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Mental Health: How Financial Advisors Help Clients Cope With Anxiety

Advisors know how to address clients’ financial worries. But when anxiety is connected to mental health and has nothing to do with money, relations can get fraught.


After nearly two years of pandemic-related stress, clients may feel adrift, fearful and uncertain about life in general. They may come across as uncharacteristically helpless, indifferent or unable to think clearly and make sound decisions.

Advisors aren’t professional therapists, so no one expects them to provide mental health counseling. Still, they may find themselves on the receiving end of a distraught client in search of succor.

While some advisors dread such heart-to-heart conversations, others embrace them. Clients who confide in their advisor — and feel better afterward — tend to remain loyal through thick and thin.

“You have to have a relationship where the client trusts you enough to discuss their feelings,” said Jay Zigmont, a certified financial planner in Water Valley, Miss. “You have to have that safe environment and make them comfortable discussing where their feelings are coming from.”

Resist Making Judgment

To build trust, acknowledge a client’s emotions and mental health. Resist judgment (“You shouldn’t feel that way”) in favor of reflecting on the situation (“I can tell this is hard for you”) and letting people open up.

“You can’t rush to propose a solution,” Zigmont said. “First, understand what’s holding them back on the emotional side.”

Gentle questioning enables advisors to gain a better sense of clients’ concerns and mental health. While respondents may withhold their deepest feelings, at least initially, showing interest in their well-being can in itself provide comfort to them.

Remain calm and composed as you listen. Showing too much emotion right away can cause clients to shut down.

Dig To Determine What Drives Mental Health

Anxious people often want to vent. Giving them a chance to speak freely is a gift, especially if you seem genuinely attentive, eager to learn and willing to tolerate pockets of silence.

“Pausing and letting silence fill a conversation is an effective way to give someone the space to share more,” said Elliott Appel, a certified financial planner in Madison, Wis. “Instead of trying to fill every conversation with words, I empathize verbally and nonverbally with my body language.”

Encouraging clients to open up to you may not alleviate their mental health issues. But it will help you establish rapport and set the stage for more revealing, heartfelt exchanges.

Better yet, help them identify the source of their angst. Encourage them to examine why they’re anxious and what’s causing it.

“If you let them, they will lower their guard and share the pressures and struggles in how they see the future,” said Mike Kurz, a certified financial planner in Frisco, Texas. “Recognize what you’re hearing from them” and try to separate what’s within their control from external forces.

Even if they’re beset by worry, you can play a positive role by enabling them to reassess their mental health. Suggest that they adopt a wider lens through which they experience adverse feelings.

For example, Kurz may ask an anxious client, “How would you rate your life on a 1-to-10 scale?”

“If they say ‘6’ then I might ask, ‘Why not zero? What gets you up to 6?'” he said. Acknowledging the gratifying aspects of their life reminds them to be grateful and puts their anxiety in a broader perspective.

Know How Childhood Experiences Affect Mental Health

Shifting a client’s focus from current worries to future happiness can reframe how they process swirling fear and uncertainty. Their mental health becomes less immobilizing if they conclude that conditions will improve over time.

Scott Alan Turner, a certified financial planner in Hudson Oaks, Texas, likes to ask anxious clients, “Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?”

Initially, they tend to give vague answers. So Turner might follow up and say, “Paint me a picture of what you see yourself doing in 10 years.”

Guiding them to fast-forward to a better future lifts their spirits, he says. As they envision themselves living more fully, they’re more equipped to cope with present-day difficulties.

Like a therapist, Turner also might probe to uncover why clients feel anxious. But rather than pelt them with a battery of intrusive questions, he prefers to keep it simple.

“It’s trying to dig down and get them to understand where their feelings are coming from,” he said.

Prompting them to share memories of their childhood provides a springboard for self-discovery. So Turner might say, “Tell me about your upbringing.”

Highlighting lessons that clients learned from a young age — or exposing long-standing attitudes or beliefs that they picked up from family members — sheds light on how they react to life’s challenges.


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