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DealBreaker Interviews: Dr. Alden Cass, Hair Stylist Therapist to the Stars Wall Street-ers

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Dr. Alden Cass, “therapist to the Stars Wall Street-ers,” has an enormous, framed poster of Wall Street behind his desk. Cass, who refers to himself as a “performance enhancement strategist,” is a psychologist who specializes in curing the psychoses of investment bankers, stockbrokers and the like. Our Q&A after the jump...

The doc founded Catalyst Strategies Group, Inc. (CSG) in response to his research findings, which "found stockbrokers to be at a higher risk for mental health problems such as burnout, emotional exhaustion, substance abuse, major depression and anxiety disorders than the general population." He "works with financial advisors and traders to modify behaviors that are hampering their performance and to give them the mental edge within competative work environments," or something to that effect. On Friday, June 16, I took the DealBreaker limo over to Alden Cass’s (AC's) office to find out what kind of mental problems investment bankers could possibly have (because for the right price, let's face it, you can buy mental health).
Having recently suffered with a bout of carpal tunnel syndrome, rendering my right hand/wrist/forearm considerably weaker than my left, I thought it significant that the first thing Dr. Cass did when I walked into his office was put a stress ball—designed to look like a baseball—in my hand, which apparently he gives to all new clients. Wonderful, I thought to myself, now I can squeeze my way back to good health—and I didn’t even have to discuss Freud’s oral, anal and phallic stages, and which one I was currently occupying. Scrawled across the stress toy: "Don't aim, just throw the ball." Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen glared at me from behind Cass’s desk and I noticed that Cass's white and blue pinstriped shirt with big white cuffs matched Michael Douglas and Charlie Sheen's outfits perfectly. I don't think it was a coincidence.
DealBreaker: Is Alden Cass your real name? I’m asking because it has a sort of Carmen Electra (née Tara Leigh Patrick) gloss to it.
AC: Yes. It’s good for media.
How did you get interested in stockbrokers?
I was doing clinical work in grad school and was working with anxious, depressed patients. One of my best friends at the time was working at a brokerage house and I watched his personality change completely. He became angry and was cursing all the time. I was wondering how on earth a person’s personality can change within a span of five months.
How do you gain people’s trust?
A sales pitch.
I tell people that they’re wrong.
Could you elaborate?
I tell guys that aren’t used to hearing that they’re wrong, that they’re wrong; and through that you gain respect points.
Like street cred?
Is there an element to your interaction with the patients of not just being a psychologist but also a kind of career coach?
I don’t like the term career coach; it’s too hokey for me. I’m like a performance enhancement strategist.
Okay, so then if someone comes in who’s clearly under some sort of distress, do you focus on making his life better or his job productivity?
This is how it usually works. The males come in and say “I want to make more money.” And I teach them the skills to do that. In essence what I practice is what I created; it’s called Lifestyle Portfolio Management. I take on the role of what a financial planner does in terms of investments; I tell people, “You gotta diversify your portfolio!” And sometimes we talk about how they don’t talk to their wives.
The Wall Street Journal dubbed you “The Frazier Crane of Wall Street.” How do you feel about that? Would you rather be Niles?
No. I’d rather be neither; they’re too touchy-feely. I’d rather be Dr. Phil.
Who would you rather have as a client, Gordon Gekko or Seth Davis?
Gordon Gekko. He’s a results oriented guy; he’d have me workin’ for him [sic].
Let’s talk tension release; do you have any clients who use the West Garden Spa?
No, what’s that?
It’s a massage parlor of sorts; a lot of Wall Street-ers go there for massages et al.
Oh, cool.
Do you find any of your patients have fidelity problems with their wives?
Actually, I find that it’s the opposite. A lot of these guys are in their 30s and 40s and they’re going from living on the Upper East Side to Greenwich, CT or New Jersey or Long Island and, you know, the wives are left alone with the kids and they’re not communicating. And the husbands aren’t properly micromanaging their wives. And then all of a sudden [gets huge smile on his face] the electrician comes by during the day [smile gets broader] or the UPS guy [is practically giggling at this point] and… [Trails off; I’m supposed to “get” what he’s referring to.]
Can you give me a profile of one of your craziest patients?
Well…hmm…well I’d say one of my craziest patients—and I don’t like to use the word crazy—
No, I don’t like to use that either—
Reckless. I had a guy, 26, caught up in making money, very caught up in the allure of the social life.
I mean, um, sure; but more like cocaine abuse and late-night hours.
You have something called a Channeled Rage Workshop. I’m going to read you two statements and you tell me which, if either, qualify for the workshop. The first is an exchange between two people.
“Don't you have a canoli you can stick in your mouth?” “Don't you have a menorah you could shove up your ass?” is the first.
“When I get a hold of the son of a bitch who leaked this I’m going to tear his eyeballs out” is the second.
Does either of those…qualify?
The first, no. That’s just guys being guys. The second yes, I’d say that qualifies.
You have an advice column in Trader Daily. Would you call yourself the “Dear Abby of Trading”?
No, “The Hitch for Traders.”
Will Smith fan?
You know, he’s somewhat entertaining.
You’ve talked exclusively about male patients; do you see any women?
Much fewer; when I do have women come in I talk to them in the same way as I do the men; which is kind of funny because that's not how I do it in my day to day life.
Do a lot of your patients have the "don't pitch the bitch mentality"? As in, do you encounter a lot of misogynists?
It’s more of the….umm…you know, I was in a fraternity when I was younger—
What fraternity?
TKE. It’s like, it’s like being on a baseball team. It’s guys being guys. Like, you know, it’s like a team, it’s just a lifestyle.
Hence the baseball stress ball?
Yeah. I like to deal in sports metaphors. I played baseball.
What’s your favorite sports metaphor?
“Don’t aim, just throw the ball.” It’s on the stress ball.
What are your second and third favorites?
“Keep your eye on the ball” and “Swing through the hitting zone.”
What else do you tell your patients?
I teach them “Act as if” tips, which is from the movie Boiler Room. “Always be closing” is a good one, too. A lot of my workshops have Gekko quotes, too. I also like “Don’t get emotional about stocks; it clouds your judgment.”
Well, I think you’ve answered all my questions.
I’m upset you didn’t talk about American Psycho.
Okay, what would you like to tell me about American Psycho?
I mean, that’s a classic; the business card scene, the Valentino couture suits. You know, sometimes, my office, at night, is like a fashion show. You see one designer suit better than the next.
Well, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today.
In the limo back to DealBreaker HQs, I began to wonder—since I had forgotten to ask—what people pay for this kind of thing. I immediately emailed the doc, who replied with:
“Anywhere between $250-350 per hour. 350 is our Back in 45 Service which is described on my website which involves me going off site to their offices, or restaurants for coaching. The cost of the dinner or lunch is on the client and their choices are usually impressive.”
$350, eh? Not too steep, but if you're trying to cut back on expenses, I recommend visiting your local Blockbuster; for $4.50 you get pretty much the same exact thing, though, sadly, no stress ball. Which I have to say, is kind of a deal breaker. My wrist’s feeling better already.


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How Can Wall Street Feel Alive Again?

As some of you may recall, there was a time not too long ago when you could work on Wall Street and be compensated in a way that made you feel special. Appreciated. Loved. Eight, nine, ten-figures of love. Now, obviously, not so much. But that is not what's eating the industry's most fragile spirits of late. They are fine taking pay cuts. They could care less about the money. What they're not fine with is having the rush, the intensity, the adrenaline-pumping fear that comes with, say, putting on a trade in which maybe the firm will make $1 billion or maybe it'll lose $10 billion, WHO KNOWS, IT'S ALL RELATIVE, I CAN'T FEEL MY LEGS, THAT'S WHAT MAKES IT SO EXCITING taken away from them. Take Sean George. He used to spend his days destroying company property and now, thanks to financial regulation, has had to get his kicks elsewhere. Sean George kneeled in the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan. He wasn’t praying. A gash below his right brow bled into his eye and down his nose before a knee to his groin sent him to the floor. George, 39, head of credit-derivatives trading at Jefferies, was making his Muay Thai debut at the church June 22 in a sport that allows kicking, elbowing and kneeing. His eye was swelling shut by the time he lost in a split decision. It was the happiest he’s been all year, he said. “Right now at work I’m making less risk decisions -- and I enjoy taking risks,” George, who headed investment-grade credit-default-swap trading at Deutsche Bank AG before he joined Jefferies last year, said in an interview. “If you’re in it for the game and the fight, the game’s over and the fight’s over.” Risk is what drew George and the colleagues he respects to Wall Street, he said. He could bring in millions of dollars in a single month at his peak, and trading was so intense that during one credit-default-swap deal he smashed a phone against his desk, sending part of it three rows away, “one of the records for the best break,” he said. Ethan Garber's lost that tingly feeling in his plums. “There’s no sexiness, there’s no fun, there’s no intellectual intrigue, either,” said Ethan Garber, who ran proprietary credit-arbitrage portfolios for Credit Suisse Group AG and Bear Stearns Cos. “A lot of my friends who actually lingered for the last four years are all now getting fired anyway,” said Garber, 45, currently CEO of IdleAir, a Knoxville, Tennessee-based firm that provides electricity at truck stops. “The air is taken out.” Robert McTamaney has been reduced to doing his best impression of a whiskey-swilling, cigar-chomping newspaper man from the 1940's, who we assume addressed Bloomberg's Max Abelson as "toots" here. “The socks are higher, the skirts are longer,” said McTamaney, who helped run Goldman Sachs’s equities- trading business in Asia. “It’s like styles: They change, and you’ve got to change with it or be left behind.” Former King Street Capital and Bank of America trader Sam Polk isn't gonna lie, the worst part of Wall Street 2.0 is not being able to feel like a god by dropping $10,000 for bottle service on Wednesday nights, and sometimes even Thursdays. “You could be a 20-something trader three years out of school, able to go to any restaurant or club or ballgame on any night that you wanted, and it was totally paid for,” he said. “It was a tremendous feeling of power.” Michael Meyer is dying a slow, painful death. “The light at the end of the tunnel is dim,” said Meyer, now co-head of sales and trading at New York investment bank Seaport Group. Clearly, it's not pretty. But here at Dealbreaker we're about offering solutions, not whining about problems. How can these guys and girls replicate the feelings they once got by taking on risk on the job, if, unlike Sean George, getting kicked in the balls is not their thing? Drinking the carton of milk in the break room that's been sitting out for two days, telling the boss's wife it looks like she's gained a couple pounds, having unprotected sex with a junkie, shouting "You go girl!" at yourself in spin class after being kindly told to "Shut the fuck up" or else, and leaving dirty dishes in the sink all seem like good jumping off points but we can do better. These people need our help. Bloodied Trader Pines For Risk As Wall Street Retreats [Bloomberg]