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In a Nutshell: Unlike traditional therapy, financial therapy targets problems associated with money matters. Lindsay Bryan-Podvin is a certified financial therapist and the Founder of Mind Money Balance, which promotes developing a healthier emotional relationship with money. As a licensed therapist in the state of Michigan, Bryan-Podvin uses therapy or coaching sessions to help clients examine the underlying conditions of their financial struggles. Bryan-Podvin’s clients can gain a better understanding of themselves through financial analysis and create a more balanced money management approach.
When people think about psychotherapy, they typically imagine lying on a couch talking about emotional insecurities, irrational fears and other troubling episodes from the past. In this scenario, licensed therapists help clients with a number of solutions be they anecdotal or supplemental through medical treatment.
But what if the problem is about balancing your budget, or the fear of making an important financial decision?
Unbeknownst to many, financial therapy is an available type of treatment. In fact, there is even an organization called the Financial Therapy Association (FTA), which is composed of professionals dedicated to integrating the emotional, behavioral and financial aspects of well-being.
Lindsay Bryan-Podvin, a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Financial Therapist, and Founder of Mind Money Balance, came across the FTA after experiencing her own money concerns. After going into the field of mental health and getting her master’s degree in clinical social work, Bryan-Podvin faced an unfortunate reality in that many in nursing, social work and other helping professions were not getting paid well.
She struggled to make ends meet and saw firsthand how money can impact mental health. The stress of living paycheck to paycheck affected Bryan-Podvin both mentally and physically.
“I developed chronic insomnia, I wasn’t sleeping. And when you’re not sleeping, all of a sudden your physical health takes a nosedive,” said Bryan-Podvin.
Bryan-Podvin read many library books on personal finance in hopes of finding a solution. But she was disappointed to find that much of the advice being given centered on blaming and shaming the individual over these financial woes.
Still, over time, Bryan-Podvin cut back her spending as much as she could, but it just didn’t feel right. It was only after getting a better paying job that she could finally get some relief.
As her insomnia slowly dissipated, Bryan-Podvin realized that with a better paying job, not only was her physical and mental health improving, but she could actually implement some of the things that those personal finance books were telling her to do.
Despite her own personal improvements, Bryan-Podvin was not permitted to offer holistic or meaningful financial advice as a social worker. “I wasn’t allowed to ask a lot of those questions. And it just felt like a huge miss that I could be helping someone with their mental health, but I couldn’t help them with their finances,” said Bryan-Podvin.
That helped inspire Bryan-Podvin to become a licensed financial therapist. She now operates the Mind Money Balance, which is a private therapy practice in the state of Michigan dedicated to helping people understand the ways in which their minds and money are intersected.
A Different Kind of Therapy
While traditional psychotherapy can be nebulous and ongoing, financial therapy is different in that it focuses on a particular aspect of a person’s life, mental health and well-being. When Bryan-Podvin is working with a client in the first few sessions, she is trying to figure out what their emotionally related money goals are.
“I can do things a little bit more creatively than I could at maybe a traditional mental health institution or organization,” she said. Prospective clients can book a financial therapy session with Bryan-Podvin and see firsthand what it can do for them.
The purpose of financial therapy is to figure out some psychologically based money goals that will determine whether healing has been achieved. Healing may mean helping people feel confident or empowered with money, or helping them go to sleep without thinking about money concerns.
“In financial therapy, it’s much shorter term than traditional psychotherapy in that we usually have three to five very specific goals that we’re working on,” said Bryan-Podvin. “I like to meet with my clients once a week, and it’s usually six to nine months.”
Some goalposts for Bryan-Podvin’s past clients would include things like having a plan to pay off credit card debt, having a coping skill toolkit that they can reach into, and finding ways to practice self-soothing or self-care that do not involve spending money.
Typically, in a first session, Bryan-Podvin will gather data and ask about a client’s financial history. If clients feel it’s important, they may disclose their credit scores or how much they have in their checking and savings accounts. By digging into the client’s money-psychology history, Bryan-Podvin and the client may identify patterns of spending behavior.
Bryan-Podvin may ask questions about where the client grew up and how their caregivers talked about money that reveal some foundational truths. Information like when the client started working, whetherthey had food or housing insecurity, and a number of other money-related questions identify major money milestones of a person’s life.
“What we know is that by the time we’re about eight years old, we more or less have decided what we think money is or isn’t or what we’re allowed to do with it,” said Bryan-Podvin. “So we have to go back in time to figure out if that inner eight-year-old is still driving the financial decisions and emotional decisions of this now adult.”
Building A Healthy Relationship With Money
Bryan-Podvin believes that having a healthy relationship with money means having the capacity to see money as something that is neutral, rather than something that is good or bad.
Gaining financial literacy is also an important component, but should be applied in a personalized way. There are far too many financial self-help guides offering overly simplistic advice that can be difficult to employ on an individual level. This type of self-improvement requires each person to decide what a healthy money relationship looks like to them.
Bryan-Podvin said she wants people to know that they are in the driver’s seat about their finances, and that they have autonomy over what they do and why they do it. It’s about being in control of their money instead of their money controlling them.
“It’s this blend of financial literacy of values and feeling at peace with money, whatever feeling at peace with money means to that person,” she said.
People need to be honest with themselves so they can figure out what their version of a healthy relationship with money is. They can achieve that by asking themselves what makes them feel anxious, and what it would look like to not feel embarrassed by their money concerns. In a sense, each person gets to decide what a healthy relationship with money looks like to them.
Some people still feel insecure and unable to maintain a healthy balance even if they are making enough money. Bryan-Podvin noted that many of us have internalized the dogma of personal finance, where we’re told that if we make enough money, we shouldn’t feel stressed anymore.
“For so many of us who have experienced different relationships with money or financial trauma, having enough money may not be that magic bullet that we had been promised,” said Bryan-Podvin.
A number of her clients have said they feel frustrated and on edge because they are earning enough but it doesn’t feel like it. They still feel like they need to make more money or that they are not allowed to spend it.
“Money is not divorced from how we think, how we feel, and how we behave,” said Bryan-Podvin.
Resources For A Better Financial Balance
Aside from her clinical practice, Bryan-Podvin also offers emotionally focused money coaching, which can have some similarities to therapy. The main difference is that coaching has no diagnosis and no mental health treatment. And it’s usually more specific to individual needs and much shorter in duration.
With financial coaching, Bryan-Podvin helps her clients look at a specific stressor related to money and tries to help them come up with a plan that works for them to feel good about money. This type of assistance works best for people who are ready to take action.
The emotionally focused money coaching Bryan-Podvin provides will typically last from 12 to 20 sessions.
Bryan-Podvin Mind Money Balance also provides a number of other resources, including YouTube videos, podcast episodes, public speaking and workshops.
She is also the author of “The Financial Anxiety Solution,” which is a step-by-step workbook designed to help people understand what a healthy relationship with money looks like and how to take control of finances.
On a final note, Bryan-Podvin said that it’s important to encourage clients to think about what their behavior with money did for them, rather than enforcing negative thoughts like stating they messed up or they’re bad with money.
In one analogy, she described that going to Tim Hortons every day for a latte could get a person labeled as a wasteful spender. But that person might have various stressors in life, and having one moment of peace could be something that this person needs to feel a sense of control, continuity and predictability.
Bryan-Podvin’s philosophy is that most money mistakes are both going to happen and are fixable, meaning that people will continue to make money mistakes along the way and there’s no final point at which we are always good with money.
“It’s so much better to start, wherever you’re at, than to pretend that it’s too late or that a mistake is too big,” she said.