What Your Therapist Will Never Tell You About Money

Money remains a taboo subject for patients and therapists alike

Posted Jun 23, 2011

Therapists aren't supposed to have any personal feelings about money and fees, right? And if they do, they have been trained to keep all such feelings out of the treatment. So money and financial concerns have remained a closely guarded secret, rarely discussed by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other mental health professionals.

Same goes for those in the general population. Money is on everyone's minds, but discussing it remains taboo. In the current recession we have all had to downsize -- fewer restaurant meals, brown bag lunches, thrift store clothes. And we feel envious, ashamed, our self-esteem kicked to the curb. All this, but we continue to barely whisper about money. If discussed, it is often behind closed doors, or in therapy sessions. And rarely, if ever, do therapists talk about their own personal feelings about having less, or even perhaps having a bit more than those who have less. Rarely do they reveal personal choices made, or struggles faced in order to earn a living.

Money does matter. With it we pay both for basics, rent, food, gas, luxuries. But above and beyond being a currency with economic meaning, money has deeper meanings too. Money is used to acquire love or power, to dominate and control. For some it provides self-definition. By buying, having, and acquiring many people feel worthy. It is the essence of who and what they are, their personhood; I have a Mercedes, therefore I am. For others, eschewing money and possessions, and rebelling against materialism, is the way they define themselves. I would never have a Mercedes, therefore I am. Money and material possessions are the most superficial and often first noticed layer in society. But beneath the glitz, money has varied meanings for all of us.

Ever wonder how your therapist feels about conducting a practice in the recession, about being paid, or about your unpaid balance? Psychologists, psychiatrists, and other therapists have kept their feelings about money secret--until now. In a new book, Money Talks, in Therapy, Society, and Life, edited by Brenda Berger, Ph.D. and Stephanie Newman, Ph.D., a coterie of esteemed psychoanalysts reflect on their patients' feelings about money and their own struggles with money, both in the clinical situation and in their own lives.

For years mental health professionals have examined money, fees, paid, and unpaid balances to better understand their patients and attempt to heal their wounds. Therapists view money as a sort of movie projector, revealing and laying open for understanding many aspects of their patients' psychologies. It is a given for them that money, like dreams, symptoms and fantasies, is often an important way in which patients' inner struggles are revealed and can be explored. But while they routinely think about how patients unwittingly use money to communicate in action what remains out of awareness, they themselves remain loathe to share their personal conflicts and experiences in matters financial.

And even after years of clinical work and long personal treatments, clinicians have mostly kept silent about their income and its intricate interweave with their patients' financial situations. Money remains difficult to talk about-on both sides of the couch.

As we struggle through the worst recession in modern times, it becomes ever more important to speak about how financial matters affect us. Each layoff and rise in the ranks of the unemployed, every loss of home equity and diminished retirement fund, cuts deep. Money Talks address openly from different angles many complex questions around the emotions and psychological meanings stimulated by these challenging times.

Money Talks: in Therapy, Society, and Life [Hardcover]
Brenda Berger (Editor), Stephanie Newman (Editor)
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