April 3rd, 2009
10:27 PM ET

Addiction and the Liberace of Astrology

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/images/04/03/art.vert.mercado.jpg caption="A May 2007 photograph of celebrity psychic Walter Mercado." width=292 height=320]

David Puente
AC360° producer

She's a beautiful actress with a dirty little secret. When I saw her posing in a magazine with Claudia Schiffer at the Cannes Film Festival, I recognized her from our years at NYU. Now through Facebook we're back in touch. That's where she confessed to me what was once unspeakable, her secret habit.

She's not the type you might think would obsessively call psychic hotlines and spend literally up to a thousand dollars a month on them. But that's the addiction she says she's been fighting for years with virtually no other support.

Unlike shopaholics or nail-biters for example, it's not easy to find a group to help those hooked on fortune tellers. If a highly educated model could be addicted to psychic hotlines, I thought, how many others are, but don’t know where to turn or might be too embarrassed to ask for help.

By chance, I happened to pick up the Miami Herald the day she confessed to me that she’s still fighting the urge to call a psychic. On the front page I read about a celebrity psychic who is the center of a legal battle over his own name. A federal jury gave a Miami promoter ownership of the Walter Mercado trademark throughout the "universe" and into "perpetuity." The jury found that Mercado had improperly terminated a 1995 contract. He is one of the Latin world's most beloved stars. The kind of celebrity who has taken the heat on The Howard Stern Show and then visited Regis and Kelly for morning news show chatter.

Flamboyant, dramatic - described as the "Liberace of Astrology" - in many ways Walter Mercado is out of this world. Many of us grew up watching his predictions on one of Univision 's most popular shows ever. And for us, he's a one of a kind fixture, a galactic guru who has delivered astrological and spiritual advice for more than 40 years.

My college friend's revelations now made me wonder: could someone as inoffensive as Walter Mercado once seemed to me, be fueling secret addictions?

And since there are so many phone psychics, all this got me wondering how many psychic phone addicts are out there, and are there any support groups for them?

Filed under: 360° Radar • David Puente
soundoff (23 Responses)
  1. Lynne

    Yes, it is a terrible addiction and a terrible place to be in. You give your power away along with your money. Unlike other addictions, this is the one nobody talks about. If I told someone I went to the casinos every weekend and lost money, I would get more understanding. Nobody understands this.

    April 6, 2009 at 8:54 am |
  2. Sergio Flores, Sweden

    Everybody in the spanish speaking world knows who Walter Mercado is, whether you like it or not. I certainly don't, but I am not going to stop him for that. He is a odd character in a mumu dress. I call it a tent! Anyway, he is really popular because people wonder, what is that character on tv.. is not a man, is not a woman, not a transvestite nor a transgender.. he just is. He likes to look like that, and probably there is no explanation for it. Just is. He looks like my aunt, same hairdoo and colored hair... and the face... like from an Ed Wood film. Something for a Katy Griffin routine, priceless!

    April 6, 2009 at 7:54 am |
  3. kevin kelly

    I may come from south of the border,but,believe me guys,I'm clean.

    April 5, 2009 at 11:41 pm |
  4. jazzy

    I think psychic addiction is the same thing as any other internet addiction, or any other addiction that is. You get the temporary high followed by shame and guilt, and get addicted to the 'high' Life on lifes terms seems somehow unbearable. The trick is to know the pain will pass, it is temporary and that a psychic and wasting money is the same thing as buying a drug. I've been there, and anyone who is in the grips of any addiction is lost until they admit it. Try a 12 step program but just substitute the substance as psychics in your heart and soul. Work with another person who is also addicted and coming 'clean'. Every time you go a day without calling put the money you've saved away, and have a look at the end of the month!! Make changes in your life.

    April 5, 2009 at 8:27 pm |
  5. Maryann

    I have worked for a telepsychic company. I was tested as to my ability, The company makes the $4.99 a min, the "readers" get any where from.18-35 cents per minute. And have to pay their own taxes. There are good readers who supply valid help for their clients. Sometimes the companys don't screen their callers as to there dependance and stabilty of mind. So co-dependant reltionships are formed client to reader. There are some really GOOD companies out here and some really good readers. I'm convinced that if a person wants a reading and doesn't know where the local psychics are , Phonelines can provide some real help! Just like anything, Buyer beware!

    April 5, 2009 at 2:47 pm |
  6. Lucy

    I am a psychic addict, but I was finally able to start dealing with my anxiety and the life situations that prompted this addiction after finding an online support group. I've been call-free for 6 months. It's easy to judge others, but we are all human and when we feel hopeless we do things that seem very foolish to others. The answer is to find the strength within yourself, not from the outside.

    April 5, 2009 at 10:46 am |
  7. Mary


    I too have the same addiction and agree with absolutely all the comments made previously! It is like a silent addiction.....

    Any help/recognition would be gratefully recieved!

    April 5, 2009 at 7:04 am |
  8. Sharon S

    I will admit I have done it a a few times and back in the day almost believed it! But after many self help books and a good lesson in
    "If you want to Predict Your Future, Create it"

    Well need I say more? I mean truly think of it this way Humans have this habit of mostly being followers and believing almost anything somone tells you whether it is the truth or just something made up, simply because that is how our minds work, too powerful for most people to comprehend! Hence the pscyhic war goes on stealing your money and making you believe Mr. Right is around the corner when in reality you should be out there looking for him not or buying a new outfit so you look good when he shows up!!!

    Psychics, what a joke but say I said that I actually have friends who make good money off idiots who believe them!

    April 4, 2009 at 11:54 pm |
  9. Marta

    Walter Mercado on here. Cannot believe it!

    April 4, 2009 at 8:50 pm |
  10. Healing Intentions

    I have been addicted to psychics for almost 5 years now. The triggers to this addiction are complicated, but they are real. When you look a the psychic websites you will find thousands of people addicted, looking for hope, and living each day with anticipation and false hope!

    There are so many psychological issues surrounding this addiction and those issues warrant attention in the mental health community. When it doesnt become entertainment anymore, it can and will ruin one's life.

    True, there people who do possess psychic gifts, but when one begins to rely on psychics, it is definitely an addiction.

    In an age when there is so much doubt, and our lives are confusing with dealing with relationships, job issues, etc. combined with anxiety, psychics sometimes become what we think are an answer to soothe the dark feelings of despair and loss of hope in our lives.

    Unfortunately, there are "psychics" out there that take advantage of people and they probably are making tons of money now!

    I look forward to our society recognizing this as a serious addiction and hopefully honest and concrete discussions can happen to enlighten us all toward a better understanding of what it all means.

    thank you.

    April 4, 2009 at 5:32 pm |
  11. arbed

    I wish I didn't understand the addiction but I do, because I have lived it as well. I'm a well traveled, intelligent woman with a masters degree and I'm addicted to psychics. No one knows except the people on Sara's message board.
    When you call, ( and that's the problem for me) you get a jolt of fear or hope depending on the reading. If you get a jolt of hope you keep calling to get the feeling of hope, thereby post poning having to deal with the pain, fear, doubt and anxiety that prompted you to call in the first place. If you get the reading that you don't want you keep calling to drive away the fear. It's a vicious cycle.
    It was not hard for me to be drawn into the addiction. Addiction runs in my family. I knew that I had an addictive personality and have been carefully not to drink much, do drugs, or smoke. I never thought that something I saw as harmless could be an addiction. When you can't stop, when you helpless but consenting to something that contributes little if anything of value to your life, you have a problem.

    April 4, 2009 at 5:18 pm |
  12. Blaise Parker

    There are many of us. MANY. Please bring to light this terrible addiction.

    April 4, 2009 at 3:21 pm |
  13. Dr . robin Marie shepherd

    there is no doubt that there are people, mainly women, suffering from an addiction to ringing or contacting psychics. My study on people addicted to psychic hotlines reports that many educated women are relying on psychics to alleviate the uncertainty in their lives particularly regarding romantic or intimate relationships. The women in this study (54 women and two men) were very educated with professional full time jobs yet they spent thousands of dollars ringing psychics. There are no laws to protect these people from this billion dollar industry. The government in any country does not set guidelines to these psychics practicing, in particular, the billion dollar psychic hotline businesses. One may suggest that adults should know better but there are guidelines for people who get out of control with gambling; there is only a small percentage of problem gamblers yet the gaming industry must abide by strict guidelines worldwide. There should be the same regulations set up for this industry, too.

    April 4, 2009 at 2:46 pm |

    I simple can understand how on earth some one can put their faith in this kind of people. destiny is in your on hands!

    April 4, 2009 at 2:12 pm |
  15. lilipoppop

    Being adddicted to psychics is like any other addiction. I am a professional with a graduate degree and have a successful career. I became addicted to psychics about 3 years ago and have spent much more money on it than I can count. It's a financially devastating addiction and even more devastating to one's self-esteem and ability to trust oneself.

    I've found other addicts. We are intelligent, educated women, who may steer away from drugs and other addictions that have more obvious physical side effects. However, as with many other addictions, this one stems from the inability to deal with anxiety and compulsive behaviors and thoughts. It starts out slowly, just thinking that we are getting advice for issues we might be worried about, but progresses as the addict becomes more dependent and more dependent on temporary relief we get from our anxiety by speaking to a psychic who may have the answer we are looking for.

    Some of the psychics I've met have genuinely tried to guide me to think for myself....many have just told me what I wanted to hear, or in some cases, manipulated my anxiety so that I needed them to help me even more. Regardless, after several years of this crazy behavior, I'm starting to come out of this haze of losing control of my life.

    The only way to heal this addiction is to deal with the underlying issues, the compulsive behaviors and habits and to accept responsibility for one's actions and choices. If I can get myself into this, I can get myself out of it....it's difficult and there is a lot of shame behind it because it seems so kooky, but it is an addiction, just like any other.

    April 4, 2009 at 12:21 pm |
  16. Neo

    No one should be addicted to anything. That in itself is a disease. As for psychics, their best talent is in telling things that already happened, like finding lost children or recreating crime scenes since it can be easily proven if they are accurate.

    April 4, 2009 at 12:16 pm |
  17. Joanna Hernandez

    Okay, I'm not impartial. I grew up on Walter Mercado. The world would be a little more gray without him. Flamboyant and dramatic, yes, but he serves as an escape from the mundane that can be life.

    I've known people who became 'addicted' to Walter, but at least his advice was free.

    When it becomes an obsession that causes one to spend thousands on psychics, it could be perceived more like a mental illness. If indeed it is an 'addiction,' sounds like a good one for a 12-step program.

    April 4, 2009 at 10:55 am |
  18. Jane kelley

    A psychologist would work with a patient like this. It is a compulsion, fueled by anxiety and reinforced by hearing what the fortune teller has to say. It is treatable.

    April 4, 2009 at 9:07 am |
  19. DaniSu

    I think the people who go to these psychics are desperate to find hope at a dark time in their life and then, like a good high from whatever is your addiction, they go back trying to find that high again. At least that what I read in the Runes this morning.
    Melbourne, Australia

    April 4, 2009 at 8:25 am |
  20. Crystal

    I have spend thousands on calls...seen my paycheck go only days after getting paid..not worrying about bills...only what is happening and what is going to happen next in my life
    there is an online support group on google called psychic junkie

    April 4, 2009 at 5:47 am |
  21. Angela Shortt

    "My college friend’s revelations now made me wonder: could someone as inoffensive as Walter Mercado once seemed to me, be fueling secret addictions? And since there are so many phone psychics, all this got me wondering how many psychic phone addicts are out there, and are there any support groups for them?"

    Out of financial desperation, I once wandered into the business of telephone psychics. I won't say if I'm a psychic or not (it's actually irrelevant to the business), but I will say that the business relies on insecure people calling those numbers over and over again; in fact, operators (we were not called psychics by the company) were given a script to say to ensure repeat business, such as a special extension ("call me anytime; I am your personal psychic!"). I never made a dime because I just couldn't do it. It was so absurd that I gave it up after one night of listening to too many lonely, heartsick people.

    And that's what it comes down to–lonely, heartsick people. I can't imagine Claudia Schiffer being in that category, but what do any of us know about her life, really? Who can she confide in? On a psychic line, a person can spill their darkest secrets under a pseudonym, and the operator could care less. The only thing she (or he) must care about is collecting that precious credit card number and racking up those predictions-by-the-minute. That's the bottom line. People are talking to untrained "counselors" whose only motivation is getting the customer to stay on the line longer.

    The question is, why are people so lonely and insecure? It's not so much addiction as it is symptomatic of the emptiness and lack of genuine connections with other people. Maybe that is why Ms. Schiffer calls. It's sad, but I spent eight hours listening to caller after caller tell me almost the same story, with only a few variations: when am I going to find "the one"?

    I felt sick to my stomach by the end of the night. And I didn't do it anymore, nor did I pick up the $1.35 that I "earned" by hearing about people's most private fears and doubts.

    It is a vile business.

    April 4, 2009 at 1:16 am |
  22. Yoli

    Oh Walter is an institution. He is all heart.

    April 3, 2009 at 11:52 pm |
  23. Pam

    I don't suppose that this is much different than people addicted to religious shows that bilk them out of thousands of dollars, and appeal to their loneliness and their need to feel needed. Most people know in their heart of hearts that most of these psychics are scam artists and manipulators, just like the religious phonies, but it is the nature of addiction to repeat something over and over seeking some kind of "good" feeling regardless of what common sense tells us.
    I believe their are people with genuine psychic powers, I don't think they are on the internet sucking people in over and over again. I also believe their are genuine religious leaders (perhaps few and far between) but they aren't on TV or the intent appealing to anyones wallet.

    April 3, 2009 at 11:12 pm |