Rarely does a week go by that I dont hear of an epidemic of some
new psychological disorder.
When road rage first appeared, I laughed, foolishly thinking
that no-one would take it seriously. Then police began laying
charges and judges prescribed treatment. Quickly the rage
malady spread to include airplane passengers, skiers, golfers
and even gardeners.
I had a similar reaction to the notion of sex addicts. Then U.S. President
Bill Clinton was diagnosed and this psychological disorder
became a plague, as hoards of experts surfaced
offering proven treatments.
Recently, I added up the number of people said to be suffering from just
20 of these modern-day afflictions and found the total was
more than 900 millionthree times the population of the
U.S. Such numbers have a numbing effect on my sensibilities,
encouraging me to skip over the new disorders as I do television
Last February, when Sudden Wealth Syndrome first appeared,
I paused, thinking that surely, at last, this was an idea
sufficiently nutty to be dismissed. How could anyone take
seriously what California psychologist, Stephen Goldbart,
was saying about the serious psychological problems caused
by becoming rich? This time, surely people would clue in to
the obvious - that these specialists are targeting clients
whose primary characteristic is that theyd have no problem
paying their bills. When NBC treated the topic with sarcasm,
making fun of this latest menace in the land,
I thought that it was okay to laugh.
Then, in April, Sudden Wealth Syndrome popped up in U.S Federal Reserve
Chairman Alan Greenspans remarks to Congress. The booming
U.S. economy, having already created nine million millionaires,
may be putting its citizens at risk, he suggested.
When, two weeks ago, a front-page article in the National Post
made Sudden Wealth Syndrome sound credible, I conceded that
I must deal with the reality of yet another absurd disorder
being taken seriously. While most of us would covet this affliction,
psychologists who specialize in treating it say that those
who hit it lucky in business, win the lottery or inherit millions
may experience deep psychological symptoms including insomnia,
anxiety, depression, denial and guilt; all, of course, requiring
therapy. Joan DiFuria, Goldbarts business partner, uses
terms such as an early identity crisis in defining
To assist the woefully wealthy, this psychological duo have opened the
Money, Meaning and Choices Institute in psychology-prone
California, and have created their own three-stage treatment
The first step is coming to terms with the surprise, excitement and confusion
of sudden riches. The next is to work on regaining a sense
of control and comfort, and the final stage, they say, is
to set personal priorities and goals for a life of wealth.
Another self-proclaimed savior of the rich is Jessie ONeill. She
uses the term affluenza, to describe the perceived
malady and has, as part of her own healing process (shes
the child of wealthy parents), founded a non-profit organization
dedicated to educating the public about the dangers inherent
in affluence. In media interviews, university lectures and
TV shows, she speaks of money wounds and warns
of the havoc that affluenza wreaks.
Financial consultants have known for years that there is money to be made
from those with money and now it would seem that psychologists
have clued in.
So, with this new and imaginative syndrome, there is a quickly growing
industry of wealth specialists. While one might assume the
market for their services is small, estimates are that Silicon
Valley alone produces 64 new millionaires every day. Once
the thousands of Microsoft millionaires in the Pacific northwest
and others in the high-tech areas of the southeast and elsewhere
are added together, the number is significant.
At least it is significant to aspiring wealth therapists, some offering
psychological counseling, others helping their clients to
deal with the excess money through advice on philanthropy.
In this new field, philanthropy is considered to be a key to peace of mind.
However, Claude Rosenberg, the founder of Newtithing Group,
a San Francisco based service that promotes philanthropic
activities, reports that the nouveau riche have a wariness
about giving away a lot of money. You can never really overcome
Wariness would certainly seem appropriate when it comes to trusting the
expanding army of wealth experts. The newly rich might need
to be reminded of billionaire John Paul Gettys comment
that while money may not make you happy, it sure helps
in keeping the children close.Naturally,
in this psychologized era, it will also make some psychotherapists
want to be close too. Freud, the reputed father of psychotherapy,
recognized this attraction. Referring to rich patients
as goldfish, he wrote to a friend: A patient
with whom I have been negotiating, a goldfish,
has just (agreed to treatment). My mood depends very strongly
on my earnings. Money is laughing gas for me. Obviously,
Freud would have delighted in treating those suffering from
Sudden Wealth Syndrome.
As this new breed of therapists circle their prey, I am left wondering
who will be providing the services for the masses still suffering
from Prolonged Poverty Syndrome. Now theres
a catchy new diagnosis! But Im willing to bet this one
wont stick. Who wants clients who cant pay? Even
Freud was fishing for goldfish.