“I see California around you, but it’s not going to work out,” the psychic says. “I get that there may be an opportunity to go to California, but you have to be careful, because it may not be what it’s cracked out to be.”
Separated by a desk and artifacts with a decidedly exotic feel to them, guests extend their open palms before psychic Joe Nicols and listen to what he has to say — sometimes hearing what they don’t want to know.
Behind Nicols, alongside books about palmistry, spiritualism and Roswell, is a crystal ball. Perhaps it’s the plain-looking strip of offices the room is housed in, but despite the psychic decor, the visit can feel like a trip to a well-versed therapist. Dressed in a button down shirt and slacks, Nicols appears more like a professional counselor than a psychic and palm-reader.
“So stick ‘em out, lets see what we’ve got,” Nicols said.
Nicols, who holds The Austin Chronicle’s 1991 title for “Best Psychic in Austin,” cuts the drama out of palm-reading and parapsychology — professions he acknowledged are surrounded by a social stigma. He only sees clients by appointment, and the crystal ball never leaves the bookshelf.
He attributes his professional style to his background as a speech pathologist and a desire to “demystify” what psychics do. He founded the Central Texas Parapsychology Association in the late 1980s, which has since disbanded as parapsychology became more widely accepted. But the fundamentals behind the group — taking the “modern-day approach” to being a psychic and denouncing “woo-woo kind of mysterious, unfathomable” theatrics — live on in
“The idea is to not scare people,” Nicols said. “To tell people what you’re going to do and how much you’re going to charge and that’s what happens. You don’t say ‘For another $500 I’ll take the spell off you.’ That was stuff that [the association] all agreed that we weren’t into, that we didn’t do. We were making it professional.”
Nicols has worked as a psychic for about 25 years, but he said he has been aware of his psychic abilities since he was a child growing up in a conservative home, where he experienced visions and had an uncanny knack for understanding other people’s intentions.
Nicols’ father was in the military and wasn’t taken with his son’s abnormal tendencies, so Nicols said he learned to keep his talents to himself. That changed when he went to college.
“I sort of popped open,” said Nicols, who has a master’s in speech-language pathology from UT. “I was seeing things around people, having dreams that were kind of premonitional.”
Even after college, he still wasn’t ready to fully commit himself to parapsychology. Nicols said for 20 years he felt like he was made up of two parts: the “in-the-closet” part that dabbled with metaphysical practices and the public side of him that was an officer in the army and emigrated to Australia with his family as a speech pathologist.
But after deciding that he had to do “what he’s here to do” (be a full-time psychic and palm reader), Nicols said he had to give up a lot of his medical friends.
“They weren’t into it, they didn’t want to do this stuff. I call it coming out and being a full-time psychic,” he said. “I have a sister who’s a born-again Christian and there are certain things that we elect not to talk about.”
Nicols said he takes everything into account in his work, regardless of how small or seemingly insignificant it is.
“Not jokingly even, I look at clouds, tea leaves, hair in the sink, bubbles in the toilet, cars that break down, body parts that don’t work, the jet or the siren that goes by, license plates,” Nicols said. “Everything to me is meaningful.”
A majority of his predictions and insight are constructive and complimentary, or at least non-threatening. Nicols said he doesn’t predict death or divorce. He tells his clients before the session starts that he won’t diagnose illnesses, that he doesn’t claim to be right all the time and that he won’t tell them what to do with the information he gives them.
“I don’t want to scare people,” Nicols said. “I want them to use their free will choice. I’ll tell them what I see, and it’s not 100 percent, but this is where I think the wind is blowing today. And of course, as you react to that you can change. I believe we can change the future, I think we have a tremendous amount of free will choice.”
Printed on Monday, August 8, 2011 as: Reading between the Lines, Austin psychic battles stereotypes with paranormal professionalism