Lie on counselling couch to be bled dry

The merry-go-round is spinning out of control in our cash obsessed society, writes Gene Kerrigan

Irish Independent

Sunday October 28 2007

First of all, I want you to know that I understand your problems. And I care. You matter to me. And I promise I’ll do everything possible to ease your burden. Together, we can bring out the hidden strengths that I know lie deep within you.

Will you buy that? How much would you pay for that? Do you think I have a future in the counselling business? Or, should I say, the “life mentoring” business? Last week’s astonishing revelations about the easy money to be made from “counselling” suggests that it’s the game to get into.

And, did you hear about the tens of millions that the banks casually handed out to those two solicitor chaps? Not to mention (as if we could resist) the wads of extra cash that our Taoiseach and his buddies are to get. (Mr Ahern will have to get himself a bigger shoebox.)

Taken altogether, it’s a bit of an eye-opener about the state we’re in.

My midweek urge to set myself up as some class of a “counsellor” was provoked by the uproar about the Roebuck Counselling Centre. Others may fret about alleged “manipulation” and whether the services offered were worthwhile, or the alleged difficulty people had getting their money back. What gobsmacked me was how easy it appears, these days, to part people from their money.

You’re a “counsellor”, someone comes to you and says they have a problem, you ask for perhaps three grand up front. And they give it to you — just like that. And it was a thriving business.

One chap handed over a total of €235,000 to have his life “mentored”. And, it took his accountant ages to get it back. Some might say, this looks suspicious. Others might think, this can’t be right. What I think is — I’m in the wrong business.

I’m not knocking the notion of counselling. We’re all vulnerable — most of us go through periods of

mental uncertainty. Any of us, at any time, might find ourselves lost in the stars. What we need is a network of appropriate psychological services, regulated and accessible. Some hope. It’s ten months since RTE uncovered the scandal of the lack of psychiatric places for teenagers — it’s as bad as ever.

We have no end of cosmetic surgeries offering breast enhancement and tummy tucks — but it was only last week, after years of pleading, that the Children’s Hospital in Crumlin got an MRI scanner. The health business thrives, while the health service cuts back.

This is free market medicine at work.

It’s possible to interpret the Roebuck controversy as being about vulnerable people who were taken for an expensive ride — but it’s more than that. There’s a lot of money sloshing about in some circles. Put that together with the property market, in which prices relate only distantly to the product on offer. Add the ready availability of credit. Throw in the super-charged consumer culture, in which your status is related to your willingness to splash out over-the-odds for products of questionable merit.

In such circumstances, money becomes detached from context — from value or from what it takes to earn it. Next thing you pay €100,000 (€100,000, no kidding) for a “package” of “unlimited counselling, business advice and life-tutoring”.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to treat you to a lament for the days of black and white Ireland. I was raised back then and I have great affection for that other country, but it was a place of overcooked vegetables and limited ambition. We were priest-ridden, in every sense of the term. We were timid, provincial and resigned. I don’t want to go back to that Ireland.

But it was inconceivable that any of us, no matter how vulnerable, would cough up chunks of money for anything so other worldly as “life mentoring”. Not that we were smarter. But, money back then related to the work done for it and the necessities it could buy.

Now, we accept ludicrous bills from deranged chefs. We pay kings’ ransoms for dog-box apartments. We’ve just paid bonuses of up to €80,000 a head to the geniuses who’ve made such a success of running our public health service. In the private sector, business executives get magical “bonuses” for jobs they’re already overpaid to do. Lawyers get more for a week in court than others get for a year working in a hospital or a factory.

Ah, the lawyers.

Last week, some people got upset with solicitors Michael Lynn and Thomas Byrne. It’s alleged that they took out multiple mortgages on the same property, but that doesn’t bother me. All week, Mr Byrne was, shall we say, out of touch — but that’s okay.

In recent days, a shower of banks (perhaps the more appropriate collective noun would be an avarice of banks) besieged the High Court in an effort to lay claim to whatever fragments of money they can sniff out. It seems they loaned at least €107m to these two individuals. Truth is, the banks don’t know just how much they’re owed. They don’t know how much of that — if any — is secured against property.

The banks have blundered. The banks have been made to look greedy fools. I’d just like to say, on behalf of all the individuals and the small businesses who — in the old days — sought wee loans and were subjected to ritual humiliation by the banks, how moved I am by their plight.

Throughout the Celtic Goldrush, the lending policies of most banks has been promiscuous. Since the boom peaked in 2000, there’s been a 340 per cent increase in personal borrowing. To facilitate this, we grew a class of financial samurai, striding arrogantly through the economy, property portfolios at the ready. Lax lending criteria and even more lax supervision of this boom now promise to provide us with some expensive entertainment.

Today, can the banks be sure that Mr Lynn and Mr Byrne are the only solicitors with such problems? Are there two, or 20? Or 200? I ask myself: if I was a solicitor, and I knew I could get tens of millions by just holding out my hand and jiggling a few bits of paper, would I? Would you?

It seems appropriate, at just this point, that the people who have presided over the creation of the super-charged consumer culture and deregulated money-go-round should get a whopping pay rise. Mr Ahern insists that he’s worth his €310,000 a year. The trio of public works which mark the success or failure of any government are transport, education and health — Mr Ahern tells us they’re all doing fine. And surely anyone paid that much can’t be wrong?

Ah, what a brave new world. We spend a chunk of our spare cash to make our faces tighter and our breasts perkier. And more goes to our life mentor, for a mind-rinse and a personality make-over.

Our hospitals are underfunded and our classrooms are overcrowded, but — hey — Christmas is coming and I can’t wait to pop over to Lexington and 43rd to pick up an Armani that won’t be on sale in this country until at least the second week in February.

Seriously though, would you be interested in a wee bit of life mentoring? Say, €2,000 up front and €3,000 a month for the duration. Meanwhile, I’ll send round a solicitor of my acquaintance who’ll be only too happy to pick up the deeds to your house, and once he’s mortgaged the place several times over we’ll be on the pig’s back.

One Response

  1. Talking about counseling ans such I was wondering whether anyone has ever sent their kid to take IQ testing, this place apparantly does it. I’m curious whether such things are really for real or just a way to boost a mum’s ego.


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