28 Dec 197 | Financial Therapy: Should You Try It? with Thomas Faupl, LMFT
Welcome to episode 197 of Profit Boss® Radio! In this episode, we’re talking about financial therapy: what it is, how it works, and if you should try it.
Couples and families find themselves in conflict over money all the time. They struggle to communicate effectively when it comes to money, working toward common goals, and sharing values to ensure long-term financial success and a fulfilling life.
Today’s guest, Thomas Faupl, LMFT, is here to help address these challenges. Thomas is a private practice therapist specializing in trauma and financial therapy for individuals, couples, and families. While he was in grad school, he worked as a certified consumer credit counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling of San Francisco, and he’s counseled hundreds of people to help solve issues around personal finance.
If you’ve ever found yourself arguing about money with your spouse, parents, kids, or extended family, you’re definitely not alone. In this episode, Thomas shares the most common issues people have with money, how to overcome them, why financial therapy is an emerging field in psychology, and why it might be right for you.
Here’s what you’ll find out in this week’s episode of Profit Boss® Radio:
- Why it’s so hard for a traditional therapist to solve issues around money.
- The main issues that Thomas sees in his personal practice–and why the opposites that attract in relationships can create stressful money situations.
- The questions Thomas asks clients to help identify potential issues and boundaries without being forceful or manipulative.
- Why so many people have traumas around money–and the tools you can use to unpack, process, and work through them.
- How gender conditioning around money can impact how couples handle their money–and how both financial advisors and therapists see relationships.
The Money Blueprint℠ for Business Owners
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Resources and Related Profit Boss® Content
- Episode 16: Financial Planning for Couples
- Episode 184: Couple and Money: Planning for Wealth
- How To Talk Money With Your Honey: 5 Ways to Make Money Talks Fun
- How Couples Can Stop Fighting About Money
- Consumer Credit Counseling Service of San Francisco
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Hilary Hendershott: Well, hello, Profit Boss. Today, we are talking money therapy for real. I have with me today, Thomas Faupl. He’s a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He’s in private practice in San Francisco and works with people throughout California. He specializes in trauma and financial therapy for individuals, couples, and families, so basically, if you need financial therapy. While attending graduate school, Thomas worked as a certified consumer credit counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling of San Francisco. He counseled hundreds of people around personal finances, and his current goal is to help couples better communicate around money conflicts, as well as work toward common goals and values for financial success and life fulfillment.
Hilary Hendershott: Thomas, welcome to Profit Boss Radio.
Thomas Faupl: Well, it’s a pleasure. Thank you for inviting me, Hilary. I got really excited about our talk today.
Hilary Hendershott: Yeah, me too. You’re pretty unique in what you do. Let’s just kind of start from the top. Tell me what is a psychotherapist? And you said that’s synonymous with LMFT, and how is that different from the other types of therapists out there? So, does it mean you’re especially skilled at something, and it is talk therapy, right? Just tell us, give us a little bit of the lay of the land.
Thomas Faupl: Yeah. So, a psychotherapist is a kind of overarching term, social worker or marriage and family therapist are the same thing. Distinctly, as a marriage and family therapist, I’m working with people in terms of their relationships, relationship to themself, relationship to their loved ones, their family, and relationship to their money.
Hilary Hendershott: So, I have often said to people, it is very tough to just go hire a therapist to talk about money, may not feel like almost everyone has a therapist these days. I mean, you can even do virtual therapy if you believe the ads on my podcast player. But of course, you can’t just pick any therapist and talk about money because most therapists, frankly, don’t have an empowered relationship to money. So, what’s your reaction to that? And what do you think makes you different?
Thomas Faupl: Well, I’ve always liked money, so I’ve always had a curiosity about money, but I really learned to develop my skill sets when I was a credit counselor, when I was in graduate school. And that’s where that kind of the rubber hit the pavement with really seeing how potent this issue is around money for individuals, for families, and particularly for couples because we all come from our family of origins and we have downloaded experiences around money, around our belief systems, about what we saw, what we experienced as children. And then we could download that into our brains, and then that influences how we are with money. And some people are naturally good with money. Some people have issues around financial literacy. Some people have more emotional issues around money. So, that’s where I really started to learn about money.
And then, as I became licensed, I realized this is a field, like my clients aren’t talking about money, and I’m wondering why. So, I started asking them about their relationship to money, the couples that I was seeing, and even individuals. So, people would really start to open up, and I could see that this was an unfulfilled need that needed to be addressed. So, the field of “financial therapy” is an emerging field in the field of psychology. So, I think you’re going to see more and more people specializing in the field because I think there’s a high demand for it.
Hilary Hendershott: Oh, there certainly is a high demand for it. So, there must have been something about you that would have you go work as a consumer credit counselor. Would you say, did you come out of your family of origin with positive or empowered relationship to money? Was that something that your parents taught you or that you learned when you were a child?
Thomas Faupl: Well, I should say, I grew up in a family, a blue-collar family in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. So, my parents really struggled as young parents and they had three children, and I was the youngest. So, what I experienced was that sometimes it wasn’t enough, and that really influenced my thinking in terms of, I developed a part that became very self-sufficient and got jobs and paid myself through high school and private university because my parents couldn’t afford it. But it also downloaded a belief that there wasn’t enough. So, I got really curious about that as I did my clinical training, how that influenced what my beliefs were about being self-employed and building a business, and because that’s different from getting a paycheck. And so, those kinds of beliefs really started to surface for me. So, I have to do my own personal work on them.
Hilary Hendershott: Oh, it’s really great. So, would you say that’s still your core belief about money, by the way, I have this phrase I call the money operating system, and that was mine as well, is there’s never enough money. It was something I really had to fight my own demons about in order to do what I do now. So, would you say you’ve transcended that a bit? Or is that still kind of there for you?
Thomas Faupl: I think I’ve integrated that belief into a more realistic belief. It comes up every now and then on a blip. But my practice, when I look at my practice, it’s just the money comes. There’s a certain flow to the money, and I have a strong sense of confidence and trust that it will come. But that’s years after years of doing some real deep work about where those beliefs came from and how they influenced me and what my childhood experiences were.
Hilary Hendershott: Yeah, that’s my experience as well. For the most part, I’ve transcended it, but I noticed it comes up every once in a while. It’s like, oh, how much should I pay for that meal? Can I really afford that? Then I have to think to myself, oh no, no, yes, I can. So, what are the most common money issues you see couples having? In other words, what’s the bread and butter kind of meat and potatoes, money conflict that people come to see you about?
Thomas Faupl: People come to see me about many different issues. I would say the main themes are different values and particularly, the issue of saving versus living for now. So, one, opposites attract in relationships. So, those very things that attracted you to a partner can become very stressful around the issue of money. So, often, there is one partner who is very diligent about saving, maybe overly diligent, because they may have their own money scripts around not having enough or they came from poverty or some sort of stressful experience. So, that’s a way of keeping themselves feeling secure and safe. And then their partner would be more very much, let’s live for today and let’s enjoy life. And the reality is both have a reality to it. Both have some truth to it.
The question is, what’s the right balance for the couple? And every couple is unique. So, that’s the main theme. But people, they just can’t communicate around money. The conversation is either escalate or they disengage. So, there’s a way that there’s a lot of unresolved built-up issues around money that don’t get addressed in a relationship. So, we really start to unpack that and talk about what is the quality of communication between the partners. Sometimes, people come in because there’s been some sort of financial infidelity, that there’s been some sort of financial secrets, so there can be a dark side around money with couples.
And also, I get a lot of young couples that are approaching marriage or making a deeper commitment to themselves, and they want some upfront coaching on how to address money because they’ve seen right away off the bat that that’s becoming some difficulty. So, they’re being very proactive, those couples, in terms of not waiting 20 years down the road. And then there are some real serious issues happening.
Hilary Hendershott: Right. Especially in San Francisco, I imagine, you get some couples where one or both parties have some very unique financial situations given so many tech companies and initial public offerings and some people just have way more money than was reasonable to even think about when I was 20. So, let’s start with the saver/spender type. Let’s start with that. So, like you said, there’s truth to both of it. And sometimes, I refer to the savers as the white-knucklers. There’s a reasonable amount of savings, but then some people are just white-knuckled about it, right? It comes from a source of fear, a background of fear about running out.
So, how do you as a counselor, as a therapist, counsel them to a reasonable outcome without inserting your opinions about it? So, you and I both know that being fiscally conservative, it pays off. It’s actually good to be a saver, but of course, it’s also good to enjoy life. So, how do you start with a couple like that? Do you sort of insert some factualness to it? Do you give them a percentage that’s reasonable to save? Or do you let them work it out?
Thomas Faupl: Well, I do a couple of things. First of all, I ask some specific questions about their financial situation. What are the numbers? The numbers are the numbers.
Hilary Hendershott: Oh, you do ask.
Thomas Faupl: So, I want to know what kind of student loan debt do you have? What kind of personal loans do you own? What kind of credit card debt do you have? Do you have any of that? What level are you saving? What level are you spending? What’s the bottom line month to month on your– are you in the hole? If you’re in the hole, yeah, you’re going to feel anxious. So, I’m going to ask some really targeted assessment questions, but I’m also going to have a conversation with them about growing up their developmental history. What happened around money? And what is their financial literacy? That would be the third thing that I’m going to look at. Do they understand money? Do they understand their credit reports and things like that? And how do they feel about that if they don’t understand those things because that can bring up a lot of shame for people? So, those three categories asking during kind of a financial and targeted financial analysis of what their situation looks like, their developmental history, and also getting this level of financial literacy starts to give us a framework for diving into their unique issues that they have.
Hilary Hendershott: So, I find once you dig in with people, you can find some real, let’s just say odd behaviors, sometimes you dig in, right? Are you ever in a position to say, that’s bizarre? $100,000 in gambling debt? It’s not healthy. It’s never going to go well. Or do you give specific coaching and say, do that, don’t do that? Or are you, let them work it out kind of a position or a role in your role as a counselor?
Thomas Faupl: Well, I’m client-centered, so I’m following the lead of the clients in terms of what they see their goals are. However, that doesn’t stop me from playing things out to people. Like something about gambling or addiction comes up, or compulsively spending that needs to be named for what it is. It’s not from a point of shaming, but from let’s get curious about that part. What is going on for you around that part? What’s driving that part’s behavior? Do you understand what’s happening for you? And if not, do you want to learn about that because this is impacting your relationship in a serious way?
Hilary Hendershott: So, let’s talk about a relationship where, I mean, first of all, just to put it on the table, it is okay for someone to say, I’m actually not willing to be in a relationship with this particular issue for the rest of my life, like we need to work this out, or else I’m going to move on. Would you agree?
Thomas Faupl: Absolutely.
Hilary Hendershott: And so, first of all, how does someone really identify those boundaries for themselves? And second, how do you articulate that without being forceful or manipulative?
Thomas Faupl: Well, I think that through the process of a number of sessions, the question is every couple needs to explore what’s the deal-breaker? What is their level of happiness? What is their level of functionality in the relationship? And is this really disturbing? So, I invite my couples to talk about that openly. I think it needs to be brought out into the open as something that needs to be examined in the relationship for a couple to really have to sit with that and look at, are we really going to work together to make this work? Or is there something that’s just fundamentally not resolvable in the relationship? So, I don’t force it on people, but I do present it as something that they would benefit from looking at, that’s why they’re coming to me. They need some sort of support in doing that, but part of what I’m doing is creating a sense of safety, no shaming, no judgment. Let’s bring some curiosity and integrity to the system so people can start to unpack that because often, your partner is the one that if they’re so fearful of being shamed or judged or rejected by the partners, a part of my role is to create a container where they can explore that in a way that that’s not happening.
Hilary Hendershott: And I occasionally have conversations, I’ll go speak in public and I share my financial situation was very bad and now, it’s just fine and good. And so, because I’m so open, people tend to share with me their life stories. But often, people will drag their partners into a meeting with me, and I don’t do one-on-one therapy. So, it’s not something I can continue with. But it’ll be one spouse who displays traits of being financially responsible, and then the other spouse, it just seems like you can’t even get them into the conversation. And without any training that you have, no clinical training, I think to myself, okay, so this person doesn’t have the financial maturity, like you’re just on extremely different levels. Is there a technical term? Is there a clinical, not diagnosis because that’s not necessarily something wrong with someone who isn’t willing or able to even see that saving money is a good thing, but what would you say to or about that person? In other words, how would you describe that some people’s brains seem to develop financially and some people’s don’t?
Thomas Faupl: Well, some people come to financial therapy sessions. One partner has kind of been dragged into the office, so to speak. So, I ask each partner, do you want to be here? Is this something you both agreed on doing? Or is this somebody is giving somebody an ultimatum? Or what’s happening here? So, I want to have that be really open before we start to work on it. But some people might have financial literacy, but they don’t want to talk about what they’re doing. So, that’s the clinical issue. It’s like, why don’t you want to talk about what you’re doing? Is it because you feel like you don’t feel safe with your partner? Or is it because you’ve got a secret that you don’t want your partner to know about?
So, there’s a little bit of investigative questioning that I will gently fold into the process because I need to kind of pull that apart to understand what’s happening. But to answer your question about some people do seem to be built more about understanding money and something gets triggered for others around money, they either didn’t get the modeling or just a simple financial education that they needed, or they have some sort of trauma around money, some sort of crisis that happened in the family or family instability that when they get close to working with money, that brings up a huge amount of anxiety, and they don’t understand what’s happening for them. And that’s where my trauma therapy gets folded into is really to understand what’s driving that.
Hilary Hendershott: I was going to ask you about that. Tell me, what is trauma therapy? I think you’re talking about EMDR. Is that correct?
Thomas Faupl: Yeah, trauma therapy is just working with distressing experiences that one may have had growing up that they weren’t able to process, so that could have been a death in the family that affected your financial life. It could have been parents fighting about money all the time. It could have been living in poverty. And then that caused some sort of emotional and cognitive kind of dynamic…
Hilary Hendershott: Stunting.
Thomas Faupl: Stunting, yes, exactly. It’s important. So, if you really get to the root of things and resolve the traumatic situations, that’s a piece of making their relationship with money better, but it’s not all of it. They also need to develop a muscle around developing financial literacy. You need to know, I mean, finances are so much more complicated now than they were 30 years ago. So, you can go on Amazon and do one click and not know what you’re doing in terms of how much you’re spending. So, I think some people do need to develop, go back, and to fill in that gap that’s left brain learning with the right brain trauma processing.
Hilary Hendershott: And so, literally, how do you heal trauma? What are the ways that you use to heal trauma, really? And also, what is EMDR?
Thomas Faupl: Okay, sure. I use somatic integrative mind-body approaches like EMDR, brainspotting, somatic experiencing. So, in a very simple way, if you look at the brain, we have our prefrontal cortex, which is when we go off our left brain, what we use at work, it’s what we do for analysis. But under that brain is something called the limbic emotional brain, all mammals have that emotional brain. That limbic brain and the brain under the reptilian brain, which goes into the spinal cord, holds trauma that holds just distressing experience. So, talk therapy can’t really access those parts of the brain where you reprocess that. So, things like EMDR, which is using bilateral stimulation and certain protocols to work with distressing memories to take the charge out of the body, out of the nervous system. Brainspotting targets the limbic emotional brain so that limbic emotional brain can start to heal and reprocess what’s been stuck and blocked for that individual. So, in the last 20 years, there’s been huge advances in trauma therapy.
Hilary Hendershott: And I know, obviously, all of your client work is confidential, but I assume I can ask you anonymous examples. Could you give us some examples of financial traumas that you’ve had success healing so people understand what’s available for them?
Thomas Faupl: Sure. A common one is that there was divorce in the family, and that caused financial hardship with one of the parents. And so, divorce is one of those that ranks very high on trauma for children to see mom and dad split up as it’s really hard for the child to tolerate. So, that’s one thing, living in poverty, where there was a lot of instability and crisis, or if one of the parents had a mental health issue, could have been alcoholism or something like that. So, this isn’t necessarily linear, but there’s something in the way, some sort of sense of fundamental security, and that everything is going to be okay is disrupted in the child. So, then they grow up, and that somehow gets pulled into their financial lives. Sometimes, it does not get pulled in their financial lives. Sometimes, it gets pulled into their relationship lives. And sometimes it’s both and it gets mixed up together. So, we have to work on everything, so to speak.
Hilary Hendershott: Yes, I imagine, it’s probably rare that someone has a trauma, per se, and that it’s only impacting them in the area of finances. So, it’s probably going to be multifaceted.
Thomas Faupl: Absolutely.
Hilary Hendershott: And then how many sessions does it take to alleviate some of the impacts of these traumas?
Thomas Faupl: Some people come for just 10 sessions or less and some people come for months because they realize there are other issues in the relationship that are also tied into their conflicts around money, or that the core money issues are so complicated and embedded or the way that they’re communicating about the conflict is so fraught with stress and tension for them that they need more intensive work.
Hilary Hendershott: And one of the things I really like to do is I like to give people scripts. I like to give people suggested words to use, so a lot of what I do with my coaching clients is we talk about how to start negotiations, etc., etc. But in one of the things you’ve talked about is the escalation of emotion in a conversation about money. Can we talk about, in your experience, for example, let’s take a dating couple, it’s time to start talking about finances, or one person is very committed to having an empowered relationship about finances, what’s a way to enter into that conversation? How can you ask, can I see your net worth statement? What’s the right way to ask for the first time?
Thomas Faupl: Well, I think, in the context of them discussing, do we want to be a couple? The partners need to at some point, say this is part of our intimacy. This is the financial intimacy where people have emotional intimacy, sexual intimacy, friendship intimacy. This is a piece that should just be kind of natural, I think it’s something that needs to be brought up. And then the question is how is it received? Because if it’s received openly, then great, then people can talk about it. If it’s not, then that tension point needs to be addressed. I do recommend that couples schedule times to sit down and talk about money and not talk about it midweek when somebody comes home from work, stressed out, and somebody is looking at a credit card bill and if the outcome of that conversation isn’t so good. So, scheduling, some initially, they don’t have to do it forever, but each partner can bring some intentionality to it and can kind of prepare themselves to talk about it. But I do encourage my couples to be transparent about their finances with each other, their credit reports, their net worth, particularly their debt because it’s a deal-breaker for some partners.
Hilary Hendershott: Yes. I knew someone once who got married and the morning she woke up after her wedding night, and he revealed to her a half-million dollars in debt and foreclosure, and like this, right? So, this was, in my opinion, not a great way to start a marriage. Okay, so we talked about how to foray into the conversation, and your recommendation is a supportive environment, do it at a time when both people are accepting it, and to talk about it as part of your relationship intimacy. What if you really need to say to someone, based on your behavior, I just don’t trust you right now? How can you say that and have it be just a straight communication and the least chance of really starting kind of a World War III? Like, can we just have an intellectual conversation about this? And obviously, this question could be applied to more than money, but I specifically mean about money.
Thomas Faupl: Well, I want to support the partner. I want to know how the partner is responding to that. So, if there’s something going on in the relationship that I’m picking up on my side around trust, I want to support the partner to advocate for themselves. But I will, at some point, point it out, like there’s some sort of mystery here of why is that? What do you have to say about that? And I want to see what level of transparency there is from the partner in that. And I’ll name it, if we don’t get down to the truth of it. And so, then that becomes the issue for the couple. Okay, so you’re now with a partner who is not telling the truth. How do you feel about that? What’s the impact on that? Because then that becomes a larger issue in the relationship in terms of trust and transparency, where else in the relationship might that also be happening?
Hilary Hendershott: It is so interesting how the principles of a good relationship are replete throughout the relationship, so transparency, intimacy, being trustworthy. These, of course, are good things to be in all aspects of your relationship, right? And then there’s that aspect of the relationship where there’s often unequalness, which is earnings. Or of course, someone could have a large inheritance, or they could have made a bunch of money before they met. So, there’s the dealing with inequity. So, as a final question, do you have any advice for couples just really grappling with inequity? And I think that often bleeds into self-confidence and levels of perceived worthiness, right?
Thomas Faupl: Right. That is a hard issue and that has come up. I’ve had a number of couples where somebody wanted their partner to sign a prenup or somebody was sitting on tons of options from their tech job, somebody is not. So, I really encouraged the couples to discuss that in terms of what’s fair. And that’s a tricky issue.
Hilary Hendershott: Because there’s no objective answer.
Thomas Faupl: There are issues of power that becomes a power dynamic, then/
Hilary Hendershott: That’s a good point.
Thomas Faupl: So, I think that one usually takes some time to unpack, but that’s what drives some couples into couple’s therapy because it’s so painful for one of the partners.
Hilary Hendershott: Probably, the one who doesn’t have all the money, right?
Thomas Faupl: Exactly. So, the issue of power and what’s equity, I’ve had women supporting their husbands while their husbands are trying to do a startup, and he’s not bringing in any money. And how long do you go in that startup where he’s not bringing any money, and they’ve got kids? That’s stressful.
Hilary Hendershott: That’s hard, yes.
Thomas Faupl: So, that’s what we start to work with. What kind of time frame are we looking at? And how much are you willing to share your wealth or not? It’s not for me to judge, it’s to help them find out what their truth is, but also to point out what the inequity is.
Hilary Hendershott: Right. Well, in one thing I did notice when I started working as a financial advisor, I didn’t think twice when husband was supporting wife, or when her husband made all the money and the wife didn’t work or made more money. But I noticed I felt very protective when I worked with couples where she was earning more or she was bringing more financially to the relationship. And I really thought, well, that’s hypocrisy on my part. So, that was something I had to really just look at because that’s completely gender-biased, right? So, I had to remove that from my thinking because if she wants to support him, she can support him.
Thomas Faupl: Yeah. But I wouldn’t say that a lot of women have been disenfranchised around money, and they haven’t had the role models. That’s changed, obviously, in the last, I don’t know, 10, 15 years, so.
Hilary Hendershott: It’s changing.
Thomas Faupl: But historically, there has been gender conditioning around money, I think, much to the regret of a lot of women.
Hilary Hendershott: Yeah. Well, Thomas, you’re obviously a very good and evenhanded therapist. You gave no strong assertions throughout the conversation, which makes for a better radio but worse therapy, I think. So, clearly, very good at what you do. What if people want to reach out to you? What’s the best way to find you?
Thomas Faupl: Yeah, they can go to my website, ThomasTherapy.com, and it has that contact information sheet. There are my rates on it, and they can just shoot me an email through that.
Hilary Hendershott: Great, excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today on Profit Boss Radio.
Thomas Faupl: Okay, Hilary. Thank you so much for inviting me. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Hendershott Wealth Management, LLC and Profit Boss® Radio do not make specific investment recommendations on Profit Boss® Radio or in any public media. Any specific mentions of funds or investments are strictly for illustrative purposes only and should not be taken as investment advice or acted upon by individual investors. The opinions expressed in this episode are those of Hilary Hendershott, CFP®, MBA.