• Colleen Lennon, LCSW

How Can You Help, You Don’t Have a Degree in Finance?

When I tell people that I am a Certified Financial Social Worker, the typical response I get is, “how can you help people with their money issues, you aren’t an accountant or financial planner?” While I do not have the training or credentials to give financial or investment advice, create detailed budgets, or offer financial services, there is so much more to having a healthy relationship with money than just those tools.

A good portion of the population engages in healthy financial behaviors and has a healthy relationship with money, where spending money is just a black and white business transaction without significant emotional impact. Unfortunately, this is not the case for everyone. There are instances when significant negative cognitive, emotional, and psychological aspects related to money are present which can create detrimental financial behaviors and sometimes lead to serious negative consequences.

Money can elicit emotions such as happiness, gratitude, pleasure, envy, anxiety, or stress, among several others. Oftentimes the emotional connection to money or spending is normal and functional, but there are times when it becomes excessive or dysfunctional. Let’s look at some examples:

  1. Buying something for oneself or others every so often can lead to feelings of pleasure or gratitude. It becomes dysfunctional when it turns to compulsive buying and shopping binges, often used in attempts to make oneself feel better, relieve discomfort, or provide relief from negative feelings. Unfortunately, this often leads to guilt or remorse.

  2. Work ethic and the desire to be financially stable while still maintaining a work-life balance is ideal. It can become dysfunctional when one is fixated on earning more and more money, working substantially more than is required or expected, or prioritizing work to the detriment of one’s personal life. This is often referred to as workaholism.

  3. Keeping material possessions due to their function/need or sentimental value and saving money is typical and oftentimes necessary. It can become dysfunctional when one is not able to part with accumulated items or spend money without significant emotional impact. It is classified as hoarding when one has significant difficulty parting with possessions due to a perceived emotional attachment, or financial hoarding when one has a fear of losing or spending money.

There are several other money disorders, such as financial denial (problems are minimized or avoided), financial enabling (inability to say no to others financially), financial dependence (reliance on others financially), financial enmeshment (lack of boundaries in financial aspects, primarily in parent and child relationships), and financial infidelity (secrecy and dishonesty related to money).

As a Financial Therapist, I work with clients to help them identify and understand their money scripts and how they are impacting their financial behaviors and lives. Money scripts are typically unconscious attitudes and beliefs about money, often developed in childhood and play a significant role in financial behaviors. Money scripts are usually classified into the following categories:

  • Money avoidance: avoid dealing with money and reject responsibility

  • Money worship: believe more money means more happiness

  • Money status: view own self-worth based on net-worth

  • Money vigilance: overly alert, watchful, and concerned about money

With the use of various therapy techniques, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or a Strengths-Based approach, one is able to better understand the underlying beliefs and motivations behind their thoughts and actions. It is then possible to create more positive thought processes, patterns, and financial behaviors, as well as “re-write” one’s money scripts.

Source: Klontz, B.T., Britt, S.L., & Archuleta, K.L. (2015) Financial Therapy, Theory, Research, and Practice. Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

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