Tess Gibney visits suburban psychic, Kerrie Erwin

Across the hall from the Chinese acupuncturist, Kerrie Erwin’s office is flooded with light. Mid-morning sunshine accentuates the white of the walls, neatly crowded with dozens of proudly framed certificates. There are so many of them it’s hard to focus on reading each one singularly; and soon enough, the diverse credentials begin to bleed together in my mind.

Aside from the sweet, lingering scent of what I presume to be aromatherapy oils, the office is relatively unassuming. Though it is distinctly lacking in the typical clinical sterility of a psychologist’s room, it could easily pass as the office of a therapist with a flair for the alternative. Somehow, I think, the soft, suburban normalcy of this space belies the activity that occurs within – a place where life and death certainly intersect, but not in the name of scientific rationalism.

Kerrie Erwin has been able to see spirits since she was eight years old. It was a confusing time for the raven-haired ‘psychic medium’, and Erwin says she was grossly misunderstood. “My parents told me I was making up lies. I used to go to Church as a child, and when I was 15, I told someone there. I got kicked out; they said I had the devil in me.”

That real psychics and mediums exist is always going to be a polarising notion for many people. Belief in the paranormal is often a subject of contention, and non-believers view psychics with a level of scorn that is usually reserved by atheists for the devoutly religious. For groups such as the Australian Skeptics, described on their website as “a loose confederation of groups across Australia that investigate paranormal and pseudo-scientific claims from a responsible scientific viewpoint”, they’ll consider the paranormal experience when they see ‘proof’ of it.

Despite this, the psychic industry is a booming one. According to a 2009 Nielsen survey, around half the Australian population believe in some form of psychic power. Though people tend to fall into two camps – those who believe, and those who do not – ask any person who regularly sees a psychic and they’re sure to say: ‘they knew things about me no one else did’.

I’m startled that straight off the bat Erwin knows I have two siblings. She correctly tells me that one is choosing between two career paths, and that the other is extremely creative. She also tells me my late grandmother, who passed away last year, is in the room with us.

Many people visit psychics and mediums to gain clarity during a period of transition, or after the death of somebody close to them. Beyond the tangibles of everyday life, there is something immensely reassuring about being able to believe your lost ones are around – in whatever context that may be.

In this era of New Age therapy and alternative healing, psychics and mediums give clients a level of decisive reassurance and hope that more traditional therapists, such as psychologists and psychiatrists, cannot, by default of professional conduct, provide. A ‘good’ psychic understands this: they are here for no other reason than to provide people with helpful insight and guidance for the future.

“I believe in empowering people,” Erwin says. “It’s about helping people and guiding them to their highest potential … the trouble these days though, is that I see a lot of people who are fakes, who charge a ridiculous amount of money.”

According to Kerrie, these ‘fake psychics’ tend to be prolific in the entertainment industry. A psychic or medium – whatever their jurisdiction – should not make you feel scared, apprehensive or put ideas in your mind. “Most people who come to me, they want help. I want to help,” she says. “They’re skeptical and unsure – a lot of people in life tell you this and that, and they want to know what is right.”

Perhaps this is why I have been so nervous to seek help from the spiritual side prior to speaking with Erwin. Skepticism aside, comfort can indeed be found in relinquishing the idea of control for a moment, and taking solace in the thought that there may indeed be a larger consciousness out there; watching over us as we fumble through life. Kerrie smiles at me: “You’re brilliant; you’ll do well. And you can change.”