SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Outwardly, Cheryl Tadly was every bit the successful, happy career woman. Yet the confident nursing specialist says there was something clouding her life that she couldn't quite pinpoint.
She decided to see a counselor.
In the hour that she spent talking and listening in the small, unadorned San Jose office of Charlene Roche, Ms. Tadly says she discovered some enlightening things about herself. Issues that she had been subconsciously grappling with for years.
"I had reached a point where I was looking for more balance in my life, but I was struggling to find it," says Ms. Tadly, 38, who lives in San Mateo. "Seeing Charlene was just what I needed to look ahead and establish some personal goals for myself."
Although this sounds very much like a typical therapy session with a clinical psychologist, Ms. Tadly's meeting was with an intuitive counselor. A psychic. A clairvoyant.
She's among a growing number of people seeking consultations with advisers who claim to have a keenly developed sixth sense; a vision into the pasts, presents and futures of total strangers. No longer the domain of the New Age movement or occultists, it's a specialty apparently attracting a new segment of the population.
"The more uncertain the times, the more people look for some sort of anchor, something that tells them there's a future to look forward to," says William George Roll, director of the Parapsychological Services Institute in Atlanta. "The intimacy of a psychic reading is very appealing. Just the experience of sitting there with someone's undivided attention feels good."
The increased interest comes despite the ongoing skepticism surrounding psychics and periodic fraud warnings from police.
The premise that some people have this gift has been debated for centuries, academics say, with most of the skepticism coming from the Western world.
Psychics have long been an accepted and essential part of many Asian and African cultures and religions. In Japan, for instance, uranaishis -- soothsayers -- help determine such propitious moments as when to change jobs and consummate romances, where to build homes and how to start a new business. According to Far Eastern Economic Review, the Japanese reportedly spend more than $8 billion a year on such PTC consultations, which average about $250 a session.
In the United States, psychics say most clients don't come to them requesting such clear-cut guidance. What they want is categorical information that gives them insight into their finances, career, relationships and health.
"I'm like a human radio," says Monnica Sepulveda, a psychic therapist who describes what she does with a client as similar to tuning into the right channel. "Psychics are solution-oriented and many of the people who come to see us are seeking verification to answers they may have a hunch about anyway, but for some reason, aren't ready to trust their instinct."
Different psychics use different methods to predict the future and reveal the past -- palmistry, tarot cards, tea leaves, crystal balls -- but one method isn't necessarily more accurate than the next, psychics say.
Most people say they come away from a good psychic reading with the feeling that the clairvoyant gave them general advice that would benefit almost everyone but also seemed to know unrevealed personal information.
"It gave me more awareness and confirmation that I needed to move on in certain parts of my life," says Ms. Tadly, who went to see her psychic as she was on the verge of breaking off a relationship.
However, debunkers say it's just a matter of using the right words to make it sound as if they have special powers.
"People get readings when they're troubled, so it's easy for a psychic to say something like, 'Be wary of the man you're seeing because he's going through some changes,' and convince you that she knows all about you," says Barry Karr, executive director of the Skeptical Inquirer, the journal of the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in Buffalo, N.Y.
"The point at which it becomes harmful or dangerous is if you start to base your decisions on the advice or you can't make a decision until that advice is given," he adds.
But even with such warnings, people still are attracted by what a future-teller might have to offer. Especially if they've encountered someone who was precisely on target.
Cheryl Tadly says the session with her psychic confirmed what she already knew: That her relationship at the time was going nowhere.
"Then Charlene described the man who I would marry, and her prediction was very close," says Ms. Tadly, who met a new man and is planning her late August wedding to him. "For me it was another tool to gain some perspective in my very busy, very overwhelming life."