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Financial social work is an under-valued component of a counsellor or social worker’s activities, however with the average debt level in the US (including mortgages) above $130,000 and credit card debt above $16,000 (El Issa, 2016), financial issues are a significant component of many individual’s negative emotional health.
Money problems are a leading cause of divorce (Dew, Britt, & Huston, 2012), anxiety (Archuleta, Dale & Spann, 2013) and suicide (Coope, et. al., 2015; Hempstead, et. al., 2015). Poor financial skills can cause even an individual with a high income to experience stress, much less low-income individuals who may find themselves accessing counselling or community social work services.
What is Financial Social Work?
Financial social work or financial counselling is the process of working with clients to “provide practical, sustainable skills for controlling and managing finances…and create real behavioral change in your clients.” (Center for Financial Social Work, n.d.) This is a comprehensive process of assessing an individual’s financial situation and building lifeskills of budgeting, responsible use of credit and debt management.
Financial social work is often performed by non-profit credit counsellors, Marriage and Family Therapists (MFT) and may be performed by social workers in other capacities, such as those who work as case managers with individuals on a low-income or struggling with substance abuse issues.
Assessing Financial Anxiety
Archuleta, Dale & Spann (2013) discuss the Financial Anxiety Scale (FAS), a tool that can be used to assess the impact of financial counselling or financial social work’s on an individual well-being. As they proceed through their treatment, their anxiety reduces.
Financial Anxiety Scale (FAS)
Each item on the FAS can be rated either yes/no (with a cut-off score of 4 or higher) or on a Likert scale for clinical purposes.
- I feel anxious about my financial situation.
- I have difficulty sleeping because of my financial situation.
- I have difficulty concentrating on my school/or work because of my financial situation.
- I am irritable because of my financial situation.
- I have difficulty controlling worrying about my financial situation.
- My muscles feel tense because of worries about my financial situation.
- I feel fatigued because I worry about my financial situation.
Money personalities (Mellan, 1995) describe an individual’s approach to working with money, and what makes an individual happiest or unhappiest as they work with money. Brief descriptions of the money personalities are below:
- Amasser – an individual who prefers to have large amounts of money but may also struggle with significant anxiety as they try to do this
- Avoider – an individual who avoids working with money because of the negative emotions involved, because of feelings of inadequacy or overwhelm
- Hoarder – an individual who likes to save money. In extreme cases a hoarder may literally hoard money in their house or other areas instead of investing them
- Money Monk – an individual who is afraid of money, considers it unclean or dirty, and tries to avoid having a relationship with it at all
- Spender – an individual who likes to spend money and gets immediate satisfaction from spending
Financial Social Work Qualifications
In order to practice financial social work or credit counseling it is important to receive training in this area. Rappleyea, et. al. (2014) discuss a curriculum for financial social work training that was designed for Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT) students. Some of the many topics suggested in this paper that are valuable to learn include:
- Money personalities (described above)
- How to track expenses
- How to live within your means
- How to spend money in a way that leads to happiness rather than guilt or unhappiness
- How to understand emotions created by money
Financial Social Work Certification
The Center for Financial Social Work provides the Certification in Financial Social Work. It provides 20 CE credits, workbooks and curriculum on financial planning, credit, debt, savings and spending plans and investing. The whole package costs $595. There is also information available from the Center on how to develop financial support groups to help individuals make better choices.
Financial Social Work Jobs
Financial social work job titles include Case Manager, Credit Counsellor, Financial Counselor, and Marriage and Family Therapist (MFT). All of these job roles may involve elements of financial counselling or financial social work either as a primary or secondary function of the role.
It’s important that social workers recognize that financial health is a part of their own development and self-care. If you are worried about money, it’s difficult to be fully present for your clients. Developing a budget, reducing and eliminating debt, and investing are valuable skills for both your clients and yourself.
Taking care of these things will help reduce your burnout and make you a more effective social worker.
Archuleta, K. L., Dale, A., & Spann, S. M. (2013). College Students and Financial Distress: Exploring Debt, Financial Satisfaction, and Financial Anxiety. Journal Of Financial Counseling And Planning, 24(2), 50-62.
Center for Financial Social Work. (n.d.) “Become Certified in Financial Social Work”. Retrieved on March 8, 2017 from https://www.financialsocialwork.com/financial-social-work-certification
Coope, C., Donovan, J., Wilson, C., Barnes, M., Metcalfe, C., Hollingworth, W., & Gunnell, D. (2015). Research report: Characteristics of people dying by suicide after job loss, financial difficulties and other economic stressors during a period of recession (2010–2011): A review of coroners׳ records. Journal Of Affective Disorders, 18398-105. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2015.04.045
Dew, J., Britt, S., & Huston, S. (2012). Examining the Relationship Between Financial Issues and Divorce. Family Relations, 61(4), 615-628. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2012.00715.x
El Issa, E. (2016) 2016 American Household Credit Card Debt Study. NerdWallet. Retrieved on March 8, 2017 from https://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/average-credit-card-debt-household/
Mellan, O. (1995). Money Harmony: Resolving money conflicts in your life and relationships. New York, NY: Walker & Company.
Rappleyea, D. L., Jorgensen, B. L., Taylor, A. C., & Butler, J. L. (2014). Training Considerations for MFTs in Couple and Financial Counseling. American Journal Of Family Therapy, 42(4), 282-292. doi:10.1080/01926187.2013.847701
Hempstead, K. A., & Phillips, J. A. (2015). Research Article: Rising Suicide Among Adults Aged 40–64 Years. The Role of Job and Financial Circumstances. American Journal Of Preventive Medicine, 48491-500. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2014.11.006