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You’ve heard of therapy for your mental health, but have you ever considered getting therapy for your financial health?
Financial therapy is a growing field that essentially marries psychology with financial advice to help you resolve and get to the root of your money-related stresses. Here’s what to know about financial therapy before you decide if it’s right for you.
What Is Financial Therapy?
Financial therapy aims to help you understand how your financial life and decisions are affected by your emotions, behavior and personal experiences. It can be practiced by licensed therapists and financial professionals alike. For instance, financial therapists may have a background in therapy, counseling or other type of mental-health service but developed a focus on personal-finance-related issues. Or they may be qualified to provide broader financial planning services but also received education or credentials in financial therapy or counseling.
Financial therapy sessions occur in a traditional therapy setting (think: comfy couches, not a stuffy accountant’s office) and may address both your anxieties related to money as well as the practical advice you need to help manage your finances better, says Ed Kizer, who has practiced financial therapy for over five years. Some therapists may also offer sessions remotely or online. And don't be surprised to see more traditional financial advisory offices adding financial therapy to their services as a way to give you a more comprehensive understanding of your relationship with money.
Financial therapy is still a relatively new, and therefore unregulated, field, so it’s important to fully research the qualifications of a potential financial therapist before you decide to work with one. Two of the better-known professional groups include the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE), which offers several certification programs, and the Financial Therapy Association, which will soon offer its own certification. Kansas State University is also the first state school to offer a financial therapy certificate, where graduates learn how to integrate behavioral and emotional elements with personal finance services.
What Does Financial Therapy Address?
Barbara G. Feinberg, a life coach and psychotherapist, notes that financial therapy can help you understand the emotional impact of money on yourself and your relationships. It can also help you understand how the money messages you learned growing up impact your current lifestyle.
For example, if you grew up without financial stability, you may end up choosing a job that offers more security even if it doesn’t fulfill you. Understanding why you felt compelled to choose that job might help you find the power to change that money mindset or come to terms with it.
Or maybe you and your partner find yourselves fighting about your spending habits too often. The root of the tension is likely not just the spending itself — it’s the fact that to the partner who lives to save, a hefty nest egg equals love and security. If you’re not aware of how your beliefs about money are affecting your relationship, your partner may be hurt in the process of co-managing your finances.
Kizer recommends anyone who feels they are not making progress with their finances consider financial therapy. And getting help isn’t limited to certain income levels, he adds. After all, higher-income individuals are not immune to financial struggles. Rather, financial therapy is about understanding how your money mindset affects the way you approach financial management — and knowing the root of your problem can help you change your money habits for the better.
“Money is just a major trigger for so many people,” he says. “It can be a trigger for stressors or things that we experienced in childhood. It can be a trigger for how we view our own self-worth. And it can be a source of great conflict if we have a relationship with someone who has different values or experiences with money.”
How Do I Find a Financial Therapist?
You can search the AFCPE site or the Financial Therapy Association Network to find a member in your area. You can also contact local therapists to find out if they offer financial therapy or know someone who does. Make sure that you’re finding people who are licensed and certified in either the mental health or financial planning fields — or, better yet, both.
Zaneilia Harris, CFP®, president of Harris & Harris Wealth Management, recommends you interview potential therapists to get a sense of how they approach working with clients. “Ask what you can expect from their sessions, how they will help you understand triggers, and if it is possible to work in cooperation with your financial advisor or planner,” she says. Having all parties at the table can result in a more comprehensive plan of action that addresses both your emotional and your practical needs.
One other crucial piece of advice: If you’re having trouble with financial decision-making after facing trauma or loss in your life, you may need to deal with that issue first and foremost. For example, if you find yourself using impulse shopping as a way to cope with the death of a loved one, you might want to pursue grief counseling first. A designated trauma or loss therapist can help you work though your emotional state before you turn to financial therapy to iron out the details around your financial situation.
How Much Does Financial Therapy Cost?
The investment for a financial therapist varies widely, depending on your insurance coverage. Financial therapy through a licensed therapist should be charged no differently than a regular therapy session, which can range anywhere between $75 to $200 per visit. And just like with traditional therapy, you may be able to save money by choosing online or group options or using a tax-advantaged health savings account.
If a financial therapist is not available in your area, Feinberg suggests that anyone who is currently in therapy can, and should, start a conversation with their therapist around how they feel about money. The more we talk about finances in our everyday lives, she says, the more it will become an accepted topic to discuss in traditional therapy.
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.