A Hypnotherapist Built a Career on Alien Abductions, and Her Experiences May Unnerve You
ILLUSTRATION BY SKIP STERLING
The young woman arranges herself on the hypnotherapist's couch and closes her eyes. "Just let it flow," Yvonne Smith, the therapist, says. "Even if it sounds weird." The young woman, Jacqueline, a 33-year-old talent agent, nods and wiggles her toes. Bothered by a moment in her recent past that she cannot quite remember, she has come to Smith to fill in the blanks.
"Feel your breathing deepen," Smith says. A small, compact woman in her late 50s, Smith has neatly bobbed dark hair and a calm, pleasant demeanor. "Give yourself permission to relax," she says. "Exhale out any stress or anxiety, pain or discomfort."
She instructs Jacqueline to picture a waterfall, then a staircase. As she counts down from 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Jacqueline imagines herself descending the stairs. Her eyelids flutter. "Describe what you see or hear," Smith says.
Jacqueline murmurs that she is in her apartment living room. It is midnight. There is a man on the balcony, observing her. He is tall, with white-blond hair, pale skin and unblinking blue eyes.
Jacqueline feels her head spinning. The man, she understands, is an alien. He has come to take her away.
Sitting in her modest La Cañada Flintridge office after Jacqueline leaves, Smith looks outside the window. There is a park within view.
"I see all these parents with their kids going about their normal day," she says. "And here I am dealing with aliens and abduction." Pause. "If these people only knew."
For the hypnotherapist, the scene with Jacqueline has played out hundreds of times before — different patients, different memories, but always involving extraterrestrials.
As the country's go-to hypnotherapist for this type of work, Smith has observed surprising things about alien abductees. Typically, by the time they get to her, they've been examined by a whole series of psychologists, psychiatrists and other health care professionals. Nobody can figure out what to make of them.
They are functional in all other aspects of their life. They have jobs. They have families. They drive. They pay taxes. Except for the alien thing, they seem like, well, ordinary people.
After two decades specializing in abductee work, it can still feel surreal to Smith. And what might seem most surreal of all is this: Over the years she has come to believe them.
"If you're hearing it again and again, you have to start paying attention to it. Even if it sounds far off and bizarre," she says. "That's what has kept me in this crazy field. These people feel that there is something truly going on. And they need help."
Hypnosis is Smith's econd career. Previously, she worked for 10 years as a jury supervisor for Los Angeles Superior Court, a job she left to raise a family. In the late 1980s, Smith attended her first UFO lecture with her mother, who was curious about ufologist Budd Hopkins, considered the pioneer of abduction research. Hopkins was lecturing in Pasadena at the Whole Life Expo, a compendium of all things metaphysical now called the Conscious Life Expo. Smith became fascinated by Hopkins' use of hypnotherapy to retrieve so-called hidden memories. The two struck up a friendship and Hopkins eventually became her mentor.
After earning a degree from the Hypnosis Motivation Institute in Tarzana, Smith set up shop. She didn't focus right away on abductees. Her clients were initially run of the mill: actors looking to enhance their memory, people trying to lose weight, cancer patients grappling with chemotherapy. She figures she would be working with cancer patients right now, "if there was no such thing as alien abduction."
But in 1991, her first UFO patient arrived. He was an engineer in his late 30s, conservative, smart and responsible. He was nervous about hypnotherapy but, as she led him through the paces, he recalled being taken onto a craft as a little boy. It was an emotional session, Smith remembers. She was shocked at his recollections but impressed by his sincerity. So she kept an open mind.
After that, referrals came pouring in. "It started to snowball," she says.
If alien abductees are ridiculed, though, how much more so is the therapist who believes them? "People snickered," she admits. "But you can't worry about what other people are going to think."
This work, she felt, is what she was meant to do. "Traditional therapists don't really want to touch this," she says. "They don't know what to do with it."
Today, 95 percent of Smith's patients are abductees: "I had no idea how widespread it was. It's all ethnic backgrounds, all socioeconomic levels." More than anything, it reminds her of her old jury-selection work, of the diversity of citizens picked from voter rolls. "It's really a cross section of the community," she says. "If you look out at your neighborhood, that's who it is."
For most of her patients, abduction is ongoing. "It doesn't stop. It may lay dormant for a while, but whatever the alien agenda is," Smith says, "when a person is chosen, they are in the program."
The goal of hypnotherapy, as she sees it, is for clients to incorporate the abduction experiences into their daily lives, to come to terms with past traumas and learn to take current ones in stride.
When Smith realized she was the only one her patients were talking to about their experiences, she created an abductee support group. What began as a handful of clients in Smith's living room has since evolved into the Close Encounter Research Organization, or CERO, a private, monthly meeting of 20 to 25 people in three locations across Southern California.
This month's CERO alien-abduction support group meeting is taking place at a Carrows restaurant in Chatsworth. As cheesy '80s music plays in the background, a bleary-eyed nurse describes her most recent alien encounter. For seven torturous days in her home, she perceived "two inter-dimensional beings screwing something" into either side of her head. It was, she says, not fun.
"Did they ever take a break?" a guy asks. No, she says.
Smith explains that those types of experiences usually occur when someone has had their implants removed.
"Wait," one Asian woman interrupts, "you didn't tell me they take them out!" Back in January, she continues, she was taken onboard a ship by three small "grays" — the giant-eyed aliens well known to both many abductees and movie buffs. An implant was inserted into her left nostril.
"Ugh," says a man at the other end of the table. "I hate that."
Jacqueline, the talent agent who saw an alien on her balcony, is here as well. In a minute, she passes around a pencil sketch she made of her alien hybrid daughter.
"That looks like Mickey Mouse to me," the fellow next to her says. "What, you're a breeder to Mickey Mouse?"
"No, those are pigtails."
"Anyone else want to share?" Smith asks.
One man says that the last time he was abducted, he was given an insectoid body, like a praying mantis. The aliens explained to him that they wanted to work with him on their spacecraft and that, in human form, he would not survive. They had a hive mind, he recalls, and he could hear a cacophony of voices in his head. He got very hungry in his new body. So, they fed him.
"What was the food like?" Jacqueline asks.
"It was a flavorless mash. I wouldn't recommend it here."
"Was your food crickety?" another woman asks.
"Did they have hands?"
"With suckers on their fingers?"
"No, more like claws."
A while later, another woman asks if anyone has any recommendations for books about South America.
"Oh!" Smith says. "Are you going to South America?"
"I don't know," the woman answers. "But I've been having dreams. So I have a feeling it's coming."
At this point, everything feels surreal. When the air conditioner kicks on, it sounds like the thrumming of a great big, round ship. A man named Ted wishes to convey how much being an abductee — or, as most of them prefer, an "experiencer"— creates a paradigm shift in terms of reality. "Things you perceive to be real, are not," Ted explains. "Things you perceive to be dreams, are not."
"Which fucks us up," another man finishes.
Smith has worked with hundreds of alleged abductees in the past 22 years, using a technique called hypnotic regression to take a person back mentally to the point in time when a critical event occurred.
The event might have taken place in distant childhood or more recently — say, months or weeks ago. Before beginning, Smith checks to see if the person is ready to accept the memories that come forward. "We're tapping into the unknown," she says. "I use the expression, 'Once the toothpaste is out of the tube, you can't put it back.' "
The memories, Smith believes, are genuine. For one, they are incredibly detailed. "If you see something on TV, you'll describe what you saw on TV," she says. "The level of detail won't be there."
Even more convincing to her is the emotion that accompanies the memories. Even as they are describing a scene, "People often don't want to look. They don't want to believe it's happening."
They have symptoms of PTSD — fearfulness, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, insomnia, flashbacks, recurrent nightmares. They have seemingly inexplicable phobias: fear of water; fear of owls, deer and sharks.
If they are parents, clients worry about their kids being abducted and feel powerless to protect them. Because alien abduction, apparently, runs in the family: "If you've been abducted, that usually means it's also your mother, or father, or grandparents. It follows the family line."
Smith has treated entire clans of abductees. When a person comes in to see her, she knows that, ultimately, it's not going to be just him or her.
The abduction experience begins in childhood. Children, Smith found, start talking about it at around 4 years old. They will refer to their "ghost friend," or "monster," or "little blue doctors." That last description is what horror novelist Whitley Strieber, author of Communion, called the beings who purportedly visited him as a child.
One little boy told Smith about a spider that would come into his room, stand in the corner and talk to him. He drew the spider. It had two big black eyes.
Kids are not always scared when describing alien abduction. After all, childhood is that time when fantastical things are possible.
Consider the case of Ron Noel, who, as a 50-year-old, went to see both Smith and her colleague, podiatric surgeon Roger Leir. To date, Leir claims to have removed 16 extraterrestrial-origin implants from patients. Noel was patient No. 16.
Noel believes aliens stuck an implant in his wrist when he was 9 years old. He and some friends were camping in a vacant lot in their Tennessee neighborhood. Soon after going to sleep, they were awakened by a bright light — a star, they thought, which came closer and closer. A blue light shot out, and Noel felt a prickling feeling. He recalls laughing as he began to rise into the air. Onboard a ship, surrounded by skinny gray beings, the boys were told they would not be harmed. Noel was disrobed, examined, implanted, then lowered back down.
Upon their return, the boys were seized by an overwhelming compulsion to eat vegetables. Noel recalls racing over to his neighbor's house and tearing up her garden.
Jacqueline believes that she has been abducted repeatedly throughout her life. When she was 4 years old, she says, a spaceship landed in her backyard. She walked onto it willingly, hand in hand with an alien. "My friends are here," she'd say back then.
These days, her relationship with E.T. is rather a mixed bag. Immediately before an abduction, she says, "You get a certain feeling. You feel sick, or your tummy feels queasy." As a "frequent flyer" — in the lingo, a person who is abducted many times — she can sometimes sense when one is about to occur.
For her, it happens in the hazy twilight time between wakefulness and sleep. A light flickers. Or a lamp turns on of its own accord. Shadows seem to solidify and resolve into a presence. "You're scared," she says. "There's something in your room. I just won't open my eyes." Because "they" have arrived. She forces herself to go to sleep faster.
One night, Jacqueline was in the living room watching TV with her soon-to-be–ex-boyfriend, 31-year-old choreographer Cosmoe Tayson, who had just gotten home from work. All of a sudden, he was screaming. She heard a faint voice calling her name. It seemed as if he was yelling at her from so far away. She tried to move but couldn't.
"Jackie!" he shouted. "You're being abducted!" At that, she woke up and fell back down.
Tayson recalls the movements: Her back arched. Her head came up off the pillow. The upper half of her body lifted a foot off the couch as if being yanked from the stomach. Her right arm flung out in crucifixion position. Her eyes remained closed. The blanket draped over her hung straight down, as if she were the floating girl in a magician's trick.
"It was," Tayson says, "really freaky."
He was not drinking, he insists. He was not on drugs.
Sex with aliens. It happens, at least as far as some abductees are concerned. Smith doesn't like to talk about the "sexual component" of alien abduction, "because it's so sensational." But she's had "many, many cases" where an image is placed in a man's mind of a beautiful woman, or an alien, or a hybrid not-quite-human woman. The man ejaculates. The aliens collect the sperm.
In other cases, male abductees — and Smith notes that, at this point in her lectures, the guys in the audience cross their legs — describe being probed with long needles and a hoselike instrument. Typically, the man wakes up with triangular-shaped scoop marks on his penis. One poor fellow, she says, didn't even know it was there until he stepped into the shower and the water hit it.
Why the sperm collection? Babies. The babies are by far the most disturbing aspect of the contemporary alien-abduction narrative.
Lecturing at the Contact in the Desert UFO conference in Joshua Tree this past summer, Smith presented the case of a construction worker named John. John is what's known in the abduction community as "a breeder," a special type of abductee who believes he is being used by aliens for reproductive purposes.
John was driving up the 5 freeway to visit his girlfriend in Northern California on New Year's Eve when he noticed a strange craft hovering over his car. It looked like a stingray: black, flying low, making no noise. He doesn't remember pulling over. One moment he was driving; the next, three hours had passed and his girlfriend was pissed — a classic missing-time scenario. The experience haunted him for a decade before he summoned up the courage to look into it.
At the lecture, to a rapt crowd of true believers, Smith played a recording of one of her sessions with John: "It's got ahold of me," he says, with a seething sucking in of breath between each sentence. "A white light. Oh my God. Just looking straight ahead. Can't look over me. I'm going higher. I'm going higher. I'm going higher. I have no control over what's going to happen."
John's recorded testimony on the babies is nothing short of heart-wrenching. "It seems to be dark," he says, his voice raspy, deep, logy. The client's speech, Smith explains, often becomes sluggish, as if anesthetized. "I don't want to believe this is happening," John continues. "I don't want to look!"
He is weeping outright now as he describes being led into a room banked by a wall of tanks filled with gelatinous liquid. The tanks have fetuses floating in them. "I see a baby. Oh ... with an umbilical cord. ... They're telling me to have feelings for this baby. That it's mine. ... They're telling me to love it. ... Please," he begs, "I don't want to go on."
By John's account, the aliens took him periodically to bond with his child. He saw it as an infant, then as a toddler, then an adolescent. The last time he saw his son, the child had grown up.
Women also can be breeders. Jacqueline dreamt for years of her “soul mate,” a tall, blond, pale man, a stranger. She’d dream of having sex with him in a log cabin on the kitchen counter. Then, one evening in the waking world, she met him at a dinner party. How could this be, she wondered? Her dream lover, present in the flesh.
They spoke. He was just as perplexed to meet her. He’d been having the same erotic dreams, he confessed.
In hypnosis, Jacqueline found an explanation. The “dreams” weren’t dreams but repressed memories. The “kitchen counter” was actually a metal table. The “log cabin” was a spaceship. And she and her soul mate weren’t alone but surrounded by other mating pairs of humans on tables being observed by curious aliens.
Jacqueline believes she is a breeder. "At various times in my life I thought I was pregnant," she says. She had the symptoms: She'd miss a period. Her clothes wouldn't fit. Her feet swelled. Her breasts and nipples felt tender. Then she'd bleed heavily for 10 days straight. A natural miscarriage? Or, as she suspects, the aliens removing the fetus?
Visits to the doctor turned up normal. But for years, the sight of mothers out in the world with their toddlers would make her cry. "I'd feel like something was missing," Jacqueline says. "Like, where's my baby?"
In hypnosis, a memory surfaced. The aliens showed her a little girl. The girl was advanced for her age, only 3 months old, but already walking and talking. "This is your daughter," the aliens told Jacqueline. Another time, she recalls, they escorted her into a room and presented her with six children — all hers. As they scampered around her feet, she noted the children had her features—the same big eyes, round cheeks, full lips and sharp, fine nose — but with fair hair instead of dark.
As a therapist, Yvonne Smith's biggest difficulty is the pain. When her clients cry, she wants to cry with them. "I talk to them. Let them know they're safe. Make sure they listen to my voice."
Because even though their bodies are lying on Smith's couch, eyes closed in her dimly lit La Cañada office, her clients' minds are thousands of miles away, on a spaceship staring at alien-human hybrids.
For abductees to successfully incorporate the weirdness into their lives, they must first admit that it is indeed happening. "With CERO the assumption is, of course, it exists. That's undeniable," 45-year-old financial analyst Jeffrey Hosenfeld says. "The sky is blue. Water is wet. And UFOs exist. Now, why? Why are they doing it? Do they realize that it's really fouling us up? That it's messing with our minds? Do they know that it's actually difficult for human beings to deal with this? Do they even care?"
The aliens, he continues, don't ask permission. "They don't make an appointment and say, 'We're gonna stop by at 2 this morning.' They just show up in your room. And take you and do stuff to you. And the most they say is it will be fine. I mean, how condescending is that?"
Hosenfeld is not himself an abductee, but his younger sister Maren is. Their mother struggled with bipolar disorder. When Maren started showing manic symptoms, he figured, "Oh no, it's happening again."
She saw furniture fly around her bedroom — the bed shaking, Bible pages flipping, "serious Poltergeist shit," as Hosenfeld puts it. She felt as if she was "being downloaded with a bunch of information and couldn't process it." She felt as if she was being asked to do something ... but what? She could not understand. Maren's psychiatrist prescribed the mood stabilizer Depakote.
Maren, in the meantime, prayed. "I cannot help you if I am insane," she begged. Miraculously, the information downloads stopped. After three weeks, she stopped taking the Depakote.
Shortly thereafter, she came across an autobiography by abductee Stan Romanek. "She devoured it in a single night. It didn't just resonate," Hosenfeld says, "it rocked her."
She did hypnotic regression with Smith. She began to attend the support group meetings.
Strangely enough, being an abductee has given Maren a purpose. "I love my sister," Hosenfeld says, "but she was one of those people who just kind of drifted in the wind. Wherever it blows, she goes." He shrugs. "She read the book, and went, 'This is a direction I might be able to go where I don't have to worry about whether I'm crazy or not.' That was very therapeutic for her."
Every abductee wrestles with the question of whether they're crazy. For a long time, Jacqueline struggled with whether she was awake or asleep. Watching NBC's UFO conspiracy-theory series Dark Skies and reading books written by fellow abductees, however, she knew in her gut what had happened to her. "Isn't that the first sign of sanity? Questioning it?" she says. "Those who are not sane think everyone else is the problem."
Jacqueline met her best friend, Rachel, at a UFO convention. Rachel, who is also an abductee, says she's lost friends over her beliefs. " 'No, I don't think you're crazy,' they'll say. Never hear from them again."
Rachel grew up on Star Trek, Tommyknockers and The X-Files. "Anything to do with ghosts," she says. "Obsessed. Loved it."
As a teenager, her room was covered in sci-fi posters and festooned with alien blow-up dolls. "You're just making up the experience in your head," she recalls friends telling her. "You've always been into it, so you wanted to live out your fantasy."
Family is no more supportive. Her twin sister refuses to acknowledge any abduction. Their mother, who is a nurse employed by the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health, has, Rachel says, threatened to lock her up in a mental institution if she persists in her "alien talk."
"But she hasn't locked you up," Jacqueline offers. "They're scared. They don't want to know. So they put up this wall. We're all living in the same house growing up, but we're not really living in the same house."
She and Rachel are having coffee at the Sherman Oaks Galleria near the Paul Mitchell School, where Rachel is a student. Sitting at the Starbucks, Rachel keeps her head lowered, her eyes on her cup.
"I flip-flop," she continues. "I understand what's going on, but I still question. I don't know. But you get reassured. 'You're not crazy. It's happening.' There's still moments when, man, I feel like I'm nuts. If I heard myself, I'd think I sound absolutely crazy."
"OK. Like, right now. Sitting here talking about it," she says. "Anybody that's walking by. If someone was listening to us, they'd say these chicks sound fucking mental."
Whether or not alien abductees are mental is a long-standing debate. Some speculate that their tales are lies, or delusions, screen memories masking more conventional forms of abuse, or honest confabulations of stories heard in the media, or the result of epilepsy.
Others, such as Harvard experimental psychopathologist Richard McNally, say that belief in alien abduction is a type of false-memory syndrome. Memory, of course, is notoriously fallible.
Like Smith, McNally was struck by the normalcy of the abductees he studied. A number of years ago, he set out to "explain why seemingly sincere, nonpsychotic people claim to have memories of being abducted by space aliens."
His research originated in the late '90s, at the height of the "memory wars," when it seemed as if everyone and his mother was unearthing a repressed memory of Satanic ritual torture or childhood sexual abuse. McNally was invited by colleague John E. Mack to a weekend conference he was hosting at Harvard Divinity School on "anomalous experiences" — Mack's code for alien abduction. Mack, who died in 2004, was a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School, a Pulitzer Prize–winning biographer, and one of the UFO community's staunchest and more unlikely advocates.
A few years before the conference, Mack got into what McNally calls "a dustup" with the medical school after he published his book Abduction: Human Encounters With Aliens. In it, he allowed that abductions might truly be happening.
Mack had interviewed more than 100 alleged abductees and was impressed by the consistency and emotional power of the stories they told. Worried that he was implanting false memories of abduction in his patients, however, the medical school launched an inquiry into his work. He eventually was cleared, but the press got wind of it. Mockery resulted. "E.T., Phone Harvard," sniped the Boston Herald.
Intrigued, McNally attended Mack's conference. To his surprise, the abductees "were bright, articulate, pleasant and seemingly sane." McNally decided to conduct his own study. Measuring heart rate, facial muscle tension, skin conductance and other physiological symptoms, he determined that their PTSD was just as intense as that of Vietnam vets recalling their war experiences. The trauma, he concluded, is real. The abduction, however, is not.
McNally's study, published in 2002, concluded that abductees have a special type of personality that is more prone to forming false memories. He came up with what he calls "a recipe" for a space-alien abductee. "The more of these elements that are present," McNally says, "the more likely someone will have 'memories' of alien abduction."
These people, typically, endorse New Age ideas — astrology, tarot cards, psychic powers, ghosts or herbal remedies. They have a vivid imagination and a tendency to fantasize. They undergo hypnotic memory recovery sessions. They are familiar with the cultural narrative of alien abduction. And, perhaps most critically, they have occasional episodes of sleep paralysis, accompanied by "hypnopompic hallucinations."
Normally, during REM, our bodies go into full-body paralysis, other than the eyes, so we can't injure ourselves while sleeping. But every so often, the normal architecture of REM gets disrupted. A person will wake up from dreaming while his body remains paralyzed. There he lies, conscious but unable to move.
Sound terrifying? Now imagine if, at that same moment, the person experiences hypnopompic hallucinations. These are leftover bits of REM imagery that intrude into wakefulness — smells, sights, sounds or touch. One can see how easy it might be for these REM fragments to be interpreted "as ghosts, angels and demons, as well as space aliens."
Unsurprisingly, McNally wrote in an article published last year in the Journal of Experimental Psychopathology, "The members of the international space alien–abductee community were not amused by our terrestrial explanation for their anomalous experiences."
His critics argued that real scientists would be open to the possibility that alien abductions actually happen. McNally disagreed. They'd missed the point, he said.
"There are two common explanations for why sincere, nonpsychotic people report recollections of alien abduction." One is that alien abduction is occurring. The other is the recipe. "In principle, either hypothesis could be true. However, the first one is inconsistent with an immense amount of solid science in the fields of astronomy, physics and biology, whereas the second one is not."
Not to be outdone, John Mack mounted counterarguments. What of abductions that occur while the person isn't sleeping? Many take place while the person is driving, or canoeing, or fishing, or running. What of mass abductions? Some of the more famous alleged alien abductions have been of couples — husband and wife, father and son, groups of friends. And false memories? Just because a memory has false details doesn't mean a real event didn't occur.
Mostly, Mack urged open-mindedness. His work with more than 100 abductees changed him deeply. It led him to see that "we participate in a universe or universes that are filled with intelligences from which we have cut ourselves off."
The abduction phenomenon is global. It has been reported by everyone from the millionaire chess-champion president of a Russian Federation republic to farmers, loggers and suburban housewives.
"The abduction phenomenon reaches us, so to speak, where we live," Mack wrote in Abduction. "We are dealing here with a profound mystery."
After 22 years of working with hundreds of abductees, the only thing that surprises Smith is how unsurprised she is.
She tells clients not to hold back, that she's been doing this a long time. She prepares herself for the weirdest of the weird. But their stories have a strange kind of consistency: the blue light, the round rooms, the surgical procedures, the instruments, even the babies in the tanks. Time and again, she is struck by the similarities in the descriptions given by alleged abductees from varied walks of life. "These are people who do not know each other, who come from different parts of the country and the world."
It amazes her that a drawing of curved hallways in a spacecraft sketched by a child while he was on vacation with his family in Lake Tahoe can so closely resemble one drawn by an adult in Arkansas.
"This work is getting stranger by the minute," she thought when an abductee first told her that some of the gray aliens wear black capes. Then she started hearing it over and over again.
Other revelations are less amazing than chilling. In the last two years, Smith says, abductees have been describing a cataclysmic event that is going to happen. Scenes are projected onto a wall or images placed in the mind of explosions, atomic bombs, tsunamis, floods, diseases, large cities under water, infrastructure destroyed — the whole postapocalyptic nightmare scenario. "Just utter devastation around the world," she says. "They don't know what it means. Only that it's coming soon."
They are told they are being prepared for something. That they have a job to do. They have recurring dreams of a vast armada of UFOs covering the sky, of leading large groups of people somewhere. They don't know where, or why. But when the time comes, they are told, they will know.
During the one positive abduction experience Rachel remembers, the aliens explained to her that she is an ambassador. That she has a purpose. "When you're down, don't worry," they told her. "Stay positive. You have a huge job." She felt suffused with an infinite, beautiful love.
In a dream within a dream, the beings gave her a series of numbers: 37553. "Use it," they said. She woke up in the dream, and the world had gone to hell. She led people into downtown Los Angeles. She punched the numbers into a keypad for a locked door. The door opened.
"It's the urgency I've noticed in people in the past two years," Smith says. Some have begun storing up food and water. Just last week a client called her, in tears. "She kept having visions of bombs exploding.
"It's unnerving. If I'd heard it from a handful of people, but it's so many."
"Just about everybody," she says. "I hope I see you again," one new client told her after their session ended.
Smith does not put much stock in doomsday scenarios. She didn't panic during Y2K, or during the Mayan calendar end-time prophecy of 2012. She does not believe the world is going to end.
But not too long ago, she confesses, while walking down the aisles at Costco, she went ahead and chucked a few big bags of beans and rice into her cart. Just in case.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.