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Psychology service for the rich
By Wu Chong (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-29 01:28

Can money buy happiness? The traditional answer is negative. But some people are proving it to be true.

An exorbitant psychological consulting service exclusive to millionaires is undergoing burgeoning growth in China.

In big cities such as Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, some private mental health clinics price a 50-minute professional consultation at more than 1,200 yuan (US$145), targetting people with high income.

"We receive more than 30 patients a month who are rich enough to afford the service," said Professor Cong Zhong at Peking University's Centre of Clinical Psychology, who charges 800 yuan (US$97) per 50 minutes.

The centre is one of the two psychological consulting clinics in Beijing that target the rich.

Survey shows those who have wealth of no more than 1 million yuan (US$120,000) tend to feel happier with more money.

But for millionaires or billionaires, more money does not mean more happiness.

Cong said it is true that many rich people consider wealth or successful business as the only symbol for their value.

"These people may easily contribute all successes and failures to their personal strength," he said.

So they live under greater pressure than ordinary people and feel losing more when something bad happens, he said.

Some rich people are troubled by fragile relations with their partners, who either have different ideas about running businesses or can hardly bear frequent separation, Cong said.

Some seek help for their children, who mostly suffer from not being able to live up to parents' high expectations.

"We were also asked to help their wives, who often feel deserted," he said.

In response to some critics who blame such clinics for encouraging bias against the poor, Cong argued they meet market demand and revitalize the industry.

Early this month, two famous and successful business people committed suicide respectively in Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces, drawing wide attention to the rich's mental health status.

Xu Dong from Beijing Suicide Research and Prevention Centre said although they do not see the wealthy as having particularly serious mental problems, it is reasonable to tailor services to different customers in the market economy.

"I believe a flexible price system will be a trend. But the principle is to best serve ordinary people first of all," said he.

Both Xu and Cong urged that more importance should be attached to the development of clinical psychology since "in China, 13 out of 1,000 people have mental health problems."

"Five per cent of Chinese people have depression and 25 per cent of college students have mental health problems," said Cong.

He said little investment from the government and hospitals in mental health service has driven a large number of young students away from joining the industry.

Lack of professional psychiatrists in return deprives ordinary people of better and necessary treatment as well as holding back the development of the industry.

Only a few hospitals are now outfitted with professional psychiatrists.

In Peking University's No 6 Hospital, which has experts in mental disorder treatment, more than 100,000 patients register a year, each with only 20 minutes' treatment each time on average.

"How can one get good treatment within such a short time?" asked Cong.

Xu called on quick formulation of industrial rules and standards to better regulate psychiatric teams.

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