Looking for a counselor or therapist? Not easy but possible.

As co-founder of The Inheritance Project, I learned that just about every inheritor who my co-authors and I interviewed was struggling with personal issues that were the direct outcome of inheriting wealth—particularly if they inherited at an early age, before they were ready to handle the complexities of an inheritance. I have also been contacted many times over the years by inheritors who were looking for therapists or advisors with another kind of label, but they couldn’t find anyone.

This is a very real problem. Where to begin? When my co-authors and I were interviewing heirs (we ourselves are heirs) there were professionals who described themselves as “wealth counselors.” However, there never has been any kind of formal training for these so-called wealth counselors. And “wealth counselor” is not a legitimate category as such. Many of these individuals had training that was of value to inheritors, but the training was not specifically focused on the problems of inheritors. Try Googling “wealth counselors llc” and you will see that this term has at this point been completely transformed: it’s all about finding someone who will help people manage their wealth—at a price. The growing number of “ultra-high net worth” individuals—the one-percent—has led to the emergence of psychiatrists and other highly trained professionals whose work caters to the desires of these one-percenters. For example, in a New York Times article entitled “Challenges of $600-a-Session Patients”  http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/07/nyregion/07therapists.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&

“T. Byram Karasu, a Manhattan psychiatrist . . . known as an expert in treating the wealthy and powerful, recognized a common pitfall among his peers: Rich people can be seductive. ‘The therapist wants to identify with the patients and comes to see it as his role to help them get more wealthy,’ he said. ‘In the process, the doctor risks becoming the patient’s alter-id.’

“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.”

Many more new-money rich people and inheritors (first-generation or second- or third-generation) are far less wealthy than these clients. At the same time, in the current economic climate, there are far more ultra-high net worth (UHNW) individuals whose money is “new” (earned or gained by investing) than there are inheritors. So professional advisors like Dr. Karasu are able to troll the rich waters of the UHNW.

Even so, there are still many inheritors whose wealth hovers around the low millions, and they all have problems. This may sound stupid: everyone has problems! In the case of inheritors, their problems are of a particular nature: lack of motivation, low self-esteem, inability to manage their money, boredom, addictions, and many more I could name if there were space. Who can they talk to who won’t simply look down on them, seeing them as “trust-fund bums”? Who can empathize with their problems? This is where it becomes difficult to find professionals who can be helpful.

This is a complex and difficult subject, and the constraints of blog posts do not allow room for all, or even some, of what there is to say. In the next three or four weeks I will be working on another blog to help you find that golden needle in the haystack of advisors. Please come back. And if you would like to recommend a professional who is trained to be helpful to inheritors—and who has empathy—please leave a comment.