To quote Carl Richards from The Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money, “Our conversations about money often leave us feeling confused, misunderstood, and even angry. Why is that? One reason is that we use money as a stand-in for deeper issues we don’t want to discuss….. It’s easier to talk around these issues than to face and acknowledge our feelings. Like religion and politics (which are also hard to talk about), money brings up uncomfortable feelings.”
Financial therapy is an exciting new specialty area of the counseling profession. While behavioral finance and “the psychology of money” have increasingly become the focus of academic research in the past thirty years, only more recently have counseling professionals across the country started to focus on financial therapy with clients. The Financial Therapy Association was formed in 2008, and started having annual conferences in 2010. Currently the association has over 300 members.
Promoting financial health is the main goal of financial therapy. When money is a source of stress and worry, that stress influences many aspects of life, including relationships between members of a couple, as well as with children, other family members, and friends. Money stress also affects careers and one’s health.
Most of our adult beliefs about money are based on our earlier life experiences. These core money issues can affect our adult relationships. In order to make lasting changes to budgeting, spending, savings, and investing plans, it is very helpful to learn more about our underlying beliefs and values in regard to money.
What exactly does a financial therapist do?
In many cases, financial therapists work in conjunction with other professionals, such as Certified Financial Planners. Per Atlanta psychologist and financial therapist Mary Gresham, PhD:
“A financial therapist generally listens at a deeper level, identifies dynamic issues and assists with processing any blocks to implementing plans.”
Using solution-focused therapy concepts, financial therapists help individuals, couples, and families:
- Examine inner-most feelings, beliefs, hopes, and fears about money
- Handle the emotional issues that can interfere with effective financial decision-making
- Identify money behaviors that are getting in the way of goals
- Clarify and re-evaluate values and priorities
- Develop a healthier, more realistic relationship with money, and a plan for managing it
- Reduce money-related stress and conflict, and improve family relationships
What specific situations might trigger people to seek out financial therapy?
As therapists know, money issues are in many cases the main source of stress that couples have. They often have difficulties talking about money without fighting. Learning to discuss money and values is an important skill for couples to have. Working as a money team is important, as is aligning values and priorities with actual spending.
Individuals might participate in financial therapy due to concerns about their relationship with money and how it is affecting their selfesteem, achieving goals, and relationships with family members. Examples of times when families may benefit from financial therapy include: when working through issues related to “emerging adult” children becoming more independent, going through the estate planning process, and when an inheritance has been received.
For more information on financial therapy, please visit www.financialtherapyassociation.org.