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.