What is Financial Therapy?

As private practitioners, money is something we interact with all the time, but get little formal education on. As a result, many private practitioners feel overwhelmed when it comes to their finances—and that’s no way to run a business. And, when practitioners haven’t fully processed their own negative emotions about money, it can be difficult for them to help clients with similar concerns. 

In these circumstances, seeing a financial therapist can be a good option—for practitioners and their clients. But what is a financial therapist? And can you tell when it’s time to find one?

What is Financial Therapy?

Financial therapy exists at the overlap of mental health and personal finance, looking at the way money shows up holistically in a person’s life. Rather than solely focusing on budgets, financial goals, and retirement plans, financial therapists look at the way individuals and couples think, feel, and behave with their money. Financial therapists have training in the psychology of money and financial management basics. That said, they are not substitutes for financial planners. Instead, they help people understand the behavioral hurdles that make it difficult to make wise financial decisions.

Who Should See a Financial Therapist?

The range of reasons a person seeks financial therapy can vary. All people, regardless of socioeconomic status, can experience emotional stress when it comes to their finances. Research shows that people are more comfortable talking about death and sex than they are talking about money. But just like anything else, avoiding your finances just because they make you uncomfortable can cause bigger problems down the road. 

Money is something we engage with daily—both as private practitioners and as people going about our lives. We spend it, earn it, save it, lend it, and donate it, and we owe it to ourselves to tend to our relationship with money the same way we would anything else that we interact with so much. 

Financial therapy might be right for someone if they experience thoughts or feelings of intense discomfort—like anxiety or shame—when engaging with their money. Another reason someone might seek a financial therapist is if they experience perfectionism, procrastination, or avoidance of financial behaviors. 

Think: feeling so anxious about choosing the right investment account that they put it off for years, or being so worried about earning more money that they chase pay raises at the detriment of their interpersonal relationships. 

As important as it is to nurture our relationship with money for its own sake, there are other benefits as well. Often when people pursue financial therapy, they pick up skills they can use in other parts of their lives, such as increased communication skills, coping skills, and stress-management techniques.

SimplePractice | What is Financial Therapy?


What Qualifies Someones To Provide Financial Therapy?

Currently, there’s no regulatory board for financial therapy, so you definitely need to do your homework before going to one. Some good signs to look for are a therapist who has a Financial Social Work certificate or has specialized training in financial therapy or psychology. The Financial Therapy Association has a “Certified Financial Therapist” certificate that can be obtained by both therapists and money experts alike after sitting for a test and completing 500 hours of relevant experience. 

It’s important that if you find someone with this certificate that they also have training as a therapist. They should not be calling themselves a therapist if they only have the certificate and not the appropriate degrees and licenses in a mental health-related field. Finally, some social work schools have Financial Social Work tracks—Kansas State University even has an entire financial therapy graduate program

Ultimately, when you’re trying to choose a financial therapist, you should look for the same credentials you would for a mental healthcare provider. The addition of financial therapy or financial psychology training adds another layer to consider, but your basic questions wouldn’t change.

When Should I See a Financial Therapist?

As mental health providers, we’re conditioned to believe that we can’t be “good therapists” and care about money at the same time. But this couldn’t be further from the truth! Think of financial wellness as a part of self-care. If we aren’t practicing financial self-care, that’s undoubtedly going to impact how we show up in the therapy room, and the guidance we give to our clients. 

Just because you’re a private practitioner yourself, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek help when you need it. If you’re struggling to change your behaviors around money, having unhealthy thoughts about money, or experiencing financial shame or anxiety, it might be time to see a financial therapist. 

Of course, money isn’t just some high-level concept. As business owners, you have to make real money decisions on a daily basis—like whether to raise your rates, or what kind of boundaries you should have around no-show or late fees. Some practitioners will even overwork themselves due to a fear of missing out on potential income. 

These are all questions that you need to address to be a successful business owner, but making these decisions shouldn’t make you feel overly anxious or guilty. A financial therapist can help you overcome those negative feelings so that you can move forward in a way that benefits your clients and your business. 

SimplePractice | What is Financial Therapy?


When Should I Refer a Client to Financial Therapy?

Although your clients may not have the same concerns that you do as a business owner, they almost definitely have money concerns of their own. When topics like money, work, retirement, or investing become recurring themes in therapy—and aren’t resolved by traditional therapeutic methods—it might be time to suggest your client see a financial therapist. 

Financial therapy can be an excellent addition to traditional treatment. For example, if you work with couples, and the couple keeps getting stuck on how to manage their money, a concurrent financial therapist might help them, so they can focus on the more significant issue at hand—their marriage—with you. Or let’s say you work with Gen Z clients who have anxiety about being new to the workforce. A concurrent financial therapist could be a great supplement to help them cope with the emotional side of managing money as a young adult. 

Although financial therapy is a relatively new field within the larger world of therapy, helping people think, feel, and behave in a healthy way with their money is something that requires special attention. Financial therapy can be beneficial to people of all walks of life, regardless of their socioeconomic status. But it can be especially helpful to private practitioners who are learning to navigate financial boundaries in their practice. 

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