A Beginner’s Guide to Financial Therapy

written by Bari Tessler June 8, 2021
A Beginner's Guide to Financial Therapy - Financial Therapist

When I’m at a conference, at a party, or on an airplane and I meet someone new, the getting-to-know-you conversation inevitably turns to what I do for a living.

My reply, “I’m a Financial Therapist,” usually makes folks pause for  a moment, cock their head to the side, and say, “Whoa, I need that – and so does my sister, or brother, my daughter, or mother, or cousin – they need that!”

So, today, I’d like to talk to you about what I mean when I say “Financial Therapy” and share a little bit about how I approach this work so you can understand:

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

Growing up, most of us were never taught how to manage our money, never mind how to talk about money – or the complicated emotions that come up around money in our relationships and daily lives. This intersection of developing the language and skills to talk about and manage our money, and our emotions around money, financial literacy and emotional literacy is the foundation of my approach to Financial Therapy.

I weave together deep emotional, psychotherapeutic, and body-based elements in my work, integrating financial literacy training and practices with relational and communication skills, long-term visioning, personal values, and so much more.

Short ’n sweet: what is a Financial Therapist?

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 and put you on a treatment plan or regimen (like a licensed psychotherapist might do)

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

I’m a huge advocate of getting the right financial support team in place and adjusting as needed — including a bookkeeper, accountant, financial coach, and financial planner. Financial Therapy can lay the foundation for this work with other professionals, smoothing the way, or acting as a catalyst to move deeper with your money, faster.  It isn’t something that replaces working with other financial professionals. 

How I became a Financial Therapist

I spent my 20s working in mental health and hospice care, covering everything from overnights to bereavement, leading authentic movement groups, and training to become a Somatic Therapist. 

In 1998, the arrival of a fateful student loan bill, shortly after I graduated with my Masters in Somatic Psychology,, made me quickly realize that I had no idea how to have a healthy or savvy relationship with money.  I had never received a financial education growing up – and it was completely left out of my graduate school training to become a psychotherapist. We talked about life, death, family, love, sex – and everything in between – but never about money. None of my courses addressed the personal, emotional, or practical aspects of money! Never mind how to set up my finances when starting a private practice, or how to work with my clients through their own money issues.

With this game-changing realization, I took a break from my work as a counselor in the mental health field and threw myself into learning how to keep my books. I discovered a new understanding, and a surprising passion for bookkeeping that led to me running a bookkeeping business for creative entrepreneurs, from therapists and coaches, to artists and contractors. And I learned more about values, and money emotions, spending patterns, money management styles, and money psychology than I ever had in my graduate studies or private counselling practice.

While I was training others how to do their bookkeeping, and managing my own, I found myself coming up with creative ways to engage with money as a self-care practice.

I was using my somatic training to explore this hidden intersection of financial literacy and emotional literacy – but I didn’t yet have a name for this work.

In 2001 my husband used the term “Financial Therapist” to describe my work, and how I was blending my body-based psychotherapy training with my newly discovered passion for bookkeeping and money practices, for the first time.

Back then, “Financial Therapy” wasn’t the growing field that it is today – it was practically unheard of. When I took my curiosity online to see if anyone else was working in this space, 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 on. 

The growing field of Financial Therapy 

In 2010, the Financial Therapy Association was founded. Although I’m not personally associated with this organization, their work has brought more awareness to help break down the taboos around talking about money.

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.”

Crafting the Art of Money

My personal approach to Financial Therapy — like everything I do — is less theoretical and more focused on practical tools and authentic support. I chose to get my Masters in Somatic Psychology at Naropa University because of its uniquely hands-on, multi-disciplinary therapeutic approach. While there was some theory involved, my rigorous foundational training was much more experiential, including art, movement, and somatic (body-based) therapies in addition to more traditional talk therapy. 

For me, this integrated approach was a better fit for the way I think and move through the world — and has been instrumental in developing my approach to Financial Therapy.

In my work, I weave together therapeutic Somatic practices and practical financial tools to create a comprehensive, holistic framework to guide and support this deeply intimate money work. I also weave together personal finance, couples finance and creative-entrepreneur finance. 

My Financial Therapy methodology, flagship program, and year-long money school, The Art of Money, was born over years of doing this work over, and over, and over again, in small groups  of ten, slowly growing to twenty students, and then fifty. I experimented with timing as my curriculum grew, eventually increasing my six week program to three months, and then six months to accommodate and support the deeply personal transformations I was witnessing in my student’s lives. 

 After years of learning, growing, and refining my approach, in 2013 I opened my year-long Art of Money program, and 325 people signed up to create a more authentic relationship with money in their lives. Eight years later, we have approximately 500+ students every year, and those once small groups have evolved into the global community that I am honored to lead today.

My comprehensive, three-phase Art of Money methodology provides a holistic framework to guide, support, and honor this uniquely personal journey through:

1. Money Healing 

We start by bringing compassionate curiosity to our emotions, patterns, and unique money story. Here we un-shame the past, claim our value, and learn to write a new chapter. We create intimate, safe spaces for money work, solo, with your honey, BFF, or whoever you want to share this journey with. We learn mind and body-based practices to support our journey, and ensure we are working with self-care, acceptance, and love along the way.

2. Money Practices 

Here, we learn a new way to interact with money – as a nurturing self-care practice. We empower ourselves by learning the language of money,  gathering practical tools, tracking money as it flows in and out and around, infusing the nuts and bolts with a sense of fun and adventure. We take our relationship with money deeper as we learn to have Money Dates and bring intention and mindfulness to our earning, spending, saving, gifting, and debt.

3. Money Maps 

Step into a more personal way to track your needs and manage your money without ever using a dreaded “budget” again. Align your finances with your goals, values, and dreams. Here, we create maps of intention, learn how to make good money decisions (and what that even means to each of us), and go deep-soul diving to identify how money can best support our unfolding lives and our here and now reality.

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

Who benefits from Financial Therapy? 

Frankly, I think Financial Therapy is for everyone – and I mean that with all sincerity. Over the last twenty years, I have worked with folks from all walks of life, from age 25 to 75, from individuals and couples to creative entrepreneurs at almost every income level, from “basic needs” to their “ultimate lifestyle”. 

Unfortunately, most private financial therapy services are offered on the mid to high end of the pricing spectrum, which means they’re really only accessible to the middle class on up. This issue of accessibility is one of the primary reasons that I’ve created a more affordably priced year-long group program – and why I haven’t increased the price of the Art of Money in nine years. It’s also why I wrote my book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness. I really do believe that Financial Therapy is for everyone – and making these tools approachable and accessible is something I passionately believe in.

That said, the people who are most attracted to this work, and tend to get the most out of it, come open and prepared to explore the complex emotions and unconscious beliefs that we all have around money. The Art of Money more specifically appeals to folks who recognize that this work runs deep beyond the surface, and they’re looking to create a more personal and authentic relationship with money in their lives. They’re ready to grow their financial literacy AND emotional literacy. They’re open to receiving practical financial training (an essential life skill), and embrace the somatic tools that define this gentler, more compassionate approach to Financial Therapy.

Want to work privately with a Financial Therapist?

I personally offer limited private Financial Therapy sessions for individuals, couples, and creative entrepreneurs. Please be aware that I only open slots occasionally and they usually fill up in a few hours – but you can join the wait list so you can be the first to know when I’m going to open another round. You can find more details and join the waitlist here.

If you’re looking for one-on-one support from a Financial Therapist (or a related professional, like a Money Coach, Financial Recovery Coach, etc.), here are some some things to keep in mind (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  the personal and practical sides of this equation are very important in a financial therapist.

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

Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Therapist

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 creating 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. Everyone works via Zoom these days, so remember that location is not as important as being a good match!e

Do 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, it likely won’t be for another few years, at least. 

I can tell you that if I do eventually offer professional Financial Therapy 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 also 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. (I share more about my own journey to becoming a Financial Therapist here.)

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 simply the best way to become intimate with the tools, emotions, and issues you’ll need to be conscious and aware of to offer effective personal support.

The Art of Money is home to a  diverse community and many members share with brave vulnerability about their own process  and personal journey. This kind of truth-telling offers an unparalleled education for financial professionals. I’ve heard from countless financial professionals who have gone through The Art of Money program that the community they connected with was a phenomenal educational resource for them. 

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 waiting and wishing for me to offer my own training, I recommend reading my book and joining The Art of Money to ground your professional development, first.

 In the meantime, the “Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Therapist” in the section above are a great place to begin exploring the idea of becoming a Financial Therapist and what you want that to look like.

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

“When we dare to speak the truth about money, amazing healing begins.”

I truly believe that everyone can benefit from Financial Therapy.

Each one of us has a relationship with money, whether we recognize it or not, money touches every part of our lives. From our values, to our sense of worth, the work we do, the way that we show up in the world, our lineage, our personal relationships, communities, and the legacy we leave behind us. Our relationship with money is an unconscious narrative woven inextricably into our lives, shaping our choices, opportunities, and what we believe to be possible for ourselves, our loved ones, and the world we live in.   

This work blends the deeply, intimately personal with the practical, everyday nuts and bolts. Financial Therapy weaves our intimately personal money stories with souldeep aspirations and the practical, step by step tools you need to bring healing and transformation to your relationship with money – and all that it touches.

Wherever you’re reading this, and wherever you are in your money journey, I hope you know that you aren’t alone in this, and that you’ve found inspiration and encouragement here today. 

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

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