As financial advisors, we help people attain financial independence. Usually, our personalized planning conversations are enough to help them establish a healthy, happy relationship with their money. But sometimes, we uncover bigger pain points we need to move past before we can move on.
There’s no shame in that. Almost all of us have picked up at least some emotional baggage along the way, with a few harmful money habits tucked into the side pockets. When financial advice isn’t enough, we may recommend engaging a financial therapist to assist. In the right circumstances, they can be an invaluable addition to your wealth management team.
When Can a Financial Therapist Help?
When is financial therapy warranted? As financial advisor Rick Kahler said in a 2019 article, “A person can benefit from financial therapy when their behaviors are not in line with their values.” Put another way, if it feels as if no amount of financial planning will resolve a greater discontent, this can be a sign that larger forces are at work, such as one or more of the following:
- Financial disconnect: You often spend to excess or are frugal beyond the point of reason, but you’re still unhappy, with a hole you can never quite fill.
- Financial denial: You tell yourself and others half-truths or outright lies about your money management. For example, your spouse doesn’t know about that extra account you’ve stashed at another bank, or just how deep in debt you’ve become. You convince yourself your secrets won’t hurt anyone; it will all just work itself out somehow.
- Financial codependency: Whether as a recipient or a provider, you’re trapped in a financial exchange with little joy in the giving or gratitude in the receiving. You long to get out from under the relationship, but you feel helpless to change it.
- Financial stonewalling: You have important financial issues to discuss with your aging parents, with your adult children, or as a couple. But you’re so used to not talking about money, you don’t know how to break the silence.
- Financial gridlock: Your financial interests are in disarray, with important changes you’d like to make. But even with an advisor to assist, you can’t bring yourself to take action. You remain mired in indecision.
- Financial frenzy: You yearn to have a sensible strategy guiding your financial journey, but you find yourself continually overhauling your investments, your advisors, and your overall approach. Nothing every seems right for very long.
- Financial depression: You reach a point where you feel there is no point. You stop even opening incoming bills. You shut out those offering to assist. Rather than bringing you any happiness, your money has become a source of misery and shame.
How Does a Financial Therapist Help?
Following are a few of the types of issues a financial therapist can help you reconcile:
- As a child: Was money a taboo subject when you were growing up? Even once you’re an adult, these early influences can weigh on your financial autonomy, and make it difficult to engage with your aging parents about their own challenges.
- As a parent: You may have justifiably developed a strong sense of financial duty to your children. This can leave you struggling to establish practical boundaries once your beloved babies become adults.
- As a couple: You and your spouse may each come into your relationship with very different saving, spending, investing, and borrowing behaviors. If entrenched differences go unaddressed, they can wreak havoc on an otherwise loving relationship.
- As an individual: You may feel anxious and ill-prepared to take care of your own or your family’s financial logistics. Or, on the flip side, you might believe you—and only you—must manage your entire household wealth. Either extreme can detract from reaching a healthy balance between your emotional confidence and your financial well-being.
Working With a Financial Therapist
To be clear, we all encounter personal stumbling blocks in our lives. But when a behavioral setback becomes a chronic disability, it may be time to bring in a financial therapist to help you move past the pain—especially if it’s crippling your financial future. In particular, if you or someone you know may be experiencing clinical depression (as touched on above), we urge you to reach out immediately for support. The first “ask” is often the hardest and most essential.
Some families also find it meaningful to consult with a financial therapist as an ounce of prevention, before any damage is done. This form of financial therapy can be particularly empowering during major life transitions such as during a business succession, as you prepare for retirement, or when a wealth transfer occurs.
How do you get started? As one financial therapist said: “For your money, you want a fiduciary. … For your emotional health, you want a licensed psychologist or therapist who knows how to treat the diagnoses you have and respects confidentiality.” Ideal matches also may depend on a therapist’s areas of expertise (such as family conflict, childhood trauma, or grief and anger management), and/or occupational niches (such as business owners, academics, or attorneys).
Here at Gessner Wealth Strategies, we can make appropriate introductions for our clients. You can also use the Financial Therapy Association’s “Find a Financial Therapist” to search for qualified professionals in your region. However, note that financial therapy is a relatively new profession. With its roots dating back to 2009, the Financial Therapy Association was the first group to offer financial therapist certification in 2019. As such, it’s worth ensuring your would-be therapist possesses a solid tripod of professional credentials, academic qualifications, and seasoned experience before you entrust yourself to their care.
As financial professionals, we pride ourselves on helping individuals and families maximize their financial and emotional independence through a well-managed relationship with their wealth. That said, we don’t pretend we can be all things to everyone. When it’s time to focus on the nexus between mental health and household wealth, a qualified financial therapist can be an integral part of your Gessner Wealth Strategies team. Ask us today how we can help.