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Psychic business is booming as recession deepens

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Psychic Derek Calibre, in his apartment-studio on Manhattan's Upper West Side on March 12, describes how he intreprets the images on his tarot cards. He says that business has more than doubled in recent months. (Photo by Jill Colvin/CNS)

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Psychic Derek Calibre, in his apartment-studio on Manhattan's Upper West Side on March 12, says that his business has more than doubled during the recession and clients are much more concerned about their jobs than they used to be. (Photo by Jill Colvin/CNS)

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Psychic Linda "Destiny" Orhun, in New York City on March 13, predicts the economy will improve but urges patience. (Photo by Jill Colvin/CNS)

After she was laid off from her job at Tiffany & Co. in New York City and forced to pack up her cozy Upper East Side apartment and move back to her family home in nearby Westchester County, Siobhan Lamont said she felt lost and confused. She had just ended a long-term relationship, her brother was sick and everything seemed in disarray.

“I was in a desperate state,” she says. “It was hard to find the little light at the end of the tunnel.”

So Lamont, 23, did something that five years earlier, she never would have imagined: She called a psychic.

Throughout the country, as the economy crumbles and the unemployment rate soars, people like Lamont are increasingly turning to psychics for hope.

Psychic Derek Calibre, who charges $120 for a one-hour session, says that business has more than doubled in recent months, up to four or five readings a day.

Thumbing through a stack of brightly colored tarot cards in his apartment-studio on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, barefoot and illuminated by candlelight, Calibre said that people today are “struggling and worried” and much more willing to take a chance on psychic intuition.

While there are no official statistics available, Rosemary “The Celtic Lady” McArthur, CEO and founder of the American, Canadian and U.K. Association of Psychics and Healers, estimates the industry is up 30 percent from last year.

“Everyone has said that their readings have gone up incredibly,” agrees Dawn Carr, founding member of the American Association of Psychics and Mediums, based in Boston. “It’s surreal.” About a third of callers are so-called psychic virgins, who are trying clairvoyance for the first time, she says.

Psychics have also noticed their clientele growing more diverse, with many more calls from men and people from industries across the spectrum.

Those who study consumer behavior say it’s not unusual for people to turn to psychics during tough economic times.

Stuart Vyse, a psychology professor at Connecticut College and author of “Believing in Magic: The Psychology of Superstition,” says that when faced with uncertainty, people are desperate for anything that gives them a sense of control—even if it’s just an illusion.

“The simple act of doing something makes you feel that you have some control in an uncertain world,” he says.

And while love and relationships were once at the forefront of fortune seekers’ minds, these days, Calibre said, clients’ questions about whether their jobs are in danger, and what to do if they are, now consume about 70 percent of session time, versus less than 40 a year ago.

“They’re asking, ‘What’s next for me? This is the ship going down. Am I going to get a life raft? Am I going to get on the lifeboat?’”

Carlos Aguilar, 45, says that while he used to consult a psychic maybe once or twice a year, lately he’s been calling much more frequently—about once a month. Aguilar lost the restaurant he owned for a decade last year and is now unemployed, with mounting debt and creditors calling.

He says he wants to know whether he’ll be able to regain his financial footing.

“I’m just trying to find some kind of reassurance that my life isn’t over. Even though things look really bleak and really bad, it’s really nice to hear someone say, ‘Hang in there. Things are going to be OK.’”

While it’s easy to question the value of paying upwards of $100 for advice gleaned through tarot cards and crystal balls, these psychics say they are providing their clients with a valuable service.

“It’s not that I’m waving a wand and giving them a job,” Calibre says. Instead, he tries to help his clients identify forgotten talents and interests that could be used as they move from one career to the next or alert them to symbols that could be significant in the future.

When it came to discussing Lamont’s career, for instance, Calibre revealed a card featuring a pink triangle with stick figures in different colors holding hands under a rainbow. The image symbolizes community, mental health and working with society, he told her. “This could be something that you’re interested in,” he said.

She hadn’t yet told Calibre that she was considering returning to school for a master’s degree in social work, which is her current plan.

Last week, Aguilar called Calibre, “desperate and panicking” to find out what to do about his home, which is on the verge of being foreclosed on by the bank.

Calibre says he drew two cards, one representing foreclosure and one representing trying to hold on to the property. The former card depicted happy, smiling faces; the latter “a tortured, hard root.” Foreclosure, he said, seemed like the better option.

Aguilar says Calibre also told him he would soon begin a new job or perhaps open his own business and get himself out of debt. “He said he saw me getting back on my feet very quickly,” Aguilar recalls.

While Lamont and Aguilar acknowledge the price is high, Lamont says that Calibre was able to provide something she couldn’t find consulting friends, families or her therapist. “He just really gave me some little hope that things will be OK and I’m going in the right direction,” she says.

“I don’t know that I could get the peace of mind from a financial adviser,” Aguilar says.

Yet not everyone in the business of futures is benefiting from the recession.

Angela, a certified psychic from Sacramento, Calif., who has been doing readings for 21 years, says she started to notice a drop-off in calls beginning last November. While she used to give 10 to 15 readings a day, at $20 each, today she’s down to just one or two.

“It definitely got harder,” she says. Many of her clients have had to cut back on visits, just as they’ve cut back on other spending. “They enjoy our session, but it is getting expensive for them, and they cannot afford it,” she says. She’s now advertising free readings on Craigslist and other Web sites, hoping it will boost her business.

So what do psychics say is in store for the future?

On the plus side, “We will heal. We will get back on our feet,” predicts New York psychic Linda “Destiny” Orhun. But, she says, people should expect a long haul. “It’s going to take a while.”

Still, Carr hopes people can stay positive. “If people just buckle down and remember that things aren’t so bad and just ride out the wave, it will get better.”

E-mail: jc2352@columbia.edu