Quick Fix Financial Therapy

People who are in financial distress, such as hiding purchases, spending compulsively or avoiding their financial statements, definitely should seek help, according to Ed Coambs, a certified financial planner and licensed family and marriage therapist who specializes in financial therapy.

Money is about more than numbers: emotions are often at play too. Just as you can seek professional help for unhealthy issues in life, financial therapists can help you deal with problems related to money.

Here are questions and answers to help you decide if you could benefit:

QUESTION: What is financial therapy?

ANSWER: Financial therapy is the practice of helping people with how they think, feel and behave with money to improve their well-being, according to the Financial Therapy Association.

It’s a relatively new niche. The FTA — a professional organization created to set standards for the industry — was established in 2010 and began to offer certifications this year, FTA president Meghaan Lurtz said.

The service is generally provided by a financial or mental health professional. The FTA offers varying degrees of certification, which leads to differing degrees of assistance, based on the provider’s level of education and training.

Financial therapy could be assistance for people who can’t keep tabs on their cash, or help for couples who regularly fight about money. But it can also include more serious matters like gambling addiction.

Q: What do the therapists do?

A: It depends on who you see and what you are seeing them for.

If you are seeing a family and marriage therapist about issues in your relationship and money is a major sticking point, someone with a specialty in financial therapy may be able to better sort through those. If you go to see a financial adviser and they work in the financial therapy space, they may be able to elicit better answers from you on how you feel about retirement or how market volatility makes you feel, and what that means for your financial planning.

However, a financial adviser should not be helping you with mental health issues like depression. Part of the training is recognizing when to refer a client to get the help they need.

People who receive the first level of FTA certification, such as a fee-only certified financial planner, aren’t providing therapy in a traditional sense but do have a more informed position on emotional aspects of money. Only those with some mental health training or who are actively licensed mental health professionals, such as a social worker, psychologist or family and marriage therapist, can receive the higher-tier certification.

Q: Who needs one?

A: According to financial therapists, everyone could stand to benefit. But in reality, those whose issues with money are interfering with their life or relationships are likely the best candidates.

People who are in financial distress — such as hiding purchases, spending compulsively or avoiding their financial statements — definitely should seek help, according to Coambs. But people who have a childhood with a lot of conflict about money or have disorders such as obsessive compulsive disorder or post-traumatic stress disorder may also want to consider if that is impacting their financial well-being as well.

A therapist or other mental health professional will be able to tie their understanding of the human psyche to the relationship with money, he said. Whereas a financial planner might be using some therapeutic skill in their planning.

The cost varies widely by practitioner, according to Lurtz.