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April 2014


By Sandy Plone, Ph.D.

Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty. -Socrates

IEarly in my private practice as a psychologist some years ago, a friend presented me the unique gift of a desktop calculator, saying he wanted me to "add large numbers on it," implying the wish for financial success. My discomfort with this well-meaning gesture prompted me to say that I considered myself foremost a healer, and success would mean being able to help my patients live more peaceful and satisfying lives, not just “adding large numbers on the calculator.” I found it difficult to accept his gift, and certainly did not display it; it seemed like a symbol of greed to me, so against my values.

But the positive side of that discomfort helped me to then become aware of my OWN complicated money issues. Clearly I had ambivalence about being entitled to earn my living while also helping my clients to heal; not uncommon among women of my generation. Soon after I met and began to collaborate with Deborah L. Price, financial planner, money coach and author of the books MONEY THERAPY: Using the Eight Money Types to Create Wealth and Prosperity and MONEY MAGIC: Unleashing Your True Potential for Prosperity and Fulfillment. The combination of our friendship and her development as a money coach led to a transformation of my own money consciousness, and ultimately my enhanced experience in being able to help my clients with these same issues. Both the individuals and the couples I helped were opened to greater understanding of how past issues and "money myths" learned from families and sub-cultures were impacting them in present relationships and career choices, often in negative ways.

In this article I intend to provide information about money therapy, and also delineate various applications of the process. It has become clear to me as a clinical psychologist who is also trained in the money therapy specialty that the current volatile economic climate has greatly increased the need for this information. Going through the process of learning about one's relationship to money, and the deeper symbolic meaning of money from internal as well as external perspectives can be extremely freeing. 

Borrowing from Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (1943), basic needs need to be met first, then awareness of our formerly unconscious attitudes about money can enhance all aspects of our lives. More simply put, without physiological and safety needs being met, the needs of love, affection and belongingness are rarely met. Following this line of reasoning, the needs for personal self-esteem and finally, self-actualization are not activated until basic, instinctual needs are satisfied. In this regard, the beauty of money therapy is that it can be introduced to meet a client's need at any level.

We live in a society that places a strong emphasis on making and spending money, although talking about the subject is difficult for many. Until recently, generations of parents have been unclear about how to teach children and young adults how to handle money effectively.  Levels of self-esteem are often tied to earning power in our culture; these reactions can permeate relationships and sometimes contribute to problems with intimacy issues.  This is a particularly difficult problem these days, with many hurting from job loss or uneasiness over career, business, or home security, creating added tension in families. The people who come to my office these days are eager to discuss these issues now, and searching for guidance.


Money therapy, as with any aspect of psychotherapy practice, can be as varied as the individuals utilizing the modality. While there is no "cookbook" approach, there is a structure using the exercises in the book MONEY MAGIC. That process proved to be a powerful agent of change for me, and others I have known, and is the approach I recommend to my clients. When difficult financial issues are presented and clients are interested in some focused work in that area, I suggest reading the first three chapters, then writing a "Money Biography", which involves accessing memories from the earliest possible to the present time. Bringing greater awareness around money histories enriches therapy work as connections between past and present begin to emerge, bringing insight into present issues. When each partner of a couple engages at that level powerful changes can occur rapidly. An example of this type of awareness took place recently with a couple that took turns reading their money biographies to one another, while the partner listened attentively. It wasn't long, with a few interventions on my part, until it became clear that within each family of origin there were opposing assumptions about the energy of money. Her family was casual about money, assuming we live in a "universe of plenty" and that another job opportunity would present itself as needed. (It usually did). His family, conversely, held onto the fears from the Great Depression gleaned from grandparents and lived as if in a "universe of scarcity". Those fears resulted in not taking risks, not spending (or circulating any money), and not living a joyful life, which was passed onto the children. One could speculate about "self-fulfilling prophecies", but the point here is that each began to empathize with the background of their partner, and they found ways to forge compromises in their money decisions.

This is but one example of money therapy at work.  With further reading the various exercises evoke even greater awareness and deepen understanding of both oneself and one's partner if they are part of the process. The "Mother/Father Mirror" looks at those who have influenced and taught us about money; or who may NOT have taught us through silence and contributed to our naivet'e. Which leads us to a major, unique aspect of the work: finding our own "money type", akin to Jungian archetypes. An example would be the untaught, naive person who may be predominately an "Innocent", while the fearless risk-taker may relate to the "Warrior". The most balanced of all the eight money types would be the "Money Magician", who truly can learn to transform their energy around money towards prosperity, creativity and contentment. Additional exercises help separate out self-worth from net-worth, help to build a calmer relationship to money, and for those who are interested, there is a spiritual focus available.

Money therapy is not financial advising or guidance; that is neither the training nor my expertise. There are times, however, when clients who have gone through this process will seek help with changing money behaviors, and wish to learn basic financial management skills, or seek help for creating financial wellness. This is consistent with the training from The Money Coaching Institute and my own Certification as a Money Coach. One example is the painful story of a young woman who was deeply in credit card debt, paying unconscionable interest rates to several companies while also unable to curtail frivolous shopping. Our money therapy work uncovered a connection to past deprivations, resulting in overspending (and overeating), in an unconscious effort to fill the empty places inside. I have encountered this dynamic many times over with people in this age group, whereas other age groups may present with different dynamics.

Young people with affluent families are often hard-pressed to find the motivation to delay gratification and work towards a meaningful professional or work life, when the external (or internal) drive is around materialism, and there is fear of not meeting expectations. Divorced or widowed women who have not prepared for the future are grateful to have a confidential setting to work out thoughts on the details, or learn how to manage inheritances if that is the issue. Older couples often have not thought of comfortable ways to will their assets, and are intimidated to have the first conversation about these matters with an estate-planning attorney, or may even be seeking trusted referrals. Blended families who struggle with fairness issues regarding division of assets to children and stepchildren often seek clarification of feelings before making those complicated decisions. Couples seeking help where either he or she has lost a job, putting a strain on the marriage, and needing a neutral person to help support and guide them, are all examples of money therapy sessions, and symptomatic of our times.

The applications for this work are endless, and are as individual as the clients seeking help. But, the goal of developing new awareness and peace of mind through creating a more balanced personal and financial life can be rewarding for a lifetime.


Dr. Sandy Plone is a Clinical Psychologist and Certified Money Coach who specializes in helping others work through blocks towards prosperity and creative fulfillment. For information or confidential questions call (310) 979-7473.

2014 Copyright by Sandy Plone, Ph.D.


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