Years ago researchers discovered that about 30% people who consult a therapist attend only one session. In fact, further research indicated that on average, even those who continued for more sessions on average attended five or fewer. The question arose from therapists, “If we only have a few sessions to work with, how can we make them the most effective?” Some very creative and useful tools were developed in reply that I now use in my practice of solution-focused financial consulting with people challenged by dramatic life transitions.
In a normal state, most adults are fully capable of managing the business of life. Some are outstanding, and some aren’t so hot at it, but in general most of us have the skills to get by. However, when overwhelmed by excessive stress, such as the death of a spouse, our mental and emotional systems may start to shut down, reducing our functional abilities. When this happens to you, it can erode your self-confidence and generate a host of side effects like impaired memory, inability to make decisions, and disorganization. Physical symptoms like sleeplessness, loss or increase in appetite, headaches, and more are not uncommon. The old saying that “It just takes time” may be true, but most of us would prefer not to be discombobulated any longer that we have to be.
A Transition for Carol
I had been Don and Carol’s financial advisor for several years before Don died suddenly. As is too often the case, I knew Don much better than I did Carol. She preferred that he handle the details of managing their finances, as did he. When he died, Carol was immediately challenged not only by having to take on the role Don had played but having to do so with the added burden of resolving his estate, changing the titles on cars, their home, filing insurance claims and more. All of this demanded her attention while she was coping with the shock and grief of losing her husband.
When we met for the first time following Don’s death, Carol was completely overwhelmed. She didn’t think of herself at being good with money before, and now she was extremely anxious, hopeless and numb. After listening to her tell me what she was experiencing, I asked about more of the conditions commonly experienced by people in her situation. Was she forgetful? Could she set her car keys down and find them again? Was she so disorganized she couldn’t find her list of things to do? Did she just sit and stare? Was she exhausted but unable to sleep?
She was a little surprised that I knew so much about what she thought was her personal catastrophe. She was reassured when I explained that she was experiencing fairly normal grief and transition distress and most of the time people who have suffered in similar circumstances eventually pull through and are OK. She also drew some hope from knowing that she had an experienced person on her team; as a financial life consultant, this wasn’t my “first rodeo.”
A Focus on Solutions
The solution-focused consulting model is ideal for helping people move forward through traumatic transitions and restoring their sense of wellbeing and ability to take action. It does so by identifying tools that are immediately useful in managing their life and coping with challenges. The solution-focused theory is based on the idea that individuals already have the skills to create change and move forward through tough times. People may need help recognizing these skills through the process of recognizing what is currently working for them, what tactics they have used to manage difficulties they’ve overcome, and how they can activate the resiliency they have shown in the past.
The solution-focused approach recognizes there is a limited amount of time, energy, and money that people have to spend discussing and analyzing their problems. Sometimes just getting a state of “normalization” is sufficient in helping individuals prepare to take a step forward. Once someone learns that they aren’t “having a breakdown” and what they are going through is common in their circumstances, the experience may be less frightening. It can be reassuring to learn that others have gone through similar situations and come out on the other side just fine. The goal of the solution-focused approach is to foster hopefulness, motivation, and confidence in the individual. I’ve learned that more often in life we are moved by nudges rather than dramatic revelations. All it takes is a step in the right direction to set the course forward.
Tom Chancellor is a Certified Financial Planner Professional helping clients enhance their financial peace of mind. Tom spent 20 years as a marriage and family therapist and now incorporates resources from psychology, communications, and relationship studies in financial planning for people who experience life-changing events. Tom helps his clients and other financial professionals respond to life transitions such as divorce, death of a spouse, retirement, receipt of an inheritance and legal settlements. Contact Tom with questions at email@example.com.
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