Tarot vs. Psychiatry in the Hope for Help

Commentator and psychiatrist Elissa Ely meets a patient who, like her, works helping people with their problems. But he takes a completely different approach than she does.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Commentator Elissa Ely is a psychologist. And she remembers a recent patient who wanted to help her as much as she wanted to help him. But his methods were very different.

ELISSA ELY: He was perfectly relaxed recounting his awful record for the intake evaluation. I was guilty, he said of the sentence he served for tying a man to a tree in the woods and leaving him, but I never spent the money I took.

In prison he grew a goatee and became a scholar. He took a number of correspondence courses before finding Jewish mysticism. Kabala fit his view of himself as something more than an ordinary. I see things that will happen, he said. It's a third eye thing.

He lived on Payday bars and coffee, which appeared to be Kabalistically acceptable. He dressed in white and wore a Hebrew charm next to his neck tattoo.

After the intake, he missed a couple of appointments, then reappeared. He'd found a good job reading tarot cards in a tearoom. He'd even gone to a few corporate functions. On slow nights he ran errands for the other psychics. The money was excellent.

Though tarot was not Kabala, he said he was already giving remarkable readings. He told me an example. A nervous man had come in. Immediately, he intuited that the man was a writer. The third eye could tell. Next thing he knew he was telling the writer the subject of the novel he had just written. Yes, the writer said, astounded. It is about relationships.

They discussed the plot at length then before he knew it, he couldn't help himself. His third eye saw the fatal flaw and knew exactly how the book needed to end, so he told the writer - without charge - what changes were necessary. The writer went home to revise immediately.

There had been other satisfying experiences requiring this combination of high intelligence, third eye and prescient advice. He'd intervened in marital difficulties and restarted stalled life directions. And since we last met he made a vital personal discovery, which he was willing to share with me. Our jobs were not dissimilar and his revelation might lead to one of my own.

He finished his Payday bar and tipped his chair forward. Here's the thing you see, he said. His eyes were shining with success, full of illumination. It's really easy to solve someone else's problems.

SIEGEL: Elissa Ely is a psychiatrist in Boston.

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