Where Money Meets Feelings: Financial Therapy Finds Its Footing

“The financial therapy program trains people to recognize when an issue is outside of their expertise, and how to make a referral to someone else when necessary,” she said. Many financial planners deal with clients when they are facing major life events, such as marriage, divorce, career changes, retirement or a death in the family, and it’s normal for them to suggest a lawyer or an accountant. Why not a therapist?

Larger financial institutions are adopting more touchy-feely angles with their clients, too.

“Financial planners have always known that clients have trouble implementing goals even when they have been clearly outlined and demonstrated,” said Sonya Lutter, a founding member of the Financial Therapy Association who leads research and education at Herbers, a consultancy for financial advisory firms. “The part that’s been missing is the personal, behavioral element — a computer can’t just spit that out. A lot of big firms now recognize this, and are starting to integrate behavioral training into their work.”

Even the CFP Board, an organization that oversees the accreditation process for certified financial planners, has embraced the “soft skills” of money management. In January, the board added a section to its education program called “The Psychology of Financial Planning,” which covers “principles of counseling” and “client and planner attitudes, values and biases,” among other topics.

“Now anybody who wants to be a certified financial planner has to show competency in the psychology of financial planning, which is more or less financial therapy,” Dr. Lutter said.

With Americans feeling high financial anxiety, perhaps it’s inevitable that therapy and money should mix. It’s also a reflection of the growing challenges of our financial lives.

“Most of us no longer have stable careers for 30 years and then retire,” Ms. Clayman said. “We juggle multiple different jobs and income sources. We need to manage and plan for our future. And if we have a partner, we need tools for merging those two complex systems together. I would argue that’s a process that’s bigger than any spreadsheet can contain.”

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