Barbara Walters, Psychics, and Public Ridicule

Photo copyright by benprks; creative commons license.

I think maybe Barbara Walters owes “dangerous” psychic James Van Praagh an apology, but that’s mostly because—as an empath—I’ve worn Van Praagh’s shoes.  I know what it’s like to be ridiculed for sending someone to get medical help.

If you’re not familiar with the inciting incident, it happened on Barbara Walter’s TV show, The View, which hosted James Van Praagh of The Ghost Whisperer. The well-known psychic was there to promote a new book in the summer of 2008, and he privately warned Barbara Walters of a potential medical issue, which concerned him.    He could have done a little showboating and announced it publicly for the publicity and sensationalism of it, but to his credit, he didn’t.  To his surprise, Barbara Walters announced on a later show, when he wasn’t present to defend himself or  their personal conversation, that she’d seen a doctor, that she was “absolutely normal,” and then ridiculed him as “dangerous.”   He was denounced over the Internet as a fraud.

Fast forward to May 2010 and Barbara Walters announced upcoming heart surgery.  That may seem like a vindication of the psychic but, as always, skeptics found something else to use as supporting evidence of fraud—his prediction hadn’t been dead on with the diagnosis.  He’d warned her of bad blood around the heart and white blood cells.

I admit, it’s hard for me to side with Barbara on this one, and there’s a reason for that—and it has nothing to do with how much I’ve admired her skills in her career.  She was a role model to me when I was in my 20’s.

As for the veracity of the psychic’s predictions?  I’ve never worked with him personally, so I can’t attest to that.  However….

First of all, I have no idea what Barbara Walters’ doctor had to tell her after the psychic’s warning.  We have only her word.  I haven’t seen her doctor’s notes and, really, that’s none of my business and I never had to hear about her health at all except that Barbara Walters herself made it public.  Second, I know from my own experiences and from having worked with highly accurate “sensitive” people that how a psychic “sees” or “knows” something varies and is not always a perfect picture of the diagnosis or an exact time for the moment everything will break.  It’s simply a snapshot of the energy around that person, whether it’s already manifested or on its way.  And, unless the psychic is also a cardiologist, it’s unlikely that he would know exactly what a visual image means.  However, if a psychic with a high accuracy rate told me he saw “bad blood” around my heart, I’d be getting my heart checked out and not just for “bad blood” but for anything heart-related to see if there was anything wrong or anything related that I could prevent from going wrong.  To me,  the key would be to GET THE HEART AND BLOOD CHECKED OUT, not is there technically unsavory blood around that particular organ.

Flying By Night novel
Recognizing the “Gift”

But I really can’t speak for Van Praagh.  I can speak only for myself.  I’m an empath, not a psychic…though I occasionally have a bit of that, too.  As an empath, I feel things…unintentionally.  I usually don’t  seek out these experiences but they certainly get my attention when they show up!

I’ve been this way all my life, but I didn’t really come to understand it until 2005.  That was the day I was observing at an “energy healing” in a church in Pensacola, Florida.  It was the first time I’d ever seen anything like it, and I moved in close to get a better view.  I was a little skeptical, so somehow I ended up about 3 feet from the healer and her subject, who was an elderly woman.   As the healer was preparing to begin, I suddenly felt an odd sensation in the back of my skull, like none I’d ever felt before.  It was cold, metallic, hard, alien.  The healer noticed that horrified look on my face and asked what was wrong.  I told her privately what I felt, and she asked her subject, “What’s wrong with the back of your head?”

The old woman frowned up at her and asked how the healer knew.  Decades ago, she’d been attacked and the back of her head bashed.  She’d been taken to a military hospital in a foreign place where part of her skull had been removed and actually thrown in the garbage because they didn’t expect her to survive.  Then she described the metal plate in her head in the shape and location where I’d felt it.

I tried to chalk it up to coincidence until  the next woman relaxed on her massage table.  I stood where the woman couldn’t see me and gestured to the healer that it felt like a rope around my neck.  When the healer asked her about prior traumatic events in her life, the woman mentioned some heartaches here and there and…oh,yeah, the man who tried to strangle her with a rope years ago and how that injury still bothered her from time to time.

The rest of the day, I stayed by the healer’s side, gesturing privately what I “felt” about each person’s medical or psychological condition and each time having it affirmed by the subject.  Far from being freaked out by this experience, it was a relief to me to have some understanding of what had always unnerved me.

Understanding the Ridicule

Before I had any clue that I was an empath, I would have feelings about things and keep them to myself or talk myself out of listening to my intuition.  I was my own skeptic!  I’m not a fan of telling random people whatever I sense about them and being a psychic know-it-all, but in cases of health, I do feel an obligation.  Before I understood it, I rarely acted on it because if I prevented something bad, then I was ridiculed about how “well, that didn’t happen.”   No, my grandfather didn’t die for another three years because of a feeling that he was in trouble and my sending help… and my mom didn’t get shot when going to a certain place I begged her not to… but Granddaddy’s heart meds were dangerously out of balance and the man my mom didn’t go see did shoot up that location very soon after that.   In both of those cases, the risk of ridicule was outweighed by my love for those people.

But what about ridicule when being wrong could end your career?

In 1999, the man in charge of my entire organization was a man I’d previously worked for and had thought was the best boss in the world.  He wasn’t so great the second time around.  He’d turned bitter and verbally abusive, with a penchant for publicly ridiculing people and betraying secrets that fell under the Privacy Act.  During one of our conversations where he’d spotted me at lunch and insisted I sit and listen to his tirades, I got a weird pain in an odd place in my body.  I ignored it, but I couldn’t ignore the feeling that something serious was wrong with the Big Boss.  I stewed about it for a while, then send him a private email.  In it, I explained that I sometimes got strange feelings and it was probably just nothing at all but I felt I needed to tell him.  I knew that if he didn’t believe, the promotion I deserved would dry up or that I might be branded a crazy person.

Worse.  He poo-pooed (his terminology) my quiet, private plea for him to see a doctor.  Just when I thought he’d brushed me off and it was forgotten, he began to point me out in conference rooms of a hundred colleagues, ridiculing me, calling me a “druid witch,” and telling other  leaders in my career field how “difffffffffferent” I was and probably wouldn’t be a good choice to put in charge.

But….  But he didn’t ignore my plea as it might seem.  He went to a doctor within days and very discreetly spent around two months out of the office recovering from some unexpected and discreet surgery that he never gave any details of.  He didn’t mention my warning after that, and I didn’t get a promotion until a couple of years after he left, and got it then by leaving to go to a different organization where they didn’t know I was a “druid witch.” (I’m not a druid, thank you.)

Understanding the”Gift”

That scenario has played out a number of times since, though never again with anyone that important to my career.  There’s always a risk of ridicule, though most people keep it quiet or just avoid me altogether.

One was a colleague who walked into a room and I felt a heaviness in his chest immediately.  After some deliberation (he had friends in very high places and my previous boss in my old organization had burned me as I already described), I decided to say something and risk everyone in my new office thinking I was nuts.  I didn’t sense “bad blood” or see any images as Van Praagh did with Barbara Walters.  I simply felt a heaviness I’d come to associate with a heart-related problem.  I discussed it with him privately and he admitted he’d been having some problems but had ignored them.  Within a week, he was seeing a cardiologist and had gotten a life-threatening problem under control.  He relayed the outcome, and then neither of us spoke of it again.

I often feel people’s stress.  It follows them like an invisible but palpable cloud of heavy, dark energy.  It feels like the weight of the world on their shoulders.  But those I normally don’t flag to the person  who’s hurting.  At least not in an obvious way.  I may readily say, “Hey, you look like you have the weight of the world bearing down on you,” and they’ll often open up and talk about it.  Still, in cases of emotional distress, I tend to steer clear of recommending therapists.

I also have tended, burned as I was, not to point out health issues to high-ranking people who could do more damage to my career.  There was one exception, around 2006.  He was someone  I’d worked with for almost two decades and had always admired his work.  He was in a different career field but worked with me frequently.  This man was extremely conservative and well-respected in his professional life.  I was in meetings with him three times and felt the crushing heaviness in his chest before I finally asked to see him in the hall during a break.  He had such a great scientific mind, and I was almost positive he would laugh at me…though he was gentleman enough not to ridicule me publicly.

He didn’t.  I told him with great sensitivity that I was an empath and that I, ahem, felt he might want to see a doctor because I, ahem,  felt he had something heavy around his heart.  He didn’t bat an eyelash.   He just smiled for a few seconds.

Finally, he said in a low voice, “Dear Lorna,  I’ve managed to keep it a secret until now, but I’m under the care of a heart specialist.  I already know something is wrong and exactly what it is, but I appreciate that you were willing to put your professional reputation on the line for something you had no proof of because you wanted to help me.”

We never discussed it after that.  One day, I was in an airport and saw him leaving the gate where my plane had arrived.  He said he’d just finished a great book on his previous flight and thought I might be interested in it.  He dared not take it with him to his meeting with VIPs.  He pulled it from his business papers and I read the title.  It was a book about alien technology, probably that last subject in the world I would have imagined him reading about leisurely.  I took it as I boarded my plane, thanked him, and didn’t mention that I already owned the book.