Finances and Emotions: Divide and Rule With Financial Therapist Nathan Astle | Curiosity Code 008
04 Apr, 2024
In this episode of the Curiosity Code podcast, host Alex welcomes Nathan Astle, a distinguished financial therapist and the founder of the Financial Therapy Clinic Institute. Nathan shares his journey into financial therapy, highlighting his unique approach to blending psychological and financial counseling to aid individuals in managing their money more effectively, especially in the context of mental health. The discussion delves into the differences between Nathan's ventures, Relational Money and the Financial Therapy Clinical Institute, emphasizing the collaborative model of treatment that combines therapy with financial planning and counseling. Nathan also touches upon the emotional aspects of financial decision-making, the impact of financial literacy from childhood, and the burgeoning field of financial therapy. Moreover, Nathan discusses his collaboration with Beyond Finance in providing group therapy for clients dealing with debt, underscoring the emotional toll of financial struggles and the importance of addressing shame and emotions in financial wellness. The episode wraps up with insights into the training and education available for professionals interested in financial therapy, offering hope and encouragement for anyone grappling with financial issues, and reminding listeners of the importance of patience and kindness towards oneself in the journey towards financial well-being.

Alex: Everybody, welcome to the show. That's another episode of the Curiosity Code podcast. And today I'm thrilled to have Nathan Astle, a leading financial therapist and founder of the Financial Therapy Clinic Institute. He has a passion, for helping individuals navigate the complex relationship between money and mental health, and we will explore his innovative approach to financial wellness and his impacts on the industry. Welcome to the show, Nathan.

Guest: Hey, thanks for having me.

Alex: All right, let's dive in. Let's start with two ventures, two companies that you founded, financial therapy clinic Institute, and relational money. What are the differences between these two and what inspired you?

Guest: Yeah, so my first practice, so my background is in marriage and family therapy, so my heart is in therapy. Relational money is my first practice where I worked with clients, primarily from a therapy approach. How do we change the feelings, thoughts, and behaviors around money? Knowing what we know from psychology and therapy how do people make change? So that's kind of where relational money first started. I've had different side projects with relational money. I created a training course for financial planners on being more therapeutic in their approach, asking good questions, how do we show empathy, validation, the things that we need in order to trust people? So it did that. And then the financial Therapy Clinical Institute, which is my current baby, is a collaborative institute. So what that means is I work with a financial counselor and a financial planner, and we provide a treatment team model to our work. So what this looks like for clients is they meet with me and we work on the psychological, emotional, and relational aspects of money. The financial counselor who does more skill building and numbers, like, okay, we're going to try and build a budget, or we're going to get a debt management plan together, and then a financial planner who does more, the long-term retirement or saving for kids college, or those more long term view of money. By using this approach, we're treating different aspects of financial health, but we're all working together. And so I can see what the client worked on in the financial planning session, and I can tailor my therapy content to some of that and vice versa. So there's lots of rooms for collaboration, which I think it makes it easier on us as professionals, but it also gives the client a better product as well.

Alex: Nice. How did you get into the domain of financial therapy? What was the main reason there?

Guest: Yeah, honestly, I was in the right place at the right time. I got my master's degree in couples and family therapy at Kansas State University here in the States. That's kind of a hub for financial therapy, but I didn't know it at the time.

Alex: Oh, really?

Guest: I kind of fell into it, and it was when I was in school and I was doing a lot of my own, my own therapy work, going to my own therapist and working on some of my issues, I realized so much of my issues were tied to money and money beliefs and money experiences and trauma. And so that kind of tipped me off into financial therapy. And it's a great field. Like, it's very underserved. There are very few therapists, at least here in the state, that work in the area of finance specifically. So it was kind of what I felt like a serendipity kind of moment where I could, you know, I could make a difference here. So I was. Yeah, that's where it started. And it's been a great place to be ever since.

Alex: You know, when I was preparing for this interview, I will be honest with you, it's the first time I learned about financial therapy. I never heard about it before. Is it a new thing? Is it just something that's just becoming a trend or. It's been a while?

Guest: Yeah, it's definitely new ish compared to other more established fields like financial planning or even traditional therapy, which has been around 100 years or 80 years or whatever. Financial therapy really got started in around 2008, so 15 years old, so it's relatively new as it feels. Yeah. And I think it's a really exciting idea, and there's a lot of application. And so I think that's why you're seeing, especially as fintech companies are able to do more and more of what traditional financial planning used to do. I can have computers do a lot of the planning that I used to have to go to a planner for. As that's happened, I think people are realizing that we need more human in this equation. We need more. More people skills, we need more psychology of money in how we approach our financial planning. So I think that's one of the reasons that financial therapy is maybe on the rise. Yeah.

Alex: Do you know if it's mainly in the US or it's worldwide? France.

Guest: I think right now it's probably mainly in the US, but there certainly is international community and, you know, the financial therapy association, which is like our governing body, at least in the states, we have lots and lots of international members in South Africa, Canada, Europe, there's. I think we will continue to grow, especially as the idea gets more publicly available.

Alex: Yeah, yeah. And I think by talking, even on this podcast, we contribute to the spreading the word and making it more public. Let's dive deep into the financial therapy approach. Can you explain the methodologies and techniques used in financial therapy to address emotional and maybe psychological aspects of financial decision making?

Guest: Yeah, well, financial therapy in itself is it. It's a very wide umbrella. So there's definitely not one approach in financial therapy. There's a lot, what I will say is traditional financial planning approaches, or if we're going to try and change our money behavior, a lot of times how it. The information that we used to get is, if you know better, you can do better. And so we would kind of just try and educate people out of change, you know, later out of past behavior. For example, someone that's overspending in an area, we're gonna, you know, show them the effects of overspending. And anyway, like, I honestly don't think we had great tools for actually helping people as far as, like, how do I make change? But if you think about the therapy world, that's all therapy is. How do we change behavior, and how do we change a person's experience, you know, with their thoughts and also their emotions? So that's kind of where we take some of the skills and tools from traditional therapy models and apply them to financial decision making. So, one that I really like and use a lot, it comes from a model called emotionally focused therapy. But basically, it's if I can regulate my emotions, if I can calm on my emotions when they're big, I can be more intentional about how I spend choice or how I spend money. Money is inherently emotional. You never spend a dime without feeling something. And so, so often we're looking for financial solutions to what are emotional problems. You know, an example might be, I had a long day at work. I'm tired, I'm grumpy. I'm. I'm just not looking forward to the evening. And I go grocery shopping. And while I'm in the grocery checkout line, I see the candy bars. Now, I wasn't planning on buying a candy bar. That wasn't part of my budget. That wasn't part of my intentional spending. But I'm really tired, and so I'm going to get the candy bar. I think that's something most people can relate with, where we just, we act out of an emotional space. And although a candy bar probably isn't going to end your financial plan, people make big financial decisions sometimes emotionally. I want a new car, not because I need it, but because I'm feeling like I'm not good enough, or I'm feeling like all my other friends or the other people I see around me or on tv or on social media, have a car. And so now I'm going to make this big purchase, or I get sad. And when I'm really sad, I go online shopping, or I go to the mall. And this is an example of emotional problem, financial solution. That's something we want to kind of disconnect in financial therapy is, okay, you have emotions, which are totally normal. All of us have emotions. And can we find non financial solutions to that emotion? Can we reach to friends? Can we practice some what we call emotion regulation skills, mindfulness, deep breathing, journaling. There's a whole lot of things we can do. But if we can separate yourself from the trigger or. Sorry, separate your response from the trigger, you have a much better chance of making different financial choices. That's a long explanation for you, but that's good. Yeah.

Alex: That's all right.

Guest: Yeah.

Alex: The more I listen to it, the more I realize that, like, financial planning is only one aspect of it. And since, as you said, we're dealing with emotions, and emotions so connected to money decisions, that's why it's. Financial therapy is such an important aspect of changing the habits, changing the behavior. So it's getting more clear. Thank you. Thank you for clarifying that. So you've been doing that, I mean, working in financial therapy domain for a bit more than three years, right?

Guest: Yeah, I'm probably around six now. Six years?

Alex: Oh, really? Okay. Sorry.

Guest: That's okay.

Alex: So anyway, probably you have some interesting insights and lessons learned from working with clients. Anything in particular that pops up in your mind that you'd like to share?

Guest: Luckily, I learned a whole lot from my clients. I think I work a lot with couples, and couples with financial conflict, or they argue about money, or how money should or shouldn't be spent, or there's some kind of secret keeping with money, which is what we call financial infidelity. And as I said earlier, money is inherently emotional. And so when you are in a relationship with somebody, there is twice the amount of emotions that can come up. There's interactions, there's communication, there's so many aspects to money. And so that's another thing that I think traditional financial planning has gotten wrong, is we don't acknowledge the relationship between partnerships as something that hugely impacts decision making. Maybe if I was by myself, I would make this choice, but I have a partner who has very different values, different money stories, money history. You know, the way they process their emotions might look different than mine, than how I do it. And so I think that's another layer of the onion, is how impactful relationships can be on our financial behavior, which is really, it's really neat. It's really cool to learn from my clients and hear their stories. I'm very privileged to hear some of the most intimate parts of people's lives, and so I do honor that. And I think there's just so much, there's so much room for a holistic approach to money. And that's something I hope clients and anybody feels is it's never just about numbers like we might want it to be, but it's. And numbers can't are important, but they're not the only thing that matters. So we have to approach this whole all together, not just as a single ingredient at a time.

Alex: Is there any correlation that you observed over your practice with how financial literacy was taught during the childhood? I know, and, like, I've seen many people who just know, somehow know they somehow learned, and obviously they did it in the childhood. How to manage money, you know, how to put some money aside, how to manage the budgets, how not to respond, how not to get into the debt. And some people just don't get it. Some people just don't know how to do that. They never acquired this skill. So, wondering if you see any connection of emotions related to finances and decisions making finances with financial literacy, and what's the correlation there?

Guest: Yeah, if we think of financial literacy as knowing what to do. Like, I'm. I know about the impact of interest, for example, and I know that because I was either taught it, like, from school or from my parents or some other source, like, I got the information somehow. Knowing what to do is a really important part of how we can start to make change. So I do think it's a necessary ingredient to. To change. I don't think it's the only ingredient, though, because how many of us know we need to do something but still don't do it? You know? You know, we know we need to eat healthy, but that doesn't mean that we always do it. We know we need to put money aside because that's smart thing to do, but then it becomes difficult. So I think if we really want to make financial literacy really impact behavior, and there has been some research on this, actually, that financial education tends to be minimally impactful on change. And that's not because financial education is bad. I think it's just missing something, which is that emotion regulation. I think if we taught financial education, we taught about the importance of saving. We talked about the importance of investing. We talked about that kind of stuff, but we also taught like, and when you're making these choices, you're gonna have really big feelings. And so there are ways that we can approach these big feelings so that we still do smart things like save or invest or spend less. And, you know, we can deal with some of the emotions that make us want to do that. So I think that's maybe like a starting point for financial education and emotion regulation. Unfortunately, I wouldn't. At least in the US, it's not the norm. Like, financial education is lacking here, especially the early childhood stuff. So unless you're getting it from a parent or another caregiver, you're probably not getting enough education on what it is.

Alex: Speaking about fintech, there are quite a lot of products in the market that help you with financial planning and budget tracking and everything related to personal finances. Have you seen anything that already leverages or helps users with managing their emotions related to money?

Guest: Yeah, I think this is an area that we will see. There's a couple. One is called allo. Allo. And the other one that I know of is stacken. Stackin. And they approach things a little differently. They use a little different coaching model and things. I think those are probably the two that I know of that are most informed by financial therapy right now. What they do that I like is, you know, they might have you build a budget or a spending plan or something like that, but they also are going to start asking you, like, how are you feeling, you know, before we build a budget, what emotion are you having? And they give you a list. And they also, as you're, some of them are connecting to, you know, your bank accounts, like, you know, like mint used to, or I use monarch money as budgeting software. And so if they notice an increase in certain types of spending or something, they might be like, hey, a little flag here. Notice an increase in your eating out budget. You know, how are you feeling about that? Does that feel right? Does that feel like something you want to change? And I think there are little, like, behavior cues to help people. And, you know, comes through notifications. They're checking in on that app. So I think. And then the other thing that I've seen them do is they do a little bit of education. Like, did you know money is often very tied to our emotions and, like, that kind of stuff? I do think it's a really good idea. I think that's a good start for fintech places is all right. We got to get out of the. Just numbers is the only thing that matters, right? Yeah.

Alex: Yeah. And I think since mental health has become such an important thing during pandemic and lots of new great startups in the domain that created great technology products. Maybe there is a room for another great product that will leverage financial therapy and its tools and methodologies help people to manage their finances.

Guest: Yeah.

Alex: All right, let's move on to. So one aspect of financial planning and budgeting is just the budgeting on itself, but there is a big driver of emotions, which is doubt. So let's chat a bit about debt resolution. Are there any strategies you would recommend for individuals to achieve financial wellness while navigating debt resolution?

Guest: Yeah. So obviously I can only speak to how debt resolution works here in the United States, but I think debt comes with a lot of judgment. There's a lot of personal judgment we make on ourselves and society and other people put on us for having debt. For example, debt for a mortgage like a house, we probably don't feel nearly as much shame about as it was, like credit card debt or, you know, like consumer spending. And if there's one thing I learned is shame is the enemy of change. We can't shame ourselves upward. We only shame ourselves downward. If I beat myself up every time I make a mistake, I'm not likely going to value myself enough to try and change my behavior. So that's one of the first things when it comes to debt resolution, is it's an option. It's not your only option. But if you feel like I am, like, swimming in debt and I can't get out and I'm stuck and I'm feeling really shameful about it, we need to start challenging that inner voice that is contributing to your shame. Debt resolution here in the states are, it's used as an alternative to bankruptcy. So if, you know, if I had $50,000 in debt and I'm not going to be able to pay that for whatever reason, debt resolution can lower my total debt. It also ruins my credit score, which is a way we measure, you know, how loans are offered and things. But I think debt settlement definitely isn't for everyone. But if you are in a place where you, you don't see a way out and you're only able to make minimum payments on your credit cards, for example, you know, credit card companies and creditors, they want you to be making minimum payments as long as possible because that's how they make the most money. You know, they charge interest. And if you, if you borrow $5,000 from us and we, and all you can pay is minimum payments for the next 1520 years, like we're gonna make 30,000 off that five. So I see that as unethical. And if you are stuck in a place of I'm only barely staying afloat, then I do think it's important to at least look at your options, like debt settlement, like bankruptcy, like debt management plans, so that like, this can't be your life forever. You know, it just. No one deserves that. No one deserves to be in that space forever. That's not good for anyone's mental health for sure. And so I think it's one of those things, like, it has consequences, but sometimes we need to, like, do drastic things to stop problematic cycle. That's what I think about, like, debt resolutions. It's a drastic choice, but it's one that some people need to make in order to get out of a cycle of debt.

Alex: So stop being ashamed of it and get some help. Take action and get out.

Guest: Yeah. Debt is something you have, it's not something you are. So, yeah.

Alex: All right, let's move on from Deb. I think. I mean, it's a tough topic. It's a tough topic, but it's something that I want to touch because I think a big part of emotions are coming from Deb related to money, and it's integral part of our financial system these days. You get mortgage, you get credit cards, you get a school loan. It's endless. And the question is, how do you manage it, not only from the practical point of view, but also from the emotional point of view. Let's chat a bit about your collaboration with beyond finance. What is that?

Guest: Yeah, so beyond finance is a debt settlement company here in the city.

Alex: There you go.

Guest: So they actually, they reached out to me because luckily I think they're ahead of the curve, is they realized that clients are under huge amounts of stress. And how beyond finance works is basically clients stop paying their creditors, instead start paying into beyond finance. They have an account, and beyond finance negotiates with creditors on the client's behalf. And so, you know, if, if a client owed $10,000 to bank of America, then the client would stop paying bank of America the minimum payments and instead start paying into beyond finance. Beyond finance would say, hey, bank of America, you know, this person is not able to pay back the 10,000 and so, but we have 5000 that we can give you if you'll wipe the debt clean. And so it's a way to reduce your total amount of debt. And then beyond finance makes money by their fee comes from that which is forgiven. So that's kind of what beyond finance does. And that's what debt settlement is, at least here. And so what they hired me to do is provide group therapy for their clients and so, and to talk about some of these emotional aspects of debt, which is, yeah, it can be really shameful and just normalize the fact that, hey, debt is. Debt isn't about you. It like, this isn't something that you need to take on as like a character, because I have debt. Like, debt is something you have. It's not something you are. And let's, from a therapeutic lens, let's get some skills going, let's get some community going. So I provide group therapy type work three times a week. And, you know, there's about 60 ish people that come every week and per session, so, I don't know, 180, whatever it is. And, you know, we just leave a space to talk and provide some education, some content. I work with another great financial therapist, her name's doctor Erica Rascher. And then we just have open q and A and it functions like a group therapy. So it's really, really fun. We've been doing it for about two years and it's a new space that I think financial therapy has a lot of potential for.

Alex: Do you know any other group environments where, you know, people can get that kind of help in a group environment?

Guest: Yeah, I don't know of any, like, large businesses that do it. I think besides, beyond, there are like financial therapy practices, like private practices that might have some groups, but they're kind of small and in between. So I think as far as large scale group support, I think this is the only one I know of which is kind of cool.

Alex: Yeah, yeah, that's really good for them. It's a great idea. Let's chat a bit about training and education for professionals in mental health. I'm just wondering if financial therapy is a thing on its own or it could be added as another layer to conventional therapy and if mental health professionals actually seeking extra training and courses and financial therapy. And financial therapy techniques.

Guest: Yeah, so that's one of the things I offer at the financial therapy Clinical Institute is we have some on demand trainings and they're aimed at both therapists and financial professionals. And so, yeah, it's on the website, you can go there. And it's the thing that I do like about my trainings I'm proud of is all of them. We cover content, we include handouts and things that you can use with your clients. That's the goal, is that you can take it and use it that day. But we also include a full session, like a role play with a client of how would you apply this? And it's a full session, so you get to watch someone do it and see what it looks like, and then you can make it your own and do it how you would do it. I think, honestly, there's not a whole lot of trainings out there. There's a handful, I'd say. Financial therapy association has a training course, which I like. That training course, I think it comes off a little academic and as opposed to more practical, which is why I created my courses. The life Planning institute is another place you can get some training there that's more for financial professionals. But unfortunately, there isn't a lot of training out there, which is why I'm trying to fill that gap. But yeah.

Alex: Well, if any of our listeners or financial professionals and interested in learning more about financial therapy, check out That's what Nathan is talking about. All right, let's wrap it up. I. Yeah, I think we covered it all. I think we covered it all. Anything else that you think worth sharing with the audience that we didn't touch during this conversation?

Guest: Just want to share some hope. Like you're not alone. Money is complicated. It's not just the numbers, though. Those can be complicated, too. Like, to engage with your money is to engage in your life. And so as much as you can be kind to yourself, you're just learning. You're just figuring it out. For most of us, no one taught you how to do financial stuff. For most of us, no one taught you really great ways of dealing with your emotions and dealing with your emotions around money. So if this is something that's hard for you and you're trying to learn and grow as much as you can, be patient with yourself, you will do a lot better if you can show yourself the same kindness and grace that you would show a friend or a family member. If you can take that approach, you're much more likely to be able to make changes because you see yourself as valuable. We treat things that are valuable differently. We take extra good care of them. We have to see ourselves as something we take extra good care of. So that's my message.

Alex: Thank you very much. Thank you for being with us. I appreciate the time that you dedicated to this conversation. I think it's really helpful. And that was another episode of curiosity Code. Thank you very much for listening. And don't forget to hit the like button and subscribe. Thank you, Nate.

Guest: Thank you.