More Than Money
Issue #10

Learning From Each Other

Table of Contents

“Therapists and Heirs”

A few years ago at a Haymarket People's Fund conference for inheritors, I participated in a group warm-up game. One by one, people went into the center of our circle and told us something about themselves. The others who shared that experience joined them in the middle. When one woman stood up and said she'd been in therapy, the entire group of some hundred and fifty heirs rushed to the center with her.

We inheritors are no strangers to therapy. It's rare to find heirs whose emotional upbringing and financial preparations were solid enough that they can move gracefully into adulthood without at least occasional counseling. Even more rare, it seems, are inheritors whose therapy has helped them work through their issues about being rich.

The taboo against talking about money is so strong that many therapists are apt to shy away from the M-word. And those who do address the topic head-on with their wealthy clients can find themselves prone to a variety of countertransferences, from the subtlest envy to the most stereotypical assumptions.

I recall a painful session with a therapist I'd been seeing for about four years. I had come to trust him because he consistently responded to me with objectivity and compassion. One day I started exploring the connection between my inherited wealth and my struggle to find meaningful work. He listened with interest, nodding encouragingly then ended the session by telling me an off-color joke about rich people. I left with my head spinning, completely disoriented. Where had that come from?

To his credit, he apologized at the beginning of the next session. Having grown up dirt poor, he admitted to a lifelong resentment of rich people. Conscious of his own unfinished business about money, he was committed to looking honestly at himself when those old buttons got pushed.

I appreciated his candor. He regained my trust, though it soon became obvious to me that he couldn't wrap his mind around how it really felt to inherit an unearned fortune. Even though the difference in our resources didn't prevent him from helping me significantly, it did limit the depth of our work when I needed to explore being an heir.

After talking with other heirs, I realize that my experience was not unusual. Some inheritors feel their therapists discount, or ignore altogether, the emotional challenges of wealth. Others pick up subtle pressure to handle their money according to the values of their therapist. Still others are stymied by an atmosphere of quiet disdain when they bring up their wealth.

When therapists have unresolved personal issues about money and ewalth, they may miss crucial opportunities to guide their inheritor clients toward clarity and emotional freedom regarding money. In the worst cases, a therapist's projections can wind up being destructive, reinforcing the client's gloomiest assumptions about having wealth, and recreating his or her most painful experiences as an heir.

As clients, heirs may contribute to the static which can develop in therapy. Some may treat therapists with condescension, lumping them together with all the other 'service people' they pay. Others may unfairly suspect self-interest if their therapist asks them about their wealth. Those who grew up with nannies may act out about paying the therapists, feeling resentful that, once again, they have to pay someone to be cared for. Whatever its souce, this static scrambles the clear communication essential to productive therapy. - anonymous author

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