• Matthew Kelley

Communication: Let’s Talk - A Letter from a Psychiatrist


*This article was anonymously authored by a psychiatrist colleague in response to the blog post, "The Best Financial Advice: Be Honest with Your Financial Advisor".


“The word, even the most contradictory word, preserves contact – it is silence which isolates.” – Thomas Mann

After reading the most recent Gold Medal Waters blog post, Matt asked me for my thoughts on why some clients might find it difficult to share concerns or information with their financial advisor, from my perspective. Here are my thoughts couched in a psychiatrist’s frame.

It’s not news that the world is a complicated, often confusing place or that we might lack the knowledge or capacity to understand some of its goings-on. But some of the difficulties with understanding may have to do with psychological issues such as misguided beliefs, psychological defenses working to deal with stress, or ingrained ways of dealing with things. Here are a few examples.

Beliefs: When my son was in elementary school and studying the weather, he shared that he learned that thunder was caused by the expansion of superheated air, caused by lightning. I remember being suddenly confronted by a belief I was given by my mother in childhood - that thunder was caused by two clouds banging together. Yes, I thought that. It was a piece of compartmentalized information that lay dormant, unconscious, and unquestioned until that conversation illuminated it.

Psychological Defenses: When operating as they should, psychological defenses make the ride through life smoother with fewer bumps and dips, like good shock absorbers. Humor (“I’d laugh if it wasn’t so painful”) or suppression, the ability to defer dealing with stress until we are better able to (“I’ll think about it tomorrow…After all tomorrow is another day,”) are examples, but some defenses come at a high cost.

If concern about feeling embarrassed or silly prevents a client from asking a question or addressing a concern, then important issues might never get addressed - I’m wasting his time; He’ll think I’m a bad person for saying that; He doesn’t seem interested in what I’m saying, etc. The Primary Rule of psychotherapy according to Freud was that patients should speak their mind, so that both real issues and psychological issues can be differentiated and addressed appropriately.

Personality Traits: Personality describes the long-standing ways in which we are – our values, sense of humor, the ways in which we cope with stress, and so on. Like everything else, character traits can be adaptive or maladaptive. Being independent for example might be an admirable trait but being reluctant to ask for help when it is needed is quite another thing.

We ALL have misguided beliefs, use psychological defenses, and have personalities. The fact that we do does not mean that we need professional help. It means we’re human. Understanding our humanness makes us better at navigating the difficulties life throws at us.

How we feel emotionally, our physiology (sleep, concentration, etc.), whether we’re engaging in unusual behaviors or are having unusual symptoms like muscle tension or stomach upset, whether we’re more impulsive, spending more, doing things that are unusual, what our friends and loved ones are saying, all hint at issues that may be percolating below the surface, and some introspection and/or diving into a conversation about how we’re feeling and thinking could reveal something useful, (even if we don’t particularly feel like talking about it).


The Many Benefits of Open Conversation

So how does talking work? Talking is related to thinking but different, utilizing different areas of the brain. When we talk we put our abstract feelings and thoughts into more concretized symbols, which can then be examined and rearranged into different, novel, and at times more sensical organizations and constructs – like an author and an editor, together juggling around sentences, paragraphs and chapters in a draft of a book, trying to eliminate inconsistencies and contradictions to make a coherent and understandable argument or story. Talking can help us better understand ourselves, understand others, and help others understand us and perhaps lend us other perspectives to our sense of what is really going on. The late Wayne Dyer expressed it well when he said, “When we change the way we look at things, the things that we look at change.”

Often, simply the process of talking is just as or even more important than the content of what is being talked about. Ever ask someone a question and then discover you know the answer before you get a response? And the process of interacting may be as important as the explicit content. The reassurance that you’re not alone, that someone else empathizes with you, shares your concerns, and seeks to understand you can be very helpful. This is what Marshall McLuhan meant when he said, “The medium is the message because it is the medium that shapes and controls the search and form of human associations and actions.” Sometimes simply giving permission to people to feel their feelings makes distressing situations tolerable.

Talking can help make the unconscious forces bloom into consciousness, and thereby become available to logical evaluation and conscious choice. And with choice we can determine what makes the most adaptive sense to deal with them.

Perhaps I decide that selling all of my assets and buying gold bricks is not the best solution to deal with my anxiety. Perhaps I discover that my anxiety is based more on what my mother told me about investing or the fact that I have a newborn in the family or that my friend is having the bank foreclose on his house. Perhaps what I really needed is more information or a change in perspective or permission to be anxious or techniques to decompress and relax. All of that will affect what I do to alleviate my distress. So talking about these things before I actually buy the gold bricks – well, that might just be in my best interest and bring a smile to the crew at GMW to boot.

Matt expressed his hope that all Gold Medal Waters client's call them when they have questions or concerns about their finances so that those issues can be discussed. I hope I’ve made the case that in spite of the barriers that might interfere with reaching out, this might be a very rewarding thing to do.

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