What is a financial therapist, and how do you know when you need one? — The South Dakota Standard


Basically, a financial therapist fills the gap between financial planners (often numbers specialists who don’t understand psychology), and therapists (often behavioral change specialists who don’t understand finance). A financial therapist is trained in both personal finance and therapeutic methodologies in order to help people think, feel, and behave differently around money, make better financial decisions, and increase their financial well-being.

Here are a few indicators that might suggest it’s time to consider seeking help from a financial therapist:

  • Being “stuck” around making a financial decision (like when to buy or sell a stock that’s traded on a stock exchange like the one above, pictured in a public domain photo posted on wikimedia commons) or changing a hurtful financial behavior. It isn’t always easy to recognize that you are stuck. Some signs may include difficulty making choices, being unable to move forward with financial steps you know you “should” take, and feelings of depression or futility. People sometimes accept being stuck as a permanent condition rather than something temporary that can be changed but may need a different approach.

  • Repeated unhealthy financial patterns. This is a form of being stuck that is less about inability to take action and more about inability to change your actions. Examples might include repeated financial enabling of family members, being unable to save or invest, compulsive shopping, or financial infidelity.

  • Any behavior you have around money that, to you or others, seems “illogical.” This can include behaviors like refusing to spend money you have on basic needs or comforts, borrowing with credit cards to spend money you don’t have on things you don’t need, chronic gambling (at casinos or through speculative “investments”), binge spending that seems out of control, or any behavior that seems to make no sense because it clearly harms your financial wellbeing.

  • Persistently feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by your financial situation. This could be due to debt, budgeting issues, or the emotional impact of financial decisions. It could also be “free floating anxiety” that you can’t tie to any specific financial situation but is a general sense of unease that can keep you awake at night.

  • Extreme difficulty talking about money. Many of us find it difficult or awkward to have money conversations with partners, family members, or bosses. If you go to great lengths to avoid such conversations because the idea of talking about money evokes strong discomfort, anxiety, panic, or fear of conflict or rejection, you may benefit from working with a financial therapist.

  • Chronic money-related conflict. Financial conflicts are a leading cause of partnership splits. If you and your partner often fight about money and are unable to resolve the conflict, a financial therapist can help you address these emotional dynamics.

  • Life transitions that affect finances. Major life changes, such as marriage, divorce, loss of a job, or a death in the family, have significant impacts both financially and emotionally. There are even financial therapists, Certified Financial Transitionists (CeFT), who specialize in helping people navigate such transitions.

  • Lack of financial direction. Feeling directionless, ambivalent, unsure, hopeless, and powerless about financial goals or how to achieve them might signal a need for professional assistance in setting and reaching those goals.

  • Mental health concerns that are not specifically financial. If you are experiencing signs of mental health issues that impact your financial decision-making, such as panic attacks, depression, or compulsive behaviors, a financial therapist or mental health professional could be beneficial.

A financial therapist can offer guidance and strategies to help you address both the practical and emotional aspects of your relationship with money. Seeking help does not mean you are incapable or financially irresponsible. Quite the opposite. It shows self-awareness and a commitment to improving your financial and emotional well-being.

Rick Kahler, CFP, is a fee-only financial planner and financial therapist with a nationwide practice, Kahler Financial Group, based in Rapid City. His co-authored books include Coupleship Inc. and The Financial Wisdom of Ebenezer Scrooge.



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