Chatting to the dead is all in a day's work for 53-year-old Debbie Malone.
"I can see someone as clear as though they're alive. Sometimes they're a see-through blue sort of image," she explains. Her extraordinary, 25-year-long career has seen her strangled by a ghost, receiving messages from brutally murdered victims and working with police artists to produce identikits of criminals.
"I think presences are good and bad."
Malone, a professional psychic medium, rents an office in the Sutherland Shire, and has the ability to channel the dead and sense information about a (living) persons' current, future or past state through symbols, images, or gut feelings. "I might be speaking to someone and I see their grandfather sitting there. Or they might be thinking of moving house so a house might float past me."
"I've got a man coming tomorrow who I saw about nine years ago," she tells. "When I tuned in, there was a blockage in his heart." Doctors confirmed Malone's vision. "He said to me that I'd saved his life."
Among her many gifts is x-ray clairvoyance – the ability to see into things including people's bodies. Voted Australian Psychic of the Year in 2013, Malone has worked with police on more than 20 murder cases including the Backpacker murders and the disappearance of Warilla schoolgirls Kay Docherty and Toni Cavanagh. She's also written three books, most recently recently Clues From Beyond.
Malone associates her paranormal abilities with six near-death experiences linked to a previously undiagnosed allergy to anaesthetic and morphine. A former graphic designer, Malone never wanted to be a psychic. "My life has been completely different to what I thought it would have been."
Problems of the job include harassment from criminals and attached ghosts. "I do meditation and white-light myself every day and every night. I call my angels in as well." Unrealistic expectations from clients is another downside. "Readings are about what you need to know, not necessarily about what you want to know."
Forty-nine per cent of Australians said they believe in psychic powers such as ESP according to a Nielsen Poll in 2009. 51 per cent also believed in angels and 41 per cent in astrology. Little information about the industry exists in Australia. In America, the Psychic Services Industry is worth an estimated US$2 billion, according to independent research firm, IBISWorld.
Leela Williams, spokesperson for the International Psychics Association in Australia, says growing acceptance, a decline in traditional religion and the internet have fuelled greater opportunities for those in the field. "You no longer need a gypsy van. It's also easier for people to do their checks and balances which helps with organic regulation of the industry."
For a niche field, opportunities are surprisingly diverse - ranging from art and writing, to medium work or the UFO or ghost tour industry. Williams, who is 46, started off as a psychic reader and now works as an editor in the spiritual field.
Psychics commonly offer guidance using tools like angel guides. Other options include educational workshops or entertainment such as stage and radio shows.
"It's about letting your interests guide you and developing your specialty," Williams says. Not all paranormal jobs require psychic ability. Palmistry, aura reading and astrology, for instance, rely on divination through learned pattern recognition, she explains. Challenges include spiritual burnout and ridicule. "You have to have a pretty strong sense of self."
Most people consult a psychic for relationship, career advice, or bereavement, Williams says. Thus, good counselling skills are important. "People will talk to you about things they don't feel comfortable talking to others about. Sometimes we just need to know we're going to be okay."
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