Dr. Steve, a colleague who also happens to be my office landlord, recently had a client subtly refuse to pay for services rendered. Apparently, this client had an initial session with Dr. Steve, paid the fee with a check, and then proceeded to stop payment on it before it could clear. To say Dr. Steve was furious is an understatement, and after an initial phone call to the client, he immediately contacted Small Claims Court to set up a hearing.
Normally I don’t like to see mental health professionals get screwed over by clients. Unless I’m missing part of the story, Dr. Steve provided a service and thus should be paid. If the client was not pleased with the service, she has every right to not come back, but assuming she agreed to the stated fee, she is obligated to pay him. However, this is Dr. Steve we’re talking about, the wealthiest Psychologist I know, and a money-hungry, mercenary sleazebag. Dr. Steve would head-butt his own mother if she were blocking his way to a quarter that a client dropped in the ladies’ room. Thus, it’s hard for me not to laugh at his frustration.
“I only made (insert extremely large number) dollars in 2007, Rob,” Dr. Steve said, angrily looking at the spreadsheet laid across the over-sized computer screen, just one of the many niceties in his oversized office.
Cry me a river, you rapacious douchebag. “That’s too bad, Steve. I guess that really cuts down on the 50% your wife is going to get when she finally comes to her senses and divorces you.”
“Very funny. When you get rid of that Toyota and start driving a Lexus like me, come back and we’ll talk about money.”
Dr. Steve epitomizes the psychological phenomenon known as greed.
As we’ve learned, the Law of Effect tells us that humans do what feels good. When that good feeling stops, we either change our behavior or increase the frequency/intensity of the current behavior to achieve the desired effect. Making a little money to put in our pockets generally leads to a good feeling for most of us. However, what happens if X number of dollars doesn’t feel as good anymore? What happens when you don’t get the rush of endorphins that you used to get when having a nice paycheck? You have two choices: find something else to make you feel good or make more money. Dr. Steve always chooses the latter. He feels great for a while with a large sum, but then the effect wears off and he needs more to get that same feeling again. He has a tolerance for money, it’s like a drug. This explains, at least in part, the dollar-driven behaviors of athletes. While I’m sure part of the issue is ego, athletes’ excessive money eventually becomes “tolerated,” and therefore they need more.
Just like Dr. Steve, however, I need to make a living through my craft. While I love what I do, psychology is in fact a business. When I sat down and crunched my numbers for 2007, I realized that I also didn’t make as much money as I had the year prior. This isn’t catastrophic; I still have my Toyota, can eat foods other than Ramen Noodles, and I won’t get evicted from my apartment. While graduate school taught me little to nothing about running a private practice, I’ve learned over the past five years that there is a certain ebb and flow to the number of people who come in for services. Thus, a loss of income one year is not necessarily indicative of an alarming trend. I did consider, however, that an attempt to increase business wouldn’t be such a bad idea, just in case.
While brainstorming how to promote my practice, a friend of a friend invited me to attend a business networking club that focuses on generating referrals for its members. The name of the group needs to be unstated, because if the members are half as litigious as they are wealthy, I’ll have a summons in my hand within an hour of them reading this. “Just come to our weekly breakfast and see if it’s something you might want to be a part of,” the friend said. “We’re really casual, you’ll see. Just bring $20 for the food.”
The breakfast was at the unholy hour of 6 AM. Apparently it is difficult to make money at this hour, so this is “pre-making money” time. In a large room with oak everything (walls, tables, chairs, podium), I was greeted by 15 extremely well-to-do professionals, all in business attire. Thinking that the event was “casual,” as I was told, I wore khakis and a dress shirt, and immediately stuck out due to a lack of jacket and tie. The food itself wasn’t bad: a small fruit plate and a cup of coffee, which of course made me wonder where most of my twenty dollars was going. Punctuality apparently was key for this group, as anyone who came in after 6 AM was not only denied breakfast, but also was not allowed to participate in introductions. In fact, those who were tardy weren’t even allowed to sit at the meeting table and were instead banished to the outlying couches along the walls.
“I’m Janet,” said a 40-ish and attractive woman standing at the podium. “I am the president of Chapter ____. Welcome members and guests. Now, let us pray.”
Everyone bowed their heads, but it was more a moment of silence than a prayer, as no one spoke. I later learned that everyone was simply praying for more business.
“Today,” Janet said, “Doug is being officially sworn in.” As if on cue, Doug stood up and took out some sort of manual that he held at eye level, the front of the book pointed at Janet.
Janet began the group’s version of the Hippocratic Oath. “Doug, do you promise to serve our group well, to generate referrals for this group and only this group and, to the best of your ability, help us and yourself to attain financial independence?”
“I do,” said Doug.
“Good. Welcome Doug.”
“Doug!” everyone shouted.
Janet continued. “Now, let us go around for our 45-second introduction and taglines.”
I had no idea that I needed to speak at all and my heart rate started to increase. If I ever become famous, I have a major problem on my hands, as I do not do well with public speaking.
“I’m Michael,” the first person said, standing up. “I’m an investment banker. I’ve been in this chapter for 5 years and it has generated hundreds of thousands of dollars for me. My promotional tagline is ‘Be wealthy and God-loving. Give me your money, and I’ll make you more.'”
“Michael!” everyone shouted.
This was proving to be a combination of an Alcoholics Anonymous and KKK meeting.
The next person was a Life Coach. I can’t speak for all mental health professionals, but many see this discipline as ill-defined and poorly monitored by state licensing boards. Some professionals see it as sheer quackery. Even more so than a lot of people see therapy.
“I’m Jim, Life Coach. I’ve been in this chapter for one year, and it’s brought me dozens of new referrals. I work mainly with corporate executives helping them realize their goals and the obstacles that impede the path to those goals. When I see a person with a high six-figure income, I help them to get to a seven-figure income. That’s what I do, I realize your potential. My tagline is ‘When you live with Jim, you live…on purpose.'”
Janet looked at me next, studied my “Hello, my name is ROB” nametag, and asked me to introduce myself to the group. Nervously, I stood up, accidentally striking my fork with my hand and propelling it halfway across the table.
“I’m…Rob. I’m a Psychologist. I help people with psychological and emotional difficulties through the use of talk and behavior change. I also write a web site. You probably haven’t heard of it. It’s called ShrinkTalk.com. No, I’m sorry, ShrinkTalk.NET. It’s…informative. I…um…don’t have a tagline, or a business suit.”
“Make one up now,” Janet said.
“Make up a suit?”
“No, a tagline.”
“Oh. Um…’Rob Dobrenski is your one-stop mental health shopping warehouse.’ Except for medication because that is generally reserved for psychiatrists. And for children under seven. I don’t see little children because they are out of my area of expertise. I’ve also recently had a difficult experience with an elderly patient so maybe I temporarily shouldn’t…”
“Thank you Rob,” Janet interrupted.
“Rob,” the group said, but without any of the verve needed for an exclamation point.
After the introductions were completed, Janet asked people to – while standing of course – give out referrals to the other professionals. The real estate agent gave a list of names to the mortgage banker, the chiropractor got phone numbers from the acupuncturist, the investment banker got a stack of business cards from everyone else who was looking to diversify their portfolio, and so on. When that was completed, Janet spoke.
“Members, I hope you feel good about yourselves. You have given business to others, asking nothing in return, even though you have likely profited from your generosity. Giving is the cornerstone of this group. We do not come here seeking wealth, we come here to give it. And if and when it comes back ten-fold, we must accept it.”
It slowly dawned on me that this was basically Dr. Steve’s greed disguised as altruism.
The meeting adjourned at that point (time is money!), and Janet approached me before I had a chance to flee. “Rob, I do hope you’ll consider joining our group. Please take an application.” She turned on her heels and walked away to lure in another potential member.
As I waited for the elevator, I pondered buying a suit. Then I opened the application packet. There was a non-refundable application fee, along with a yearly dues requirement of several hundred dollars. It didn’t state what the dues went toward.
Later that day, I got an email from Janet, which was addressed to everyone in attendance at the meeting:
“Members and Guests, thank you all for attending today’s meeting. Hopefully I will see you all next week. Since everyone is all up in arms for no good reason to protect the environment, let’s do our part and make this a green year, lol!”
The word “green” was actually in green, making her joke quite the amusing double-entendre. I deleted that email and decided to pass on joining the group. Dr. Carol, one of the most down-to-earth people I know, asked me why.
“There’s just something inherently shady about it. I don’t like the way they disguise their desire for more and more money as some form of charity.”
“So you’re not against making money per se, just the group’s approach?”
“Right. I’d love to make a lot of money. I just don’t want to go about it in that way.”
“So how are you going to go about that?”
“I think I’ll just do some more advertising.”
“Was this Janet person upset that you won’t be joining?”
“No,” I said, “I told Dr. Steve about it, and he’s so damn greedy that he joined in my stead. He’s already gotten five new referrals.”
“He’s owes you big time,” Dr. Carol said.
“Oh yes. He’s already thanked me in his own special way.”
“He raised my rent for 2008.”
I’m sure Dr. Steve will fit in quite nicely with the group. I think I really hate that man.