Column | The financial therapist can prevent a lot of suffering

Talking about money and income is taboo in Western culture. I don’t need to know from everyone how high their mortgage or income is, but a little more openness can be therapeutic. Since corona and especially the hyperinflation of the last few months, it has become more and more clear that a part of society is struggling to make ends meet. To what extent do people who experience financial problems talk about it with other people?

In September, 23 percent of households lacked money. They had to go into debt or draw on their savings. This is the highest percentage this year, said Peter Hein van Mulligen from CBS this week. I asked friends, colleagues and others about this topic and was told by two people that they have been having a hard time making ends meet lately. One had taken money from the savings account to pay the repair costs on the car. The other received a tax penalty and fears that energy costs will be the death knell.

Debt and how to deal with it will no doubt be a theme next year. The state often turns out to be the main creditor for people who can no longer cope. And the state has always been a tough one in this regard. Fortunately, the government, partly because of the subsidy scandal, is becoming a bit more people-oriented and welcoming in its communication. Take Arnhem Municipality, for example, which has even forgiven residents’ debts. Debts that ranged from a few hundred to thousands of euros per household.

Debt can be a major source of stress, cause insomnia and sometimes even lead to depression. Which is why I wonder why talking about (impending) debt is still so much more complicated than talking about your burnout, your autism spectrum disorder, or your obsessive thoughts. You’re almost a loser these days if you’ve never reflected on your behavior with the help of an expert or therapist to whom you regularly bring your issues to the table. Someone told me recently that he didn’t want any side activities besides his work for a year in order to give all his attention to his relationship therapy. When I asked, he told me openly that he was tired of his house and his wife. But he would still work very seriously on it for another year with therapies and scheduled talks at home. Not only talking about their problems, they also planned fun things together.

But mental disorders due to debt, from a mortgage that is too high, rent that is too high or other bills that you can no longer pay, are hardly discussed at the coffee machine or in the pub. While the problem could be big next year. For example, if mortgage rates only rise by 1 percent, how many households will be in trouble when their rate-fixing period ends? What do you do if you can no longer pay your fixed costs because of the high energy bill that is coming? What happens if someone can no longer pay the phone bill, health insurance, utility bill or city taxes overnight? Do people start an open conversation about such issues in time when problems are imminent? Before the creditors come knocking?

We humans deal with problems differently, so it will be no different when financial problems are imminent. A good friend didn’t open the IRS’s blue envelopes for years because he was afraid of the contents. Ostrich politics. Until he had to pay his tax debt for two years with a payment scheme. We talked about everything, but never about his tax debt.

Talking about this much more openly with each other and being aware of it with others would be a good step forward. It would be even better if people who are burying their heads in the sand, or who are lying awake because of impending debt, go to the doctor. And that they do not prescribe tranquilizers, but can refer such a person to a specialist therapist or psychologist. Someone who knows what financial stress can do to people, and preferably also has some practical financial knowledge. Which looks for psychological reasons for behavior that can lead to debt, but also helps to deal with it rationally instead of hiding and concealing it. Such a financial therapist can not only prevent a lot of mental suffering, but also bring money to society. Because all those fines upon fines upon fines for late or non-payment, and all the collection agencies that in turn profit from this, in the end no one is better off.

Aylin Bilic is a headhunter and publicist.

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