strange cases

The Woman Who Was Addicted to Psychics

Fortune Teller Gazing into Ball on Table
Photo: Corbis

Helen, a French woman in her mid-40s, had been seeking advice from psychics off and on for more than two decades, ever since she was a 19-year-old college kid. But in the years following a divorce, her dependence on clairvoyants had grown to the point where she couldn’t make even the most trivial decision — like choosing a movie — on her own. At one point, Helen was spending up to eight hours and $200 a day on the phone or online with fortune tellers. Her story appears in a recent issue of the Journal of Behavioral Addictions.

The Patient: Apart from depression following a couple of bad breakups, Helen has nothing particularly unusual in her medical history. She has a good job that she enjoys (she’s described in her case report only as a “manager”), but despite bringing in what should be a comfortable income, her increasingly frequent consultations with psychics has driven her into debt. After some time, she could no longer ignore her financial problems, and so she sought psychiatric help. 

The Problem: The first time Helen saw a psychic, she was 19 and looking for advice about her college education. She’s always struggled with decision-making — frequently, a fear of making the wrong choice has had a paralyzing effect, preventing her from deciding anything at all. She continued to seek input from psychics off and on, but by her mid-20s the casual habit started to become problematic, when her insecurity in a romantic relationship pushed her into “losing control” of how often she sought help from the clairvoyant. Marie Grall-Bronnec, an addiction specialist at Nantes University Hospital in France and the lead author on the case study, writes that Helen “was hoping that the fortune tellers could answer her obsessive doubts: Does he really love me? How long will our relationship last? and after their breakup: Will he come back?

By the time she married at 37, she’d become increasingly dependent on psychics. Grall-Bronnec writes:

She repeatedly returned to fortune telling to reassure herself about the future of her relationship, and increasingly so as it deteriorated. The breakup worsened the disorder. Since her divorce, she consults fortune tellers – not always the same person – on the phone or online, in a compulsive way, more and more often (up to every day), for longer and longer periods of time (up to 8 hours a day) and spends each time more and more money (up to 200 euros per session). As she is never satisfied with the fortune tellers’ predictions, she will consult again very soon after the latest call or connection.

Helen later said that during her reading, she’s convinced that this person can truly see her future — and yet directly afterwards, she says she knows she’s being irrational. Still, that doesn’t stop her from seeking out yet another psychic.

The Diagnosis: Helen sought out help of her own volition, suggesting that she was unhappy with the hold her dependence on fortune telling had over her life. The psychiatric team she met with had never seen a case quite like hers, but after ruling out both obsessive compulsive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, they found that her actions matched the criteria for behavioral addictions more commonly associated with things like alcohol or gambling. Her time spent speaking with fortune tellers, for example, had become “the most important activity” in her life, and even when she wasn’t talking to a psychic, she was thinking about it. Over the years, she’d made multiple attempts to curb or quit the habit altogether, but she never succeeded. And like other forms of addiction, it was as if she had built up a tolerance to having her fortune read, in that she ended up needing more and more of it to feel satisfied. 

Apart from the diagnosis of a “fortune-telling addiction,” however, the case report ends on a vague note, without specifically divulging what happened to Helen, or if she’s been helped by the psychiatric care. Perhaps some fortune teller out there might know?

This Woman Was Addicted to Psychics