My involvement in this article started when the writer, M.P. Dunleavey, shared with me something she had noticed over the years. In social situations, when she meets women and tells them she is a financial writer they often respond with almost dismissive disdain about taking responsibility for their financial lives. I reflected that that was interesting to hear, because I feel like I have the opposite experience. When I am in social situations, as soon as I describe what I do I am often deluged with women telling me the most intimate and compelling details about their struggles with money.
We wondered what the difference was. My hypothesis is that women have a lot of anxiety about how they handle money, and would see M.P. as an “expert” who might judge them and tell them that they should or shouldn’t be doing. I, on the other hand, would be seen as someone who would be willing to hear about all of the concerns, difficulties, and failed attempts that might be part of that woman’s money story.
In clinical work you’re trained never to attack a client’s defense mechanism until you understand what it’s defending. So if, for example, someone is in denial you don’t open with, “Hey! Looks like you’re in denial!” That wouldn’t change the defense and it would probably cost you the client.
In traditional financial planning there is an almost exclusive focus on problem solving. This makes sense – what you’re “buying” is the solution. But the problem solving approach is in some cases the equivalent of attacking the defense mechanism. For those whom financial responsibility is wrapped up in a complex cocoon of emotions, it is impossible to get to the solution until the issues have been unpacked and the resistance reduced.
So maybe it is time for a new model of financial planning.