the trade, the AA, RAC or one of the many car magazines, but there's little to help you judge the skills of the psychic.

What then accounts for this absence of hard information? One reason is that the techniques used by psychics and mediums are also used by professional magicians who perform a particular kind of conjuring known as 'Mentalism'. Rather than 'sleight of hand' this branch of magic might more aptly be described as 'sleight of mind'. However it is not the intention of this booklet to reveal the secrets of the professional magician and anyway most people can't spare the time required to make a complete study of the subject. They want a quick, easy to understand guide and hopefully this small booklet will fulfil that need.

It would appear that an ever increasing number of people are visiting psychics and mediums for advice and guidance. As with any other purchase people have a right, as paying customers, to expect value for money and psychics do not usually come cheap. Most people would not be happy to be told that' "Yes your boyfriend/girlfriend is going to come back to you", only to find out, maybe months later, that they have now married someone else. Important decisions should not be based on unreliable information.

Even those who consider themselves to possess psychic powers will admit that there are fakes and charlatans within their business. So how do the general public know if they are wasting their money on a fraud? This booklet shows some of the things to watch out for, the tricks of the trade as it were. However a few words of caution. A booklet such as this can't cover all the methods used or describe in detail the subtle use of psychology. Just because it's not included here doesn't mean it should be assumed that someone is a genuine psychic. For example one thing difficult to put over is the way in which things are said. Questions can be asked by the psychic in such a way as to not really sound like questions at all. Nevertheless they are designed to draw a response, and therefore information, from you the customer. Although psychics and mediums develop their own individual styles the effectiveness of the psychic's performance usually depends on your feedback.

Psychics and mediums who charge for their services, (or expect a 'donation') are, in reality, simply running a business and should be held accountable just like any other service provider. In other words they must prove to their customers that they can do what they claim.

The main purpose of this booklet is to show that there is an alternative way to interpret what actually takes place during a reading rather than simply accepting that it's all down to 'psychic power'. Psychics and mediums are not accredited by an independent examining body so customers need enough information to be able to decide for themselves if what they are witnessing is real or imagined. Even after reading this booklet many will choose to continue to believe in psychics but hopefully they will be a little wiser and in future the psychics will have to work a little harder for their money.

In fairness it should be pointed out that not all psychics intend to deliberately deceive the public. Many have a sincere desire to help other people and honestly believe that their 'powers' are quite genuine. It can also be argued that it doesn't matter if it's real as long as the customer is happy. But this happiness can be pitifully brief and eventually, in the sometimes harsh light of reality, prove to be nothing more than a fool's paradise.

Why visit a psychic?

People go to a psychic (for simplicity the words 'psychic' and 'medium' will be used interchangeably) for a variety of reasons. It may be for guidance, reassurance about the future or to contact a recently departed relative in the hope that, in some sense at least, they can still talk to them.

Sadly those who seek to contact a dead relative may be among the most vulnerable and least critical of all a psychic's customers. The pain of losing someone dear to you can be overwhelming and to be told that a loved one can speak to you again, albeit through a medium, can mean you completely override your normal critical faculties.

Whilst generally you will be told positive things you should bear in mind that you may also be told something you would rather not hear. It has been known for a psychic to inform the client that they have but a short time to live. In fairness this is probably not a very common occurrence. For a start customers are unlikely to come back a second time after receiving such news. Why any psychic would want to do this, even if it were true, is unknown but be assured it does happen.

WARNING: Some psychics may tell you that you are cursed or have some problem only they can solve. The treatment varies but the price is always high - please don't ever fall for this one!

Getting to know you

To the customer the psychic's ability to zero in on their own particular problem can seem an impressive feat. But whilst it is sometimes difficult, it is nonetheless possible to come up with surprisingly accurate information.

Put yourself in the position of the psychic, how could you possibly home in on a complete stranger's needs without psychic ability? It seems an impossible task. Well think about it for a moment. To begin with it is unlikely that the customer is paying simply out of curiosity. People don't usually have that much money to throw around. So the psychic can in fact start with a few basic assumptions. Most people will have a problem that fits broadly into three categories;

To be honest there isn't much outside these three. Health might include your own or someone else's. It may range from serious to something that is simply a figment of the imagination. Wealth? There is hardly anyone who hasn't got money worries of some kind. Even if you are rich you might well be worrying about a dodgy investment, but for most of us it's the lack of money that causes difficulties. Career and job prospects can also be included under this heading.

Lastly we come to 'relationships'. This is almost certainly the best place to start. You could be wondering if you are going to meet Mr or Mrs Right in the near future. Quite possibly you are worried about losing your current partner or, if you have already lost them, wondering if it really is all over. A powerful reason for wanting guidance is if you are planning to leave your husband or wife for someone else. A risky step to say the least so you decide to get some psychic assistance. A desire to speak to a dead relative is perhaps another category but can be included under the 'relationships' heading for simplicity. Of course all of these categories can be subdivided further but these three nicely illustrate the basic method.

So the first step for the psychic is to decide which category you come under. The easiest way to find this out is to ask you outright. This may seem a bold step but it will probably appear quite natural, even helpful, to ask you what it is you need guidance on. If you listen to psychics on the radio you will find that most people will ask a direct question such as, "Can you see a relationship for me in the near future?". It may be normal for professional advisers to ask questions but then they don't claim to be psychic.

The psychic can use other clues to help focus their questions in the right area. What clues do they have? After a reading many people will say, "I didn't tell them anything, not a word!". Sometimes they don't have to. They can certainly guess your approximate age. This will help narrow things down. If you are young you are probably not going to be worried about your own health. If you're in your twenties you aren't going to be concerned about your grown up children whereas you might be if you were middle aged. On the other hand an older person might want to get in touch with a dead partner or perhaps be worried about a younger member of the family.

They can also make a mental note of several other things about you. Do you seem confident or shy? Are you smartly dressed or looking a bit hard up? Are you wearing a designer label? How about your voice? Are you well spoken? Do you have a local accent? Is that a wedding or engagement ring? Do you look guilty about something? Are your hands rough or smooth? Is your expensive car parked outside the psychic's house? All these things will give valuable hints and the more people they see the better they will become at guessing correctly.

Basics of a reading

Using all these clues will help determine the best way to start the reading. Usually though the psychic reader will start with something general. A good opening statement is, "Oh dear you're having a few problems at the moment aren't you." (The tone will be very sympathetic.) It will probably be difficult for the customer to decide whether this is a question or a statement. Even if it is not said as a question it is clear that a response from the customer is required. Another good question is one that might apply to all three of the areas mentioned such as, "You seem uncertain about what course of action you should take. I feel that another person is involved and that's why you're hesitating." This is going to be true of virtually anyone visiting a psychic and the customer will almost certainly give a useful response. The psychic's next move will depend entirely on the customer's reply. If it is confirmed that they are indeed having doubts about something then it's just a matter of moving into the right area. The psychic has a one in three chance (health, wealth, relationships) even if no response is given.

A lot of what psychics give you is known as character reading. They tell you all about yourself which, for the most part, you will probably agree with wholeheartedly. However tests carried out by psychologists would indicate that most people are unable to distinguish a false personality assessment from a genuine one. Particularly if the false one is more flattering. Essentially then this amounts to worthless padding.

For any psychic it's a fairly safe tactic to begin with a character reading before trying to rush in and risk making an embarrassing mistake. This can even be the main part of the whole reading although it may be used as a sort of warming up exercise. For instance a comment on some general character trait as in, "You can appear to most people as very confident but deep down you feel just the opposite" is meant to convince the customer that the psychic has real insight into their character. The character reading will almost certainly contain enough flattery to make acceptance by the customer virtually guaranteed e.g. "You have a lot of love in you and this isn't always appreciated by those close to you." It's very reassuring to know you're right and everybody else is wrong. Another favourite is, "You're a very spiritual person yourself, quite psychic in many ways. You should try to develop your powers. You're certainly a very caring person. You could be a healer." All very nice and complimentary.

Further development of the reading will depend on the age and sex of the customer, and their marital status. The first two will be obvious and the third if not indicated by a ring will be found out by gentle probing from the psychic.

As an illustration assume the psychic decides to start in the 'relationship' area and thinks the customer is worried about a son or daughter. They are not silly enough to jump in and say, "I see your daughter's playing up again. She's still hanging around with that bloke from the chip shop isn't she?" Instead they will try something a bit more general such as, "I sense some difficulty with a relationship, possibly a younger person." Notice that they are quite vague in their terminology. If it turns out that it's not a son or daughter it would still be correct if they are merely having trouble with someone who is 'a bit younger'. For example if they had argued recently with a younger work colleague.

At this point many people either obligingly jump straight in and confirm that they indeed have a daughter who is being difficult or they give non-verbal clues such as facial expressions which will help the psychic decide if they are on the right track. If there is no response from the customer they might ask directly if there is a problem with a child in the family. They will ask this as though they are simply trying to clarify things (communication with the psychic realm can be difficult after all) and if they are wrong they will open things out a bit by asking if a friend is having this problem. The following imaginary dialogue illustrates this.

  1. Psychic: "I'm getting something to do with a younger person. A problem of some kind is causing family tensions."
  2. Client: Non committal.
  3. Psychic: "Have you a daughter?"
  4. Client: "Yes."
  5. Psychic: "Have you been arguing lately?"
  6. Client: "Well, she just goes out all the time when she should be studying for her exams."
  7. Psychic: "I thought so. I felt a powerful female energy in conflict."

Looking carefully at the psychic's words they never said that:

  1. It was a son or daughter - just someone younger.
  2. It was family that was being discussed (although it would be logical to assume so) until the psychic asked about a daughter.
  3. They had a daughter or even that the customer had been arguing. These were just clarification questions.

Yet many people would say that, "He knew straight away that we'd been arguing and I never said anything. There's no way he could have known." If the client is a woman who looks old enough to have a teenage son or daughter then they almost certainly argue at some time or other. It would be somewhat unusual if they didn't.

Psychics nearly always talk in this vague way. By twisting words and subtlely altering their meaning it leaves open lots of ways to get out of a tight spot. If, for example someone had not had a daughter but a son then they might respond with, "Oh I felt that it was a younger person but I also see a girl involved in some way." If their teenage son is having problems with his girlfriend, which is quite possible, the psychic is just as correct.

What's in a name?

It's always good to get a few names right. This never fails to impress. But what do they say? "Your father's name was George I believe." Certainly not. The usual method is, once again, to ask questions and then let the customer work out who it might be e.g.;

  1. "Why am I getting the name George?"
  2. "Who's George?"
  3. "I'm getting the initial 'G'. Does this mean anything to you?"
  4. "There's a gentleman here called George asking for you."

These phrases are used all the time by spiritualist mediums. The last one is a particular favourite. If it is confirmed Grandad was called George they will say that this is indeed Grandad. If the phrase 'was called George' is used then it can be assumed that Grandad is no longer in the land of the living. However it's not unknown for mediums to get this wrong and assume someone is dead when in fact they are still very much alive. They might say, "He really loved you didn't he." The customer, slightly surprised replies, "He's still alive!" Without missing a beat they will come back with, "Oh I know that dear, but when you were little he really loved you didn't he. You had a very caring childhood didn't you."

They get away with this because people think, "Well it can't be easy speaking with the dead can it? They can't be expected to be exactly right all the time." The rationale is that it's probably like listening to a radio with a lot of interference. There are bound to be problems in getting through. So people allow them these little mistakes along the way and after it's all over the customer will probably only remember the things the medium got right anyway. The truth is that it is the customer who comes up with the relationship and the medium simply mentions a name and probably a common one at that.

It's surely reasonable to assume that if they listen to the dead spirit a bit longer they will be able to hear enough to make more sense without constantly asking the customer to fill in the blanks. They can hear the name 'George' over the airwaves so if George keeps shouting (or thinking loudly if it's telepathy) he should be able to say, "I'm her Grandad." Once the customer obligingly confirms things it's remarkable how the crackly psychic line clears up. e.g. The medium says, "Oh yes that's right 'cause he's saying Grandad to me."

This system is routinely used to verify many kinds of information. For example;

  1. "Why am I seeing a red car?
  2. "Who's having trouble at work?"
  3. "Who recently bought a computer?"

When trying out names the psychic or medium will not always content themselves with offering a single name. They might offer two and if one turns out to be right the other can be conveniently forgotten. An example could be, "Who's Sarah... or it might be Sandra? I can't make out if they're friends or...." Now the odds on getting a correct name have just doubled. In a similar vein the psychic may modify a name to make it more likely to fit. "I'm being given the name Edward or maybe it's Ted....Todd?"

Trivial pursuit

There are a number of phrases used time and time again. They sound quite specific but in actual fact they apply to a surprisingly large number of people. Such as telling a man he has a scar on his leg or a women that it's on her abdomen. In describing someone dying the medium will often point generally to the chest area and say that's were he/she had 'trouble'. Apart from something wrong with the brain it's fairly likely that any cause of death will involve the upper torso. The most common causes of death in the UK are heart attack and lung disease. But even if they died of ingrowing toenail the psychic can point out that ultimately their heart stopped beating - hence the chest. Tragically one of the most common causes of death in young people are road traffic accidents. This too has not gone unnoticed by psychics.

Another description of a death is that, "He went suddenly at the end didn't he dear." When it is explained that they actually died from a long lingering illness it is pointed out correctly, "But at the very last he went quickly." It's impossible to disagree with this as no doubt one second the heart was beating and the next second it wasn't. This is a surprisingly common statement from mediums.

It can be very convincing to hear all this trivial information. It's just the sort of thing that people think nobody can possibly know.

"Your Grandmother had trouble with her legs." "There's a birthday coming up soon." (Or just gone.) "Has someone been having trouble with a car?" "He had a lot of trouble with his back didn't he?" (Just about the most common complaint in the western world.)

To help improve the chance of success there's lots of general information that can be obtained from the data put out by the Office for National Statistics, all that's needed is a trip to the library.

Attention to detail

More precise detail can be obtained from a variety of sources. If you give your address, or name and telephone number, lots of bits of information can be obtained if the psychic thinks it is worth it.They could drive past the customer's house and get some idea of their standard of living. They might even look in their dustbin. In actual fact it's unlikely that a psychic would bother to do this. Why go to so much trouble when everyone is so impressed with the "Why am I getting the name....." approach. However whilst this might be unlikely it is still more likely than finding that genuine psychic power is the source of the information. To consider a psychic as genuine all other possible ways of obtaining the information must be eliminated.

It is easy to look in the telephone directory and see if the number is in the customer's name or that of a spouse. Information about older members of the family (those of voting age) will also be kept in the electoral register. In some areas all that is needed is a telephone call to the local library and they will say who lives at that address. Suddenly "I'm getting the name David" can become, "I see someone close to you called David." Far more impressive, and you really wouldn't need to say anything.

Other information may come the psychic's way unwittingly provided by the customer. The client might mention a relative by name or they might apologise for being held up because their sister has been unwell. This could be before the reading has even begun. Perhaps during a reading the psychic might say they are seeing a grey haired old lady with arthritis in her hands and the customer says, "It could be Doris." The psychic may pretend not to hear but makes a quick metal note of the name and then relates it back either later in this reading, or better still a couple of readings in the future when you have forgotten you ever mentioned it.

Even sneakier tactics have been known such as having someone go through a coat or handbag in order to glean extra information. What's in your coat or handbag? Letters, cheque book, medication. It all helps!

Occasionally the psychic may simply have the good luck to have information come their way purely by accident. Maybe an acquaintance of the customer also visits the psychic. Information fortuitously received from one client could later be fed back to another.

Tactics for a successful reading

The following shows how it is possible to put all this information together and come up with a successful reading. (Remember though it will vary depending on the psychic's individual style!)

  1. Use general statements or questions. The question isn't, "Are you thinking of changing jobs?". That's far too obvious. Instead they say, "There's someone close to you thinking of a career change". There's a pause while she waits for your response. It may sound specific but just by using the word 'someone' the whole thing is open to wide interpretation. It's also worth noting the ambiguous phrase 'close to you'. Are they referring to a close member of the family or a colleague who merely sits close by at work? This allows the word 'close' to be interpreted in two slightly different ways and improves the psychic's chances of being correct.
  2. Analyse the client's response and modify as necessary. Taking the above example further. If you know of someone considering a career change then the psychic scores a direct hit. But if it is you that has been thinking of changing jobs, maybe not even seriously, you might well obligingly exclaim, "That's me." Bingo! It's still a direct hit for the psychic. The psychic can then imply that she knew this all the time by adding, "I felt you were looking because...." You might go away with the impression that the psychic knew your innermost thoughts. But suppose you don't know of anyone who is thinking of changing jobs? It won't matter because whilst you may not know of someone who is considering a career change that doesn't mean it's not so. The obvious conclusion is that the psychic must have some amazing insight. If it is later discovered that someone really is looking to change employment, and this is by no means unlikely, it will only serve to convince you that the psychic is genuine after all.
  3. Describe the future. This is the easy bit because the psychic knows she is on safe ground. It hasn't happened yet so she can't possibly be contradicted. However it still pays the psychic to be vague. Assuming you admit to having toyed with the idea of looking for a new job the psychic can say,"I don't see anything happening immediately but there could be a move in the latter part of this year or may be very early next. The good news is that you'll really love this job and you'll do well. It will certainly mean more money for you..blah...blah".

This, "I don't see it happening just now but a bit later in the year" approach is widely used. Somehow it sounds convincing. The harsh reality of no immediate benefit mixed with glowing future prospects provides a realistic feel to the reading. This also gives them a time period of about half a year in which to be right and if someone end's up with a new job in that time you could be hooked for life. A variation of this is the, "it will be difficult at first but eventually life will be a bed of roses" approach. If the psychic adds in some of the other ingredients: firing off common names; asking the client about trivial bits of information such as "Who's having trouble with their washing machine"; categorising the client and using visual and verbal clues; use of general information e.g. the 'bad back' ploy; dollops of flattery….

…then, a very convincing, but non-psychic, reading is assured.

If you really must visit a psychic

It is difficult, maybe impossible, to explain in written form all the ruses available to the psychic. However there are certain guidelines that can be followed that will help weed out the more obvious ploys. The following is a list of suggestions which will help you assess the effectiveness of your reading and decide if it was value for money.

Remember these points:

  1. The first thing to remember is that all this character reading stuff is virtually meaningless. It's just padding. Everyone has different facets to their character and at different times we can all be different people. Sometimes we are organised but at other times we can be the complete opposite. Another thing that can be safely ignored is the use of what might be called symbolic language. "I see you at the centre of a great circle and you are drawing others inward. Does this make sense to you?" As ever the poor customer has to do all the work and try to see how this might apply to them. In making guesses the customer will invariably give away more clues which will further assist the psychic.
  2. Anyone going to visit a psychic should get agreement first to record the session. This is an absolute must. There is no reason not to allow this. Some psychics have no objection while others offer feeble excuses like the electrical impulses will interfere with their powers. Not only should this be insisted on but customers should always take along their own tape recorder. Some psychics have suspiciously unreliable equipment, especially if the reading hasn't gone well. Customers who claim that they hardly said a word and gave the psychic no clues can be amazed when they play back the tape and find just how much information they gave away.
  3. Don't offer information. They are supposed to be telling not asking. Nevertheless they will ask a surprising number of questions if they can get away with it. People want a successful reading and therefore don't want to be seen as being unhelpful and blocking the psychics supposed power, so they go along with the questions in the spirit of co-operation. The ever helpful customer acknowledges even semi-correct statements immediately, when if they had waited they might have found that the psychic, not getting the required response covered their options with a suitable get out.
  4. The supposed power of the psychic actually comes from interaction with you. In fact Tarot readers usually emphasise the importance of your interpretation of how the cards apply to you. Someone who refuses to answer questions and remains poker faced throughout will receive a much poorer reading. If you are with a real psychic surely this would not be the case. Afterwards you can go through the reading and count how many questions were actually asked (don't forget that anything that provokes you into giving a response should count as a question). You can also try to notice how the medium modified his or her statements in light of your response. This can be difficult at first but the more you listen to readings the better you get at spotting their techniques.
  5. Finally, ask them what they can actually do. Saying that they are 'psychic' doesn't really tell you very much. What do they claim to be able to do? (If it's character analysis forget it.) Can they foretell the future? Can they get information from a dead relative? Telling you, "Aunt Freda sends her love and is thinking of you" is easy. What about her secret recipe for elderberry wine or where she's hidden her will? Can they locate your missing relative? If you find out exactly what they can do, then you will have some means of measuring their success later. But remember when you are trying to find out how good they are, think about all the times they were wrong and compare this with the number of times they appeared to be correct. Finding Aunt Freda's will under the mattress isn't so clever if you were also told to look down the back of the sofa, in the shed, at a local solicitors, behind the picture on the mantlepiece and somewhere on the bookshelf.

And finally…

If you do visit a psychic and you think you have been treated unfairly or you can offer further information then send the details to ASKE (click on the contact link on the Home page). With your help this booklet can be expanded and help given to others in avoiding the tricks of the psychic. Remember it is vital that you make a recording of the reading. Without this it may be difficult to comment.


The following is an extract from an actual reading. (Certain information has been altered to protect the identity of the client). Notice how the flattery is mixed with just enough negative points to give a realistic feel to the whole thing.

  1. Psychic: "How old are you David?"
  2. David: "34."

This was information directly requested. Psychics seem much better at giving out general information whilst relying on the customer to come up with the specifics.

  1. Psychic: "Who's let you down, in the past?"

Probably hoping to get a name. Not thirty seconds into the reading and two questions have been asked already.

  1. David: "Quite a few."
  2. Psychic: "This could have been a recurring thing that people have not carried out their promises. They've tried to use you David. They've always seen you as someone who has more than what you really have. They've seen you as a rich man." (David laughs.)

The psychic immediately picked up on the 'Quite a few' reply by saying it could have been 'a recurring thing'. The first indication is given that any problems David has are caused by others and so he needn't take personal responsibility for his difficulties. Maybe this is so and maybe it isn't but David probably likes to hear it anyway.

  1. Psychic: "Yes that's how they see you. They think you've got money stashed away somewhere. Because you look after yourself. And…you actually don't need anybody. You're independent, you can cope on your own. It won't stay this way. You've had to cope that's why. You've been very saddened by how fickle people can be. Very saddened. You see you like to keep your promises. You like to carry out what you intend but you've been so let down it's been dreadful. It's been a nightmare. You get tired don't you. You get tired. You push yourself very hard. You think, 'come on David, smarten yourself up, here we go'. But you physically push yourself. You are a survivor. You'll have bad health in your life you know. I'm gonna tell you straight you will. Some days you'll feel like death warmed up. You'll look all right and no-one will believe you but it's because of all the stress in your life and you've pushed and pushed and pushed and pushed. Not enough rest. You're not married are you?"

A nice spoonful or two of flattery mixed with stuff that can't be proved either way. Also mentioning that others are 'fickle' implying once more that David is right and it's the rest who are wrong. Notice yet again that a question has been asked.

  1. David: "I was."
  2. Psychic: "You're not now."

This is said in a way that implies the psychic knew it all along. Obviously as he used the past tense he is no longer married.

  1. David: "No."
  2. Psychic: "No." (Yet again hinting she already new and is simply confirming David's reply). "There is another wedding. I have to tell you. Even though you have wondered yourself."

Finally she moves into the relatively safe area of mentioning things that could happen at some unspecified point in the future. It is highly likely that someone in their mid thirties will re-marry at sometime in their lives. All in all this is not very enlightening.

Copyright © 1998 Tony Youens

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