Financial health and mental health are often intertwined, and the relationship has been heightened during the recent economic turmoil. One of the nation's leading behavioral health services companies, for example, says financial distress is the main reason why it's call volume has surged in recent months.
"Our call volume has been up about 20% from April through August, as compared with the same period in 2007," says Richard Chaifetz, CEO of ComPsych, a Chicago-based provider of employee assistance programs in areas such as behavioral health, wellness and work-life issues. "Employees calling our 800 number may be seeking counseling as well as financial help, legal help and assistance with work-life issues. The overall increase in calls is due largely to financial issues, and many of those seeking financial counseling also seek personal counseling--and vice versa--due to severe economic stresses."
Specifically, Chaifetz says the top two financial reasons for the uptick in phone calls are people seeking debt relief and concerns over the financial markets and their impact on investment portfolios. "People are watching the numbers in their account statements dwindle, and it's causing some serious anxiety," he says.
Even before September's wild, history-making ride, financially-fueled angst had been on the upswing as the housing debacle and ensuing credit crunch that began more than a year ago delivered body blows to the economy and financial markets. In June, the American Psychological Association released a poll that showed that money concerns were the biggest cause of stress among Americans.
That hasn't gone unnoticed by financial advisors. "I've been called significantly more [by advisors]," says Ted Klontz, a clinical psychologist and CEO of Klontz Coaching and Consulting in Nashville. "They want information to help their clients in uncertain times."
Klontz says he frames the issue as being a matter of fear and how people react to being afraid. It can range from clients not responding at all to clients ranting on the phone.
"Some of this fear is tied to previous experience," Klontz says. "Sometimes financial advisors don't understand we're dealing with old fears here in a new situation."
Klontz says he has a number of high-net-worth clients who are scared by the recent financial upheaval. "With them, we're hearing the same story but with more zeros."
In late summer, Klontz was asked to speak at the monthly meeting of the Middle Tennessee chapter of the Financial Planning Association. The topic: how to help clients in times like this. "They normally have about 35 to 40 people," Klontz says. "For this one they had about 100."
Klontz was invited to speak at the meeting by Bob Bolen, a Tennessee chapter board member and president of Bolen / Dodson Associates in Brentwood, Tenn. Bolen believes advisors need to apply more of a "right brain" approach (i.e. emotional) than a traditional "left brain" approach (i.e. quantitative).
"We need to walk clients through the downturn because they make their decisions more from their emotional selves than their analytical selves," Bolen says.
Ellen Siegel, an advisor in Miami, has long tried to unite the brain's two hemispheres with the "Mindful Money" seminars she runs with a local psychologist. Siegel says the anxiety many of her clients feel is real and appropriate given the circumstances.
"It's scary because the trust is broken," she says. "It's not just scary because they're watching paper money disappear, but also because the people in charge created this mess."
One of Siegel's clients is a successful psychiatrist who marched into her office last Thursday and wanted to sell all of her investments. Siegel was booked solid and didn't have time to meet with the woman. She scheduled an appointment for Tuesday, and told her to relax because she was having a panic attack.
"She said, 'I'm not having a panic attack, I'm having a panic reaction,'" Siegel says. Previously, the woman got burned when the tech bubble burst.
Siegel's solution for this client--and for all of her anxious clients--was to show her the Andex Chart that plots the performance of major asset classes since 1926, and to review the client's portfolio and financial goals. The client decided not to dump all of her investments, but did make her portfolio's allocation a tad more conservative. Ultimately, she was glad Siegel prevented her from making a hasty decision.
"Her parting words were, 'Thank you, I'm reassured, and I understand what I'm doing and that something like this could happen again,'" Siegel says.