Healing What Hurts: The Essential Role of a Financial Therapist

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 address before we can move forward.

There is no shame in that! Almost all of us have picked up at least some emotional baggage related to money. When standard 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 deeper forces are at work, such as one or more of the following:

  • You often spend to excess or are frugal beyond the point of reason, but you’re still unhappy, feeling as if there is an emotional hole you can never quite fill.
  • 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 you hide just how deep in debt you’ve become. You convince yourself your secrets won’t hurt anyone and that it will all just work itself out somehow.
  • 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.
  •  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.
  • 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.
  •  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 ever seems right for very long.
  •  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

Financial management can be difficult for anyone, and struggling at times does not necessarily mean you have a chronic issue in your relationship with money. But if your financial behaviors feel like they are crippling your financial future or causing you consistent distress, it may be time to bring in a financial therapist to help you move past the pain.

Some individuals or families also find it meaningful to consult with a financial therapist as an “ounce of prevention”.. This approach to financial therapy can be particularly empowering for major life transitions such as changing family structure, 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 Warren Street, 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 Warren Street team. Ask us today how we can help.

Kirsten C. Cadden, CFP®

Associate Advisor, Warren Street Wealth Advisors

Investment Advisor Representative, Warren Street Wealth Advisors, LLC., a Registered Investment Advisor

The information presented here represents opinions and is not meant as personal or actionable advice to any individual, corporation, or other entity. Any investments discussed carry unique risks and should be carefully considered and reviewed by you and your financial professional. Nothing in this document is a solicitation to buy or sell any securities, or an attempt to furnish personal investment advice. Warren Street Wealth Advisors may own securities referenced in this document. Due to the static nature of content, securities held may change over time and current trades may be contrary to outdated publications. Form ADV available upon request 714-876-6200.