Arrow Icon
blog header pale blue image blog header abstract shape

Heart of Advice

Insights and best practices for successful financial planning engagement

left arrow Back to All Articles

Best Practices for Introducing Financial Therapy to Clients in Need

Ed Coambs February 15, 2022

Couple talking to a financial therapist
Updated on: September 15, 2022

My own financial journey led me to a fascinating and fulfilling career as a marriage and family therapist specializing in helping clients develop financial intimacy. So, I’m excited about the CFP Board’s plan to incorporate a greater understanding of financial psychology into the financial planning industry by adding it to the CFP® professional certification process.

Where does one begin when it comes to helping clients who need additional support overcoming the roadblocks that are impacting their financial planning success? And how can we keep the differing psychology of couples from taking its toll not only on their financial future but their overall health as a family?

Money Habits Are Often Caught, Not Taught

People can have some profoundly painful experiences around money. Whether from poor examples set for them in childhood such as parents fighting over money or as the result of pain or trauma they experienced as an adult, the habits and behaviors that result can have a lasting impact on their financial future.

These deep-seated habits can be compounded when working with couples. If you’ve ever worked with a couple that can’t seem to get on the same page when it comes to their finances, this could be because of vastly different experiences they’ve had in their lives.

One lens for understanding these differences is attachment theory. Attachment theory explains the psychological and biological processes that are innate to being human that help us form and maintain relationships. We call this your attachment system and research shows that people broadly fall into four types of attachment or bonding patterns. This is different from the personality profiles financial planners often use to assess clients. It’s a way of understanding patterns of behavior that are based on relational experiences.

Attachment theory can play into financial planning in a lot of ways. And while it’s not expected that financial professionals will become experts on this, it’s important to recognize the role attachment styles can play in helping your clients reach their goals.

If your clients are suffering from attachment misalignments and emotional misunderstandings, it may be time to introduce them to financial therapy.

Normalizing the Financial Therapy Conversation

One way to begin normalizing financial therapy and counseling is to incorporate it into your client intake process. If your firm uses a paper intake form, add space for clients to provide the name and contact information for any therapists or counselors they work with. Put the request in the checklist right alongside that of their accountant, attorney, and insurance broker.

Including a note explaining why you are gathering this information will further put your clients at ease. It can be as simple as, “It may surprise you that we are asking about this, but we care about how money and finances impact our clients’ overall well-being.”

It’s a clear way of conveying the deeper message that should the client need support, there is someone in place to help. The pandemic has pushed the mental health narrative forward. Committing to clients’ well-being in this way shows you recognize this and are normalizing it.

Use a similar approach for intake interviews. As you are collecting information regarding attorneys, accountants, and the like, ask about other financial professionals including counselors or therapists. Provide your reasoning with something like this, “We know discussions about money can sometimes be challenging and stressful so from time to time we may encourage our clients to work with a financial counselor.”

You are simply naming and normalizing the fact that talking about money can sometimes bring up difficult emotions.

Understanding When Deeper Care Is Needed

Financial planners tend to be empathic people who can generally sense when clients have some deeper underlying issues that are standing in the way of their financial success. If you get the feeling something is amiss or you continually see a client who is breaking from the patterns of functional behavior, let that be the signal there is something more going on. Even if you have no idea what it is.

Think about a normal bell curve distribution of clients. There will be the super, high functioning clients at the one end of the curve who do everything required for success, the average performers fall somewhere in the middle, and then there is the other end of the curve. For this segment of your client population, you can use the rest as your anchor point to measure if there might be something amiss. If you’ve ever felt that sense of frustration when working with a client who is exhibiting certain patterns of behavior, that’s a good signal that they need more help. Take a step back and really think about what’s causing that frustration and maybe it’s time to broach the subject of seeking outside help.

That’s your bellwether. You know what it’s like to work with a client that is moving forward and making progress toward their goals. And you know what it’s like to work with a client that consistently creates frustration. If that’s happening, it’s a good indicator that there’s a need for a deeper level of care.

Broaching the Need for a Referral

If you’ve found yourself with clients you think would benefit from financial therapy, how do you suggest they seek it?

The best approach is to get them to acknowledge the problem themselves. One way of doing this is to point out when there is a topic or challenge that continues to be revisited—it could be with their budget.

You may have established a budget together, but the client “breaks the rules” and then you set something else up, and the client repeats their rule-breaking behavior. If you find that pattern taking shape and you’re starting to get frustrated, that’s the time to have a conversation with them about what they think might be tripping them up.

You could say something like, “I’m starting to notice this pattern. Are you seeing it? How much concern or distress is it causing you?” If the client is able to acknowledge that pattern and express their own frustration with it, that’s your cue to ask if they would be interested in working with a financial therapist to address the deeper issues around why they are having trouble.

Building a Referral Network

When you have a client who’s ready to take that step into financial therapy, there are a number of resources available to build your referral network. If you asked about it at the onset of the relationship and the client gave you contact information for their existing therapist, now’s the time to suggest reaching out.

Beyond this, you can search in your local area or ask associates for recommendations, but I suggest connecting with the Financial Therapy Association. The FTA has a “Find a Financial Therapist” tool on its website. Within this tool, the search can be narrowed by a number of factors to find the right fit for your client.

Financial Success for All Clients

If you’ve been through your own mental health journey you understand that it’s just another part of being human. Use that experience to normalize the process for your clients. It’s important to approach mental health as a part of total health. Just as physical health matters to the success of a financial plan, so does mental health.

These conversations provide an opportunity for planning firms to signal to clients that they are being proactive. We want to have deep relationships with our clients and asking them about their mental health history will signal to them that it’s safe to talk about it. And it will go a long way in ensuring all your clients have successful financial outcomes.

DISCLAIMER: The eMoney Advisor Blog is meant as an educational and informative resource for financial professionals and individuals alike. It is not meant to be, and should not be taken as financial, legal, tax or other professional advice. Those seeking professional advice may do so by consulting with a professional advisor. eMoney Advisor will not be liable for any actions you may take based on the content of this blog.

The views and opinions expressed by this blog post guest are solely those of the guest and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of eMoney Advisor, LLC. eMoney Advisor is not responsible for the content, views or opinions presented by our guest, nor may eMoney Advisor be held liable for any actions taken by you based on the content, views or opinions of the guest.

Image of Ed Coambs
About the Author

Ed Coambs, MBA, MA, MS, CFP®, CFT-I™, LMFT, is an internationally recognized thought leader in financial therapy who has been cited by the Wall Street Journal, the Associated Press, Time, and CNBC. He leads couples through therapy from financial despair and frustration into financial intimacy and connection using the latest in love and brain science. He earned master's degrees in business, counseling, and financial planning. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, and Certified Financial Therapist™. Ed is the founder of an organization on a mission to help couples transform their relationship through learning, healing, and growing. He offers books, courses, blogs, and podcasts through this website, all aimed at helping couples understand where their relationship and money challenges come from and what they can do to change.

You may also be interested in...

Advisor in meeting with client using financial psychology

What Is Financial Psychology and How Can Financial Advisors Use It?

Financial psychology is becoming an increasingly popular and crucial practice in financial planning. Many financial planners now recognize the need… Read More

empowered client shopping with mobile client portal

Empowering Financial Wellness: How Client Portals Reduce Financial Anxiety and Transform Client Relationships

Feelings of financial insecurity have surged to an all-time high among Americans, with one-third (33 percent) reporting that they do… Read More

Multi-generational family celebrates graduation milestone

Use Accountability to Promote Client Motivation

At the core of creating a successful financial plan is establishing goals that resonate with clients—goals they will be motivated… Read More

eBook: The New Advisor Value Proposition

Download our latest eBook and learn how top advisors are combining Fintech and FinPsych for superior client outcomes.

Download Now

Sign up to have the most popular Heart of Advice posts delivered to your inbox monthly.

Heart of Advice by eMoney Advisors

Welcome to
Heart of Advice

a new source of expert insights for
financial professionals.

Get Started

Tips specific to the eMoney platform can be found in
the eMoney
application, under Help, eMoney Advisor Blog.