#Therapeutic: A Part of Financial Life Planning Grammar

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No matter what subject I teach or concept I explain, I start with definitions and grammar.  A definition “states or expresses the meaning of a word or the nature of something”, whether that “something” is abstract or concrete.   Grammar has several definitions, however the definition of interest for the purposes of this discussion is “a set of principles or rules.”

Here are a couple of definitions of therapeutic (adjective):

  1. Having a beneficial effect on the body or mind
  2. Producing a useful or favorable result or effect

The following statement is grammar:

“Financial life planning with a professional financial advisor, done right, is therapeutic for the client and the advisor.”

Why therapeutic?  Here are four reasons.

  1. Sincere inquiry – As a client during the initial meetings with a financial planner consider: Something of relevance has placed you in front of the financial planner.  Expect to answer questions that may take you outside of your “comfort zone.”  Be prepared to ask questions that may take you outside of your “comfort zone.”  You are interviewing each other.  Be clear about the services the planner offers, what you need and whether or not it makes sense to create a partnership.  In order to help clients reach for abstract and concrete goals, financial life planning advisors are going to have to be savvy enough to ask tough questions about your relationship with money from the time you were first aware of its existence, all through the good and bad times during formative years, up until the here and now.  If you are aware of the issues (past or present) that affect your relationship with money, begin to lay a strong foundation for your financial planning partnership with sincere questions and honest responses…in both directions!
  2. Honest discourse – As a client you may walk into an advisor’s office, and as a result of the financial stress you are enduring, “spill ALL of the tea” on your financial joys and woes. Or, you may be wary of being judged for your need for financial advice and the amount of assets you own.  Breathe…Exhale.  Reputable advisors that participate in financial life planning exist because they have a sincere desire to
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    help clients meet overarching and specific life goals with money and assets…ethically and responsibly.  Advisors and clients must have honest discussions about wants, needs and potential fears about and relationships with money.  Money is a tool.  It is not to be loved, can’t love back, and it is the mechanism we use to barter to ensure we have the resources available to ensure our individual survival.  We use it to buy products and services.  Ideally, ultimately, we invest for the “greater good”…whatever that good might be based upon our personal priorities.  Share your priorities, dreams, and potential planning challenges.  Have honest conversations with the planner, with friends and family affected by your financial decisions, and yes, even have honest discourse with yourself.

  3. Cultural competence – Cultural competence is the ability to demonstrate in a practical manner a genuine understanding of historical and cultural influences that inform the experiences and responses of diverse population groups. A culturally competent person is aware of his or her own cultural identity and the differences between varying cultural and community norms of the various people that may seek financial advice.  Sincere inquiry and honest discourse are on-going activities.  In the midst of all of the communicating, ask yourself:  Does the advisor see my unique situation and attempt to understand the entirety of the human capital that I bring to this financial life planning relationship?  Is this advisor intellectually honest about the business services and expertise offered?  Is the advisor clear about how the services may or may not meet my needs?  Does the advice the advisor offers take into consideration cultural, political, or religious views that make me my own unique person, yet inform how I operate within the financial system.  To be fair, not all financial planning business models work for all clients.   A successful interview does not always conclude with a signed contract or letter of engagement.  In that case, it will result in a clear understanding of why you chose not to hire the advisor or why the advisor concluded the services needed did not fit the business model offered.
  4. Validation – Money is a tough subject to discuss…especially outside of the most intimate and trusting of settings when talking about your OWN money and all of the potential dysfunction and happiness it may bring.  Remember…something makes a potential client seek the expertise of a financial professional.  Advisors need to validate client concerns and “where they are here and now” if they want sincere inquiry, honest discourse, and culturally competent practices.  In the case of financial life planning, to validate clients’ perspectives is not simply to determine or to recognize the “worthiness” or “legitimacy” of their current situations without judgement, but instead
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    to recognize that the actions that led to the current situations are perceived by clients and affected the clients’ journeys to the here and now.  Validation leads to buy-in.  It sends a message that the client is heard, the concerns are acknowledged and that there is accountability on the part of both parties to operate for the benefit of the client recognizing that the concerns may affect the financial solutions offered and accepted for action.

Imagine an environment where clients and financial professionals engage in sincere inquiry, with honest discourse, amongst a group of culturally competent individuals mature enough to validate each other’s perspectives…for the clients’ benefit.  This setting is fertile ground for teamwork.  Financial life planning is teamwork.  Developing the skills necessary to participate in sincere inquiry, honest discourse, cultural competence and validation is therapeutic because it forces us to wrestle with our own preconceived ideas about finances.  Developing these skills also influences the development of our premises before we even begin to discuss financial solutions to financial problems that may be rooted in non-financial issues.  Reaching for financial goals can include the pursuit of joy, purpose and security.  Taking a step back to answer questions about what brings you joy, what fulfills your purpose and what provides security is therapeutic.  Advisors and clients benefit from these conversations.  Each party stops to look within, checks their own assumptions, and prepares to fully engage in an honest productive financial planning partnership.  Conversation with your financial life planning professional is not therapy.  It is symbiotic.  It does benefit mind and body.  The goal of the conversations is to develop a set of unique action plans designed to have useful and favorable financial planning results or effects as a result of the planning process.  Subject matter may push you out of your comfort zone, but done right, I believe the grammar statement stands:  Financial life planning with a professional financial advisor, done right, is therapeutic for the client and the advisor.