This piece has nothing to do with social justice. It also has nothing to do with wealth equality or levels of social inequality. It has nothing to do with the fact that socially marginalised are often not able to access therapy in the way they should be. Blending all of that into this one topic would be missing the point and refusing to see. Maybe it would be willingly avoiding the point—because it might feel better to avoid it. But I decided not to avoid it. And I decided so not only because of what I was hearing in social circles, but because I was even sensing it between some of my fellow therapists.
Access helps but it does not solve the problem
Socially privileged have the capacity to afford therapy—counselling, psychotherapy, whichever. Access to therapy is better for them, yes. But that still does not mean there’s no stigma attached to the “well off” speaking about their issues. Access to therapy is not the same as problems presented in therapy.
People are not in therapy because of poor access to therapy—they present with psychic pain and emotional hurt; the lack of sense of self; the questions of existence and meaning; the difficulties of being enough as they are—for themselves and others. This has little or nothing to do with the amount of financial wealth.
And these never have anything to do with access to therapy. Therefore, access to therapy shouldn’t overshadow one’s problems—regardless of any personal or social attribute—financial wealth being one of them.
So, good access to psychotherapy and counselling—as a sole factor—doesn’t mean that one is better off. Often times—when personal financial wealth and subsequent social status are considered—one will actually be worse off. Because of society’s lower tolerance and empathy towards problems of the “lucky ones”.
Surviving, performing, doing, being
Psychic pain and emotional suffering are not physical suffering. They may be different for different people—and indeed they are different for everyone—but that doesn’t mean that they just do not exist when one is financially secure.
I have seen numerous cases with my clients where survival mechanisms are at play even for those who are “well off”. If someone goes from poverty, addiction, abuse and neglect to financial and social status, that doesn’t mean that their psychic pain, emotional hurt and all developmental and archaic survival mechanisms just disappear. There’s a lot more than just money that will take you from surviving, performing and doing to being.
Stigma about therapy
Stigma around wealth—especially what society considers extreme wealth—is huge. Extreme wealth creates a world of its own, a bubble—one that is detached from everyday problems of the majority. Relational dynamics in such social circles is quite different from “the common peoples’” but not always in a good way. Not at all in a good way for some.
Loneliness and inability to belong—not actually belonging but also feeling you belong—is too overwhelming for some. And when one speaks out, they get shut down as though they have nothing to complain about. As though they had it made in life. This creates stigma and people are even less likely to speak about issues—their psychological and mental wellbeing, their relationships and their sense of self-worth and meaning.
Empathy, ability to relate, envy, pity
I wonder whether this all comes from inability to relate to the other. But then again, the vast majority of today’s cosmopolitan population cannot relate to other marginal groups of our society as well. So, if one is not able to relate, they are even less able to empathise. After all, empathy is not really about feeling and experiencing what the other is feeling and experiencing, but opening your heart and mind to other’s experience and accepting the impact it has on them.
Moreover, how is one able to empathise with the hurt of the “less fortunate one” but not the hurt of the “more fortunate one”? Unless it’s not actually empathy then that’s just not possible.
Two things come to mind… Firstly, society generally considers—and quite short-sightedly, to be honest—that psychological problems diminish as long as one has the money. This is the same as saying that one will not have relationship or self-esteem issues; that they will not have mental health problems; that they will not have to face addiction or bereavement; and that they will not have existential questions and contemplating about the meaning of life and their identity as a person. Quite short-sighted, don’t you think?
Secondly, you generally are not able to empathise with someone you actually envy—and this is one of the main reasons for stigma attached to the financially wealthy—stigma to speak out about their issues. But, if one is not able to empathise with the other because envy stands in the way, how are they able to empathise with anyone, really? Even the less fortunate ones. They’re not. What usually gets mistaken for empathy, at such times, is actually pity.
There’s not just one basket
Sometimes, not always, but sometimes, wealth will create selfishness. True. But usually that will be more with the people surrounding the wealthy than the wealthy themselves—and this is often where the majority of psychological pathology is concentrated.
Even more so, the isolation from general society that financial worth tends to cause, is often inevitable—also out of fear of ridicule. Sometimes this isolation can come across as aloofness.
And then, there are those that others consider the norm among the socially privileged—the narcissistic, sometimes psychopathic, selfish and self-absorbed deal-chasers that consider their sole purpose in life the concentration of wealth around. But, don’t worry, these will rarely come to therapy so no harm in ruling them out of this equation in the first place.
It’s not just them, it’s their children too
So, you can’t feel empathy for the “rich ones”, still? “It was their choice” you say. True. Sometimes. Sometimes not. But even so. What about their children. A lot of them have children.
I don’t think I’m the only therapist in London that can tell you about the utter misery and devastation that comes across hearing stories of psychic pain and emotional hurt—the hurt our clients are left with attending some of the most elite boarding schools in the country. How these schools have wrapped them up in cotton wool—their parents thinking they’d grow up into cornerstones of society, when in reality, they’re spit out of fantasy land into the real world to wonder around lost and purposeless. Often lonely because of the lack of real-life connection, no normal social circles and inability to engage with others—socially and emotionally.
And this is just one example of the cotton wool suffocation…
For those of you who will jump out of your seats in dismay for me pointing this out, I guess you will not even get to this paragraph. But, serving you by putting this at the beginning would just plainly be wrong—it would be putting you first. Pointing out the issues of some, doesn’t really mean I disregard the issues of others.
I work with all social groups and no personal problem is worth dismissal in my therapy room. Even less is there room for prejudice. My work—especially the work I do with NHS (National Health Service)—involves engagement with some of the most marginalised members of our society and my speaking out for some in no way diminishes the importance and my devotion for others.
Bringing prejudice into therapy room is actually the same as saying “you’re not worth it” to the client—any client. It is actually worse because you don’t even admit the ignorance to yourself, you shove it into your unconscious and let it control you from where it can do most damage.
If you consider money as something directly correlated with psychological and emotional wellbeing, then you are actually a survivor, performer, doer—someone that treats not only others by the wealth and status they obtain, but you also treat yourself the same way—maybe even worse. Is that something that makes you happy or sad?