Monday, July 7, 2008

The rich have more money

And here's yet another way the rich are different from you and me: They have more psychiatrists. But according to a feature story in today's New York Times, entitled "Challenges of $600-a-Session Patients," therapists to the elite are in a quandary. Here is the problem, in a nutshell:

Wealth reminiscent of the Gilded Age has encouraged a thriving business for a small and highly specialized group of therapists in New York and elsewhere. Their daily work gives them an intimate view of an elite who differ in some ways from their predecessors, and who can test the therapists who treat them.

More than a dozen therapists who are respected by their peers in the counseling of extremely wealthy patients said in interviews that, as with the real estate mogul, it can be hard to resist the temptation to sycophantically adopt their point of view.

In some cases, the patients treat their therapists as but another member of their entourage of servants. Some therapists also cited a heightened difficulty with frustration and setbacks for people used to getting what they wanted. And they are resistant to opening up, to showing vulnerability.

The article leads off with the story of a therapist treating a "young titan of New York real estate" who was thinking about bidding $8 million for a painting. His therapist told him he should go for it; you know, express his inner mogul. But a colleague of the therapist later rebuked him for encouraging this "addiction" rather than treating it as a neurosis.

I am sure that rich people get depressed, anxious, and phobic, just like the rest of us--although they certainly don't have as much reason to. But when they do, they can afford all the pyschological help money can buy. The rest of us, given how stingy most insurance companies are about paying for therapy and mental health care, often have to work things out for ourselves, if we can. Perhaps therapists to the rich should also do more volunteering at homeless shelters, public hospitals and other places where depressed and troubled patients congregate. It might help them put their elite clients' problems into perspective.

Actually, the biggest problem I have with this article is that it is part of a series the Times has been doing about the Age of Riches. The articles in this series, the online blurb tells us, "are examining the effects of the growing concentration of wealth." This is the 11th story in the series, which has been running since August 2007. But look at the topics: Millionaires who don't feel rich, getting wealthy without an M.B.A., the challenges of being an internet tycoon, the attitudes of former candidates John Edwards and Mitt Romney towards their money, the need for prep schools to hire money managers, and so forth. Only a couple of the stories focus on how the rapidly increasing concentration of wealth in the United States is affecting those who aren't on the receiving end of it--that is, nearly everybody. And even those stories deal with the topic very indirectly (eg, whether the results of philanthropy are worth the tax breaks rich people get for appearing to be generous.)

Don't get me wrong: The Times, and many other media outlets, often do a decent job of looking at the problems of the poor as well as the rich. But as economies world-wide slip more deeply into recession, perhaps a series on the "Age of Riches" needs more perspective--just like those therapists who keep the rich from going as crazy as the rest of us.

Addendum: If you want to read about psychology that is more relevant to you and me, check out a story that Boston University journalism graduate student Aspasia Daskalopoulou wrote for my Science and the Mass Media class last semester. She profiles a psychologist who studies the role of family dinners in keeping families together. It is now posted on the blog Science Metropolis, run by graduate student Joseph Caputo.

McCain watch: While you are perusing the Times today, be sure to take a look at this fuzzy-minded piece by columnist William Kristol. In asking whether former McCain strategist Mike Murphy is going to join his campaign or not (or when), Kristol provides insights into the disarray in the McCain camp--including the fact that McCain's own people have not figured out why he should be president. McCain "understands that his campaign has failed to develop an overarching message," Kristol tells us. Gosh, I thought it was up to the candidate to do that!

More McCain: The poll numbers continue to look bad for McCain. It seems that no matter what Obama does, he is more inspiring than McBush.

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