How to Counsel Clients Without Shaming Them?   

Dr. Ekta Kumar opened up the webinar by explaining the difference between the interchangeable words; shaming and guilt. Shaming she said is having a judgment on an individual. It can then be hard to make change happen when feeling overwhelmed with this emotion. For example, “I’m terrible at finances,” is a client shaming themselves. Guilt is behavioral and it can be obstructive. An example of this would be saying to a client, “Stop spending so much on shopping.” 

When a client feels shameful, an advisor should respond with empathy, explained Kumar.  Discussing money is something many Americans have been taught not to talk about with others, therefore it is often difficult to talk about with someone you do not know well. The advisor wants to emphasize and encourage a bond that together they can work on a financial plan. The thoughts about financial decisions they feel shameful about must be reminded are a skill and not a character flaw, Dr. Kumar said. 

Managing Non-Verbals

Before COVID-19, meetings with clients mostly took place in-person therefore meaning body language was very easily accessible to see. Now, the majority of meetings are virtual and I think they will be for the foreseeable future meaning different non-verbal actions are needed when in a meeting. Dr. Kumar said advisors need to think about other aspects compared to the previous in-person format when in a meeting with a client. What are your distractions while talking? What is your body language depicting to the receiver through the camera? Are you using eye-contact and visual cues such as nodding? It is important to exaggerate these in a virtual environment so they can be seen through the screen, Dr. Kumar said. 

In relation to the topic of judgment the host, Dr. Chia-Li Chien, asked what can advisors do to avoid and manage their nonverbals? Dr. Kumar responded by saying advisors need to be aware of what their biases are towards certain behaviors or individuals. “As humans every single one of us has biases and when we try to ignore any that exist, we can’t do anything about them,” she said.  Many of us refuse to acknowledge we have biases towards certain identities or characteristics, however, we all have them. Until they are recognized and understood we are oblivious to fixing them. To help understand, Dr. Kumar suggested reflecting on the situation that was tough for you. Are you aware of any biases being present? How are you going to actively work on those biases? The discussion of understanding Dr. Kumar is talking about is so important to understand no matter what industry you are working in. Especially as our world is becoming more global working with cultures literally from all over the world. 

When it comes to being an advisor there are two strong biases at play, the rules of thumbs such as social security claiming age, and cultural biases such as paying for children’s college. “Each individual has different familiar values, different cultural values that drive their decision making, different obligations to their church or their temple, but also mental health as well. Sometimes different mental health diagnoses have different spending habits,” Dr. Kumar said. 

The Best Way to Work with Biases 

There are biases for all types of identity. In Financial Planning it is important to ask questions and understand what is important for the individual you are working with. What are the individual’s values? When they respond, good listening should be practiced to fully grasp what they are saying. Responses should be sensitive and their values should be honored. The best outcome is to meet their financial goals while honoring their values. 

The best way to work around biases is to understand where it came from and how your point of view is different from the clients. Acknowledging their position is a good place to open up a conversation on ways to meet their financial goals. The best way to achieve this is to ask additional questions to find a middle ground of compromise.  

How to Avoid Unintentionally Shaming Clients?

A question that may come across an advisor’s mind is how do you know when a client has been unintentionally shamed? There are a few potential indicators Kumar explained. Maybe your client stops attending sessions, seems checked out or you are hitting a dead end. “You’re talking about money all day but most people never talk about money. Remember those pieces,” Dr. Kumar said. Also pay attention to what your phrases are and how you feel at the end of different sessions.  

Does Being Vulnerable Help to Understand Clients?

Advisors are human too. They understand the challenges and difficulties that the client may be facing in making decisions. By recognizing that different things can be difficult it shows the client that the advisors understand emotional turmoil. By sharing experience it sheds some light on the fact they aren’t the only ones to be struggling with a certain topic or decision. 

How to Get Clients to Talk Without Shaming Them Into Talking? 

The key to getting clients to talk without shaming them into doing so is to be empathic and sensitive to their perspective. Ask questions and brainstorm with them while maintaining a neutral tone, Dr. Kumar said. You also want to monitor your facial expressions while activating listening and engaging she explained. 

Phrasing Questions

The way questions are asked and phrased will change the type of response that is received Kumar explained. “Why don’t you stop getting your nails done every week?” versus “You nails look really great, is it something you do to take care of yourself?… What about if you got them done every week and a half?” Although these two questions are looking for the same answer, they will receive two very different responses from the client. By demonstrating support and recognition of why the client is getting their nails done it opens the conversation to negotiate a middle ground, explained Dr. Kumar. “There are so many layers of identity there is room for judgment,” Dr. Kumar said.   

Discussing Savings 

Some people find it easier to talk about spending rather than saving. So, how do you engage a client to talk about saving? You want to first learn about the clients value of saving, Kumar said. Ask the client, “How important are savings to you?” This is a neutral way to have the conversation rather than pushing the concept of savings onto the client. 

Ease the Situation Into Helping the Clients Do the Right Thing

By acknowledging and giving feedback of the norms it can help ease the situation of helping the client do the right thing. You want to have awareness of potential different situations that can be around savings that you may not know about e.g. fears of banks or previous divorce, Dr. Kumar said. “To speed up the discovery, create a good environment to help the client feel comfortable to share information,” suggested Dr. Kumar in her last thought of the webinar. If they still don’t share information, it may be they just don’t want to share it.  


If you would like to learn more about careers in Financial Planning, reach out to the Financial Planning program here at California Lutheran University. 


Ekta Kumar, PsyDAbout Ekta Kumar:

Dr. Ekta Kumar is a licensed Clinical Psychologist who received her master’s degree and a doctorate in Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) from the University of Indianapolis. At the University of Indianapolis, Dr. Kumar was a diverse fellow and served on the Diversity Advisory Board for the School of Psychological Sciences.  Dr. Kumar has developed workshops and continuing education programs related to diversity, trauma, clinical practice for students, staff, faculty, and clinicians in Indiana and California. Recently, Dr. Kumar was the Director for Community Counseling Services at CLU and is now the Director of Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives for the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Southern California. She is also an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and provides college students at USC with therapy services. In her private practice, she specializes in working with LGBTQIA+ individuals and POC. Dr. Kumar has a variety of training and experience providing therapy, outreach/prevention programming, and facilitation of difficult dialogue related to trauma and diversity. Finally, Dr. Kumar has presented at various national conferences and is published in the Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development.


Chia-Li Chien, PhD, CFP®, PMP®About the Host:

Dr. Chia-Li Chien is a succession program director at Value Growth Institute, a succession consulting practice dedicated to helping business owners increase their firms’ equity value. Before her private consulting practice, she held several senior management positions in Fortune 500 companies. Dr. Chien is a director of the financial planning program at the School of Management at California Lutheran University. Dr. Chien is a frequent speaker about succession and retirement planning at national conferences and has published three award-winning books, including her most recent publication, “Enhancing Retirement Success Rates in the United States.” Dr. Chien serves on the boards of various national financial service associations. She holds a doctorate in financial planning and is a Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) as well as Project Management Professional (PMP®).


IMG_5784About the Author:

Rosie Baker is an undergraduate student at California Lutheran University, graduating in May 2021. She is studying Communication with an emphasis in PR and Advertising and has a minor in Creative Writing. In July 2020, she published her first book, Mirrors & Windows: Unlocking a New Framework to Envision Your Success, with New Degree Press. 



Dr. Chien interviewed Dr. Ekta Kumar on “How to Counsel Clients Without Shaming Them?” on November 3, 2020, at 3:00 pm PST.

Many of us were taught not to talk about money when growing up. But, the more we make, the more we need to seek help in accumulating wealth. So we can achieve financial independence in life. In this session, we will discuss the following questions:

  • What is shaming?
  • How do we know we are unintentionally shaming our clients?
  • How do we encourage clients to talk but not shame them when providing financial planning or counseling?
  • What could financial planning professionals do to avoid shaming their clients?