After winning an unprecedented eight gold medals at the summer Olympics, swimmer Michael Phelps may earn as much as $50 million a year in endorsement deals. Of course, he wasn't headed for the poorhouse before: He's been collecting about $5 million a year in endorsements since the 2004 Olympics. Still, on the heels of his record-breaking performance, Phelps has joined the rarified realm of the multi-millionaire. To ensure the emotions surrounding his newfound fortune are as smooth as his stroke, Phelps might consider consulting one of a new breed of professionals catering to the ultra-rich: wealth psychologists. Wealth psychologists, also known as money psychologists or wealth counselors, help people like Phelps -- as well as the more monied mortals among us -- cope with emotional issues surrounding money. Wealthy individuals may need help identifying and controlling spending patterns. Some may have an extreme fear of losing their money, while others may put their desire to make money above all else, sacrificing relationships with family and friends. Phelps, for example, might want to consult a specialist in one of wealth psychology's most popular diagnoses: "sudden wealth syndrome," or SWS. The Money, Meaning and Choices Institute in Kentfield, Calif., coined the term to describe the increased anxiety, moodiness and identity confusion often experienced by people who come into money, whether by winning the lottery, receiving an inheritance or striking it rich in business or sports. Wealth psychologists say they help individuals recognize and appreciate their windfalls, reconnect with themselves and understand how to manage and use their newfound fortune.
Airing dirty laundry Money psychologists also help families tackle the pressures and feelings of inadequacy and guilt that can accompany an inheritance. Some people may feel guilty if they receive a larger inheritance than other family members or by thinking that someone had to die for them to receive such a gift. And many beneficiaries are plagued by the idea that they must use the money the way their benefactor would have wanted. Wealth psychologists help families deal with a host of family-business issues, including the pressure to continue the business, sibling rivalries within the business and the stress of passing the business on to the next generation. Perhaps a wealth psychologist could have helped the family behind Sweet'N Low. According to Richard Cohen's 2006 tell-all memoir about his family's business, his mother, Ellen, was her father's favorite. After the father died, Ellen's jealous mother disinherited Ellen and her children. Chicago-based wealth psychologist Gary Shunk says wealthy families typically are most concerned about the effect their wealth will have on their children. Counselors like Shunk and James Grubman aim to help wealthy parents raise "normal," un-spoiled children. Counselors encourage parents to be honest with their children and teach them to respect their wealth and manage money responsibly. Money psychologists can teach couples from different economic backgrounds to build trust and learn to understand each other in working together toward a shared financial future. Counselors can redirect individuals who feel inadequate because their partner is wealthier, as well as those who fear that others love them only for their money. Nevertheless, money psychologists are not miracle workers: Multi-millionaire Britney Spears and ex-hubby Kevin Federline probably would have called it quits even if he matched her earnings.
Finding a money shrink If you think a wealth psychologist is just what the doctor ordered, you're in luck. Many financial-planning firms now either employ wealth psychologists on staff or partner with outside wealth counselors. JP Morgan ( JPM), Citigroup ( C) and Merrill Lynch ( MER) include wealth-psychology services among perks offered to well-heeled clients ($50 million or more under management). Or you can schedule a meeting with one of the approximately 250 wealth counselors nationwide. There's no national certification board for wealth psychologists, but if you're seeking guidance on family wealth issues, look for a counselor certified by the Family Firm Institute. More importantly, says Grubman, look for a psychologist who is comfortable collaborating with your financial adviser. And expect to pay for the privilege: Sessions typically run $200 to $500 an hour, more than for regular psychologists. Before you enlist the help of a money psychologist, talk to your financial planner, who may have received training in wealth psychology. Although a planner probably is not a certified counselor, he or she may be able to address some concerns.