By: Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW
Regardless of the type of social work being practiced, or the setting it is practiced in, every problem and issue social work clients bring into a session has a financial component: homelessness, hunger, domestic violence, job and/or healthcare loss, mental illness, depression, suicidal ideation, addiction, student debt, and so on. Whether money is foundational to, or a consequence of, the presenting problem, the financial element inevitably exacerbates the presenting problem, making coping with and managing financial problems an important factor in all client work.
The following considerations demonstrate the relevance of this work:
1. An individual’s relationship with money drives his/her financial behavior and determines that person’s financial circumstances.
Relationship with money is the determining factor in financial behavior. When that relationship is healthy and positive, spending/saving is more likely to reflect those feelings and align with values. When that relationship is troubled or lacking boundaries and knowledge, that person is more likely to have debt and financial problems. Most people don’t wake up in the morning thinking about their relationship with money (which is very different from waking up and worrying about money). All relationships take work, time and effort—including the relationship with money. Although devoting time and effort does not assure success, it absolutely improves the potential for success, as does the understanding that: Relationship with money Drives financial behavior = Financial circumstances.
2. Money management is a core life skill required to navigate adulthood.
Financial self-sufficiency is a very personal, individual, and emotional choice that must be made on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis (and sometimes on a minute-to-minute or hour-to-hour basis). It is a process that requires more than acquiring new financial information and skills as behavior precedes content. Until and unless behavior changes, nothing changes. By working with a client on financial behavior, the likelihood of bills being paid on time, savings being grown, debt being reduced, spending habits and patterns being altered, personal awareness improving and stress being mitigated is significantly increased.
3. Until you take control of your money, you can never be in control of your life.
In a consumerist culture that measures success in dollars and cents, it is easy for men and women to confuse their self-worth with their net worth in ways that reduce sense of self, self-esteem, and self-confidence. These feelings nurture a financial disconnect that allows money to overwhelm rather than benefit. Increased financial knowledge and money management skills provide opportunities to feel and to be more empowered personally and financially.
4. Sustainable, long-term financial behavioral change doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen over time.
So many of today’s social problems wouldn’t exist if more men and women were financially literate. HOPE engages clients into the financial behavioral change process by opening the door to CHANGE; hopelessness closes it. When it comes to money, too many people feel hopeless. Clients need help connecting to their money and learning how to talk about and to manage it. Otherwise, the familiarity of their precarious financial lives will continue to trump the potential to have, to be, and to do more with their money and their lives. Engaging clients into the process and keeping them on track for success requires ongoing education, motivation, and support.
5. The fear of finance creates a major “money disconnect” detrimental to the mental and fiscal well-being of most Americans.
Fear of finance leads to the avoidance of money management, a behavior guaranteed to produce negative outcomes. People may avoid money issues because of feeling undeserving or guilty about wanting things, feeling that they are unable to overcome poverty, feeling powerless to give up the fantasy of being taken care of, or other reasons. Regardless of the reason, doing so inevitably exacerbates financial problems. Ignoring and avoiding money means giving away financial power, which is one huge step in the wrong direction, as it inevitably leads to emotional and financial instability.
Helping clients explore their thoughts, feelings, attitudes, relationships, and behaviors with money increases emotional stability by improving financial circumstances. It is a process guaranteed to benefit clients and to enrich the therapeutic process, and one that aligns with the social work profession’s commitment to the war on poverty and to being agents of change.
Reeta Wolfsohn, CMSW, owner and founder of the Center for Financial Social Work, empowers social workers with the knowledge of financial social work that creates sustainable financial behavior change in their clients. Through an online Financial Social Work Certification program, semimonthly e-newsletter, and blog, Reeta Wolfsohn specializes in educating social workers to better assist their clients. Learn more at http://www.financialsocialwork.com/socialworkers .
This article appeared in THE NEW SOCIAL WORKER, Spring 2013, Vol. 20, No. 2. Copyright White Hat Communications. All rights reserved.