Can financial therapy untangle our relationship with money? – BBC News


When Anna Davies reached her thirties, she noticed a shift in her attitude toward money.

“In my twenties, I was able to pay for everything with my pay cheques,” says New Jersey, US-based, Davies. “Once I had a child, I needed to factor in childcare [and] saving for the future.”

As a freelance personal-finance writer, Davies says she knew the financial stresses of being a single parent were daunting. But as someone who understood saving and investing in theory, Davies found herself embarrassed by how disconnected she was from her savings goals. “​​I understood it from an intellectual perspective, and I could tell you exactly how you’re supposed to save money, and how you’re supposed to invest, but I couldn’t do it for myself.”

Davies stumbled upon the burgeoning field of financial therapy, a form of therapy that addresses both personal finance and mental health. Financial therapists use their training as psychologists to help clients untangle their relationship to money, specifically treating the emotional root of money stress, rather than the behaviour itself, as some existing methods do.

Davies was terrified during her first session with a financial therapist. “It’s easier to talk about sex and romantic relationships than it is about money,” she says. “Even inside the confines of a therapy room, I think being able [say] ‘Okay, here’s my bank statement, here’s how much money I actually have’ – I think that that’s scary.”

Matters of money are – and always have been – stressful. This is especially the case for some people, whose financial trepidation can even manifest as a type of fear. To help quell this phobia, an increasing number of people, like Davies, are turning to financial therapists for help. Could this hyper-targeted treatment help mend troubled relationships with money?

A real phobia

Money decisions are deeply connected to emotions. Research confirms this; in 2000, Daniel Kahneman was awarded the Nobel Prize in economics for his work applying psychological insights to economic theory, especially in the areas of judgment and decision-making under uncertainty. His work was confirmation that money decisions are emotional.

According to a 2019 survey from employee-experience platform Perk Box, money is the biggest cause of stress in the UK, with 61% of 1,139 people surveyed stating that money caused them more stress than their work (51%) and their family (24%).