women worried about financial therapy not working

Why Financial Therapy Fails – Part Two

Last week’s post covered three of the reasons that financial therapy might fail: The client doesn’t want to be in therapy, lack of skills on the part of the therapist, and lack of understanding on the part of the client of what therapy is or involves. This week we’ll look at a few more.

Transference or countertransference issues. Transference is when the client puts someone else’s face on the therapist—seeing them as a parent or someone else that the client has unfinished emotional business with. This happens to all of us in various ways: I meet someone who reminds me of my rotten Uncle Charlie, and part of me instantly checks off that everything wrong with Uncle Charlie has to be wrong with this person. The transference can happen positively as well. Transference happens a lot in therapy, so therapists are trained to identify and address it.

Countertransference is when the therapist puts a face on the client. This is even more problematic and can really mess up financial therapy because the therapist can no longer hold a safe neutral space for the client. Avoiding countertransference is one of the reasons it’s so important for financial therapists to do their own personal work on their money issues. Before you engage a financial therapist, it’s crucial to find out about their relationship with money as well as their professional credentials.

Another reason financial therapy might fail is the client leaving too soon. Change usually doesn’t happen quickly, especially around money. Yet clients who end therapy too soon often leave when they really get to a new level of uncovering difficult emotions and vulnerabilities that are really at the core of the financial behavior, because it just becomes overwhelming.

Financial therapy can also fail because clients withhold thoughts, feelings, and information. This is often due to shame. Revealing financial information is often harder than revealing emotional or even sexual information because of the shame attached to it.

Another reason is the lack of a good personality or gender fit between therapist and client, regardless of the therapist’s skill level or the previous work either one has done. The client’s trusting and feeling safe with the therapist is essential, and that trust can be related to gender identification and personality type.

Another issue is not having a definition of what success will look like. What is the therapeutic goal; what will we measure success by; how can we know that there’s more work to be done? For example, if a financial therapy client had a goal to go from overspending to fully funding their 401(k), and they stopped overspending and only got to funding 50% of it, does that mean the therapy was unsuccessful, partially successful, or successful? Success is usually on a continuum. It is interesting, however, that it is much easier to measure success in financial therapy than in traditional therapy because you can judge the outcome by measurable financial criteria.

Another possible reason for lack of success is that the client needs a different form of therapy. Therapists use a number of different modalities, and on the financial side, professionals have varying degrees of financial training and different areas of specialization. No therapist or financial therapist is skilled in every modality, and not every modality is a fit for every client. 

The final reason for financial therapy to fail is that it’s unaffordable. Because of the dual areas of training required, financial therapy is expensive, and it is rarely covered by insurance. Ironically, paying for financial therapy may make money problems worse in the short term even though it can pay significant financial dividends in the long term. One possible solution to this dilemma is to look for a financial therapist who offers group sessions, which are more affordable.

Saying that “financial therapy failed” is actually an invitation to a deeper conversation to explore the reasons and nuances. Financial therapy is about doing hard work. It takes courage. My experience is that if someone is ready and willing to do that hard work, be open with their therapist, and persist through times when they want to quit, they will usually witness significant progress toward emotional and financial wellbeing. 

Check out The Financial Therapy Podcast by Rick Kahler concerning this topic.

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