Many clients need financial therapy

By Anne Brennan Malec, Psy.D.
August 6, 2018

moneyMoney can be one of the biggest sources of internal and interpersonal conflict and struggle we experience in our lives. The APA reports that since 2007 money has been a top cause of stress for Americans.

The most recent survey found 72 percent of Americans stressed over money during the past month, and 31 percent of adults with partners reported money as a major source of conflict in their relationship. Money was reported as a very significant source of stress in their marriage by 77 percent of couples with children.

Research suggests that conflict about finances takes longer to resolve than anything else, and in some cases may predict divorce. Stress and anxiety about money can also have a significant impact on health and wellbeing.

Talking about money often feels uncomfortable or taboo, however it may be exactly what a client and his/her partner need – and with the help of financial therapy (FT), people can begin to resolve their issues.

Financial therapy is useful for individuals and couples, including those who have been married for many years and those who plan to marry or commit to a long-term partnership.

This type of therapy can be beneficial in any relationship where money is shared, for example with business partners or even in a parent-child diad. FT is an emerging field focused on evaluation and treatment of the “cognitive, emotional, behavioral, relational, and economic aspects of financial health” affecting one’s daily life.

A main objective of FT is to improve one’s relationship with money, thereby improving their quality of life. The Financial Therapy Association was founded in 2009 to provide a forum for financial professionals, mental health professionals and researchers to unite around a shared vision.

Financial therapists are professionally trained in the mental health and financial fields. FT focuses on the problems one experiences within themselves and within important relationships related to money and finances. It can also help create positive financial behavioral change, financial empowerment and a sense of financial security.

Through this process, clients will gain insight into their relationship with money. Clinicians will then help clients translate their findings into meaningful, healthy changes about how they relate to their partner or others in their lives, specifically surrounding finances.

FT may also involve exploring beliefs about money and self-worth  passed down from the family of origin. This could be finding ways to help  self-soothe anxieties that arise surrounding money or financial struggles.

It is not uncommon for clients engaging in disordered money behaviors to be unaware of their money scripts. Money scripts are underlying assumptions or beliefs that are typically only partially true, are often developed in childhood and unconsciously followed throughout adulthood.

These schemas often derive from an emotionally triggering financial event in one’s childhood that leaves a lasting impression, often until adulthood. Money scripts are often multi-generational within families and cultures and serve to significantly influence financial behaviors.

One clinical intervention for uncovering money scripts or schemas is to engage in a Couples Financial Interview. The interview will provide needed insight into how clients view money and where they may develop problematic financial behaviors.

Through addressing a series of questions, the clinician and client(s) will be able to understand long-held beliefs that have created the current difficulty, uncover unexpressed financial expectations of a partner and describe financial triggers that can create feelings of stress or anxiety, depression and relational conflict.

Suggested questions for clients:

*What is each partner’s financial role in the relationship – is there a main provider, secondary provider, co-provider, only provider?

• Is money a frequent source of conflict? If so, what aspects of money lead to conflict?
• What are the client’s biggest financial fears?
• What money-related cognitions shape each partner’s financial concerns and coping strategies?
• How will the financial situation change if the couple has children?
• Will one partner leave the workforce to care for children? If so, is this a temporary or permanent shift?
• What are each partner’s expectations for how their family’s finances should work?
• Were finances discussed before the couple got married or engaged? If not, why?
• How does a partner feel when the other partner questions spending or tries to place limits on spending?
• Does one partner dominate financial decisions?
• What are the expectations of income, freedom to spend, savings, retirement etc.?
• Does one partner value budgeting more than the other?

In asking about underlying financial beliefs and expectations in a non-judgmental and emotionally safe space, the financial therapist normalizes the topic for the couple, models how to talk about money and teaches the couple how to gain increased understanding of each other’s perspectives and reach resolution in future discussions.

Resources available from author

Share Button

Anne Brennan Malec. Psy.D., LMFT, is founder and managing partner of Symmetry Counseling, a counseling, coaching and psychotherapy group practice in downtown Chicago. In addition to managing the practice, she provides therapy to individuals, couples and families. Her email is:

Related Articles