Being seriously wealthy can, apparently, damage your health.
But, Phillip Inman discovers, there is counseling for those unfortunates
struggling to cope with the stress of a huge bank balance
The Guardian, Saturday November 10 2001
What the media says
e may call them "fat cats'' but wealthy business people pain just like the rest of us. They are often confused about their status, feel guilty about the huge sums of clash piled up in their bank accounts and think most people resent their riches. Now then, is a counseling service devoted to helping them cope ... with being rich.
Psychologist Ronit Lami she has interviewed many affluent people who develop a bunker mentality to protect themselves from a world that doesn't understand.
She has recently joined financial advisers Allenbridge to give clients advice on how to, deal with the psychological spin-offs of being seriously well off.
At the company's offices she drops the psychologist tag and is known as a "consultant''. She attends meeting and offers advice when it seems appropriate. Sometimes she will talk to family members who are coping with internal rivalries.
Ms Lami says wealthy people have many hang-ups that can be alleviated with the support of a psychologist.
One client wanted to invest £10m. "We took him to a succession of fund managers and after each meeting he said he wasn't sure which investment strategy to pick. He couldn't make up his mind," she says.
"What he didn't realize was that a fear of failure was holding him back. We discovered that an investment in his past had gone wrong and he didn't want to repeat that experience.
Ms Lami knows all about the tensions that come with the acquisition of money. Brought up in Israel, her family owns several small businesses, which, she says, made for many heated arguments between her father and his brother.
What she saw in her childhood, and discovered during time spent researching a masters decree and a PhD, has convinced her a vast number of the wealthy suffer from some kind of psychological problem.
Self-made people who run their own businesses are often workaholics and their lifestyle provides a clue to why they can't be happy.
"One client was worth more than £100m. He was always careful with money. He liked to go out to lunch and dinner but would always leave his clients to pay.
"His clients didn't like it, but that was just the way he was. Then he built a huge underground swimming pool in £25m house. When we talked to his wife, she wasn't happy. She said they never used it because her husband wouldn't spend the money heating the pool.
Ms Lami says she talked to the client about how he spent his money, without recourse to the traditional black leather couch. l could clearly see why he was behaving like that - and he might have known about it - but he wasn't ready to recreate himself, to embark on a process of change."
Oliver James, the clinical psychologist and author of Britain on the couch: why we're unhappier compared with 1950 despite being richer, says while it may be comforting for people on low and middle incomes to believe that all rich people are screwed up, "it's true".
He adds: "People who are workaholics tend to be very emotionally illiterate. They assume a simple equation: that wealth equals happiness. What they don't understand is that there is certain level of affluence beyond which more wealth makes bugger all difference.'' Of course there are exceptions. Richard Branson appears to enjoy his wealth and David and Victoria Beckham, though they might have their problems with stardom, seem happy with their financial situation.
Ms Lami says that in some ways it is easier for the first generation wealthy, or nouveau riche, to enjoy their money. They are usually unencumbered by guilt - they earned it, after all.
Ms Lami says people who have problems spending their money or feeling comfortable with their new status, can get help. There are courses on offer in Switzerland, she says, much like the old-fashioned finishing schools but with a modern helicopters-and- champagne bent. Guilt is something that their loss talented or less motivated children need to cope with when mum and dad's money is passed on. Children of the rich, according to US business magazine Forbes, will have to struggle with $136 trillion put aside for inheritance worldwide over the next 30 years. Ms Lami says she has counseled several guilt-ridden children. The first generation suffer other ailments.
"Managers who start their own business often catch a dose of workaholism. People who are self-made are very hard to work with. They think they are right, because they have created a company and made lots of money. "But often being obsessed with creating the business and working long hours, has killed the love in the people around them - their children, their spouse and the people they work with. Only a few have managed to build up their companies without doing this."
he adds: "There is plenty of research to show that those who enjoy life but destroy the lives of the people around them are not really enjoying themselves. It's true they can go to their graves like that - happy but unaware - but if they have a crisis of some kind, then they look for support and it is not there."
She believes people who have acquired large amounts of money are only privileged if they know how to enrich their lives. Most don't, or can't.
Mr. James goes further, and says some people are driven by personality disorders to search for their pot of gold. "They are fighting depression by working hard."
The rich also have a harder Job keeping up with the Joneses.
"The Joneses they are trying to keep up with are far more demanding than tie Joneses most of us have to keep up with" he says. To emphasize the point, a survey by Forbes - itself owned by a billionaire - revealed that 37% of the 400 richest Americans are unhappy. And that was self-confessedly unhappy.
A little time with a shrink, and the suspicion must be that a far larger slice of the rich list would break down and confess that an excess of money makes them unhappy.
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