This issue features a microinterview with Betsy Cohen, conducted by Catherine Lacey. Betsy is a psychic medium and ordained Spiritualist minister who lives in New York City and has conducted regular church services and séances at the Spiritualist Church of New York City. She served as a social worker and counselor for nearly a decade before she began taking classes on mediumship, meditation, shamanism, and the intuitive arts—an education that set her on a very different career path. As a clairvoyant, Cohen centers her private readings on her clients’ spiritual growth and empowerment. She also hosts a live radio show for Talking Alternative and has put out a CD of her ukulele music, worked as a band’s tour manager, and miraculously secured the domain name NewYorkCityPsychic.com. This interview was conducted in the middle of a January blizzard in Brooklyn.
THE BELIEVER: What’s the difference between a psychic, a clairvoyant, and a medium?
BETSY COHEN: Psychic means you’re reading someone’s aura or getting information from the collective unconscious. A clairvoyant can see things. Medium means you’re speaking to a dead person, so you’re getting information filtered through a spirit who was on this Earth plane not too long ago. And they have opinions! So sometimes a mother or grandmother will come in and shake her finger and say, “You better get away from that boy,” or “Hold on to that boy,” or whatever. But that’s not necessarily what source energy would say.
BLVR: And source energy is…?
BC: Spirit, God, infinite intelligence. Whatever you want to call it. Personally, I believe that everything is made of energy and that energy has consciousness. That’s about as concrete as I can get.
BLVR: From a scientific perspective, then, I mean, this cup of coffee has energy. Plus, it has milk in it, which has its own energy. So is there consciousness in my cup of coffee?
BC: Yeah, I believe so. But so does this chair, even though it’s plastic.
BLVR: So when you say you can “see things,” do you mean that you can see what’s going on in that building over there, or that you’re having visual hallucinations?
BC: Any psychic or medium gets information symbolically through their five senses. Being clairvoyant means you see things, clairaudiant means you hear things, and so on. I have all five of the “clairs.” Generally, you excel in some over others.
THE BELIEVER: Do your abilities ever impede your life in any way?
BETSY COHEN: As I progress and work with my spirit guide, I’ve said, “OK, occasionally you can come into my daily life without me asking.” But other than that I keep really strong boundaries up. One of the reasons is that I am a social worker also, and at those times I’m not paid to be a psychic. So I put up a boundary and rely on my intuition without looking into my clients’ future or past, or their dead relatives. With my friends, family, potential boyfriends, I also have that boundary up. Occasionally, something does happen, though. A friend’s grandfather might come to me and say, “You need to speak to Sue.” Mediums are a little bit like lightning rods, though. You know, sometimes I’m sitting on the subway across from someone, and their aunt comes and tells me, “Tell him to stop eating this, that it’s bad for his skin,” and I have to say no. Sometimes if they were pushy in life they can be pushy in spirit, so I tell that spirit I’m really sorry, but that’s past my boundary. I do not say things to random people on the street. I tell the spirit that if they want to speak to their loved one here on Earth, to get them to a séance or another medium another time.
BLVR: Do people ever come in with problems that are just ridiculous or insane?
BC: You know, the stories that people come in within readings are nothing compared to what I hear in social work. But also I don’t really hear the crazy side of the story. You know, let’s say you have this really insane love triangle, and it’s just the craziest thing you’ve ever heard—I don’t actually get to hear that story. They come in and say, “What do I do about Jim? And Carol?” That’s the most I get.
THE BELIEVER: Do your sessions ever become like therapy?
BETSY COHEN: When you come in for a reading, you can’t come in again for another three, six, or twelve months, to dispel any codependence. My work is different from other people’s work—my teacher told us that we are not social workers, we’re not counselors. But the problem is, I am a social worker. I have been for ten years. So I become very solution-oriented in my practice, except, unlike therapy, they’re not my solutions. I usually ask the spirit to give us a ritual or practice that the client can do. And legally I can do this, because I became ordained.
BLVR: That’s a law?
BC: It’s the fortune-telling law. Unless you’re ordained, you’re not allowed to give advice. It’s illegal. Before every reading you’d have to say you’re doing it “for entertainment purposes only.” And this is not for entertainment purposes only. What I do say is “You have free will, and you can take this or leave it.” There will be no dire consequences if you don’t take the advice. My practice really hangs on possible futures; that’s how I was taught. You know—“If you do this, then this will happen.”
THE BELIEVER: What do your parents think of you becoming a professional psychic?
BETSY COHEN: My parents are very Catholic, but they’re liberal, and when I was growing up they were very open to me questioning things. I always went to church, because that was the battle I chose not to fight, and I’ve always been spiritual. When I started going to the Spiritualist Church, I was very open with my mom about it, but for some reason my dad wasn’t around and my mom didn’t tell him about it. After the first séance I went to, I called them, and I was so excited, and my dad had no idea this had been going on. They were concerned at first and they wanted to make sure that I didn’t get into a cultlike situation. But they’ve both told me now about how they’ve seen ghosts—my uncle Stanley, I believe, and my father’s friend had died, and then later he saw his friend and talked to him.
BLVR: What do you think of these hugely popular psychics, or ones who do infomercials?
BC: Well, it actually depends. I look up to some of them, but think the same of some of them as I think about psychics you may see on the street. I just have to tap into their energy and see what their intention is. Some of them are trying to create codependency and use fear, just like the media creates fear, to make more money. I do believe that everyone is psychic, but there is karma involved and there are some people who are trying to con others and who have bad intentions. Of course, I have to work against those stereotypes.
THE BELIEVER: Many people are at once doubtful and intrigued by mediums and psychics. Why do you think this is the case?
BETSY COHEN: I believe that everyone is psychic and can do what I do with the right intent and lots of practice. It helps to have certain predispositions as well. I think at this point in human history, most people have had a clairvoyant moment, or seen a “ghost,” or known someone they trust who has had these experiences. I think it’s these experiences that fuel people’s interest. I also think that people are feeling inside that there has to be a larger connection, but they don’t know where to turn. The old ways of thinking about God no longer suit them, but they’re hungry and searching for something more.
BLVR: Do you think you can change someone’s mind about the value of psychic readings?
BC: That’s complicated. What I do requires a great amount of faith, on my part and on the part of the client. If someone is coming in as a “disbeliever,” they are not open-minded, and are most likely trying to prove or disprove something, and I’m not personally interested in that. I’ve never felt the need to prove anything to anybody. But that’s just me. Additionally, the general atmosphere and energy of a situation like that would not be ideal. The more relaxed a person is, the better the flow of energy and information. Since we are working with energy, I like to explain it as being like a wire that conducts energy. The less resistance in the wire, the faster the wire can conduct energy, and the easier it can flow. All that said, I do still believe that someone’s mind can be changed by a reading. Bob Olson is one such famous sceptic who turned believer after a reading. He now dedicates his life to testing theaccuracy of readings for the purpose of recommending quality psychic mediums to the public.