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Using Financial Therapy to Deal With Money Issues

A financial therapist can help you get to the root of your problem

By Pat Olsen

Like many married couples, Stephen and Kathy Read of Wayne, Pa., knock heads about money. Stephen, a retired engineer in his mid-70s, is a spender. Kathy, a musician in her mid-60s, is frugal. In 2016, they decided to talk to a money therapist. “They’re supposed to know about these things,” says Stephen.

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Meeting with the financial therapist, the Reads say, was a huge help. Stephen says he came away realizing that he and his wife “kind of complement each other.“ Now, he says, he has “great respect” for her financial caution.

Also, as a result of their sessions, the couple were motivated to visit a financial adviser. That helped, too. Theirs is a second marriage for both and the pair had kept their assets separate since getting married, but the adviser recommended combining them.

“I didn’t think Kathy would want that, but she did it, and it really brought us together. Everything is more out in the open now,” Stephen says.

Financial therapy normally involves talking with people about the beliefs they formed about money in childhood.

If you have money issues that are stressful, you might want to consider seeing a financial therapist, too.

What Is Financial Therapy?

So, what exactly is financial therapy? And who offers it?

The Financial Therapy Association (FTA) describes financial therapy as “a process informed by both therapeutic and financial competencies that helps people think, feel, and behave differently with money to improve overall well-being through evidence-based practices and interventions.” Put simply, according to FTA President Meghaan Lurtz, financial therapists help with emotional and relationship issues surrounding money. The work normally involves talking with people about the beliefs they formed about money in childhood.

Practitioners include mental health professionals such as psychologists and marriage and family therapists, as well as financial consultants and advisers. They can choose to become a Certified Financial Therapist after completing a program offered by colleges and, as of recently, the FTA, and then passing a test.

Why People See Financial Therapists

Financial therapists say people see them for a variety of reasons.

Linda Case, a financial therapist in Philadelphia, says successful business owners and professionals sometimes feel they never have enough money, which leads them to feel they’re personally never enough. Conversely, some people receive financial therapy because they believe they don’t deserve their success. Others find their debt weighing on them.

One of Case’s clients who’d accumulated significant debt couldn’t feel at ease with the family members she owed money. But she couldn’t turn down persuasive salespeople in department stores either. Case often has clients like this create a spending plan for 30 days, tracking money coming in and the amount they spend, as well as what they’re spending on.

“It creates awareness about what they’re actually doing with money because so many people don’t know where it’s going,” Case notes.

This kind of assignment is just a starting point, though.

“I follow that with having them identify their top values and then create awareness as to whether they’re spending money based on their stated values. It gives them a framework for their spending,” adds Case.  Then she helps clients understand how their spending matches their values (or doesn’t) and reduces any shame around certain spending, such as at Starbucks.

“They may be creating community while having their coffee,” she says.


Being laid off in midlife also motivates people to visit a financial therapist. The professionals sometimes find these clients’ fears of running out of money are part of something much bigger: depression. Helping them deal with that problem can then lead to better handling financial matters.

Second Marriages and Financial Therapy

Second marriages after 50 also lead some to financial therapists. They  have issues related to blended families as well as assets the spouses had acquired separately.

Often, one problem is the loyalty the partners feel to their biological children as opposed to their stepchildren. “Navigating that can be a sensitive subject,” says Ed Coambs, a financial therapist in Matthews, N.C. who left his career as a financial planner because he felt it lacked the human element. Now, Coambs offers financial therapy as part of marriage counseling and says doing so is seamless.

For second-marriage clients, Coambs frequently employs an exercise using what’s known as a money genogram —  “a family tree that tells the story of how they got to where there are now, which directly focuses on their family,” he explains.

When clients begin to interact with the money genogram, Coambs says, they start to see how they may be unconsciously repeating old family patterns related to money.

One of his clients remarked that she couldn’t understand how she was so fortunate financially when her siblings had fared so poorly. “This opened the opportunity to work with her guilt and shame around her financial position and her husband’s feelings about taking on an extended family member,” he says.

Finding, and Paying, a Financial Therapist

Financial therapists typically charge around $100 to $175 or more per hour.  To find one, you can start your search with the “Find a Financial Therapist” tool on the FTA website, which features members and lists their credentials and specialties.

As with choosing a doctor, lawyer or mental health or financial expert, speak with a few potential professionals. When you meet them to determine whether to hire one,  discuss your needs.

“Ask the financial therapist point-blank if they feel your interests are areas they can cover,” says Lurtz. “Financial therapists have a wide variety of backgrounds, so it is important for consumers to learn as much as they can about that individual’s practice, expertise and ability.”

Like conventional therapy, the number of sessions needed varies by the situation. A financial therapy relationship can last from a few months to longer.

Pat Olsen’s work has appeared in The New York Times, Diversity Woman, The Washington Post, Family Business and other publications. Read More
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