Stimuli were ‘ The Culture of Affluence:Psychological Costs of Material Wealth ‘ by S S Luthar ; Financial Times article Sep 2020 ‘Wealth:Mental Health Series ‘ Financial Therapists Helping Wealthy People Cope With Change’; The Guardian article Oct 2015 ‘Wealth Therapy Tackles Woes of The Rich

Today’s theme was the uncomfortable subject of money and our relationship with it. We shared personal experience and unsurprisingly found that our adult attitudes to money were influenced by the introjects of our childhoods – the fear of not having enough ,attitudes to spending money on unnecessary things, insecurities around social class.

We touched on our reactions to the very wealthy. Some of us had experience of being treated badly by wealthy clients, some felt the otherness of the wealthy. We also found compassion for the isolation reported by the children of the very wealthy and their tendency towards destructive behaviours. The same isolation might account for the observation that wealthy people often give proportionally less money to charity. It was suggested that the comparative generosity of the poor is connected with the greater intimacy of their childhoods allowing for a more empathic attitude to others.

It was noticed that there is some pride in coming from a poorer background and shame in admitting to wealth. Connected to this, the idea of adopting a ‘poverty mentality’ when people present themselves as less well off than they really are.

We touched on the seductive power of money and the naïve idea that our sense of status and success can be measured by accumulation of money. This ties in with the questionable belief that happiness comes from extrinsic rather than intrinsic values. Research consistently confirms that a basic annual income is correlated with happiness, but beyond that, more money does not make more happiness. Money does act as a passport to opportunity and for at least one of our clients, allowed a safe departure into a new life, released from the grind of acquiring ever more money.

We were pretty irritated by the articles which talked about specialised counselling for extremely wealthy clients, we could not see why the counselling on offer would differ. There may be particular personal challenges for the therapist, but no extra knowledge or skill seemed necessary. There may be recurring themes for rich people, but the same range of human suffering will be theirs too.

Finally we talked about the exchange of money for therapy, in particular the thorny question of being paid for what might be thought of as ’merely’ compassion. In my opinion, describing therapy as just compassion is definitely under valuing ourselves. It was posited that being paid for therapy is critical to the contract and sets boundaries of commitment on both sides. Holding the boundary is more difficult if the client is not paying or pays a concessionary rate. We acknowledged the potential for shame in the therapist for taking money for something that is a basic human need   (to be heard with compassion) and shame in a client for needing therapy from a stranger.


Shame and Guilt

We discussed a paper published by CambridgeCore entitled

“Working with guilt and shame”.

We all agreed on the important distinction between guilt and shame being that guilt is about what I do to others whereas shame is who I am. Both need to be normalised by the therapist through an attitude of acceptance.

The etymology of both terms is interesting: guilt deriving from the German word GELD which means money or debt, thus leading to a sense of having to pay a debt or repair something and shame deriving from the Indo-european word SKEM which means cover, thus leading to a sense of needing to hide an aspect of ourselves as in some way we feel we have fallen short in the eyes of others and in our own eyes. As an example again, the parent induces guilt by saying “what you did was naughty” whereas shame comes from the parent saying “ you are a naughty child”. Also a person who experiences shame expects to be abandoned,whereas a person with guilt expects to be punished.

Guilt is usually felt by the client in their mind so the therapist needs initially to have an intellectual understanding of what is going on, whereas shame is felt more in the body and can be embedded and so emerges more slowly in the therapeutic process. The therapist needs to show compassion so the client feels safe enough to share this exposing feeling.

We discussed how shame can be healthy, perhaps as in a sacred part of ourselves that we need to protect, or toxic when associated with more negative feelings about the self.

Likewise Guilt can be healthy when it contributes to a sense of cohesion in the community and so has a social aspect as in obeying laws. Reference was made here to a book by Rurger Bregman entitled “Humankind” which posits the notion that humans are basically kind.

We also discussed the link with guilt and shame in addictive behavior and a book was recommended entitled  “the booze battle”.

The paper proved to be a rich source of ideas and stimulated lively debate.

Rosemary Pitt, 24/11/2020

Shame and Guilt