Compulsive drug use, heavy drinking, rampant sex with prostitutes: more Wall Street financial advisors than you would think are caught up in that sticky web, according to New York City psychotherapist Jonathan Alpert.
Dubbed “The Wall Street Therapist,” Alpert, 42, has developed something of a specialty treating financial services professionals, including traders, investment bankers and advisors, who seek him out to scrap their self-destructive behaviors.
The spotlight shined on Alpert during the financial crisis, when he commented to the media about the bad behaviors his Wall Street patients were exhibiting chiefly as a result of the meltdown. Then, in the Oscar-winning documentary about the crash, “Inside Job” (2010), he elaborated on the psychological consequences the crisis had wrought.
He is hardly an old-school, lie-down-on-the-couch Freudian, instead conducting businesslike sessions with patients sitting upon a white leather sofa and squeezing stress balls to relieve tension — the requisite Kleenex box nearby, however.
Alpert’s approach is goal- and results-oriented — and of short duration. His practice is located in Manhattan, but he uses phone and Skype to treat folks around the country as well in London.
Wearing another hat, as an executive coach he helps people with business-related issues, including launching new companies, salary negotiation and communication skills, to connect with clients on an emotional level.
ThinkAdvisor chatted recently with Alpert, author of “Be Fearless: Change Your Life in 28 Days” (Center Street/Hachette-2012). Here are excerpts from that conversation.
ThinkAdvisor: Ever had a Wall Street patient who was as morally corrupt as Jordan Belfort, “The Wolf of Wall Street”?
Jonathan Alpert: I’m familiar with Belfort and can proudly say none of my patients are that devious!
What’s the audience takeaway after seeing that movie, based on Belfort’s life of debauchery and dishonesty?
A hatred toward Wall Street. It shows a lot of deception, lies and cheating. It’s negative press for Wall Street.
Why do many financial services folks participate in behaviors like pill-popping, using street drugs, excessive drinking and frequenting hookers?
To cope with stress, but those are very poor ways. Also, there’s the accessibility factor: drugs are prevalent on Wall Street, and there’s a lot of prescription drug abuse, too. Certain street drugs, like cocaine, seem to work well with the culture and the profession: going out late at night, working late. If people have to work through the night and don’t get much sleep, cocaine helps them through it — and through the next day.
Is that why they choose cocaine?
Some of these people tend to be impulsive and grandiose, and cocaine is a massive stimulant that plays into their personality.
You saw these behaviors during the financial crisis. What about now?
They’re still prevalent but don’t seem to be on the rise. Still, drug use on Wall Street is widespread and more so than in other industries. People drink and use drugs in good times and bad. They drink as a way to cope with stress and use drugs to distract. The sex is quite common and remains very accessible. Going to Asian massage parlors or strip bars is a way of dealing with stress.
Men often explain away the sex issue by saying they’re “sex addicts,” implying a helplessness to control their compulsions. Is this valid?
We see that in the popular culture with celebrities and politicians, like Anthony Weiner-types who get into trouble. Whether it’s a sex issue or a porn issue, they say they have a problem and use that as a defense. So there’s a trend to seeing those issues as problems as opposed to “He’s a creep.” People think “sex addiction” is an actual disorder. However, the medical community hasn’t come up with a diagnosis of “sex addiction.” It’s not accepted.
Well, what about greed? Is that addictive?
Yes. From a conditioning point of view, if the person desires something, such as money, and they get it through whatever means — trading, for example — it makes them feel good so they desire more to achieve a similar level of satisfaction. This behavior is reinforced, creating a reward system in the brain.
Where do financial advisors, traders and others in the industry use drugs, and where else do they go for indiscreet sex?
A lot of the cocaine use and sexual behavior is being done outside of work at clubs and bars. But people are popping prescription pills [anywhere]. They think they’re safe because a doctor prescribed them, but not necessarily, especially when mixed with alcohol and other drugs.
To what extent are Wall Street women using drugs and drinking to excess?
Not as much as the guys. But often younger people want to fit in with the culture, so they’re participating just to fit in.
Jordan Belfort has been called sociopathic and even psychopathic. Do you have Wall Street patients who can be so described?
Many of my patients, including those who work on Wall Street, show signs of sociopathy or psychopathy — old descriptions of what is now referred to as antisocial personality disorder. This is characterized by several traits: the person is usually charming, yet this veils his manipulative ways. He might break the law and have a blatant disregard for others. Lying, cheating and fighting are commonplace. These people often use drugs, are easily angered and have an arrogance about them. They also show very little remorse or guilt if they hurt someone or if they’re wrong.
At what point do financial services professionals seek your help?
Often they don’t come in on their own volition but because they were caught doing something — their wives or significant others caught them looking at porn or cheating — and they were forced to see me.
Why do they acquiesce and come in?
To save their marriages. But many times it’s because they’re protective of their fortune: When they fear divorce, they’re afraid of losing what they’ve gained. By the way, I’ve often also found wives who are quite aware of their husbands’ indiscretions and are having their own fun on the side.