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Are you an IFA or a psychotherapist?

Sometimes there’s a fine line between financial advising and personal therapy. Money is, after all, a highly emotive topic. Do you ever worry that some clients are pulling you into the mental health arena?

Let’s face it, you’re a trusted adviser, discussing issues so personal that you’re sworn to confidentiality. You may be handling very large sums of money for people. They will tell you things that they don’t tell anyone else, not even their spouse. Small wonder that you may sometimes find yourself in the position of confidant dispensing more than just financial advice.

Challenging emotional states aren’t necessarily to do with money either. We all know stress is on the increase and conditions like depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts can affect anyone at any time.

So if you come across clients who perhaps aren’t in the right frame of mind to make sound decisions, or who are just ‘out of sorts’ and want to talk, how do you respond?

Become ‘mental health aware’

You can start by preparing yourself with some training. Mental health awareness is something that many organisations value highly nowadays. Poor mental health has overtaken musculoskeletal problems as a cause of absence, according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD).

Companies are training up mental health first aiders to provide front-line support to colleagues struggling with stress, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts, psychosis, and other mental health conditions.

It isn’t your job, of course, to give mental health first aid to a client (although an occasion might arise where you need to). But just a half-day mental health awareness workshop will increase your understanding of these conditions and help you to:

  1. spot the signs in clients and colleagues

  2. ‘normalise’ them so they don’t create anxiety in you

  3. respond in an appropriate way.

If your organisation needs trained mental health first aiders, a certified course lasts two days and will equip trainees to use a particular approach. But anyone can attend a half day’s training to gain an overview of common mental health conditions and learn how to respond helpfully.

Use your existing skills

Mental health awareness training will help to brush up your existing skills. A good adviser is someone who listens. When a person is in distress, finding someone to hear them out is a ‘tonic to the soul’, so be ready to give them space to talk. Here’s a recap on some basic listening skills.

  1. Ask open questions (such as, ‘how are you feeling?’).

  2. Reflect back what they say without needing to add more (‘you feel a bit low’).

  3. Summarise/paraphrase what they say after a while (again, there’s no need to add more).

  4. Use open body language and non-verbal listening (eye contact, nods, encouraging sounds).

  5. Give an empathic response (such as, ‘that must be very difficult’).

Signpost to further support

Often, providing the space to offload is enough to make someone feel better. But if they need more support, and you know them well enough (which you probably will if you’ve been advising them for years), don’t be afraid to suggest they seek further help.

‘Have you thought of speaking to your GP about this?’ This is a fairly innocuous comment and encourages self-care. Mental health awareness training will give you plenty of other ideas for referral to other sources of support.

Be aware of signs

It can be incredibly difficult to spot the signs of mental ill-health in someone if you don’t know them well (and sometimes even if you do). Fine-tuning your listening skills will help. If you give someone space and they take it, you know you’ve done the right thing.

When you do know someone well, simply notice any obvious changes in their behaviour. Are they quieter than usual? More talkative? Unable to concentrate? Distracted? Tearful? Or are they talking about something very sad (such as a bereavement) in a light-hearted way? These might be reasons to ask an open question that allows them to talk more honestly.

But remember, all you can really do in your role as a professional adviser is to a) provide some space and b) signpost the person for further support, in an empathic way.

Practise self-care

Look after yourself too. If someone confides in you, it could be draining or disturbing. Mental health awareness training will educate you about self-care, which is useful for you and your clients.

Above all, don’t give yourself a hard time if you don’t notice someone’s distress – many people are great at covering things up.

This is why the new climate of openness around mental health is a good thing – and likely to impact on anyone working confidentially with clients about personal matters. Make sure you’re ready to respond, and give your clients an even better service.

Mental health awareness training from PES

PES Wellbeing runs regular two-day Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) courses, and a half-day mental health awareness workshop. These can be on-site, or run from our offices near Bristol. Contact PES to find out more.

Delivering a great employee experience is a challenge for growing organisations. At PES, it’s what we do. Our online employee benefits platform, HR support and workplace wellbeing services bring out the best in your employees – enabling your business to thrive.

Call us on 01454 808658, email us at or fill in our enquiry form.

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