‘Rich and famous’ from pricey Gold Coast show their idiosyncratic side in therapy

By Henry Saeman, Editor
September 1, 2001



If your pocketbook forces you to challenge the pricey tab on an oceanfront condo or the 20% gratuity on your bar bill irritates you, forget Palm Beach, FL as a playground. Or, if you are harried about managed care and the chaotic state of healthcare, you don’t belong there either.

But Florence Kaslow, Ph.D. does belong there, having practiced psychotherapy in Palm Beach County since leaving Hahneman Medical University in Philadelphia 20 years ago.

Many of her clients are among the “rich and famous.” They are jetsetters who travel in their private planes from Palm Beach to the Riviera, Beverly Hills, the slopes of Switzerland and other exotic spots around the world. They are actors and actresses, sports heroes, equestrians and other athletes who vie for Olympic Gold every four years, and those with opulent lifestyles who inhabit the top levels of the world of business and commerce. They are probably among the world’s richest, and for them, the abundance of money is a given.

The rich and famous often behave idiosyncratically. They are likely to ask for the psychologist’s first or last appointment of the day. Some prefer not to be seen by the public in or near a psychotherapist’s office, want to shun the waiting room and depart via the side door to avoid the reception area. They pay fees by pay cash or check. No charges are accepted and they don’t complain. A downpayment? It’s not in the vocabulary. And don’t mention third-party pay. Kaslow’s staff writes a receipt which the client can discard if he or she wishes. Kaslow doesn’t disclose her fees except to allow that they are probably “at the high end.”

What is important to the super-rich? “Old-fashioned confidentiality,” replies Kaslow. “They would not want their personal business to show up in an insurance record or computer. There are issues around sexual themes, infidelity and financial dealings that must be kept ultra-private. They don’t want anyone other than their therapist to have access to these secrets.”

Kaslow characterizes many of her affluent clients as charming, bright individuals who make quick decisions. Some exhibit nonconformist, rebellious traits. They want to be recognized for their accomplishments and, according to Kaslow, “need desperately to be understood as a person… not for their aura, their fortunes or their reputation.”

In her practice, Kaslow provides individual, family, sexual, marital and divorce therapy and mediation and family business consultation. She reports that her clients, although largely local, are referrals from “all over the country and world,” including “snowbirds” from the North who live in Florida during the winter, and many from Latin America who are parttime residents.

For many therapists, says Kaslow, the super rich arouse competitive feelings, particularly the very young clients who earn astronomical incomes as well as accolades for playing rock music with no more than a high school education contrasted with the relatively young psychologist who studied for years to obtain a doctorate.

Kaslow also portrays some of these clients as being highly narcissistic, with a strong sense of entitlement, who can be very demanding. “When they want attention, they want it immediately,” she said, a seemingly one-sided demand since the therapist will find that it’s often futile when she needs to reach the client. “It’s hard to get through to some of these clients by phone when necessary because they have a protective circle around them, office and personal staff who often do not know that their boss is in therapy and they do not want this to be divulged.

She tells about the ironies of her practice, characterized, for instance, by the beautiful, svelte 35-year-old woman who is seriously dating a wealthy man over 60 who has been married and divorced three times. She is concerned about the relationship, wondering whether 10 years hence, her companion will “trade her” for a younger model as he did with a previous spouse. Mate selection in this dating game sometimes happens according to other than usual protocols.

“It seems a throwback to Victorian times, as if the feminist revolution never happened,” Kaslow relates. “The women are concerned about looking wonderful, going to charity balls and other social events and being well taken care of financially. Work is not a word in their personal vocabulary. Such behavior is still strange to me.”

Curiously, the star-studded Gold Coast condos and mansions between Palm Beach, Boca Rotan and Jupiter, FL are juxtaposed to sugar fields in the western end of Palm Beach County where immigrants from Central and South America toil and there are pockets of poor ethnic communities and even a so-called “redneck” section.

It’s a strange mix of the “haves” and “have-nots”–living so near one another, yet their lifestyles being worlds apart.

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