Have you ever made an impulse purchase that resulted in feelings of guilt, anger, or anxiety? I certainly have. I’ll never forget booking a vacation three years ago that I knew I couldn’t afford. I felt pretty intense guilt in the days afterward.
But what if your experiences with money start leading to unhealthy financial habits that affect your daily life — even your relationships? Where do you turn?
You could consider seeing a financial therapist. Financial therapy is a new form of counseling that deals with the psychology of money.
It’s a rapidly growing industry in the world of mental health — the Financial Therapy Association (FTA), an overarching regulatory body for financial therapists, reports the organization maintains over 225 members made up of practitioners and researchers from mental health, financial planning, and financial therapy.
Financial therapists are like hybrid practitioners who merge financial planning with emotional support to help people get a handle on financial stress. Let’s look at some of the symptoms of financial anxiety and how a financial therapist can help address your money worries.
How Do You Know You Need a Financial Therapist?
There are many examples of unhealthy financial routines, notes Eric Dammann, Ph.D., a New York-based clinical psychologist and psychoanalyst who specializes in financial therapy. Unhealthy routines can include gambling and compulsive shopping, overworking yourself to hoard money, avoiding financial issues that you need to deal with, or even committing financial infidelity.
And let’s face it, you could be doing none of these things but still have an unhealthy relationship with money. If the thought of opening your credit card statement — whether or not your spending is under control — gives you fits, you may need to talk to someone.
“The most common warning signs I have seen are excessive stress and/or preoccupation about money, being secretive about money, and having no clarity about one’s finances,” Dammann says.
Susan Bross, a member of the FTA and a personal finance educator, says that the clients she sees are sometimes “anxious, unclear, lacking confidence and peace of mind.” These individuals have noticed a pattern around their money that prevents them from getting the results that they want out of life.
It’s important to remember that financial stress doesn’t always discriminate.
It can affect all types of people — from those stuck in a cycle of debt to society’s most affluent citizens. As a whole, 62 percent of Americans suffer from money-related stress, according to a 2017 study by the American Psychological Association.
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The Cost of Financial Therapy
Rates vary across the board, but in general, they seem to be on par with the cost of conventional therapy. Bari Tessler Linden, a financial therapist and author of The Art of Money, believes that therapy or private financial services are “pricey and on the mid-to-high level of the pricing spectrum, so they would mostly serve the middle and upper classes.”
For her part, Linden provides a yearlong class at a lower price point than her private sessions. These cheaper classes help her to reach more people.
“The cost of financial therapy depends on the area and the experience of the professional,” says Josh Harris, treasurer of the FTA. “The range of hourly rates can be as low as $75 and as high as $300 or more.”
That being said, Harris also indicates that “many financial therapists work in conjunction with other professionals (financial planners, for example) who will cover part or all of the financial therapist’s hourly rate.”
Many of the FTA’s member practitioners have rates available on their individual websites, which include relevant details as to whether insurance can cover all or part of your financial therapy. This allows those considering money counseling to view the cost of financial therapy and decide if it works for their budget.
Where to Find a Financial Therapist
First, it’s important to know that the term “financial therapist” is still pretty loosely defined. While the FTA exists to “professionalize and adopt a standard of practice and code of ethics,” the industry is still unregulated and in its early stages of professional development.
That said, Kansas State University recently became the first institution to offer a graduate certificate in financial therapy. Faculty members from the university also helped found the FTA.
You can use its website search to locate financial therapists in your area. However, there are currently only 46 members listed in 22 states. That said, many members offer virtual services. This way, you can take advantage of online financial therapy over Skype and bypass the issue of location altogether.
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Picking the Right Financial Therapist for You
In addition to using this platform, Amanda Clayman, a financial therapist in New York City, recommends doing your own research. This way, you can check out each practitioner’s training and certifications.
Clayman notes that financial therapists could have a dual designation. In other words, they have both a financial planning designation and licensure as a mental health professional, such as a social worker or therapist.
On the other hand, they may only be native to one of the two professions, but have received additional training in the other. Clayman fits the latter description. She went to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in social work, then completed an additional certification in financial social work.
That being said, the most important part of choosing a therapist is trusting your gut.
“While you want to make sure a therapist is qualified, even more important is to feel like you connect with them,” says Rabbi Shlomo Slatkin, a licensed clinical professional counselor. “It is worth calling and speaking briefly about your situation over the phone so you can sense whether they would be a good fit” prior to meeting in person.
“All the qualifications in the world mean nothing if you don’t feel confident in their ability to help you,” Rabbi Slatkin says.
In the end, only you will know which financial therapist is best for you. Using FTA’s network of professionals, in addition to looking within your own health care network for therapists with dual designations, can be an effective first step in combating financial anxiety.
What Should You Expect During Financial Therapy?
As with other types of therapy, different practitioners have different approaches to helping their clients. However, here’s a basic example of what you might expect during your sessions with a financial therapist:
- Help with understanding your money history and your relationship with money growing up.
- Identifying emotional triggers and situations that can lead to unhealthy money behaviors and spending.
- Assessing poor financial habits — like gambling, binge shopping, or intentional financial ignorance — and their link to mental health.
- Developing tools, both financial and emotional, for coping.
Additionally, successful financial therapy entails a patient walking away with some of the following skills:
- Reducing or eliminating unhealthy spending habits.
- Eliminating toxic money behaviors, like overworking oneself to hoard money or completely avoiding money issues entirely.
- Gaining an insight into one’s own behavioral issues, understanding their interrelation as symptoms of mental health illness or disorder, and overcoming or adapting to said disorder.