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Getting Psyched

Health and wellness spas around the globe are offering sessions with intuitive counselors and tarot card readers. So what if it’s bunk?

Did I really need to see the psychic?

The question gnawed at me as I sat down with Susan King, the visiting “intuitive counselor” at the COMO Shambhala wellness retreat in Bali. I was decompressing for a few days, and the other guests convinced me to drop the $350 dollars on a reading.

“She’ll blow your mind,” said Marshall Vernet, a 50-something American photographer who initially seemed as skeptical as me. “She told me all this stuff no one else could possibly know.”

Here’s the thing. There probably are people who have an inside line to otherworldly planes. But I’ve had my tarot cards read and my palm analyzed; I’ve been assured—promised, in fact—that my future would brim with work and money and travel and love…only to discover that, alas, the psychic must have been confusing me with someone else. Carmella, a chain-smoking Yonkers sage predicted that I would move away from New York with a man in uniform, and that I would be very happy. As it happened, I did live, briefly, in Washington, D.C. with a Navy doc who dressed in military garb. What Carmella failed to mention was that the good doctor would eventually go to jail for prescription drug fraud. (I did, however, become very happy after I dumped him.)

We’ve all heard stories about hapless individuals who’ve made poor choices, consciously or unconsciously, or given more credibility to certain circumstances and events simply because “the psychic said so.” And, even more dangerous, those who’ve shelled out thousands of dollars to be de-cursed, only to discover that—surprise!—the hex was really a hoax.

Yet, like in Bali, there’s a market for otherworldly offerings in places that are supposedly devoted to tried-and-true cures, and not hocus-pocus. To wit: Miraval, in Tucson, offers psychic programming with Maggie Garbarini, who is descended from Spanish gypsies, and Tina Naughton-Powers, a former news anchor-turned-medium who now “reports for the other side.” Red Mountain Resort in St. George, Utah, has an on-site Shaman Spirit Guide. You can have your Tarot Cards read at Lake Austin Spa ResortMii Amo, the Fairmont Sonoma Mission, the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia and the Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain Resort & Spa, which also offers astrology and numerology. If that’s not enough insight, why not have your “soul read” at the spa Spring Creek Ranch in Jackson Hole, Wyoming? Travel to India, and you can have your chart done at several luxury Taj Hotel Resorts and Palaces by the the in-house astrologers and palmists.

What gives?

“People are searching for meaning,” says Mia Kyricos, the Chief Brand Officer at Spa Finder, Inc. “Some people get that in the four walls of a church, and some people are a little more alternative-minded and seek answers in different ways.” And since ”mindfulness” and “spirituality” have become such popular terms (even if their meaning has been somewhat diluted), it’s no wonder that spas would jump on it. Spas are nothing if not smart marketers.

Still, the audience is there. Canyon Ranch, for example, in Tucson and Lenox, Massachusetts, has had a metaphysical program for over 20 years. Corporate Spa Director Angie Day acknowledges the seeming disconnect between the popular program and the spa’s more science-based offerings. “The Ranch philosophy fosters healthy balance and the power of possibility,” she says. “It extends beyond the physical to the metaphysical. It’s a safe place here; people explore themselves and really stretch to find new ways to grow.”

A treatment room at COMO Shambhala in Bali

A treatment room at COMO Shambhala in Bali

I wasn’t interested in growing so much as hearing how splendid my life would turn out. And after enough people corroborated how amazing King was, I acquiesced.

King, who has been featured in Oprah magazine and travels around the world doing readings ($400 per hour; $195 for a half hour), was nothing if not comforting. With her long flowing skirt and English accent, she reminded me of Mary Poppins…if Mary received messages from Beyond.

All she knew was my first name (actually she called me “Amy,” but I let it go). Some of her information was pretty spot on: She knew that I wrote for a living, that my family had come from Eastern Europe and that some of them had died in concentration camps. Spooky. She knew I had two siblings, and that my brother and I are close. I showed her a photo of the guy I was seeing, and she asked if his middle name was Michael. It was.

“I have a habit of middle names, don’t ask me why,” she said, adding that she had a good feeling about him.

Other than that, though, everything was future tense—and as of press time, none of it has come to pass. Granted, it had only been two months, so there’s time. I certainly hope things work out as she imagined. According to King, one day I’ll live on the west coast (a longtime fantasy of mine). I’ll write another book (a goal), I’ll continue to travel (probable), and money won’t be an issue (finally). She also saw me spending my summer at a lake upstate, which I’d discussed doing with the man whose middle name is Michael. Unfortunately, she failed to mention that our relationship would disssolve not long after I returned from Bali.

I’ve since had a few conversations with Vernet, who was still awed by King’s predictions, as was his partner, Milagros Branca. Both plan to see her again. I sent two New York friends her way, and they were equally impressed by her accuracy. So, maybe I’ll just have to be patient. Maybe she’ll be right.

Either way, it’s best to take the whole thing with a vatful of salt. As Mary Bemis, the founder of the Insider’s Guide to Spas, put it, “The intuitive who helps you see the world in a new way and the hidden marketer who preys on your fears and sells you solace or simply inflates your ego are two different things entirely. Buyer beware.”

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