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Is Psychic Surgery Real?

Abhijit Naik
Psychic surgery has been exposed as a fraud by skeptics and stage magicians time and again, and yet it continues to be a thriving trade in places like the Philippines and Brazil. We don our skeptic's hat and tell you why psychic surgery is NOT real, and also explain how it is performed.
"Psychic surgery is pure and unmitigated fakery. The 'surgical operations' of psychic surgeons ... with their bare hands are simply phony." These were the words Judge Daniel H. Hanscom used in 1975 when he granted the Federal Trade Commission an injunction against the four travel agencies which were promoting psychic surgery tours of the Southeast.
Stalwarts of the field define 'psychic healing' as the ability to cure any illness by altering the energy field of the sick person, without the help of evidence-based medicine. The divine form of treatment is also called 'faith healing' or 'energy healing', while its practitioner is known as the 'psychic healer' or 'faith healer'. Simply put, a psychic healer cures his patients--supposedly--by prayers and rituals, instead of opting for a scientific method of treatment.
Some psychic healers claim that they can treat their patients on the phone, while others go a step ahead and resort to radio or the Internet. If you thought that was unbelievable, the bizarre is yet to come. There are some psychic healers who claim that they can use their divine power to treat ailments that require a surgery. On a lighter note, we can say that divine intervention replaces surgical intervention when it comes to psychic surgery.

What is Psychic Surgery?

Leave alone a scientific definition, coming up with a general definition of psychic surgery is also impossible. Those who practice it, i.e., the psychic healers--read 'psychic surgeons'--define it as a surgical procedure which is performed by bare hands, instead of surgical instruments like scalpel and hemostat.
Let's say some person is suffering from a particular type of cancer, then the psychic digs into his body and removes the cancerous cells out with his bare hands.
While this happens to be the most talked about method of psychic surgery, it's not the preferred method for all the psychics. Some psychics claim that they can perform a psychic surgery without even touching the person's body. They do it--that's what they say--by relaying messages to the person's mind; messages that are transmitted to them from some divine entity. And there are others who claim to specialize in surrogate surgery on people who can't make it to their clinic.
Those who have witnessed this surgical procedure swear by the fact that they have seen blood oozing and tumors being pulled off the body. Those who have undergone the procedure, on the other hand, are all praises for this procedure. The cyberspace is flooded with psychic surgery testimonials where people can't stop praising their psychic. They don't just tell how it was helpful, but also add that they didn't feel any pain or discomfort in course of the surgery.

Is Psychic Surgery Real?

A gullible will blindly believe whatever the psychic healer says because the latter links all his actions to divinity. A closer look though, and you will realize that the alleged psychic surgery (and the broad concept of psychic healing that it is a part of) is pure quackery. So, how does one explain blood and tumors that eyewitnesses were talking about?
If the psychic is to make the entire process seem real, his best bet is to show the person on whom the surgery is performed bleeding. That need not necessarily be human blood though; some animal's blood or even some blood-like fluid will do.
Basically, the psychic resorts to sleight of hand to pull of a trick and fool people into believing that they have undergone a surgery. The psychic begins by running his finger across the person's body, making it appear as if he has made a cut.
Then he folds the person's skin and puts his hand beneath the folds, which gives an impression as if his fingers are entering the person's body. Like we said, blood adds to the credibility of the entire procedure. The psychic carries a balloon filled with animal blood in his hand and squirts it when he makes the imaginary cut.
As for the tumors that are removed from the person's body, these are usually the internal organs of some animal--usually a chicken, which are cleverly disguised as corrupted cells. If asked about the absence of pain, the psychic is quick to retort that the surgery is performed on the person's aura, and not his physical body.
In the end, the person returns home after the surgery, assuming that he has been cured of his ailment, and either goes on to live a long life (if the condition was not life-threatening) or succumbs to the ailment in the absence of medical care.

If It's Not Real, How do People Get Cured?

In 1990, even the American Cancer Society acknowledged that psychic surgery was a medical hoax (it still is!) and advised people against it. That, however, has not been of much help, especially with a whole lot of people claiming that the procedure was of great help. Wishful thinking? Not exactly.
In the field of medicine, there is this concept called the placebo effect which refers to the improvement seen in a person's health without the use of medication or invasive treatment. Most of the psychics have an explicit understanding of the placebo effect, which they use to deceive people in the garb of psychic healing and psychic surgery.
Psychic surgeries usually seem to work when the ailment is self-limiting, wherein recuperative processes help in restoring health, and in case of ailments which have ups and downs, wherein the person feels that he has been cured of the said ailment when he starts feeling better.
Many people resort to psychic healing while they are already on evidence-based treatment and when they do recover, they start believing that the former has helped them.

Science-based cures are not infallible. Every time people find out that evidence-based medication has not been helpful, they end up seeking divine intervention.
Such is their belief in the divine force that they eventually end up convincing themselves that alternative methods, like psychic healing are helping them recover. So, the placebo effect and the person's belief in divine intervention does give an impression that psychic surgery cures people, which is not exactly the case.
Psychics can only be tested when they claim to diagnose and treat real disorders, such as cancer or diabetes. Most of them, however, claim to treat conditions, like aura imbalance, which don't exist in the first place.
Even in case of real disorders, the psychic healers--cunning that they are--would never agree to have their abilities tested in controlled conditions. Because obviously, they are well-aware of the fact that they would end up being exposed. At the same time, they are also assured of the fact that their followers would never ask them to prove their abilities.
While some psychic healers are cunning, others are gullible. These individuals actually think that they can use their intuition to understand and treat various ailments, which makes them a lot more threatening than their shrewd counterparts.
Irrespective of whether the psychic is cunning or gullible, it's the layman who has to bear the brunt of this fraudulent practice in the end. So, the only way of saving yourself the trouble is to stay away from psychic healers, psychic surgeons, and other such charlatans.