A beginner’s guide to Financial Therapy

written by Bari Tessler June 26, 2017
Financial Therapist

When people hear my official bio, they easily understand what “mama-preneur” and “chocolate lover” are … but one title consistently trips them up: Financial Therapist.

Most people say something like, “wow, I think I need that! Wait — what does that even mean?” So today, I’d like to share with you just what I mean by “Financial Therapy,” so you can understand:

  • What this growing field is all about (and how it’s different from what other financial professionals do)
  • Why you might want to explore Financial Therapy
  • Where to start if you’re thinking of becoming a Financial Therapist, yourself.

First and foremost: I’ll be talking about “Financial Therapy” from my own experience — not as a spokeswoman for the entire (growing) field.

You see, I first started calling myself a Financial Therapist 16 years ago, in 2001. My husband concocted this title to describe how I was marrying my body-based psychotherapy training with my new passion for bookkeeping and money practices.

Back then, “Financial Therapy” was unheard of. My diligent Googling only revealed one other woman calling herself a Financial Therapist at the time. So for many years, I only had my own personal and professional experiences to base my methodologies and definitions upon. A few years down the road, I started encountering Money Coaches and Financial Coaches, but not yet folks calling themselves Financial Therapists.

The growing Financial Therapy field

In 2010, the Financial Therapy Association was formed. Although I’m not associated with this organization, a dear colleague of mine, Rick Kahler, is its President-Elect. I met Rick at a Financial Planner think tank called Nazrudin (founded by George Kinder and the late Dick Wagner) back in 2003.

The FTA defines Financial Therapy as involving “the integration of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and economic aspects that influence financial well-being, and ultimately, quality of life.”

My personal approach to Financial Therapy — like everything I do — is much less theoretical and much more practical. I chose to get my Masters in Somatic Psychology at Naropa University because of its unusually hands-on, multi-disciplinary approach: while there was some theory involved, my rigorous training was much more experiential, including art, movement, and somatic (body-based) therapies in addition to talk therapy. This was a better fit for the way I think and move through the world — and it continues to show up in my approach to Financial Therapy.

My Financial Therapy methodology was born in the real-world trenches: by doing this work over and over and over again, in small groups and then larger ones, fine-tuning a curriculum.

Short ’n sweet: what is this stuff?

Let’s start with what I don’t do. As a Financial Therapist, I do NOT:

  • Advise on investments and retirement strategies (that’s a financial planner)
  • Do your taxes for you (that’s an accountant)
  • Organize your income and expenses (like a bookkeeper)
  • Plot out specific budgets and savings goals (like a money coach or financial coach)
  • Diagnose you with a money disorder and put you on a treatment plan (like a licensed psychotherapist or more traditional financial counseling professional might do).

{Check out this helpful article on what each member of a financial support team does.}

As a Financial Therapist, I support folks in their personal relationship to money.

This integrates deep emotional and psychotherapeutic elements, financial literacy training and practices, relational and communication skills, long-term visioning, and much more. In my world, this is the 3-phase Art of Money Methodology:

1. Money Healing 

Bringing compassionate curiosity to our emotions, psychology, and unique money story. Create intimate, safe spaces for money work (solo or with your honey). This might include journaling about your early money memories, looking into your personality typology (like Enneagram) and how it intersects with money, letting go of a scarcity mentality, or learning somatic practices to feel more safe and supported, when you pay bills or prep for a meeting with your accountant. 

2. Money Practices 

Learning a new way to interact with money: as a nurturing self-care practice. Here, we empower ourselves by learning the language of money, choosing bookkeeping systems, tracking money as it flows in and out and around, and reviewing numbers. We bring our deep values into our money lives and bring intention and mindfulness to our earning, spending, saving, gifting, and debt.

3. Money Maps 

Zooming out to the larger view of our lives and how money supports our goal setting, dreams, and what phase of life we’re in. Here, we create Maps of Intention and learn to dance with them as live twists and turns. We learn how to make good money decisions (and what that even means to each of us) for small, medium, and large purchases. We identify how money can best support our unfolding lives.

{Here’s a fuller description of these 3 phases, how they were conceived, and how they work together.}

Financial Therapy isn’t something that replaces working with other financial professionals. In fact, Financial Therapy can lay the foundation for work with other professionals, or make it smoother or catalyze it to move deeper and faster. I’m a huge advocate of getting the right financial support team in place, and updating it as needed — including a bookkeeper, accountant, financial coach, and financial planner. This is all supported by Financial Therapy.

Who Financial Therapy is great for

On the one hand, I think Financial Therapy is for everyone! I have worked with women and men (but more women), couples (of all genders and orientations), and creative entrepreneurs. I’ve worked with folks from 25 to 75. I’ve worked with almost every income level (except extreme poverty), from a “basic needs” level all the way on up to the “ultimate” level. My year-long program includes people from many different economic backgrounds, from dozens of countries around the world.

That said, the people who are most attracted to this work (and tend to get the most out of it) are open to understanding the complex emotions connected to money. They’re also ready to receive the practical financial training (an essential life skill) that the vast majority of us never receive, growing up.

Unfortunately, most private financial therapy services are on the middle to high end of the pricing spectrum, which means they can only serve the middle class on up. That’s one of the core reasons I’ve created a more affordably priced year-long group program. And I’m thrilled to hear that my book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, is finding its way into the hands of people from all income levels.

What if you want to become a Financial Therapist?

I’ve officially lost count of the number of times people have asked me to offer a professional training program! There’s a distinct possibility this will happen at some point, but it likely won’t be for another few years, at least. (I think I’ve got another book to write, first!)

If I do eventually offer a Financial Therapy professional training, the first requirement will definitely be going through my year-long Art of Money program. Not only is this the best way to learn my framework, tools, and methodology — it’s incredibly important for a Financial Therapist to delve deeply into his or her own relationship with money. You must do your own work before you can truly help others. (This doesn’t mean you’ll “fix” your money relationship once and for all — I believe our money relationship is always growing and evolving, and we’re never “done” with it.) Doing your own work is the best way to become intimate with the tools, emotions, and issues you’ll need to support others.

I’ve also heard from countless financial professionals who have gone through my Art of Money program that the community they connected with was a phenomenal educational resource for them. We welcome a huge, diverse community from across the globe (of all ages, income brackets, and backgrounds), and many of them share quite bravely and vulnerably about their own process. This kind of truth-telling is an unparalleled education for financial professionals. (Plus, this group format cultivates understanding and compassion in most everyone, which is one of the reasons I adore teaching this way!)

So, if you’re wanting and waiting for me to offer my own training, I recommend reading my book and joining The Art of Money first.

Otherwise, you might consider:

  • Deborah Price’s Money Coaching Institute. I’m a fan of Deborah’s work, and she’s a Guest Teacher in my year-long Art of Money program
  • Karen McCall’s Financial Recovery Institute, which I’ve sent people to for years.
  • The Financial Therapy Association has their own professional training, which is more traditional, clinical, and theoretical than my approach. (You can get a taste of their approach in this textbook.)
  • A Masters in Psychology or related field may be helpful
  • Training in couples therapy, somatic approaches, mindfulness, Enneagram (or other personality typing systems) or any other complementary modalities

What if you want to work with a Financial Therapist?

I occasionally offer private Financial Therapy for individuals, couples, and creative entrepreneurs, though due to my teaching and writing demands, this is usually limited to participants in my Art of Money program. (Hint: another great reason to join us!)

Otherwise, if you’d like to get one-on-one support from a different Financial Therapist (or a related professional, like a Money Coach, Financial Recovery Coach, etc.), here are some considerations (excerpted from my book):

Some financial therapists have a primarily therapeutic background, later receiving financial training; others start out as accountants or financial planners and get additional training in counseling to become financial therapists. Both sides of this equation are very important in a financial therapist.

Many financial therapists work with both individuals and couples. Some specialize in small businesses and creative entrepreneurship.

Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Therapist

In addition to the general questions above, you will want to ask:

1. What is your therapeutic background/training? What is your financial background/training? How have you combined the two?

2. How do you define financial therapy? Do you focus more on the emotional side, the practical side, or a balanced combination?

3. Have you done your own “money work”? What is your relationship to money like?

4. Who do you love working with? What aspects of this work do you particularly enjoy or feel skilled at?

5. What does a typical session look like? Will we simply talk, or will you look at my financials with me?

Contact me here if you’d like my team to send you my referral list of money coaches and financial coaches.

I truly think everyone can benefit from Financial Therapy.

After all: we all have a relationship with money. It’s incredibly personal and practical stuff. Financial Therapy is the best way I know of working with the yin and yang — the emotions and the nitty-gritty — of this thing we call money.

I hope this article has inspired you to keep following your own money journey — wherever it may be taking you.

Grab an 8-minute guided body check-in meditation mp3 and workbook below.  

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