Sunday, December 6, 2009

Therapists as financial planners?

Our seemingly never-ending recession has enabled a robust discussion of money's impact on mental health. In my own practice, understanding my clients' financial status has become as essential as knowing who lives in the household with them. After all, every one of us lives with money.
The University of Georgia and Kansas State University have escalated the conversation by studying "Financial Therapy," blending psychotherapy and financial planning. Today's story from the Associated Press provides a good overview.
It has long been a standard of care in treating couples, for instance, that the therapist at least be aware of their financial situation. So when the AP author writes that, "Experts say therapists are taught to look for mental health causes for problems, not monetary ones, and haven't traditionally learned how to help their clients budget or reduce debt," she gets it only half right. Therapists aren't financial planners and, I'm guessing, many of my colleagues would bristle at the suggestion that they become such.
Putting aside any personal aversion to math and economics, practicing these dual counseling roles, even with the requisite training and certification, could dramatically alter the therapeutic conversation to make it counter-therapeutic. How much unconditional positive regard -- the cornerstone of the therapeutic relationship -- can one experience while their spending is being cut?
Financial therapy is an interesting concept, but I think we're better off to refer our money-troubled clients out to a qualified financial planner.
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