Personal finance is all about “managing your money as well as saving and investing,” as Investopedia puts it. And it’s true. Your individual goals and values guide the way you handle money.
By that definition, personal finance is exactly that — incredibly personal.
Money can evoke a wide range of emotions, from positive feelings like joy, happiness, and confidence to more negative ones such as fear, guilt, and shame, among others.
To address the negative emotions, financial therapy has emerged as a form of intervention. This approach combines traditional therapy and counseling techniques and explores the psychological and emotional aspects that come with handling personal finance.
“It’s very similar, but it is all going to be under the guise of finances and money,” Aja Evans, a New York City-based clinically trained and licensed mental health counselor, and forthcoming author, says.
Evans works “solely under the guise of how money is interacting in people’s lives” and what behavioral health problems that brings up for them.
How Financial Therapy Works
Evans recommends seeing a financial therapist before a mental health crisis if possible, but help can be found even in heightened states of anxiety, panic, or frustration.
Early signs of a crisis or needing help include feeling stuck in a cycle of overspending or feeling imposter syndrome because of changes in income. Or it could be strong feelings of guilt after a reasonable purchase, and more.
The first step in financial therapy is finding a professional that can provide the service. A comprehensive directory of financial therapists can be accessed on the Financial Therapy Association website.
The directory is sortable and can help anyone find a financial therapist based on issues and needs, language, religious or spiritual beliefs, sexuality, and racial identities. There are several other sortable factors, such as fee structure, gender, and location.
“You can look at financial therapy almost as a spectrum,” Evans says. There are therapists “coming from the mental health side and are clinically trained, but there are people who are certified or have done other training and certifications coming from the financial professional side.”
Therapists are available in person or virtually, and many offer 15- to 30-minute consultations. As far as affording financial therapy, according to Laqeushia Clemons, health insurance can be used when the “client has a clinical diagnosis” related to their feelings about money.
Clemons is a Connecticut-based licensed clinical social worker and accredited financial counselor. She’s also behind “Its More Than Just a Budget: A Guided Financial Wellness Journal.”
For example, she says, if a client can’t sleep at night because of stress related to money, “then, on the treatment plan, we work on the anxiety around money.” She adds that it depends on the individual therapist to set a rate or sliding scale if insurance cannot be used.
“Just reaching out to a financial therapist to talk to them about what you think is going on is definitely a good start,” Clemons says.
Who Financial Therapy Is Good For
The clients Evans usually works with are first-generation wealth builders who are trying to navigate what it means to make more money than their parents.
“New York City is filled with a lot of people who are high-achieving and really pushing themselves in potentially very stressful jobs,” she says.
These types of clients are usually wanting to grow their generational wealth while trying to survive and live a life that feels good despite the high cost of living. To top it off, they’re also trying to take care of their parents and other family members.
Those who spend a lot of time on social media could also use a financial therapist because platforms like TikTok and Instagram shape people’s beliefs about money. Social media is a highlight reel that’s easy to believe, Evans says. If a friend goes on vacation, what we don’t see is the stress or debt they put themselves in to make that trip happen.
Clemons also works with couples, who may have different needs because of the role money plays in relationship dynamics.
“With couples, it’s usually trying to bring them together about what they have going on with their finances or what they’ve gone through emotionally around money that they never really worked through,” she says.
For example, a relationship can have a lack of transparency with money because of their earning dynamics, or they don’t talk about money at all.
“The couple work can be really interesting, but also very challenging because you’re dealing with two different people who have different ideals and perspectives on things,” Clemons explains. “But for a lot of people, it’s definitely really necessary.”
Seeking the guidance of a financial therapist can help people develop a more nuanced understanding of their finances and make better-informed decisions in their personal and professional lives.
“I think we decide that our character traits are related to how we deal with money and that’s just not true,” Evans says. “We’re valuable people whether we have debt, no debt, student loans, credit cards, financial mistakes — you can still have value as a person you’re still worthy.”
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