Kristy Archuleta has a job title that didn’t exist 10 years ago: She’s a financial therapist. Officially, she’s a licensed marriage and family therapist and an associate professor of personal financial planning at Kansas State University. “I integrate emotion and behaviour into financial decision making,” she says of the new psychological specialty, which she likens to the field of sex therapy. “As a therapist, you would never dream of working with a couple on intimacy issues without having some training in sex therapy, and the issues are somewhat parallel with money,” she says. “It can be trust issues; it can be communication issues.” ELLE Canada spoke with Archuleta about what we can learn about ourselves — and our finances — by taking a closer look at our relationship with money.

Do most of us need to change our attitude about money?

“Everybody has beliefs and attitudes about money, but we’re not always aware of them. So, personal beliefs like ‘I believe that money can be used for good’ or ‘I believe that money is the root of evil’ are going to affect how you manage your money. Whether you’re able to change those beliefs or not is one thing, but the way you approach a financial behaviour can be changed through recognizing what those beliefs are.”

So is the first step asking “What do I know about my financial beliefs?”

“Yes, exactly. [Financial psychologists] Drs. Ted Klontz and Brad Klontz say ‘Think about your earliest money memory. How has that contributed to what you believe about money now?’ And people are very surprised at that and say ‘Huh, you know what? The very first memory of money that I have really has had a profound impact on how I think of money now.’ A lot of these memories are very ingrained. They’re created from our families and from the communities that we grew up in, and they stay with us into adulthood.”

What was your first money memory, and how has it affected you?

“I remember my parents taking me to a bank to set up a savings account. I’m guessing I was in second or third grade. Because I started out with a savings account, I think that’s something that has always been important to me: having that savings component and being really ultra-responsible with my money.”

So once someone has looked back on money memories, how can he or she move forward?

“The next step is to look at your goals. What are some really concrete things that you can do to reach your money goals? So if, say, you start opening your mail — and I’ve had clients who did not open their mail because they were avoiding bills — and deal with it by adding $10 to your next credit-card payment, you start to get over the fear of what’s coming in and what’s going out. You know what to expect, and you are physically doing something different from what you’ve done before. You’re creating a different result. So these seemingly ‘tiny’ things, for some people, can be huge.”

How do you help couples deal with money issues?

“One research study found that money may not necessarily be the most-fought-about topic, but when it is fought about, it’s the most-intensely-fought-about topic. So people are really stressed about this. For the past couple of years, the American Psychological Association has done a survey of the U.S. population and found that money is the number-one stressor for Americans. If couples have had different experiences with money, they can clash on how to solve issues around it and that can create a lot of stress and anxiety. So with couples, I ask ‘What did you experience with your family about money? How did you develop your money beliefs?’ When each person begins to understand where the other is coming from, it is easier for them to be empathetic, like ‘Now I know why you do what you do. What can we do together to overcome that?’ What are they going to do together to move forward? I work on communication and trust building, but I also move beyond that with money-management skills that I can help them implement: Let’s track your expenses, let’s look at what your assets are, let’s look at what your debts are, let’s build a budget. I really empower that couple, or the individual, with the ability to make changes and reach their goal.”

There aren’t a lot of financial therapists yet — there is only one Canadian listed with the Financial Therapy Association. What other help do you recommend?

“Find a financial planner who might collaborate with a mental-health professional and meet with them together. Or work out your budget with a financial planner and bring that to a psychologist.”

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ELLE Canada.