What Does Therapy-Informed Financial Planning Look Like?

May 09, 2024
A man and a woman sitting and holding hands

Financial planning has historically focused on what to do with your money. This is hugely helpful for improving spending, increasing investment returns, navigating taxes, and making sure you have the right types of insurance in place. 


But this method falls short when navigating the reality of the humans behind the decisions. As humans, we have thoughts, feelings, behaviors, belief systems, memories, nervous systems, and a perception of self and others that all shape how we show up and implement our financial plans. 


This is what makes Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ different from standard financial planning. 


Therapy-Informed Financial Planning draws on the fields of therapy and psychology to understand how humans work, heal, learn, grow, and make decisions that are in their best interests. 


Will This Really Help Me? 

That is a natural and good question to be asking yourself before you engage in any activity, including Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™.


Clients bring a host of expectations and concerns to the table when they meet with me about their romantic and financial lives. These two areas of their life are deeply intertwined and cannot be separated. 


This is what can make love and money such touchy subjects for so many couples. This angst often causes them to feel like they are growing apart and further behind financially, even when income is increasing and businesses or investments are growing. 


Couples want a solution to their money differences and challenges. For example, one spouse resents being criticized for being so tight with money, and the other doesn’t want to be regarded as entitled and careless with money. 


Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ solves many of the common financial challenges couples face together. 


What is Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™?

Therapy-Informed Financial Planning is a process that brings together the two worlds of therapy and financial planning to help couples find common ground and make collaborative decisions about where to go with their finances. 


Most (if not all) couples that go through Therapy-Informed Financial Planning feel some level of emotional or relational disconnection from each other. It is this distance and disconnection that makes it so challenging for them to solve their money problems, no matter what they are.


From the world of therapy and the science of Interpersonal Neurobiology, people need to feel a sense of safety and connection as the basis of mental and relational health. 


A major component of Therapy-Informed Financial Planning is understanding what creates this peace of mind and sustains a flourishing relationship. At the end of the day, there is no amount of money or financial plan that can make a miserable relationship an enjoyable place to be. 


Mental health, relationship health, and financial well-being are not in a hierarchical relationship but rather deeply interconnected. That is why we bring all three together in Therapy-Informed Financial Planning. 


Here’s what couples can expect when they engage in Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ and how it can help.


Month 1 - Getting To Know You and Strengthening Connection

Research shows that one of the biggest factors that predict the success of a helping relationship is the trust and comfort that is built between the individuals. 


During this first month of working together, three primary goals start to unfold and support the long-term success of the couple. 


  1. Building connection

We start by using a number of exercises to evaluate a couple’s level of comfort and closeness. We are particularly interested in learning more about their attachment styles and histories. A couple's attachment styles will influence how they interact with each other and their money decisions. 


  1. Telling your financial story

Each of our clients has a meaningful relationship with money and many experiences that have shaped their thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and bodily reactions to the topic of money. As partners hear each other's money stories, they often increase their level of empathy, compassion, and understanding of why their partner responds to money the way they do. 


  1. Gathering your financial information

Getting all of your financial information in one place can be a powerful step in gaining financial clarity and increasing financial transparency in your relationship. This also starts to help us identify financial planning steps that can be taken to help couples move in the direction of their financial goals. 

Month 2 - Starting To Make A Few Changes

At least one person in the couple is often eager to start to make financial decisions and changes in their life and relationship. We encourage our clients to go slow to go fast. By taking the time to focus on building connection, telling your financial story, and gathering your financial information, you have a much more holistic picture of your life and financial situation. 


As we continue to meet and the helping relationship deepens in trust and transparency, other fears, concerns, resentments, and places of shame start to show up. The original pains about overspending, changing homes, and unpaid taxes give way to more core issues for the couple. Issues related to childhood trauma, unresolved parenting pain, and self-worth begin to surface. 


For clients who have been on a healing journey, these realities are not new to them; but clients may be new to seeing how these elements impact their financial lives. They have psychological and relational resources to help them navigate the emotions and unresolved dynamics that come up, which allow them to move through the discomfort. 


For clients that have not spent much time in therapy or recovery, this is where Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™ can be more challenging. Often this can be the first time that someone talks with the client about the role unresolved trauma can have on a person's life. We love to partner with our clients and encourage them to seek outside therapy support to work through unresolved pain and traumas from the past. 


One of our favorite books to recommend at this point is What Happened To You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry, a leading researcher and therapist around childhood trauma. 


This is a point where some couples recognize they have what it takes within themselves and each other to work through their differences. Their confidence that they will come out the other side more relationally connected and financially healthier grows. 


Other couples recognize they will need to commit some time to work on their relationship and will need the support of other professional helpers (perhaps including a full-time therapist) to meet with on an ongoing basis. 

Month 3 - Starting To Feel The Benefits

By the time we move through the first three months, we have met four to six times to work on building the connection between the couple when it comes to money, telling and expanding their story as it relates to money, and gaining increased clarity on what is happening in their financial lives. 


From this new position, couples start to feel increasing hope that they will move through their financial concerns and establish sustainable changes to how they approach each other and money. 


I often see smiles, laughter, and a kind touch return between the couples. Couples go from seeing themselves or their partner as the problem to having a problem together to solve. The problem is not between us, but rather in front of us to solve together. In therapy speak, we call this co-regulation. 


At a deeper level, each client's nervous system is spending more time in what is called social engagement of the ventral vagal state, according to Polyvagal Theory. It is from this state of social engagement that each person's mind and brain can take in a bigger perspective than when they are when their bodies are in fight-or-flight mode. 


When couples start to make financial decisions from a ventral vagal state, they don’t see each other as threatening or unavoidable, which is the biggest barrier I see couples face when they struggle to navigate their finances together. 


With three months of support, many couples know they will need help for some time longer to move from money misery to money mastery as a couple. They will continue through the cycle of learning, healing, and growing as a couple. 


Life after three months -  Learn, Heal, Grow

Nearly all of the couples I work with share early in our work together that they don’t want to repeat the patterns they saw in their families around money. They are looking for a healthier way to do money together. 


This leads to the cycle of learning, healing, and growing that couples continue to engage in through Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™. Couples commit to continually practicing what they learn in our time working together and by searching out other sources of learning, healing, and growth to help themselves with specific desires. 


Why Learning, Healing, and Growth?

Learning- We don’t know what we don’t know. Taking the time to learn new information—both about how humans work and how money works—creates space for new creativity and answers to emerge for their current challenges. 


Healing- Unresolved relational and financial pain can slowly erode our well-being or quickly wipe out what we have been working towards. Alleviating as much of our own suffering as possible allows us to be present and oriented to life and growth. 


Growth- This is inevitable when we learn and heal. New growth can catch people off guard or surprise them. Taking time to integrate and make sense of your growth helps you to see yourself and your partner in new ways. 


Over time, each of my clients creates a way of navigating their love and money life that is meaningful and fulfilling to them. It may look radically different from the family they came from and it may have some major shifts. Often couples don’t realize how much needs to change to experience the relationship they desire. With time, they come to appreciate how freeing it is to create the relationship of their dreams together. 


Are you intrigued by this process? Do you have more questions on how it would work for your relationship? Let’s talk about your love and money story and how it can benefit from Therapy-Informed Financial Planning™.


Schedule your free 30-minute consultation here


Wishing You Healthy Love and Money,

Ed Coambs 




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