How can you tell if someone might need financial therapy? Are there certain red flags?
Warning signs occur with regularity and include committed relationships that routinely end due to money conflicts; talented individuals who are incapable of supporting themselves, despite all logical advantages; and people who diligently pay down debt—only to start incurring it again.
The manner in which someone approaches financial decisions can also be a warning sign. For example, is money management a consistent part of a person’s life—or does she only deal with money when a crisis arises? Is she able to tolerate the emotions that arise when she’s trying to process options, make choices and follow through?
Financial literacy is helpful, but understanding compound interest will be of little help in treating a shopping addiction.
Are there any personality types that tend to be more susceptible to financial-psychological issues?
It’s important to note that no one is perfectly balanced or completely rational when it comes to money—and that isn’t unhealthy. However, highly anxious people often have a hard time building calm, deliberate money-management habits. To act reasonably, you must first neutralize the effects of stress—you can’t work through money challenges in the throes of anxiety because you aren’t thinking rationally.
That being said, people who have difficulty with self-regulation are also more prone to financial issues. Money can easily become one of the various tools—just like food, alcohol, drugs, sex and exercise—that enable dys-regulation. In the case of money, that can mean spending too much and saving too little. The difference with money is that there’s no such thing as total financial “abstinence,” so these tendencies need to be treated much like any other process disorder to return to a healthy balance.
Is financial therapy recognized by the psychiatric establishment?
Currently, most financial issues in the DSM would go under Axis IV: Psychosocial and Environmental Problems. Issues with money aren’t considered a discrete mental health disorder, so they’re not subject to diagnosis and treatment—unless they are tied to another issue, like a mood disorder.
The field of financial therapy is still very much in its infancy, especially in terms of its relationship to other mental-health professions. And there’s considerable debate within the field about who should be able to call themselves a financial therapist, and whether we need a separate credentialing process and code of ethics.
What about financial literacy education? Could that work as a substitute for financial therapy?
Financial literacy cannot be separated from financial therapy. Sound choices can only proceed from accurate information. However, financial literacy programs rarely focus on behavior, resistance to change or relationship issues.
Financial literacy is certainly helpful, but a thorough understanding of compound interest will be of little help in treating a compulsive shopping addiction—or in aiding a person who sabotages her financial security because she was raised to believe that wealth is evil. Financial behaviors tend to be more emotional than rational. So we need to be more emotionally literate in addition to being more financially literate.