The melancholy of the wealthy

Articles The melancholy

One of the world’s most expensive rehabilitation centres serves the affluent at the Gold Coast of Zurich. Each patient here resides in his or her villa with a butler and a chauffeur, for which they pay up to 17,000 Swiss francs per day. How is it that people who have everything may be missing something?

An old mansion in Zollikon, built in 1907, with a pond in the garden, a sculpture made from rusted car parts, and Lake Zurich sparkling among the trees. A man in a white shirt, a black vest and a pair of polished shoes opens the door. Lars Kruger is the personal butler and a “BIO-R® chef”, which is what The Kusnacht Practice clinic calls its cooks. He is responsible for a single patient. The patient was picked up from the airport in the morning and driven here in a limousine. He will have his problems treated over the next few weeks in a three-storey building with six bedrooms that he will have all for himself.

The suitcases in the entrance hall have Turkish Airways labels. “It was barely yesterday that the patient had decided to come here,” says Sven Trachsler, the Head of Hospitality Services at the clinic. Fortunately, there was still a free villa available. “Otherwise, their decision could have been different.”

No more than seven patients can be admitted to this private residential therapy clinic at a time, but it’s because of their high status that the clinic has earned its exclusive reputation: UHNW individuals of the world reside in any of these seven rented guest villas located on the right shore of Lake Zurich in Küsnacht, Herrliberg, Zollikon and Erlenbach.

Many of the patients who come here are addicted to drugs, alcohol, the Internet, gambling, sex. They suffer from eating disorders, sleep disorders, depression, burnout. CEO Eduardo Greghi calls them “high achievers”. That’s who they were before their lives had plummeted. Generally, the CEO prefers to speak of them as “clients”.

Everything is so discreet here in Switzerland

The institution was opened in 2007. But even the neighbours here on the Gold Coast, where high hedges and trees separate the houses, don’t know who is enjoying a massage on a table in the nearby fitness room or is relaxing in the sauna every day. The name Küsnacht appears only when the media speculate where a certain actor or a royal family member could be receiving treatment in Switzerland. George Michael is said to have been here, as well the designer John Galliano. However, rumours remain unconfirmed. Because one of the most important reasons for staying here is discretion.

The clinic’s logo can be found on neither notepaper nor pens. The patients are willing to pay up to 17,000 Swiss francs a day for this, or 120,000 francs a week, which for a recommended stay of four to eight weeks can even amount up to nearly a million francs.

Our tour of the villa is only possible because the patient is currently undergoing an admission interview at the clinic’s offices in Zollikon, where a windowless basement also houses the clinic’s laboratory and other medical facilities. While his treatment programme is being discussed there, Lars the butler puts fresh flowers in a vase in the kitchen. Soon he’ll be preparing dinner. The diet is fully tailored to the patient’s needs and ought to support recovery. When the patient returns from the check-up, a fire will also be burning in the heart.

Many luxury clinics have been established over the last years in Switzerland, with the most recent one just at the end of the last year in Montreux, which attempt to draw the attention of the wealthy to their rehabilitation programmes with guarantees of privacy. Celebrities really enjoy the quiet Switzerland, which is why they come there. Tina Turner can leave her house in Küsnacht without worrying about being seen. The mountains are near, there’s water everywhere.

Küsnacht prides itself on the history of psychiatry and psychoanalysis that has influenced the region, as well as on its combination of hospitality and therapy. C. G. Jung founded the institute bearing his name here in 1948. Reportedly, earlier still he had given consultation at his home in Küsnacht to the American businessman Rowland Hazard, the son of an industrialist who influenced the founding of Alcoholics Anonymous, and treated him for his alcoholism. There’s a similar story concerning the foundation of the clinic. A Canadian manager who moved to Switzerland in the late 1990s became a caregiver when he allowed the drug-addicted son of his friends to live with him in Küsnacht. In this way, he found his calling, he studied psychology and trained as an addiction therapist. Thus The Kusnacht Practice was founded as a company in 2007. The owner and CEO Eduardo Greghi says that the close therapeutic relationship remains a part of the clinic’s philosophy: “We make a home for our clients.” As the son of a Brazilian farmer, Greghi grew up in humble surroundings. For him, to be close to the patients means also to take them out riding. He owns seven horses near Zurich.

Therapy by the heart

Let’s get back to the guest villa in Zollikon. Portrait photos stand lined up on the living room table; children’s toys lie on the floor. The patient arrived with his wife and child, and they will stay with him for the first few days, says Sven Trachsler, Head of Hospitality Services, who invited the family to the villa a few hours ago and showed them around the rooms: over the creaking parquet, past tall candlesticks and designer furniture. Trachsler stops before a large picture painted in bright colours from which a pair of eyes stares at him. “Typically, our psychologists will choose less disturbing art for the interiors,” he says. But the new resident doesn’t feel intimidated by it. Sheet music with David Bowie’s “Ashes to Ashes” is laid out on a piano. The following line can be read: “We know Major Tom’s a junkie.”

As Trachsler leads us from floor to floor, the view of the lake becomes ever grander, and he begins to speak about the other available villas. There are those in the “old English style”, directly by the lake, and another one arranged with a “feminine touch”. At the top, you can find the simple office and bedroom of the case manager, who lives here for the entirety of a patient’s stay. The staff also includes a housekeeper, dressed all in black, who is currently giving the rooms yet another check. This all-inclusive service, as if in a hotel, is characteristic of five-star-psychiatry, and it includes 70 permanent employees and 90 freelancers, from a yoga teacher to an acupuncturist. The clinic also cooperates with nearby hospitals should a specialist be needed. Daily conversational therapy is aimed at attempting to identify the causes that led to someone losing control over their life. As early as tomorrow, the new patient will have his first therapy session right here in the villa’s living room.

Wulf Rössler was the head of the clinic for social psychiatry of the Psychiatric University Hospital in Zurich for a long time. Back then, he mostly treated the poor – the underclass, drug addicts – while today he cares for millionaires in Küsnacht. He says, “Suffering can also result from social conditions.” The rich are at risk because they have unlimited access to what is conducive to addictions: the constant need for more. Many have questions about the meaning of life. “We tend to think that the rich must be happy. But research on happiness tells us that though

an abundance of money can certainly contribute to satisfaction, a private jet is not part of the equation.” How can the super-rich know who is their friend, and who’s only there to profit from their acquaintance?

Konrad Hitz, the Medical Director at The Kusnacht Practice, also knows that wealth can be a burden. In the past, he treated the social service dependent drug addicts from the Platzspitz Park in Zurich. While those who have nothing can rarely be compared with the privileged, he says: “The poor and the rich often become lost in similar ways.” However, there is one difference. “Sometimes, I’d see the addicts at the train station with their beer cans. There’d always be others around; they’d mingle among themselves.” Meanwhile, some of his current patients don’t become part of any social networks anymore. “Their best friend is perhaps their lawyer, and he’s someone they have to pay for.

“It was only about myself. Never about money.”

The relationship between the patients of the luxury clinic and their caregivers, who take them by the hand to teach them how to live once more, seems all the more intimate. It may cost a lot of money, but the empathy they are given serves to obscure it.

While the man in the villa in Zollikon remains a mystery, two former patients were available for a telephone conversation. First is the 39-years-old Norwegian, mother of two, who has married into a rich English family. For years she had suffered from extreme bulimia and abuse of laxatives, cocaine and alcohol. “No one noticed how deeply unhappy I was, or when I wished to be hugged and comforted,” she says, with the openness that rich people sometimes demonstrate when someone finds interest in their hardship. The other patient is a 61-year-old British woman who currently stays at her holiday home in Mexico. She came to Küsnacht because of her depression. Both of them praise the close relationship they had with their caregivers. One of them says:

“Everything was tailored to my needs. All of it, just about me.”

As for the other one: “Everyone made me feel like I was important because that’s what I was. It was never about money.” At least not for her. The behaviours learnt at the clinic remain helpful to them to this day, even on the occasions when they couldn’t prevent their “falling out of the nest again”, as the British woman puts it. As former patients, they can always keep in touch with the clinic so that their contact is maintained. Caregivers, typically their cook and butler, accompany the patients at home for the first few weeks, to ease them into the daily routine. A clause binds both sides of the contract at The Kusnacht Practice, and its presence is necessary: Patients shall not recruit any employees, and the employees shall not accept any job offers from the rich.

Care can’t be bought. Or only partial.

Translation of Birgit Schmid’s article: “Die Schwermut der Schwerreichen“. Published in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung on 25th October 2019.