A basic financial therapy definition is that it’s a practice that combines behavioral therapy with financial coaching. The goal is to help improve an individual’s feelings and behavior around money.
A certified financial therapist (or financial psychologist) can assist with issues such as money stress, overspending, or concerns about debt. But this differs from, say, a financial advisor who is helping you maximize your gain on investments or plan for your child’s future college expenses.
It also differs from financial coaching, which helps establish good money habits. Financial therapy can go deeper psychologically speaking. It can help a person work through childhood trauma related to money as well as money-related disorders.
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How Financial Therapy Works
According to the Financial Therapy Association (FTA) , financial therapy is a process informed by both therapeutic and financial expertise that helps people think, feel, and behave differently with money to improve overall well-being.
The profession sprang out of increasing evidence that money can be intrinsically tied to our hopes, frustrations, and fears, and also have a significant impact on our mental health.
What’s more, money can also have a major impact on our relationships. Indeed, research has shown that fighting about money is one of the top causes of conflict among couples.
And, while it might seem like bad habits and money arguments are things you can simply resolve on your own, the reality is that it’s often not that simple. That’s where financial therapy can help.
- Many financial roadblocks, such as chronic overspending or constantly worrying about money, often aren’t exclusively financial. In many cases, psychological, relational, and behavioral issues are also at play.
- Financial therapy can help patients recognize problematic behaviors, such as compulsive or impulsive shopping. It also aims to help people understand how various relationships and experiences may have led them to develop those behaviors as coping mechanisms or to form unrealistic or unhealthy beliefs.
- Along with offering practical financial advice, a financial therapist can reduce the feelings of shame, anxiety, and fear related to money. It can help people who are struggling to recommit to money goals.
The reasons why financial therapy can help are the same as why traditional psychological therapy can help: It can lead people to understand that they can do something to improve their situation. That, in turn, can instigate changes and healthier behaviors.
Like conventional therapy, the number of sessions needed will vary, depending on the situation. A financial therapy relationship can last from a few months to longer.
Generally, a financial therapist’s work is “done” when you feel your finances are orderly and you have the skills to keep them that way in the future.
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Financial Therapists vs. Financial Advisors
Financial advisors are professionals who help manage your money.
They are typically well-informed about their clients’ specific situations and can help with any number of money-related tasks, such as managing investments, brokering the purchase of stocks and funds, or creating a retirement plan.
However, psychological therapy is not why financial advisors are hired, nor is it their area of expertise.
If a person requires real emotional support or needs help breaking bad money habits, a licensed mental health professional, such as a financial therapist, should likely be involved.
A certified financial therapist (someone trained by the FTA) can work with you specifically on the emotional aspects of your relationship with money and provide support that gets to the root of deeper issues.
Due to the interdisciplinary nature of financial therapy, professionals who enroll in FTA education and certification include psychologists, marriage and family therapists, social workers, financial planners, accountants, counselors, and coaches. Some experts recommend being sure that the professional you work with is first and foremost a licensed therapist with a deep understanding of psychology.
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Financial Therapy vs. Other Therapy
If you are having issues related to money (say, losing sleep due to anxiety or arguing with your partner about spending), you might think almost any mental health professional could help.
A financial therapist, however, can be your best bet in this situation. These professionals have special training and expertise related to how money can impact a person’s emotional wellness.
They also are also trained in techniques to help clients overcome issues related to money. In other words, they are laser-focused on the kind of emotional responses and problematic habits that crop up around money.
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Do You Need a Financial Therapist?
If you’re considering whether a financial therapist could help you, you may want to think about your general relationship to money.
If you feel you have anxiety about money, or unhealthy behaviors and feelings when it comes to spending, budgeting, saving, or investing, you might benefit from exploring financial therapy.
Often, unhealthy saving, spending, or working habits are a symptom of other negative habits related to mental health (feelings of low self-worth, for instance).
Keep in mind that it’s possible to have an unhealthy relationship with money even if your finances are good on paper.
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Top 4 Reasons People Seek Financial Therapists
Here’s a more specific look at why a person might benefit from financial therapy.
1. Avoiding Money Management
Some people hide from their finances. They don’t budget, don’t know exactly how much they earn, pay bills late (or not at all). Working with a financial therapist could expose the root of this behavior and improve financial management.
2. Money Stress
Many people have anxiety around their money. This could involve worrying about how they will pay off their debt to worrying about going bankrupt, even though they are earning a good salary. Others may feel guilty about spending money or carry a lot of trauma about money from their childhood. A financial therapist can work to explore and resolve these emotions.
3. Fighting About Finances
If you often argue with your partner, friends, or other loved ones about money, you might find that a financial therapist can help you defuse this source of tension. It can help couples deal with what’s known as financial infidelity.
4. Poor Money Habits
Do you tend to “shop til you drop” when bored? Have you spent or gambled away your emergency fund? Do you overwork yourself in an effort to accumulate wealth? Do you tend to hop from one “get rich quick” scheme to another? A financial therapist could help you break these habits and develop new, beneficial ones.
These are some of the scenarios that a financial therapist could help you with.
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Finding a Financial Therapist
Like choosing any therapist, you often need to shop around a bit to find the right fit—someone you feel you can relate to, trust, and you also feel understands you.
For those who may not have access to a financial therapy professional in their backyard, many offer services via video conferencing.
You can start your search with the Find A Financial Therapist tool on the FTA website, which features members and lists their credentials and specialties.
Your accountant or financial counselor might also be a good source of referrals.
As with choosing any other financial expert or mental health professional, it’s a good idea to speak with a few potential candidates. In your initial conversations with candidates, you may want to discuss the therapist’s training and specific area of expertise, as well as your needs and situation. This can help you assess how good a match they are.
It can also be a good idea to ask how long they have been providing financial therapy services, what their fees are, as well as if some or all of the fee may be covered by your medical insurance.
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Financial therapy merges financial with emotional support to help people deal with and improve stress, decision-making, and habit-forming related to money.
If you frequently feel stressed and/or overwhelmed when you think about money (or you simply avoid thinking about money as much as possible), you might be able to benefit from at least a few sessions of financial therapy.
While it might seem like hiring a financial therapist is another expense that could complicate an already difficult financial situation, it might be better to view it as an investment in your emotional and financial wellness, one that could help you build financial stability and wealth in the future. It can be an important facet of your overall money management.
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