Financial Therapy: Meet Amanda Clayman
This is Death, Sex & Money, I’m Anna Sale.
And here on the show, we’ve been asking you about how your financial situation is changing right now.
I am furloughed.
This might be my last week of employment.
Two weeks ago I was laid off.
It’s a lot to think about.
There’s a lot of fear.
We’ve heard from so many of you who’ve lost jobs since the pandemic started, or who’ve taken other big financial hits, or who are just really worried about what’s to come.
I feel like I am looking at a future that is just...dark.
In all your messages, it's clear: what you are dealing with around money right now is overwhelming. And it’s not just about financial survival. This moment is making many of us question our values, our identities, and whether the way we’ve done things in the past is still going to work.
So we decided now would be a good time to bring in some expert help. Meet Amanda Clayman...financial therapist.
AMANDA CLAYMAN: The funny thing is that I never have to really explain much about what it is that I do because as soon as people hear financial therapist, it's like an "aha" moment where they go, "Oh, I think I need that!"
Amanda is hosting a special series here on Death, Sex & Money over the next few weeks, where she’ll help some of you sort out those huge feelings that are hitting hard right now around money.
AC: I am a clinician. I'm a licensed clinical social worker, and I went into the mental health field specifically to help people with the role of money in their lives because I felt like it was a part of - a really integral part of - our overall health and wellbeing.
AS: Yeah, you know, when I heard first heard the term financial therapy, I was so excited because I, I also, I love just regular old therapy, but even in regular therapy sessions, I find that I have to bring money up. It's not something that therapists, um, directly go to, even though it feels super integral to the ways I think about what's causing me stress.
AC: Yeah. I feel like it's one of the underserved issues for all of us, including therapists. And much of that is because therapists are people too, right? And there's even a saying that all therapists are their own first patient. [Laughs] Like all of us go into the field usually because there's something that in ourselves that we really want to look at. And, and for me, um, the thing that I really knew that I needed to look at in my own life was money. The ways that I was using money were very emotional and mysterious to me. And so I kept finding myself in, like personally in trouble. Like I was doing all these really self-destructive kinds of things. And like, my spending was very emotional and I didn't know, like, I was just bringing a lot of emotional baggage, um, and like family baggage to how I was relating to money. And as I got clear on that in my own life, I was like, huh! Like I never, nobody ever asked me these questions before and why isn't this a job? Like even when I was in therapy, it never seemed to come up. Um, and what I have come to feel very deeply, um, in terms of like what initially drew me to this work, and then the work that I've done over the years with people is that, first of all, all financial behavior has meaning. Um, and that we use money in, in different ways to try to like balance different needs. So like, there could be a social need that we're trying to meet. And money is a part of that because we're spending it to like go out and see friends. Um, or in terms of like, some of us really struggle with self care, how to take care of ourselves. And so we'll be very like stingy when it comes to like using money in that respect. So, um, from my perspective, like we can use money as a lens to look at your life, um, and sort of understand you better as a person. And then on the other side, we can look at who you are as a person and see how that maps onto money, um, and try to have a better understanding of, of who we are as people so that we can have, like, we can have different outcomes in our financial life.
AS: And Amanda, like, money is always stressful in people's lives, but I think a lot of people right now are struggling with like, what do I do right now? How do I make decisions when I don't have all the facts in front of me? Um, do you help people make decisions about what they should do with their money? Do you give personal finance advice?
AC: I don't, I don't advise. I'm, I'm kind of the advisor on process. Um, so what I do, because of my mental health training, like I would go into a situation like the one that we're in now with a framework of, of crisis response or even trauma work, and help people to be able to respond to the situation flexibly and be able to look at their money instead of being so emotionally flooded that they, they are acting in these haphazard and often self destructive ways.
AS: That's one of the things I struggle with when I think about money because on the one hand, money is about how we feel about money. And on the other hand, it's a very real material fact of whether or not you have enough to survive. So what would you say to somebody who's, you know, all of a sudden lost 80, 90, 100 percent of their earnings that they're used to? How does talk about talking about how they feel about that help?
AC: Well, you said it really perfectly there, in that it is emotional and it's also this concrete thing. So, so money has a dual nature. It's two things at the same time. It's both a symbol and a tool. So we project a tremendous amount of meaning onto it, and we can use it for all of these, these concrete, uh, functions, right? And when somebody loses 80 to 90 percent of their income, we want to be able, in financial therapy, to be able to hold both of those properties. So we look at those questions of, okay, your, your income has dropped significantly. What does that mean in a very real and practical sense for your financial life? What do you need right now? What can you adjust? What other resources - like there is, there is safety planning that's involved there. But there's also, it's not a luxury to think about and to pay attention to the meaning of losing 80 to 90 percent of your income because for some of us, that's enough to send us into such a, an emotional tailspin that we aren't able to do those, those practical things, right? We, we are just stuck in feeling like I'm a failure. This is never going to get any better. Like, our emotional state has a direct bearing on all of this. So we do want to be cognizant of what people are telling themselves about the situation they're in and, and notice how that has an impact on their behavior and, and vice versa.
AS: I love what you said there, that it's not a luxury, it shouldn't be a luxury to acknowledge that these, all of this has real consequences for our emotional health and how we are able to take care of ourselves, um, and the people in our lives emotionally. Um, I do wonder, Amanda, I mean, so much of this time is. Bad, horrible, uncertain. Um, are there ways that these moments of crisis also create openings to get in touch with things about money in our lives that we usually gloss over?
AC: They always do. They always do. And this time reminds me a lot - it's different obviously, but it reminds me a lot of what I saw around the financial crisis, um, at the beginning of the Great Recession, um, where we're people had to sort of pull back in terms of their sense of who they were and what their strategies were for, you know, meeting their needs and, and living the kind of life that they wanted to. And what I discovered is that people who were able to do that pretty flexibly and to re-envision themselves and what they could do were able to recover a lot faster. They were much more resilient in the circumstances. And for those of us who, who can't respond as resiliently and flexibly, we get really stuck in just mourning what has been lost. So for some of us, the loss piece of it is going to be really outsized. Um, for others of us, when we see ourselves able to navigate an inflection point like this, it can be incredibly empowering. And we may also have the chance to take a new perspective on some of the kind of bargains that we had, or the bets that we had made in our lives in terms of like, maybe we were making certain sacrifices, um, in the name of of financial achievement or stability before in our lives, and now we've seen that, that life isn't the guarantee that we thought it was and we might want to revisit that decision and think, am I really doing what I want to be doing with this one precious life that I have?
AS: Hmm. Yeah. It starts with like acknowledging the limits of your control, mourning that, and then trying to figure out what to do next.
AC: Yeah. And really letting ourselves be sad about it. Really sad. I think that that's the harder part, is that there's this like "buck up" sort of ideology in our society that says, we just want to skip over the yucky feeling parts and get right into the, the,
AS: The resilient part! The proving you’re back in charge. Yeah.
AC: Right. But resilience is not just dismissing the, the hard, the hard feelings and the hard parts of the experience. Resilience is being able to absorb that and process it and still move forward through it.
AS: Hm. Amanda, you and I have been talking for a long time, since last year, about wanting to do something together because the first time I heard the term "financial therapy," I thought, I want more of this. And I think a lot more people could be helped by it. Um. And we were talking about what we were going to do, we were thinking about it, and then the pandemic hit. And the team realized we can't wait. We really want to get you in. We want to get you talking with some listeners. We want listeners to hear what you have to say. So you have been talking to some of our listeners and basically doing phone therapy sessions with them about money in their lives. And in this new special series, we're going to get to listen in on those sessions. And I am so glad this is happening because from what we are hearing in our email inbox, people need your kind of help right now.
AC: Well, I'm really, I'm excited to be in and in these conversations and our financial circumstances may be very different from each other, but the emotional reactions are so, so universally human that I feel like there's, there's a lot of opportunity for us to listen and empathize and connect.
Listen to Financial Therapy with Amanda Clayman, starting this Wednesday, May 20th. This special series will run for the next three weeks in our feed. Here’s just a bit of what’s to come.
MATTHEW: I don't like asking for things. I don't like being dependent on others for my well being or for what I need. So I guess in some way, there's a feeling that I have right now of this uncertainty that I just don't have any control. I have so little control and the things that I need to do to get us to a place that we aspire for, that we were on the path, or get us out of the place that I put us into, is to force myself out of my comfort zone. But yet, I've constantly felt this level of rejection any time that I do. Any time that I feel like I'm putting myself out, I feel like I'm getting rejected by potential employers. Um, and so I guess there's a bit as I think, you know, as I think about what you're asking and what you're tapping into beyond just the pure, like unknown in the fear is like, can I? Like what is, what value - like am I able to do anything different than just be? Like is there anything special or capable in me to get us out of it?
AC: And, and I don't know if you can tell, but like you are right there. Like, like is it okay if I repeat back to you what I hear you saying to me in, in different language?
AC: Like you said, um, I feel like I have little control over what happens next and, and you are describing the fear in there. Um, and I wonder what it would feel like to just say, "I have little control over what happens next." Just like that to me, how would that feel?
MATTHEW: [Long pause, laughs] Ummm. "I have little control over what happens next."
AC: Anything at all?
MATTHEW: Uh. My leg is shaking, I don't like the way, I don’t like the way it feels.
MATTHEW: I think the part that gets me is, I don't know. I don't know how to get past the barriers that are there. That allow me to figure out what's next.