Writes of Passage

Charlotte Leibel knows all about the handwriting on the wall, and she uses it to unlock the secrets of personality

Leibel doesn't claim to be foolproof, but she ends most of these tales of her powers by noting, "I was 100 percent right." It's no accident that she makes sure to cross her t's near the top of the stem: It's a sign, she says, of high self-esteem.

There are plenty of people who hold Leibel in the same high regard. In fact she still has a handful of clients and friends who see her for handwriting analysis, counseling, and graphotherapy. On a recent weekday morning, she is working with a woman we'll call Louise, a rather tense middle-age recovering alcoholic. Leibel first analyzed Louise's handwriting last spring, when the woman was having drinking problems, then began "treating" her after she left an addiction treatment center last summer. (Leibel usually charges a $35 fee for a 90-minute session.) Louise has sobered up, joined Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), and for this session has brought along a sample of her handwriting from December. Despite the presence of onlookers, Leibel mercilessly dissects Louise's writing A and personality.

Leibel also remembers clearly the way Louise's handwriting once looked. She has, amazingly enough, the same vivid memory for a person's handwriting that some people have for faces. "Her original writing was entangled in the lines below," Leibel explains. "She was very confused."

She turns to Louise:"You needed graphotherapy very badly. I showed you how to abandon [writing] entanglements. You began to untangle yourself and think clearly."

Louise bristles a bit at this. "I also stopped the intake of alcohol," she points out.

Leibel then takes the pages of Louise's recent writing and brings them close to her face, staring at each little detail of the writing with a circular magnifying glass that she keeps hung around her neck with a string. "Your writing now shows you are thinking pretty clearly," she says. "You've shortened your loops and you've begun to regain control." Then she adds, "You still have compulsions and obsessions. That would require a little psychotherapy." Louise murmurs in assent.

Leibel offers Louise more bad news gleaned from the writing. "Your feelings of inferiority are no good, either," she says. "Instead of having a small I, you should lift it up." As the session continues, Leibel asks Louise to write a few more lines on the spot. Using both samples, she finds that Louise is resentful, guarded, and repressed -- all of which prompts Louise's agreement.

Suddenly Leibel squints her eyes at the writing, looks up, and announces, "Your sex life is stunted." Louise is briefly taken aback, then regains her composure and says, "Yes, I live a celibate lifestyle."

Leibel blithely moves on, scanning the lines with her magnifier and continuing to list Louise's strengths and weaknesses. Near the end, Leibel concludes, "You still need treatment. I can help you accelerate your psychotherapy. Their costs at $110 an hour are quite expensive, but if you work with me, I can help you in a couple of months."

Leibel advises Louise to spend 30 minutes a day writing about her problems and hopes, along with copying an "affirmation" that Louise selects herself: the "serenity prayer" widely used in AA.

When it's all over, Louise is rather nonchalant about the apparent accuracy and value of Leibel's analysis. "None of it struck me as surprising," she shrugs. "I totally believe in what she's doing. Everything she said is true."

"What's my batting average with you?" Leibel asks.
"As far as your being right-on? I'd say 100 percent."
"Isn't that something?" Leibel beams, preening a bit at her kitchen table.

And Louise credits her handwriting work with Leibel as helping her to think more clearly.

Whatever its value, Leibel's odd therapeutic approach -- as improbable and unaccepted as it is -- actually has won plaudits from a surprisingly respectable variety of adherents. "It's not hocus-pocus," says 25-year-old Reed Martin, currently studying for his master's in business administration at Columbia University in New York City. Martin began visiting Leibel for handwriting counseling when he was a Miami teenager troubled by mediocre grades, mercurial moods, and a certain aimlessness in life. Today, he notes, "I cross my t's at the top and now look at me" -- a successful Georgetown University and Columbia Journalism School graduate seeking his MBA. He compares the new discipline that has emerged in his life to the benefits that come from any regimen, even organizing the socks in your drawer. And he credits Leibel's wisdom about life with helping him, too: "She's a Yoda-like character in my childhood, teaching me self-discipline and goal orientation."

In addition to having his own script analyzed, Martin began showing Leibel the handwriting of different women he had dated over the years. "At first I dismissed what she said, but she was always dead-on," he contends. In one case, he was surprised to learn that a woman he dated briefly was viewed by Leibel as having homosexual tendencies; that same woman later became an active bisexual on the campus of the college they attended.

"It all sounds ridiculous and fanciful," Martin admits, "but handwriting does relate to certain things in your life."

Weston Agor, now a professor of public administration at the University of Texas in El Paso, is equally fervent in his belief in Leibel's abilities. When he first consulted her in 1980, he was researching how intuition could be applied in executive decision-making, but he didn't have the courage to follow his own intuition. Leibel told him he ought to break up some of the connecting script within some of his words, because that would somehow work to strengthen his intuition. He followed her suggestions, then summoned the determination to write three books, and in 1990 won a $462,000 research grant for his work. Did Leibel's graphotherapy contribute to his success? "Definitely," he says.

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