Psychotherapist explains ways to deal with the 'last taboo'


November 07, 1990|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Evening Sun Staff

Have you talked to your money lately?

Olivia Mellan, a psychotherapist specializing in money matters, thinks you should.

An imaginary conversation with money is one way that Mellan suggests people deal with one of the most highly charged, emotional parts of their lives. If people don't explore their feelings about money, the feelings can become a "source of underlying tension, overt hostility and chronic conflict," she said.

In a speech sponsored by Jewish Family Services, Mellan explained the different ways that people relate to money and how they can come to terms with those feelings and the feelings of their spouses.

While people in recent years have been more open about their childhood traumas and even sexual problems, the "air becomes weirdly charged" when the subject of money comes up, Mellan (( told the audience at the Beth El Congregation on Sunday.

In her own career, Mellan began focusing on the subject of money in 1982 when she and a colleague were trying to come up with a topic for public therapy workshops. "We decided that in the therapy office and life in general, money had truly become the last taboo," she said. "So I decided that I should start having public workshops to explore people's relations to money and see why it is such a loaded topic."

Since then, she has appeared on programs such as the Oprah Winfrey show and the All New Dr. Ruth Show. Mellan, who lives in Washington, has a psychology practice and works as a business consultant and seminar leader.

One way a person can determine his or her feelings about money is to write a script as if having a conversation, Mellan said. "If you want to explore your relationship with money in 15 minutes, all you have to do is write out a money dialogue," she said.

"Imagine your money is interviewed on the Oprah Winfrey show and it's talking about how well you treat him or her. Say you're a spender. Your money might say, 'she tosses me around, but she doesn't treat me with respect.' Or, if you're a hoarder, your

money might say, 'she's choking me todeath and I can't breathe,' " Mellan said.

Once the dialogue is written, it should be commented on by the person and others. "In that little one- or two-page assignment, you'll see exactly where you are about money, where you need to go," she said.

What Mellan has found in her practice is that money is rarely just money. It is equated with happiness, love, power, freedom and security in old age.

Often overspending is used to meet psychological needs, she said.

"We are a country of chronic overspenders," Mellan said, conceding that she herself is a recovering overspender.

The audience of about 200 listened attentively and laughed at her series of cartoons illustrating different types of money personalities.

Mellan said the personalities include the spender, the hoarder, the binger, the avoider, the amasser, the worrier, the risk-taker and the risk avoider. She even described someone who consid-ers money dirty. This person, whom she called the money monk, can be traumatized by receiving an unexpected large amount of money.

While the hoarder "loves saving money," the spender hates a budget, Mellan said. "The word budget gives a spender hives," she said. To get spenders to use budgets, they should be called spending plans, she said.

A money avoider is a person who never wants to think about money, while a money worrier is the exact opposite, Mellan said. A money amasser wants to collect money as a form of security. The risk-taker sees life with money as "a great adventure," and the risk-avoider invests money in the safest possible places, she said.

Mellan cautioned that there are not hard and fast distinctions between the different types and most people are a combination. But these differences in money personalities do cause conflicts in marriages.

Even if two hoarders marry, one is likely to become the "super-hoarder" and the other person will be the spender by comparison, Mellan said. "There is a tendency to polarize," she ,, said.

To get beyond this polarization, she suggested, people should try to acknowledge the strong points in their spouses' attitudes toward money. A hoarder should appreciate a spender's generosity and spontaneity while a spender should praise the hoarder's self-discipline and ability to set priorities.

A person may fear that acknowledging the spouse's tendencies might encourage the behavior he or she opposes. But Mellan said this is not the case. "When each member begins to appreciate the other's strengths and skills, this interrupts the power struggle and frees up each member to finally acknowledge the work that each must do to become more balanced," she wrote in an article about her work.

At the end of her speech, Mellan said the best way to come to peace with your money is to eliminate its supernatural powers. "Remember, strange as it may seem, money is not power, control, love or security, dependency or independence, control or self-worth. Money is really, merely money, after all," she said.

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