What You Should Know About Financial Therapy

Source: Thinkstock

The way you approach personal money management can either improve or disrupt your life. Each financial decision will in some way impact your overall well-being. Significant problems can arise when the way you handle money is negatively impacting your life over an extended period of time, causing significant stress, depression, or anxiety. If you’ve found yourself in a place where your relationship with money is having a long-term negative impact, financial therapy may be an option.

Financial Therapist Amanda Clayman chatted with The Cheat Sheet and explained what financial therapy is, how to get started, and what you can expect if you choose to seek help from a financial therapist.


The Cheat Sheet: What is a financial therapist?

Amanda Clayman: I will start with the definition from the Financial Therapy Association, of which I’m a member: a financial therapist is focused on enhancing financial well-being through the study of the emotional, behavioral, cognitive, relational, economic, and integrative aspects of financial health. The work brings together financial counseling and planning with personal counseling, marriage and family therapy, sociology, social work, and psychology.


CS: What is a sign of good financial therapy?

AC: Good financial therapy often happens in a collaborative network of professionals. For example, when clients need more intensive psychotherapy I will refer to another mental health professional who does that type of ongoing work, and when a tax, investment, or financial planning need presents itself, I will refer or confer with an appropriate professional in those fields. We must all be very mindful to work within our individual professional training and scope of practice.


CS: How can someone find a financial therapist?

AC: A good place to start is the Financial Therapy Association directory, but the directory is fairly small and limited to members who pay to be a part of it. A simple Google search will also turn up a lot of people who practice under that designation. One caution, though, is that the term “Financial Therapist” is an unregulated title, meaning that anyone with (or without) any credential can call him or herself a financial therapist. Since this area of practice is really the intersection of two different fields, most financial therapists have a “native” area of training and licensure, and then will add an additional credential that incorporates the other area of study. For example, I am a licensed social worker, and have an additional certification in financial social work. Some people do have dual degrees/professional accreditations, such as completing both CFP and clinical counseling programs. I think it helps to do your homework, make contact with the practitioner, explain what you’re looking for, and assess for a good fit.

Source: iStock

Source: iStock

CS: What are some benefits of financial therapy?

AC: Money is a very complex entity in our lives. It influences our identity, our personal relationships, and the ways we self-regulate and take care of ourselves. Money is also tied to our basic sense of survival, so not only do our brains light up like pinball machines around any question of risk and reward, but financial disagreements can quickly turn in bloody battles with friends and loved ones. If we think of money as a purely rational entity, we overlook the many other factors that influence financial behavior, and often find that money takes on a very negative role in our lives. We get stuck in patterns that we don’t know how to address or resolve. Financial therapy can help, as it is the best way to help clients understand and treat money contextually, holistically, and consciously.


CS: What else is important to know about financial therapy and finding a therapist?

AC: This is a field that is still in its infancy and still very much taking shape. There is no “one-size-fits-all” financial therapist. For example, the work and the setting don’t necessarily look like what you would expect from our existing picture of a psychotherapist or financial planner sitting in an office and working with individuals or couples on an ongoing basis. I, for example, do most of my work in a social services agency, where the financial therapy work is integrated with others who focus on employment counseling, addiction/recovery case management, services for people with HIV/AIDS, etc. We see financial wellness as an aspect of all of those other issues and challenges. Other financial therapists practice within private wealth management firms. It’s a very interesting time in the field, as there is a sense of theoretical/practical convergence from all of these other disparate settings and fields.

More from Personal Finance Cheat Sheet: