Brad Klontz, PsyD, has a suggestion for fellow practitioners eager to find the root of a client's stress: Start each clinical assessment by asking how much debt he or she has.
"Often, their No. 1 stressor is money, and that was true even before the economic crisis," says Klontz, co-founder of Your Mental Health™ in Kapaa, Hawaii.
Klontz, winner of this month's Innovative Practitioner Award, specializes in helping people who struggle with money-related psychological problems, such as overspending, compulsive hoarding, workaholism and carrying too much debt.
He launched his practice in 2002, three years after finishing his doctoral program heavy in debt and losing half his nest egg when the technology bubble burst. During that period, he experienced firsthand how much shame Americans associate with debt and money troubles, and set out to help others climb out of debt and make their peace with money.
Klontz takes a cognitive-behavioral approach to treatment, asking clients how they first learned about finances, and to examine their relationships with money.
"Some people grew up believing that rich people are bad, greedy and shallow," he says. "If you have that belief, how likely are you to acquire money? Instead, you'll repel it."
Just as many health psychologists work alongside physicians, Klontz works closely with financial advisers, bringing in experts for individual consults with clients who need help consolidating their debt or carving out a savings plan. He also offers workshops for financial experts and psychologists on how to talk to their clients about money.
Klontz has expanded his reach even further by signing on as the spokesperson for the H&R Block's Dollars & Sense Program, a new national project to teach high school students about financial responsibility. Klontz got the position not long after his work was featured in the Wall Street Journal and on ABC's "20/20."
This year, the company donated $1 million to offer personal finance curriculums for students at 2,000 schools throughout the country, and Klontz helped develop the project's Web site.
He says he would like to see it become standard practice for psychologists to address finances with clients, and for training programs to prepare students to do the same. "There is a gap between the No. 1 problem people are having in this country, and the services we're providing them."
APA President James H. Bray, PhD, honored psychologists who have a novel or creative approach to practice with an "Innovative Practitioner Award" in each 2009 issue of the Monitor.