(noun, etymology Dutch from ‘boedel’: estate, possession, inheritance, stock.). 1. Crowd, pack, lot, as in ‘the whole boodle.’ 2. a. Counterfeit money b. Money acquired or spent illegally or improperly, particularly when used in bribery for political purposes. 3. Slang for money in general.

Money Therapy

Posted on: Oct. 26, 2010  |  By: Ronnie Kahn  |  Category: General

In my blog post of October 5, 2010, I started off by writing “I am not a big believer in money ‘therapy’.”  A reader from the investment world took umbrage with this and commented that he has seen cases where therapy around money has helped, and progress was quick.  I wanted to flesh out my remarks to get to why it is that I feel this way.

First, let me say there are a growing number of financial advisers who consider money therapy valuable.  Some of these individuals are very passionate about this, and some use it as a niche to help differentiate themselves from the crowd.  There are psychologists who specialize in this as well.  I know it can seem threatening to these folks to speak about money therapy negatively, so let me clarify.  I do not think there is any reason to be alarmed by my remark, since it is one of context and emphasis that needs to be discussed.

I am a big believer in financial dialogue, and think it has been helpful to my clients and can be effective.  There are those that might consider therapy as just a discussion and I welcome that discussion.  I also believe that taking a psychological perspective on money can be beneficial.  We find patterns of behavior that help us to see how our decisions are made.

You may have noticed that the word “therapy” was in quotes in the original blog statement.  The reason for this is twofold in that, one, there is a semantic part of why I said what I said, and two, therapy means different things to different people.  Therapy is in the “mind” of the beholder.

A therapeutic model in the context I was using it worries more about what is wrong with someone, and then helps to try and fix it.  Therapy can be an important tool to those who are constantly angry, depressed, or stressed in our world.  While money can be misused, it is not the money that makes us sick.  Many of us have problems worrying about money and spending unwisely, but overall most of us are money “sane.”  Therapy oftentimes sees money as how to deal with scarcity and not what makes up abundance and how to appreciate it.  We could spend just as much time finding out what is right with money than concentrating on what is wrong with it.

I mentioned that there was a matter of emphasis on speaking to money therapy.  Our culture is heavily weighted toward individualism and the cult of the “I.”  Concepts like “self-esteem” and “self-awareness” may actually create their own problems and not be a solution to healing the self.  Addressing problems in this way is why there is a Pop Psychology that we all look to.

However, there are therapies that do not just use a fix-it approach, which is why I commented that therapy means different things to different people.  There is a branch of therapy that calls itself Positive Psychology which came out of the Humanistic side of Abraham Maslow.  While I greatly respect some of the tenets of this type of approach, much of this has deteriorated into visualization of the in order to have it, you just think it variety.  Besides this mind over matter side, the field has also been hijacked by corporations in some type of motivation-speak jargon.  No matter how you cut it, there is a great part of the puzzle that is missing.  All of us have a way we approach the world which is composed of an individual, social, and institutional makeup.  This is the “I,” “We,” and “It” of our being.  Each of these systems of truth and knowledge are interconnected.  In other words, money is not just individual, it is social too.  It is, in fact, far more social than individual, even though these do blend together.  Excuse the limited gender reference but “no man is an ‘I’ land.”

Again, as a matter of emphasis, money therapy’s tendency is to play down the social connection that is our world.  Since we can only directly control our own behavior and not that of others or institutions, why bother with something we cannot control?  If our reality pie is socially constructed, with therapy, we are trying to figure out what type of pie we are eating by tasting the crust.  Even in money dialogue, what can give us a “bang for the buck,” so to speak, is to speak about such things as altruism, reciprocity, gratitude, trust, forgiveness and so on.  All of these are social.  How would the concept of success look without our relationship to others?  If we don’t take a social perspective on these, we are left with just how an individual sees things and we omit the social construction that is our world, especially our money world.  Market forces and how each of us fits into our larger groups can affect our decision making.  When I was growing up, my parents were happy if they had what their neighbors had.  Then, in my twenties, there was a point when affluence turned status into something where each person could feel unique in what they owned.   Along with an economic shift that allowed customization, this was a cultural shift that cannot be reduced to the change in how all individuals need to express their identity.

Missing this social side makes real change about money that much harder.  We cannot change how to make money work for everyone by concentrating just on individual therapies.  Yes, it might help one person in certain ways, but we have much bigger fish to fry when it comes to money.  To give you an idea of how missing the social can block change instead of getting at it more directly, consider the obesity issue which is rampant in this country.  We could have every person get some therapy in order to try and fix why they overeat.  Some do get therapy and may be helped, and that is important.  Obesity, though, is also a cultural, social, and institutional problem that must be addressed on all levels.  I would argue that this problem is most likely more social than individual psychology, but stressing each person’s bad choices alone will not cure this epidemic.

So my problem with money therapy is that it seems to hold us back from the systemic change that is needed.  Therapy has us trying to improve our self-made prison conditions around money rather than trying to escape from them.”  It is time we rebalance the heavy weight on individualism and self in our culture.  We are social beings and money is “socialness on steroids,” which money therapy doesn’t seem to get.  All of us want a sense of well-being.  Well-being, though, is just as much social as it is individual.  When we try to concentrate on fixing what is wrong, we miss how to go about living a life of meaning and purpose.

4 Comments

  • I must say that the term financial therapy may not be the best choice for this endeavor. It is unfortunate but because of state and federal regulations one may not call themselves a financial psychologist unless one is licensed as a psychologist. Changing the name to financial psychology would incorporate the communal and social perspective. An important part of psychology is also the attempt to understand and incorporate cultural and social issues a view of an issue. For many years before the crisis there were numerous attempts to address the rampant materialism in American culture (please see Tim Kasser’s work on the negative effects of materialism). We made committments to work on the issue at both a cultural and individual level. It is not an either/or but a both/and. The issues need to be addressed at all levels, individual and social. Dr Mary Gresham

  • Ronnie Kahn says:

    Just to be clear, I do not know of any investment person doing financial therapy but some outsource this task to licensed therapists.

  • Ronnie,

    I appreciate your perspective and feel that the real solution involves both individual as well as social change. I am a systems oriented person who works with each individual as part of a system addressing all aspects of the money dysfunction in one’s lives. I also speak to audiences in an effort to educate but also to encourage a dialogue about how this society got here and how we can individually and as a whole change for the better both in terms of finances and in other ways that are often expressed through money and wealth.

    One vs. the other is not correct in my opinion, but a whole shift in our American system needs to occur and each of us can initially chip away at it one person, one talk, one family, one industry at a time. And then I know in my heart change will happen.

    Thanks for listening.

    kbk
    Kathleen Burns Kingsbury, LMHC, CPCC

  • How do your comments mesh with “be the change you wish to see in the world”? In other words, many believe that true change starts with each individual.

    Maybe a bottoms up/top down conversation?

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