what is a financial therapist

What a Financial Therapist Can Do For Your Mental Health

08.21.2023 — Megan McIntyre

Money is a sensitive topic that can bring out a lot of complicated emotions for many people. Maybe you’re anxious about your ballooning debt-to-savings ratio. Or, perhaps you’re untangling the complicated web of generational financial trauma. No matter your money woes, the stress it causes can take a toll on your mental health in the form of depression, anxiety, and feelings of shame.

While financial advisors and coaches can provide plenty of resources around getting your finances in a healthy place, they aren’t necessarily equipped to help you deal with the mental health portion of that journey. In those instances, you need the help of a financial therapist.

What Is a Financial Therapist?

A financial therapist is a professional who blends financial coaching and behavioral therapy. As Ed Coambs, a therapy-informed financial planner and author of The Healthy Love & Money Way, notes, financial therapy dives deep into your mental health and patterns, how you were raised, and your beliefs around money while also being able to help simplify some of the confusing aspects of your finances.

“A financial planner is able to look at all the different buckets of a person’s life — cash flow, investments, taxes, insurance, education funding, estate planning — and see how they are doing in each area and give guidance on how to improve,” explains Coambs. “Coaches will often look at where you are today and what you are trying to accomplish.” 

The assumption, he notes, is that most people who see a financial coach are psychologically healthy enough to be able to take the plan that a coach will put together and move forward with it. However, if you’re someone who is dealing with some sort of past trauma or psychological block, no amount of coaching will help you break those bad money habits — which is where financial therapy comes in. “In financial therapy, we’re really interested in people’s patterns of thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and relationship dynamics around money and helping to start to shift those so that they have a more comfortable or helpful relationship with money.”

What Can a Financial Therapist Help You With?

While therapy itself has become more commonplace, financial therapy is a relatively new field (the Financial Therapy Association was founded in 2009) and many people don’t know the type of support financial therapists provide even exists or the specific issues they can help them work through. “A lot of the work I do with my clients is centered around their relationship with money,” says financial therapist Aja Evans, “but I do a lot of work looking at how some of the patterns and beliefs that they had about money when they were growing up that were very necessary — whether that was for survival or just for how the family thought — and if those beliefs and narratives still apply to their life today.”

According to Evans, that can be anything from a person that came from a place of poverty and now is making a significant amount of money and is trying to navigate what it means to make more money than their parents, or what it means to be living a very different life than the community of origin that they grew up in. It can also mean what it feels like when you don’t have as much in common with some of your friends who don’t make as much money as you do. There can also be forms of financial manipulation from your family or loved ones to work through, or generational financial trauma to come to terms with.

What To Look For in a Financial Therapist

Because financial therapy is still so new, Coambs says it’s only in the last four or five years that a minimum knowledge base has been put in place for someone to call themselves a Certified Financial Therapist (CFT). As there are currently no degree programs for financial therapy, many who practice financial therapy do so as licensed family therapists with financial coaching training. As it’s not a regulated term, Coambs says your best bet for finding someone trained in financial therapy techniques who would be a good fit for your particular needs is to go through the Financial Therapy Association, which lists providers in your area with different areas of expertise.

Is Financial Therapy Right For You?

Money stress, especially in the days of high inflation, student debt, and looming fears of a recession, can feel overwhelming. So, how do you know if a financial therapist is right for you? According to Coambs, if you have intermittent stress about paying your bills, you most likely aren’t someone who is in dire need of a financial therapist. However, if you are someone who, for instance, is in chronic conflict with your partner about what to do with your money and have exhausted all other avenues and options for help to no avail, financial therapy could be an option to find out what is causing this impasse over your financial decisions. “The challenge oftentimes is we treat relatively benign symptoms as benign symptoms when they’re actually symptomatic of something far more significant than we can fully realize,” says Coambs. “It’s the fear of discovering that this is actually a much bigger issue than I thought, and the deferral of getting care that is very problematic.”

If your money habits continue to cause you stress and you just can’t seem to get a handle on your financial behaviors and your complicated emotions around them, a financial therapist might be the partner you need to get both your finances and your mental health in a more positive place.

Megan McIntyre