It’s a sign of the economic times: As people struggle with
recession repercussions, more psychologists are being called upon to help
clients resolve money issues—and that has given rise to a brand-new specialty
called financial psychology.
This field focuses on people’s relationship with money—a deeply
dysfunctional, emotionally charged relationship for many of us. Financial
psychologists may help individuals think through financial goals, work on money
management, rein in a spending problem, or cope with a financial crisis. In
couples or family therapy, financial psychologists may help newlyweds marry their bank accounts, couples
hash out budget conflicts, or families talk through contentious inheritance issues.
New Field of
There’s nothing new about these concerns, of course. But the
idea of addressing them with the help of a mental health professional who is
cross-trained as a financial counselor or planner is a growing trend. There are
signs it may be an idea whose time has come.
Currently, there’s a movement afoot to create a new division
of financial psychology within the American
Psychological Association (APA). In October, the APA magazine Monitor on Psychology ran an article about
the burgeoning specialty. And in September, the Financial Therapy
Association held its third annual conference for professionals in the field.
How Money Affects
An unhealthy relationship with money may affect emotional well-being
in various ways:
stress. For the past five years, the APA has commissioned an annual,
in America” survey. Every year, money, work, and the economy have topped
the list of most stressful issues for Americans. In the most recent survey, for example, three-fourths
of participants said money was a significant source of stress in their lives.
One goal of financial therapy is to help people learn skills for managing both
money and stress.
anxiety. A recent study
from the London School of Economics and Political Science and Cambridge
University looked at financial anxiety—an uneasy attitude toward dealing with personal
finances. The researchers found that people often avoid financial information when
it makes them anxious—and that’s a recipe for disaster. Another goal of
financial therapy is to help people overcome this self-destructive pattern.
conflict. Among married couples, financial conflicts are often particularly
nasty and long-lasting, and research has shown that they’re a strong predictor
of divorce. Fortunately, arguments over money aren’t inevitable. In a study from Utah
State University, lower levels of financial conflict were associated with good
communication, respect, commitment, and fairness—in short, the kinds of relationship
skills that spouses often develop in couples therapy.
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