Getting Help for a Money Disorder

Learn what is and isn't normal when it comes to money

The first step to getting help for a money disorder is to determine whether or not you have one. This analysis is best left up to a mental health professional.

“A money disorder is a diagnosable mental health condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated by a licensed mental health professional,” says Brad Klontz, a financial psychologist and certified financial planner. Money disorders such as chronic gambling, hoarding and impulse control disorders such as compulsive spending can be found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, which is used by mental health professionals to make a diagnosis.

“Financial disorders are classified as such because money is the substance as opposed to alcohol, drugs or sex. The object is money,” says Sally Palain, a licensed psychologist and author of the book Spent: Break the Buying Obsession and Discover Your True Worth ($14.95; Hazelden).

Occasionally spending too much or being in debt does not automatically mean you have a money disorder. It is important to distinguish a true disorder from lack of discipline or from a circumstance beyond your control.

Says Palain,“You might experience a life circumstance that causes you to go into debt temporarily. Maybe you’ve had a job layoff or health problems that resulted in a lot of medical bills. It’s not considered a money disorder if you’re experiencing circumstances that are not a result of your actions.”

Here are some tips for getting the assistance you need:

Get professional help. If you suspect you might have a money disorder, seek a formal diagnosis from a licensed professional who can offer help if you need it. Look for a therapist with a specialty in addictions. You can contact the Financial Therapy Association for a list of financial therapists in your area.

Consider joining a support group. If you can’t afford therapy, a support group is your next best option. “A lot of people who need my help don’t have the finances to pay for it because they’ve mishandled their money. I often recommend books or a 10- or 12-step program,” says Palain.

Among the most well-known groups are Debtors Anonymous and Shopaholics Anonymous. These groups have phone meetings, which allow participants to call in from anywhere. “This is helpful if you feel shame and don’t want to meet with other people. A support group can provide guidance and break isolation,” says Palain.

Stay tuned for part three of this series.

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