An article from The Guardian on “wealth therapy” has become a laughing stock on social media. The levity created by the piece appears to be somewhat equally split between the notion of great wealth being a burden and some of the therapeutic techniques used by so-called wealth therapists.
Among the treatment methods used to help the rich patient tell their non-rich friends about their financial holdings is to “come out” the way someone who is LGBT would reveal their gender identity or sexual orientation to their unknowing parents. In the article, wealth psychologist Jamie Traeger-Muney, who specializes in inheritors, says “[Wealth] is still one of our last taboos. Often, I use an analogy with my clients that coming out to people about their wealth is similar to coming out of the closet as gay. There’s a feeling of being exposed and dealing with judgment.”
Traeger-Muney also cited Occupy Wall Street as a driver of mental distress among the 1% and all but directly compared the suffering of the wealthy from the Occupy movement to the suffering racial minorities feel from being stigmatized and discriminated against, saying “I am not necessarily comparing it to what people of color have to go through, but … it really is making value judgment about a particular group of people as a whole.”
But if the 1% are so unhappy due to their socioeconomic status, might there be a more practical treatment than years of dubious “wealth therapy”?
The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. famously took issue with psychologists broad use of the word maladjusted. King claimed that, in many cases, it was society not the individual that needed to be readjusted. In a speech before Western Michigan University in 1963, King said he was actually proud to be maladjusted to contemporary American society:
But I say to you, my friends, as I move to my conclusion, there are certain things in our nation and in the world which I am proud to be maladjusted and which I hope all men of good-will will be maladjusted until the good society is realized. I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.
So perhaps the cure for the isolation and alienation felt by some of the 1% is not more navel-gazing, but to live in a more equal society. Maybe those within the 1%’s ranks who feel a sense of maladjustment to their circumstance should stop deep-mining their own inner recesses and try to improve a world where a small handful of families own half the planet.
It is no secret that being poor is bad for one’s mental and physical health. Hierarchical societies like the United States add social stresses onto the stress of poverty by creating social distance and tension that sows misery among the lower classes. One epidemiologist identified the phenomenon as “status syndrome.”
In other words, inequality is also bad for the 99%’s sense of well-being. So if even the 1% — the winners under the system — are unhappy, maybe it’s time to rethink production and consumption defining our lives. Or, at least, enact some redistributive policies so the rich can feel a little less distant and the rest of us a little less precarious.
How much would you pay for peace of mind?