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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Question 13

Hi Dr. Trachtman,

    I am a psychotherapist with 30 years experience. For quite some time I have been experiencing frustration and anxiety due to financial stressors. Because I accept patients on managed care it has become increasingly difficult to make a "living wage." It is very stressful to deal with the constraints of insurance companies, which seek to dictate how I should do treatment and demand increasing amounts of paperwork and documentation, leaving less time for the actual work of doing therapy, while rates of compensation stay stagnant or in some cases are even reduced.
    In my own history, I grew up in a family situation in which there was little financial stability, and I feel a sense of shame and regret that I am repeating these patterns of financial limitations with my own children. I note that most of my peers, particularly those in other professions are able to provide more for their families, and do not have to deal with feeling demoralized and anxious about not being able to meet their financial obligations. This has caused me to intermittently fantasize about leaving our very noble profession, although I can't imagine doing anything else. The fact is, I truly love "the work" of being a psychotherapist. I consider it a true privilege and honor to be invited so intimately into other people's lives and to be able to act as a compassionate witness as we journey together toward healing and growth.
    How can I reconcile the conflict of feeling like a success in doing work that I find meaningful with the sense of feeling like a failure as an earner and model for my children?
    I look forward to your response.



Dear Discouraged.

    Thank you for sharing your dilemma and allowing me to share it with others. This reply will be somewhat long and detailed. You are in the good company of so many other professionals, including therapists, who love what they do but are being squeezed by economic forces. I have noticed that many therapists who have attended my money and psychotherapy workshops find it hard to get past being stuck in their anger at managed care companies in order to focus on other feelings and solutions. But your question shows that you are recognizing the reality with which you are faced but stuck in what psychologists call an approach – approach conflict. You have two seemingly incompatible desires. You want to be able to continue doing the work you love but you also want to find a way to be rid of the external pressures that limit your ability to do that work and still make a "living wage." There is also an approach-avoidance type of conflict apparent when it comes to your profession and your role as a parent. You want to continue being a therapist despite your low level of income (an approach impulse) but you also want to avoid being what you think of as a failure as an earning model for your children. Remaining in this field, in your mind, may cause  you to do just that. Unless you can find a third way or see things in a new way you are stuck with two choices, each of which has an undesirable outcome.

    If I were counseling you I would have lots of questions such as the following. In the family in which you grew up, was an expectation of financial doom passed on to you because of your parent's fears and expectations? And, were their fears and expectations purely rational? Did your parents give you the idea that, if you didn't earn a certain amount and live a certain lifestyle, you would be a failure, as perhaps they felt they were? Were they unable to teach you how to think positively about money? And, despite their struggles to make ends meet, were you ever truly deprived of basic material security (go hungry, homeless, no warm clothing in winter?)because of the actual financial situation, or was your insecurity generated by questionable messages about money which you learned from them? Your parents may have struggled financially but you nevertheless grew up to be a skilled professional with the knowledge and empathy to help others. So they must have provided you with something of value that supported such growth.
    I would also want to know a great deal more about your financial situation, your beliefs about money and how you handle it and what kind of lifestyle you feel you should have, to understand what you mean when you refer to "a living wage." Some very poor families seem content with limited income yet provide their children with a sense of security and good self esteem which can carry them a long way. Some rich families never seem to feel they have enough and fail to provide their children with the emotional climate which leads to a sense of self worth and confidence. Most social workers are very poorly paid  relative  to other professionals and even to some blue collar workers. So, unless you have a higher earning partner, wealthy parents or some other form of independent income, you are likely facing a difficult dilemma. But, unless you are unable to provide your children with adequate food, clothing, shelter, education and medical care, how you approach and deal with financial problems and how you communicate with your children about your situation and your beliefs and values, is more important in defining your role as a parent than how much money you actually make. But, if you really can't provide adequately for your children and are not able to provide for your own needs (health care, a retirement plan) you may need to make some changes.

    You write, "I note that most of my peers, particularly those in other professions, are able to provide more for their families, and do not have to deal with feeling demoralized and anxious about not being able to meet their financial obligations." It is a common tendency to compare ourselves to those in our peer group.  As a therapist I'm sure you understand that the public face people display and what other people believe about them may or may not match what things are really like for them. The only good reason comparing yourself to others would be to see if you can learn something that might help you. Don't compare yourself with others as a measure  of self worth. That should be measured in terms of your values and how you live up to them. It may be that many families can provide more material things than you can but, if it is primarily things they provide, and not guidance and nurturing, this may undermine the children's character and emotional development.
Yes managed care companies usually pay very low fees and many of us undoubtedly feel that we can not earn what we deserve as a result. On page 22 of my book Money And Psychotherapy: A Guide for Mental Health Professionals, I write, "Taking into account the level of their education and the difficulty of their work many therapists are poorly remunerated for what they do. Therefore, to be satisfied within the profession, therapists need to feel that their work is their calling rather than just a job. Unless they have other sources of income, they may be required to sacrifice in order to follow their calling." In the current climate it seems unlikely that managed care companies will raise what they pay us anytime soon. We, as a profession do try to make our lot better. Our professional society has a Managed Care Committee working on our behalf. Some of our colleagues offer workshops on how to build a successful practice. Some of us carve out specialty areas such as treatment of eating disorders, victims of childhood abuse, overspending, working with couples, or Money and Relationship Psychotherapy. We may run workshops or write books to let our colleagues know of our expertise. But, while these efforts are all worthwhile, they do not guarantee that we will increase our earning very significantly. You sound like you are committed to helping others as you were trained to do. I hope you will be able to either adjust your expectations or find some way to boost your income to meet them. I hope that you will be able to pass on to your children a legacy of  passion for meaningful work and empathy toward them and others, rather than one of income related anxiety. I hope you find these thoughts helpful.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Question 12


Dear Dr. T.,

My mother is an alcoholic narcissist and borderline personality who sacrificed all of her relationships for money, and continues to do so. I reacted by doing my best to ignore money, and when I made money on real estate, I spent it while writing a novel. Now, in my fifties, I'm terrified. But my distaste for money and the people who prize it above other concerns has only grown. I've been in therapy quite a bit, and I know myself, yet I still feel horrified by the commodification of all aspects of life that's become the norm in America, I have no genuine interest in making money and I resent the need to do so, which I consider a waste of one's precious time on earth. I realize this attitude has caused problems, but it's proved resistant to therapy - and to reality. Ideas?



Dear Writer,

I suspect that the first sentence of your question is the answer to your question. Even though you are a grown, independent woman you are locked into anger, disappointment and disapproval of your mother. And the last thing you want for yourself is to be like her or identified with her values. If I am right, for you, on an emotional basis, money = mother, even if rationally, you know that is not so. I think you may need to do four things 1) accept and mourn the fact that you did not have the mother you wished for and still wish you could have; 2) forgive her for being who she was and is (which does not mean you have to love her or even include her in your life); 3) clarify, in your own mind what you do value and want in your life, including those things money can buy (for example a reasonable modicum of security, safety, comfort, etc.); and 4) train yourself to believe that what money really is, is just a tool for achieving what you want in life, not what anyone else wants, and then figure out how much money (income or assets) you need to get that. You are not your mother and wanting a reasonable amount of money to meet your needs won't make you like her. I suggest that you write down a two part mantra; 1) "Money is just a tool" 2)"Getting and having enough money will not make me a greedy or materialistic person." Paste this mantra on your bathroom mirror or some place where you will see it every day. Say it out loud to yourself at least once a day (two or three times is better) -- make this a habit. Your ideas about money are ingrained and you will need to keep on working on this if you want to achieve lasting change.

Dr. T.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Question 11

Dear Dr. T.,

   My older brother is getting married to a girl that just wants his money and he can't see it. The reason I know she wants his money is because I overheard her talking to someone on the phone and saying that she convinced him not to require her to sign a prenuptial agreement and that she now will get a divorce with him after a month or two into the marriage and take all his money. I have told him this and he hasn't believed me one bit. How can I convince him to break this off or tell him to get a prenup?
John Doe

Dear John Doe,

I think you have already done what you could. It sounds like your brother is determine to marry and that any further efforts on your part will only alienate him from you. All you can do now is to let him know that you love him and hope he will be happy. And, should the worst happen, be prepared to support him emotionally without reminding him that you told him so.

The situation you describe, if it turns out to be as you believe it will, would I think (though I am not a matrimonial lawyer) constitute fraud. If you are really worried, hold on to this email as evidence that your brother's fiancé expressed the intentions you describe before she married him. It might be useful if your brother is sued for divorce.

Divorce laws can vary from state to state. I don't know how the law works in your state, but I believe that in New York, when people get divorced, the money that is earned or acquired through investments after the marriage usually gets shared more or less equally. But each person usually gets to keep whatever money or property he had before the marriage as well as any personal gifts(such as inheritance) he received after the marriage provided that the money does not get comingled by opening joint bank accounts, buying property that is in both spouses names or things like that. So, if the law in your state law is anything like New York law, your brother's fiancé may have unrealistic expectations as to what she can get out of him.

Question 10

Dear Dr. T.

   I am a college student. I have a problem with spending money, not with spending too much but with often being unwilling to spend. There are a lot of nice things that I want and that I can afford, but I can never bring myself to spend large amounts of money at one time, in fear that I might need that money in the near future. Is this common, and if not how could I go about being more willing to buy the things I want?

Dear R.

   A reluctance to spend for fear that money may be needed in the future is not unusual. Usually the impulse to save money for the future is at least partly based on realistic concern. But it can be blown out of proportion and unreasonably restrict one's  ability to use some money for  present day needs or for enjoyment of life. It is a question of balance.

You should have some idea of what expenses you will face in the future and try to plan for meeting these. It is also a good idea to build a "rainy day fund" and put away at least several months worth of savings to help carry you through those hard times when you won't have an income available or face some unexpected emergency. But, allowing for at least some pleasure in your life, if you are financially able to afford it, is also very important to your emotional wellbeing. If you haven't already done so I suggest reading pages 147-150 of my book: A Little Bit Of Hedonism Is A Good Thing, Using Money To Increase Pleasure, and Diversify Your Pleasure Portfolio.  [Note: This student is taking a class in The Ethics of Making Money for which my book, Money And The Pursuit Of Happiness, is required reading.)

I have no formula for how much you should save or spend. Since you have trouble allowing  yourself to spend, I recommend that you give yourself a pleasure spending allowance (you decide how much) to be used for at least some of those nice things that you want and will enjoy, while still making sure that you are planning for your future and not going into debt. If you want something that seems a bit extravagant, save part of your allowance until you can pay for it.
Dr. T.

Question 9

Dear Dr. T.,

   I am a college student taking a class in which your book, Money And The Pursuit Of Happiness, is assigned.  By reading this book, I have learned that  love and meaningful work are what creates life satisfaction. I honestly believe this to be true. However, I have grown up in a home with 2 high-earning incomes and little to no concern over finances. I have always been provided for, and my parents have always paid for everything for me. We go on vacations, go out to eat daily, and I am given money whenever I need it. I am concerned that when I get older that money will be a bigger issue than I think it will be. I am going to be a teacher, which has high satisfaction for me as I love to help others and I hope to make a difference. Yet, I am worried that my income will not be able to satisfy the lifestyle that I have become accustomed to. Will my love for my work really trump my desire for other pleasures, or will I be stuck regretting that I do not have the money to do luxurious things and have no worries over finances?

Dear Worried in Ohio,

   Your question is really about a choice between two kinds of values: the inherent value of doing good meaningful work which you believe you will love, and the value of being able to enjoy a life that includes the pleasure of luxury and lack of worry over finance. To have the first you may have to give up much  the second, although this need not be a completely black and white choice. Many people do have some occasional worries over finance yet still are able to focus on what they find rewarding in life most of the time. If  you become a teacher you may, from time to time worry about money. But dealing with difficulties is part of becoming an autonomous adult. You may also struggle with  some occasional regret for having given up the luxurious lifestyle you remember, or find  yourself envying others who have more money. But, even if you can't see it, those same people may have problems worse than any you have and be less happy than you.

If you haven't yet read Exercise #12 in my book (pages 268 -272), do take the time to not only read it but to do the work it suggests. It will take time and effort, but should help you address the worry you express in your question.

One more suggestion. It sounds like your parents are very generous but, because of that, you  have not had to learn what it is like to have to live with financial limitations. It would do you good if you could have this experience. Could you speak with your parents and ask if they would be willing to help you by not giving whatever you want but, instead, giving you a reasonable allowance: one that you are expected to live within? That would force you to make some hard choices as to how you spend money, rather than getting everything you want whenever you ask for it. It might help you to prepare for a life of teaching if that is what you choose to do. It would also help you to understand what other people's lives are like, which is important for anyone who wants to work in a helping profession.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Question 8

Dear Dr. T
    I loved the advice in your book and it has helped me examine my life and my life with my boyfriend. We have been living together for a little under 2 years now but we don't talk that much about money. He racked up a bit of debt to his family members in a short period of unemployment and now has a well paying job, but is still struggling to pay his family members back. How can I approach him in conversation about being better at managing his money and controlling spending habits? I don't want to come off as a nagging girlfriend, but I know if we are going to be together in the long run, we need to have more open discussion about money and I'm just not sure how to engage in said conversation.


Concerned Girlfriend

Dear Concerned Girlfriend,
    Money is still a taboo subject in this country, so you and your boyfriend are typical in that you don't talk much about money. Many people think talking about it is unromantic and get married without having had a serious discussion about it. The result can be a nasty surprise later on. You don't have to be a nagging girlfriend to want to understand your own and your boyfriend's way of relating to money, so that you can both think about whether what you want out of your future relationship will fit with your money styles, your hopes and expectations. The conversation about money should occur when you are ready to talk about the future of your relationship. You are thinking about whether you should stay together for the long run, so this is probably a good time to open up this area of discussion. Your question implies that it is not just the temporary debt your boyfriend accumulated while unemployed but something about the way he manages money and his spending habits which makes you worried about the long term. First, without mentioning money, you should tell him that you are thinking about what kind of future the two of you might have together and ask what he thinks. I would stop there – not yet mentioning money- and let him say what he is thinking about the future. If he does say he wants to make a life together with you, you could then say that you want that too, but you do have some concerns when it come to how he handles money. Don't criticize but use "I" messages such as "It worries me that if you can't pay off your debts now, we could end up in debt later on."
Dr. T.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Question 7

Dear Readers,

A while ago I expressed a wish to get more questions from younger readers to balance the ones coming  from those of use who are what we might call mature. Now because my book is being used as an assigned reading in a class on The Ethics Of Making Money being give at Hiram College, I have received a number of such letters from students in that class. Here is one of them. I will be sending more from time to time.

Dear Dr. T.,

I am reading your book about money and happiness. As a graduating college student I am trying to make the decision of whether or not to take on debt to attend graduate school.  I would really like to attend a master's program, and I believe that I will be able to work at a more enjoyable job if I attend graduate school. In weak economic times, should I risk taking on debt to achieve a more enjoyable job? Or, should I be more cautious and risk my happiness for more financial security?

Confused Graduate

Dear Confused Graduate,

            This is a very good and pertinent question in these economic times. First of all keep in mind that the economy is cyclical. It won't always be bad, but employment does seem to be the last to recover this time around. Also, different kind of skills will be in demand at different times so, if you are considering taking on significant debt to go to graduate school, it would be wise to do some research to get an idea what professions will be in demand in the future and what they might pay. I think the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics might be a good place to start. Also, speak to people working in the field in which you are interested, to see what they think, not only about future employability but also future earning capacity and what it is really like working in the area you are considering. Some jobs are not all they are cracked up to be. Some have a very high burn out rate. That being said, happiness at work is a very valuable commodity. You will spend 40 to 50 hours a week or more at work for a big chunk of your life. So, if you are sure you will really like what you will be doing, and are disciplined enough to pay off debt over time (are you disciplined about spending now?), going for the education may well be your best investment.

Dr. T.

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