“Psychic” vs. “Medium”: Are These Synonyms?

Some people seem to be born with a special intuition to always know things before they happen. Others have a special gift allowing them to see ghosts or talk to the dead. But are people with these unique talents psychics or mediums? And can the words psychic and medium be interchanged?

The answer is sometimes; psychic and medium aren’t always synonyms, and despite both having a spooky or supernatural connotation, they have distinct meanings as adjectives but not nouns.

What does psychic mean?

As an adjective, psychic means “of or relating to the human soul or mind,” or something mental as opposed to physical. It’s also defined in psychology as “pertaining to or noting mental phenomena,” which describes being in tune to some nonphysical force or agency. For example, Having heard that colors can provoke a psychic response, I decided to paint the room a calming blue. 

Psychic can also mean “sensitive to influences or forces of a nonphysical or supernatural nature.” So if someone or something is influenced by a mysterious force that’s outside physical science or knowledge, it’s a psychic influence. For example, it was a psychic feeling that led him to run out of the building right before a fire started.

As an adjective, some synonyms for psychic are spiritual, supernaturalparanormal, psychological, and metaphysical.

As a noun, psychic refers to “a person who is sensitive to psychic influences or forces.” For example, since she was a little girl, John’s grandmother has sworn she’s a psychic and can tell when something bad will happen. In addition to medium, other synonyms for psychic as a noun include clairvoyant, fortune-teller, and prophet.

First recorded in 1855–60, psychic originates from the Greek word psȳchikós, meaning “of the soul.”

What does medium mean?

If you’re a psychic, you probably already know that next up we’re going to talk about medium and the different meanings it has depending on which part of speech it is.

Medium as an adjective is defined as “about halfway between extremes, as of degree, amount, quality, position, or size.” For example, she has sensitive skin so instead of showering with hot water, she can only handle it at medium temperature. Synonyms for medium in this sense include average and intermediate.

As a noun, medium has a few different distinct meanings including: “a middle state or condition,” “the material or technique with which an artist works,” or “one of the means or channels of general communication, information, or entertainment in society, as newspapers, radio, or television.

However, similar to psychic, medium can also mean “a person through whom the spirits of the dead are alleged to be able to contact the living.” For example: After her mother died suddenly, Lucy went to a medium to connect with her mom’s spirit and communicate one last time. Synonyms for medium as a noun in this sense of being able to contact the dead include spiritualist, clairvoyant, mind reader, and fortune-teller.

Medium originates from the Latin word medius (“middle”) and was first seen in English between 1575–85.

WATCH: What Does It Mean To Be Clairvoyant?

How to use each word

Thanks to their vastly different meanings as adjectives (“referring to the mind in a psychological sense” vs. “the middle of something”), medium and psychic only overlap as nouns. Although they are closely related in the realm of supernatural capabilities, stick to psychic if you’re referring to a person who is sensitive to parapsychological forces or influences.

For example: As a psychic, Aunt Sally can’t explain how she knew I’d have two little girls one day, but she called it when I was just a child myself.

But if Aunt Sally predicted this because the dead told her so while she was acting as an intermediary between the deceased and the living, then she’s a medium. Remember, the definition for medium specifically mentions the ability to communicate with “spirits of the dead.” (This is a distinction mediums and psychics take seriously.) For example, Aunt Sally silences her skeptics and proves she’s a medium every time she walks into a house and communicates with spirits that nobody else can see.

However, if we aren’t specific about Aunt Sally’s skills, and whether or she is a channeler or spiritist based on the scope of her abilities, then either medium or psychic work: Aunt Sally has spent her entire life dealing with skeptics who question her work as a medium (or psychic). 

That being said … we have a lot of questions for Aunt Sally.

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