Income, Honesty, Altruism, Empathy

This piece of research demonstrates that the more affluent a person becomes – or even feels – the more likely they are to break the law, become less honest in interactions, and cheat 4 times as much as a person at the other end of the income scale just to win meaningless credits.

When richer people are made to feel poorer they become more altruistic. 

Why is this important for counselling?
Because it costs so much to train and to function as a counsellor the profession is increasingly limited to people who are affluent. Training addresses our individual psychology – as long as personal counselling is part of our training – but it ignores our foundations as individuals who belong to part of a group. This in itself is a trait of affluent people; they tend to perceive themselves as individuals, not part of a group. Counselling has long been focused on the client as an individual, ignoring their place or lack of it in a community and this may well be a reflection of the affluence of people who train as counsellors.

I trained and work with a number of affluent people, the majority of whom have been thoughtful and empathic, but that’s not the point. The point is that research demonstrates that the richer a person is the more likely they are to treat people with contempt. It also demonstrates that empathy decreases with affluence.

This doesn’t mean that people who are poor are more loving and caring, but that the richer we become the less we need to rely on anyone. We don’t need to build relationships, be attuned to friends, relatives and neighbours, or bother with reciprocity. We don’t need to be alert to the subtle signals of distress or relaxation from people in our communities because our communities are controlled and much less diverse that the communities of our poorer neighbours.

Counselling is research led, right? Why then is this basic research not brought simply and clearly to our training when it is central to our development as counsellors? How would it be for our tutors to say, “If you can afford this course you are going to have to work much harder to develop your empathy and we all have to be very alert to the ways in which power will play out between you and the people you are going to practice on during your training”?