This post includes only a portion of the insights shared by Sonya Britt Lutter, who is a financial therapy legend, in the second part of my discussion with her. There is more in the full podcast.
Sonya spent 12 years in academia, and then shifted to the private sector working as a consultant. She said one of the key things she learned was that there is still a lot of need out in the real world for more training in therapeutic and communication skills for financial planners. One of the things she saw is that we as financial planners tend to portray ourselves as being very confident and competent, when in reality there may be some missing pieces that could be improved upon. Such as focusing more on those relational elements and how to communicate with clients in a way that both of you feel comfortable giving and receiving that information.
For a time she was in private practice as a therapist, working primarily with clients’ financial issues although it wasn’t yet called financial therapy. She was also working at Head Start, which is a preschool program for lower income families. She did therapy with children and families, as well as doing financial counseling with parents. Some were in dire situations, and part of her work was helping people budget and helping them find ways to maximize the resources they had. So she was working with people from the low to the high end in terms of socioeconomic status.
One thing she learned from that experience is that we’re all human and we all have the same desires. We all have the same kinds of values. Yes, there are different struggles that come with lower income and with higher income. But when you get down to what makes a person a person, it’s what they value and how they live by those values. And this is true across the entire wealth spectrum.
This reminded me of my experience doing programs on money issues at Onsite Workshops. We tried to discourage people from talking about their occupations or how much money they had, but instead to just get to know each other for who they were. Then at the end they would reveal the financial and work information. It was powerful and fascinating.
I remember that one woman, with a net worth of hundreds of millions of dollars, sobbed for nearly half an hour. That’s when I realized that there is a place—not just defined by a dollar amount—where a person can be harmed by having too much. I remember her saying, “My friends tell me nobody works harder than I do at being middle class.” In the same groups we would have very wealthy people and those who were bankrupt or struggling, and all of them struggled with the same issues.
Sonya shared with me that one of the passion projects she has begun, based on her personal history, is interviewing people about their great loss. How are some people okay after a major life event and some people are not okay? What she has gathered from every single one of those conversations is what helps people with their resiliency, with crawling out of a really horrible situation and surviving, perhaps even thriving past a great loss, is their awareness that they are a person.
She said, “As an example, I am Sonya. I am not Sonya a widow. I am not Sonya a parent. I am not Sonya a wealthy white woman. I am just Sonya and that is who I am to my core. And other people will say, ‘I am not X, Y, Z, I’m not this.’ And I say, ‘It sounds like you are you,’ and they tell me, ‘Yeah, that’s it.’ And what does that mean? That we are living our authentic self and that’s what helps people live a wonderful life.”
This profound realization reminded me of my own experience, both professionally and in personal support groups, and the importance and value of introducing ourselves by our first names and connecting with others as simply ourselves. I was also reminded of the few celebrities or billionaires I have dealt with and how hard it is for them to show up and be just themselves anywhere. And what a precious gift it is that we can be seen for our essence and not for our fame or our money. It is such a part of the healing journey when someone sees us for who we are, flaws and all, and we get that love and acceptance.
Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.