Do You Need to Heal a ‘Money Shame’?

Financial therapist Bari Tessler Linden helps clients confront and move beyond their financial pasts

By SHARE

As a dancer and therapist, Bari Tessler Linden didn’t think much about money – until her school loan suddenly came due. When it did, she said to herself, “I’m going to have to look money straight in the eye and understand what my relationship with it is.”

Linden, who lives in Boulder, Colo., began applying her psychotherapy background to money management and educating herself about the nuts and bolts of money management. She started studying accounting manuals and personal finance software. “I learned about the language of money,” she says, and she soon used her newfound knowledge to launch a bookkeeping business for artists, therapists and other creative business owners.

(Courtesy of Bari Tessler)

Linden discovered a deep need for financial therapy among her clients. Many of them had to work through a healing and forgiveness process before they could confront their money management challenges. Some had trouble charging clients what they were worth because they didn’t value themselves, or they felt a lot of shame and embarrassment over credit card debt they had built up, for example. “We need to have a safe place to have those conversations. … We want people to understand their strengths and challenges and improve them,” Linden says.

[Read: A Love Story: Falling Head Over Heels for Money.]

Unlike fellow money gurus Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey, Linden, who calls herself a financial therapist, doesn’t take a tough love approach. Her gentle, soothing voice invites clients to share their deepest fears and vulnerabilities – just as they might do in any other therapist’s office. “I’m helping people un-shame around money,” she says.

Her year-long class, The Art of Money, aims to do just that. More than 300 students from around the world engage in monthly classes, coaching calls and exercises. Participants tend to work in creative fields, with incomes ranging from $50,000 to $1 million, and they share a desire for some kind of psychological or spiritual growth, Linden says. “Most people need to understand their money story first,” she says. She starts by helping people assess their strengths, challenges and relationship to spending, earning, giving, receiving and loaning, all of which is often based on past money experiences, even from childhood.

[Read: 9 Money Strategies for Creative Thinkers.]

“Money healing is the first phase. What happened years ago that you still haven’t forgiven?” she asks. An adult who received an inheritance as a 20-year-old after his father died and then quickly spent it might need to reflect on that time, forgive his own behavior, let it go, and move on. A young mother of three who racked up debt while trying to provide for her children might similarly need to forgive herself and find a way to move forward, Linden says.

The next step is to develop what Linden calls a “money practice.” “A lot of people have practices these days – mediation practice, exercise – I invite folks to create a money practice,” she says. It might be daily, weekly or monthly, but the point is to set up a regular routine of reviewing finances and taking any necessary money management steps, such as paying bills, reviewing statements or transferring funds. To help make this process enjoyable, Linden often recommends lighting candles and eating chocolate while doing it, or finding some other way to create positive feelings around the routine. Some people like to replace the name of a boring budgeting category, like “mortgage,” with a fun one, like “love shack.”

[Read: Should You Hire a Money Coach?]

The third and final stage of Linden’s approach involves creating a “money map” of future goals and dreams. “Take time to let yourself dream, vision and set goals,” Linden urges, whether it’s every six months or once a year. You might be having a transition year, where income is lower following a change, such as a new career or new baby, or you might be ready to grow and expand, which often means saving and giving more.

Whatever your stage, Linden says, “You have to be gentle, loving and honest.”