The Forbes, 8 October 2001
What the media says
THE BEVERLY HILLS PORTFOLIO manager felt his world falling apart. After losing half of his net worth and most of his clients within four months last year, he couldn't sleep. Then he started having panic attacks; finally he was unable to drive on the freeway. He felt cut down at the knees," says James Gottfurcht, the clinical psychologist who is treating him. A pared-back lifestyle and discussions about childhood feelings of inferiority have helped, Gottfurcht says. The antidepressant Paxil helps, too.
Seems like only yesterday the megarich were complaining of "sudden wealth syndrome" - shock guilt and shame resulting from a precipitous and vast accumulation of wealth. No sooner did the Nasdaq top 5000 than a flurry of firms popped up to help handle the anguish. "Never before have financial success and self-esteem been so commingled," said Stephen Goldbart, psychologist and co-founder of San Francisco's Money, Meaning & Choices Institute, founded to ease the pain on the way up.
Now Goldbart and his peers are helping ease the pain on the way down. "The anxiety is palpable," says Howard Wallman, another Los Angeles psychologist. Nowhere does the loss smart more than in Silicon Valley, where the accumulation of paper wealth over the last decade has rivaled any in history. Goldbart recalls one patient, a 30-year-old dot-com executive whose net worth sank from $20 million to nothing within four months. "He was suicidal," says Goldbart who counseled him to realize the drop was unpredictable and not his fault.
Goldbart says the worst cases have been young-and-single technologists who, caught up in the entrepreneurial subculture, invested everything they had in their companies and treated them like extended families. "You're talking about taking away not just their bank account but their social identity and their image,'' says Goldbart. "Everything real that mattered in their life was there."
Even in Europe where therapy has long been regarded as being for weak and whiny Americans, the moneyed are seeking emotional help. In London, Lami, also a licensed hypnotist, helps Allenbridge clients "overcome emotional and behavioral problems brought on by wealth."
So what are those? It depends on the source of the wealth. Inheritors, for example, experience different problems than those who earned their wads but either way troubles can reach the point of paranoia. "If shame is already an issue, some people tend to believe the higher their net worth the more shameful a person they are,'' says Dennis Pearce, a clinical psychologist in Natick, Mass.
Statistically, it's hard to know whether the superwealthy have more than their share of head cases. "Everybody has issues," says Helene Stein, psychologist and cofounder of Needham, Mass. based Family Legacy Services. "Wealth either makes it worse or hides it for longer."
One study estimates that 10% of senior executives exhibit symptoms of manic depression; years ago an informal survey of The Forbes 400 found that 37% considered themselves unhappy. A study published earlier this year in the British Medical Journal found that wealthy people who were mentally ill were three times as likely to commit suicide as their nonwealthy counterparts.
Of cours, there are those who want no part of the hand-holding. "I don't feel like I have any extra pressures," says Mark Cuban, billionaire founder of Broadcast.com and rabble-rousing owner of pro basketball's Dallas Mavericks. "There is only one reason someone might go to a shrink after you make lots of money," he says. "And that is because it's a surefire way to get more press."
Now they're embarrassed. "Silicon Valley is a place where people place a huge premium on their intelligence," says Douglas Rait, clinical associate professor of psychiatry at Stanford. "To admit that they didn't see this coming has left a lot of people humiliated."
In other ways the rich react much like anyone else. One Bay Area executive became unable to open his mail, fearing each new envelope would be a bill. "People always say about the wealthy, "So they lost a million? They have several million left," says Richard Grist, clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School. '[But] losing that million makes the wealthy just as anxious as it would the nonwealthv".
Ronit Lami, a psychologist with London-based Allenbridge Group, saw one centimillionaire lose a chunk of his net worth and opt not to heat his swimming pool. "He was completely irrational" she says. An unheated pool? One shudders.
Therapist Wallman says many of his wealthy patients come in simply wanting Xanax, Zoloft or whatever is the anti-depressant du jour. "That's how they're used to doing things," he says. "They want to buy a quick fix"
Solution: a new breed of practices that marry financial planning with emotional counseling. They range from one couch shops to the estate-planning departments of huge law firms and financial institutions that are partnering with shrinks to counsel their wealthy clients. The "wealth counseling" industry will gather for the first time next month in Albuquerque, N.M. Some of these outfits call themselves "consultants" as a favor to their high-profile clientele.
There's nothing like a bumpy market to put the superwealthy in a funk.
BY LEIGH GALLAGHER
360 Bedford Dr
Beverly Hills, CA 90210