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Life and Work with Wendy Wright

Today we’d like to introduce you to Wendy Wright.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Wendy. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I often think of life as a quilt, and every phase is a new square. At the time, you don’t know exactly what you’re making and how it’s going to all fit together. It’s only in looking back that you can see the beautiful pattern you’ve made. That’s how I see my journey.

In my undergrad at Baylor, my mind was immersed in the financial world, studying business with concentrations in marketing and computer information systems. My first job out of college was as a mortgage loan officer. I was a part banker and part counselor, helping my clients understand their financial story and see the path to homeownership. I knew it wouldn’t be forever (I was already thinking I wanted to be a counselor), but I loved working with people one-on-one. It was easy for me to talk to my clients about finances without it being awkward or uncomfortable.

About a decade later, I was back in school studying for my Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. I developed a specialty in supporting those with eating disorders and their families and came across the concept of Intuitive Eating. I was actually able to learn under one of the authors who brought the concept to the mainstream, Elyse Resch, MS, RDN, CEDRD, FAND! This was life-changing work—both for me personally and as a therapist. It honed my ability to listen to my intuition.

As I worked with clients, I saw a fascinating pattern: as people shed their food and body-related coping mechanisms, they often adopted behaviors involving money, be it spending, saving, or debting. Once I noticed this, I saw all the parallels between body-related behaviors and money-related behaviors. Both have external components that shape others’ opinions of us (or at least our perception of their opinions of us). Both have habits we judge as “good” or “bad.” Both are often developed at a young age and are intimately wrapped up in how we see ourselves. And for both, logic has little to do with the disorder at play.

Because of my past experience as a mortgage banker, it was easy for me to transition to talking about money with my therapy clients. My hunch was right—there was definitely a correlation between the stories people were telling themselves about food/body/exercise and the stories they were telling themselves about spending/saving/debting. Pointing this out in sessions has been hugely helpful for my clients.

Eventually, I put a name to my ideas, calling them The Intersection of Money and Milkshakes. I’ve since given several talks on the topic and am working on developing online resources and a book.

In my private practice, I specialize in the emerging field of Financial Therapy and am a member of the Financial Therapy Association. Because the field is so new and has few practitioners so far, I work with clients virtually as well as in my Denver office.

Has it been a smooth road?
As I was shifting paths in my professional life, my personal life took some drastic turns as well.

In 2008, I was married with two teenagers. I was struggling to live in a world made rigid by religious limitations and an eating/exercise disorder. I was going through the motions even though my gut was telling me it wasn’t right.

Then, I got divorced. I’m not talking about a gradual separation where the kids saw it coming and we amicably divided up our belongings. I’m talking about a Lifetime movie-style drama that came out of nowhere and completely rocked our family. All my savings were invested in a house we suddenly couldn’t afford. I was forgotten by my church community—a community to which I was questioning if I even belonged. The life I’d worked so hard for came crumbling down around me.

It’s clear now that the life that crumbled was built on faulty pillars. My intuition kept whispering, “This is not truly you,” but I hadn’t learned to listen. Now, unexpectedly finding myself a single mom and having to start from scratch financially, my intuition was all I had. I was forced to pay attention to.

I moved with my kids to a new state and we did our best to find normalcy. I healed from my eating/body disorder but had a new set of unhealthy habits with money. The divorce left me financially equivalent to a new college graduate—my credit score was in the 500s and I had no savings. I worked hard, but I never saved money because, unconsciously, I felt like putting money into savings meant taking it away from my kids. Buying them something felt like a greater show of affection and motherly love; it felt like an affirmation that I could do it on my own. When you see this rationale from the outside, it’s easy to see how illogical it is. But at the moment, it felt like the obvious choice. This became one of my own great “aha!!” moments when I did my own financial recovery work.

Gradually I let myself grieve for my marriage and the life I thought I was “supposed” to live. It was a jumble of anger, sadness, and numbness until I finally realized I had to define for myself what would work. I dug into my personal relationships with both money and food. I saw that I was worth both and that I could trust my intuition to know what was best for both my body and my finances. Thankfully I also had some good therapists along the way.

This dramatic sequence of events is now a favorite square in my quilt. It’s how I learned to listen to my intuition, healed from traumatic events and destructive behaviors, and practiced all the work I now share with clients. Through the chaotic ruins of a life that wasn’t mine, I discovered who I truly was. I found clarity and peace.

My advice to young people would be a reminder that you can get through this—whatever “this” is. Slow down enough to get to know yourself. Ask yourself who you want to be and what you want from your life. Gradually, you’ll find your intuition and learn to trust it. Once you have that, you can get through anything.

What do you do, what do you specialize in, what are you known for, etc. What are you most proud of? What sets you apart from others?
I have a private practice as a Financial Therapist. I absolutely love my job! I get to work with individual clients, couples, and families to explore their relationship with money and get past obstacles in their way. I help people connect to their intuition and learn to listen when it comes to money, applying the same intuitive principles to finances as with eating.

This often means looking for patterns, stories, and subconscious beliefs and putting judgment-free words to them. We work with an abundance of curiosity and compassion because judgment and shame are drivers to secrecy, confusion, and paralysis.

I’ve learned how to deal with both eating disorders and unhealthy financial behaviors in a hard way. In my work with clients, I teach them the tools I used to heal and (hopefully) allow them to learn from my mistakes.

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that a lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
I’ve had several mentors throughout my life who have made all the difference in my professional success. I can’t express enough how helpful it is to have someone wiser and more experienced lend their support! Right now I work with Karen McCall, author of Financial Recovery and founder of the Financial Recovery Institute, and am in her certification program.

I do a lot of mentoring as well, specifically supporting marriage and family therapists and eating disorder specialists. I am a Supervisor for the Certified Eating Disorder Specialist program and for those seeking licensure in Marriage and Family Therapy. It’s incredibly rewarding to help young therapists put words to their experiences and fears, and remind them they’re not alone.

Another thing: as a therapist, I always have my own therapist. If you’re just starting out in this field, go to therapy!

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Image Credit:
Corinna Lander Photography

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