In the aftermath of September’s terrorist attacks, many planners and their clients find themselves in a whole new world, psychologically and on every other level.
Throughout the years, I have encouraged you to take your role as a therapeutic educator seriously and develop it to the fullest possible extent. Never has this seemed more necessary, or more appropriate, than in the present climate.
Here are some situations you may be confronting in your personal and professional lives these days, and my suggestions on how to address them.
After the terrifying attacks, a panicky client asked me for an appointment to discuss his financial plan. He’s insistent on doing the right thing for his children, but when I asked him to sit down with me and revisit his goals, he just couldn’t seem to think straight. In view of his anxiety, how can I help him see if his plan is still appropriate? In the wake of a cataclysm like the one we have experienced, this is a process of moving past the primitive survival mode (which is always somewhat dysfunctional) to rediscover one’s rational thriving self.
To make this easier for him, listen patiently to his feelings and fears. Help him explore what he needs to do to reestablish balance in his own life. This might entail spending more time with his family and friends, volunteering to assist the relief effort, or simply doing whatever calms and relaxes him.
In the meantime, if you allow him to hang in there with you, your patience will be rewarded. As he finds more inner peace, he will slowly be able to turn his mind toward his financial goals. Eventually he will feel rational enough to review his needs, and explore with you whether his money is in the right places to meet those needs.
My clients lost their only son in the World Trade Center attack. They know they need to change their estate plan, but whenever we try to talk about it, the father chokes up and the mother begins weeping. I know they need time to come to grips with this tragedy, but since they’re already in questionable health, I hate to delay too long. How can I help them make these important decisions without losing more time? You can’t, so don’t even try. Now is not the time for decisions. It’s time for them to mourn their horrific loss, as they begin moving through their grief and anger toward healing.
The best way you can help them now is to listen compassionately. Allow the mother to cry to her heart’s content, and the father to grieve in his own way. As you sympathetically witness this wrenching process, you can ever so slowly begin discussing their choices with them. You might also consider sending them articles that suggest options, such as leaving a gift to a meaningful charity or starting a foundation in their son’s memory.
Despite their shaky health, I can’t emphasize enough the importance of giving them time to make the right decisions with a clear head. If you push them to take action before they’re emotionally ready, they may make decisions they’ll regret later, or flee your insistent urging and never return.
I lost a brother-in-law at the Pentagon in September–he was about my age, and we’d been close for years. I thought it would be best to get back to my job as quickly as possible, but I find myself unable to concentrate, doing poor work, and being easily upset by clients and colleagues. My sister and her family are leaning on me for emotional support that I feel less and less able to give. What should I do? It would be wonderful to keep letting your sister’s family lean on you, but if your own emotional engine is running on empty, you can’t be much help to them or yourself. Your first priority should be your own need to mourn your brother-in-law, and to heal the raw wound of his loss.
Make time to take stock of your own thoughts and feelings. Writing them down may help you deal with them. Or stop multitasking for a while and listen quietly to great music that opens your heart. Consider a visit to your own source of comfort–a church, synagogue, or community organization–and participate in a way that helps you feel more connected to life and more hopeful about the future.
If you don’t feel up to taking on this effort by yourself, or it doesn’t seem to be helping you, consider seeing a grief counselor or therapist who can lend a hand. By caring for yourself in this way, you will not only restore your own emotional well-being, but be of greater service to your family, your colleagues, and your clients.
Since September 11, my clients have inundated me with phone calls. Sometimes it concerns their portfolio, but often it’s about other aspects of their lives. I’m exhausted by this outpouring of need. How can I handle it without getting swallowed up? Consider writing your clients personal letters or e-mails sharing your compassionate understanding of what they’re going through.
You might mention that even though you want to be fully accessible to them, you have sometimes felt overwhelmed. To help yourself stay balanced and able to help them, you are setting aside a certain time each day for their calls–perhaps an hour in the morning, or half an hour at each end of the day.