Financial Therapy Opportunities Growing

By William “Marty” Martin, Psy.D.
July 26, 2016

Financial therapy opportunities growingPsychologists are on the front lines of all that plagues America from eating disorders to post traumatic stress disorder. Psychologists are consulted on a range of issues from how to market new products to how to improve standardized test scores. But where are psychologists to offer guidance and support for the millions of Americans stressed out about money?

According to the APA, nearly three of four (72 percent) Americans reported feeling stressed about money some of the time during the past month. The Stress in America™:  Paying With Our Health survey conducted by Harris Poll found that nearly one of four reported feeling extreme stress about money during the previous month.

These findings are supported by an emerging body of empirical research suggesting that personal debt is one of the major risk factors for common mental disorders. Other studies discovered a statistically significant association between high financial debt and higher perceived stress, depression, diastolic blood pressure and worse self-reported general health. In short, financial stress is not good for your psychological and physical health.

To make matters worse, the Stress in America™: Paying With Our Health also found that slightly more than four of ten (43 percent) Americans do not have access to any emotional support related to these money stressors. Where do these Americans turn if they lack the emotional support?

Financial planners and advisors are ill-equipped from an education and training perspective to address these issues. Financial and money coaches tend to focus more on achieving tangible goals rather than addressing the emotional aspects.

Traditionally trained psychologists, psychiatrists and other licensed mental health professionals did not receive specific education and training to address money related matters – with the possible exception of addressing a patient/ client who is delinquent in paying for services.

Given the epidemiological need to support individuals suffering from financial stress and the apparent lack of educated, trained mental health professionals, the evolving field of what is commonly known as Financial Therapy has emerged. In fact, there is even a Financial Therapy Association.

A consideration letter for a Financial Psychology Division was submitted to the American Psychological Association but the division does not exist to date. Entrepreneurs would refer to this demand-supply demand as a market failure and market failures signal an opportunity for entrepreneurs. If you are an entrepreneurially oriented psychologist, then consider offering services to many Americans who can benefit from the education, training and expertise of trained psychologists.

Practice Models

Psychologists interested in offering a service which potentially may help millions of Americans have a host of practice models from which to select. These span the illness-wellness continuum as shown below.


  • Financial Therapy
  • Financial Counseling
  • Financial Wellness

Each of these three practice models will be briefly described below recognizing that this is not an exhaustive list.

Financial Therapy

Financial therapy focuses on the diagnosis and treatment of money disorders. Common money disorders or problematic financial behaviors include but are not limited to the following: pathological gambling, overspending, compulsive hoarding, workaholism, financial dependence in the case of domestic violence, financial enabling in the case of adult children living at home, financial denial and financial enmeshment. There are tools to assist psychologists in this practice model such as the Klontz Money Behavior Inventory.

Financial Counseling

Financial counseling emphasizes the reality that individuals, couples and families have to make adjustments to normal yet troubling changes in their financial status. Typical interventions associated with financial counseling include financial literacy, financial education and the integration of financial matters in a traditional counseling setting. However, financial counseling should not be confused with consumer credit counseling where the focus is to reduce the debt level first.

Financial Wellness

Financial wellness revolves around the notion that optimal well-being is related to one’s financial status and subjective well-being is partially dependent upon one’s financial status. Financial wellness is part of a more holistic portfolio of services including but not limited to optimal health and peak performance.

Levels of service

Not only can you select from any combination of the three practice models but you can also design your practice at three levels of service:

  • Individual
  • Group/family
  • Organizational

Each of these three levels of service will be detailed below. It is important to recognize that you are not making any mutually exclusive decisions.


Individual services are targeted at offering services along the financial illness-wellness continuum to a single individual. This may be reimbursed if there is an appropriate diagnosis or it may be more of a retail transaction. These services could be provided in your office, in the office of a financial advisor or even remotely based upon the laws in your state and the state in which your client resides.


Group services can include couples, families and groups. Regarding couples and families, this work can range from counseling about issues related to spending styles to preparing families members about major decisions before meeting with an attorney to discuss estate planning or succession planning. With regard to groups, support groups can be established as well as offering financial psychoeducational workshops at schools, colleges and large employers as part of their EAP or worksite wellness programs.


Organizational services focus on not working directly with clients or patients but with those who work with clients, such as financial advisors, estate attorneys and business brokers. These services are more closely aligned with those of a consulting psychologist who seeks to increase the capacity of other service providers and the organizations in which they work.


Health care will continue to undergo radical changes and millions of Americans will more than likely continue to search for emotional support as an increasing number of Americans prepare for and enter retirement. It is rare that an opportunity presents itself that is calling for the unique skill sets of psychologists. This is one of those moments in history and it is essential that psychologists have a role to play because if psychologists do not add value to this emerging field, financial advisors, coaches and others will clearly seize the opportunity in this largely unregulated space.

What are you waiting for? There is work to do and benefits to be gained.

References available from author

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William “Marty” Martin, MPH, Psy.D., CHES, is the director and associate professor of the Health Sector Management MBA program at DePaul University in Chicago. In his teaching, facilitating and consulting, Martin combines the clinical perspective he received from serving as a licensed clinical health psychologist with his experience as a public health educator. His email address is

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