Heath Carelock, a 2012 graduate of the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service who is both an accredited financial counselor and certified financial coach, is applying trauma-sensitive approaches to his counseling and coaching services.
Carelock has served as the Program Director for the Financial Empowerment Center at Prince George's Community College since 2018. He recently delivered a pair of financial presentations on the topic of trauma-sensitive counseling: “Intersections of Mind and Money, Trauma and Recovery” and “A Role for Financial Counseling and Coaching in Personal Trauma: Management, Recovery, and Healing.”
“Trauma-sensitive financial counseling is an approach to financial counseling that offers extra consideration for client well-being,” Carelock explained. “For example, with someone who experienced loss of assets and shelter because of a house fire, you wouldn't jump to the idea of looking at their budget first. The individual is suffering and eclipsed by life's woes, making it essential for a financial service provider to interface with a regard for client deficit and explore their humanity first. There are ways to build this rapport and engage in this manner, including supportive financial therapy tools, psychological wellness models, Mental Health First Aid, and trauma-informed methodologies and practices.”
Research has shown financial adversity can have strong negative effects on a person’s mental health. Numerous studies have demonstrated intrinsic – and cyclical – links between financial hardship, poverty, and mental health challenges. Research by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute shows that almost four in ten people with a mental health problem stated that their financial situation had worsened those problems. Likewise, almost a third of respondents reported that their mental health problems made their financial situation worse.
Carelock identified four basic financial traumas he looks to address in his work:
• Severe and consequential debt
• Child poverty
• Job loss and long-term unemployment
• Loss of ability to retire and major asset loss
Each trauma can create its own specific set of mental health issues for individuals.
“Mental health involves many parts of the brain, including the memory and executive skills, which represent different areas of the brain,” said Carelock, who is currently pursuing a graduate certificate from Kansas State University in the emerging field of financial therapy. “Financial pressures and the survival mode that constant duress presents have shown to chemically affect the brain and structurally impact areas of the brain. Financial wellness is correlated to mental health and is studied as such in different research domains.”
One reason Carelock began presenting and sharing this information on financial trauma is because his range of experiences have allowed him to understand the different forms trauma can take, he explained. His resume includes an array of teaching experience both in the United States and across the world. He has taught during times of war in Iraq, in the Palestinian West Bank, in Vietnam, in post-earthquake Haiti, and the Dominican Republic as it absorbed Haitian refugees.
Additionally, Carelock noted that, during the COVID-19 pandemic, he has noticed exacerbated stress and trauma in many individuals, both financial and otherwise, creating an additional need for support.
“During the pandemic, I saw a gradual increase in clients who had articulated trauma, including experiencing murder of a loved one, multiple passings of siblings from COVID-19 within an eight-month stretch, and another dissociating to the point of feelings of suicide,” Carelock said. “For these reasons and my study of trauma since the start of the pandemic, I offered to provide a workshop in this effort. I found a litany of techniques and approaches beyond the typical training from financial counseling and coaching; but these resources complement the foundation concepts so well.”
In March, Carelock will deliver the third presentation in his financial trauma series, "Financial Counseling and Coaching amidst Collective and Individually-Experienced Group Member Trauma."
This presentation will touch on refugees, asylum-seekers, and people experiencing natural disaster and emergency-management situations. Carelock will discuss the financial disposition of refugees, asylum-seekers, and survivors of natural disasters, as well as the resources financial counselors should most be considerate of when supporting them.
“I have already reached out to former Clinton School classmates Moksheda Thapa Hekel and Alyssa Provencio, both 2012 graduates, for contributions,” Carelock said, noting two former classmates with unique experiences and skill sets in these areas.
Hekel's experience includes working as a J1 Visa program specialist with the American Immigration Council, and time with the International Organization for Migration in Nepal as a Cultural Orientation Trainer, assisting Bhutanese refugees with their moves to the U.S for resettlement. Provencio is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Political Science and serves as Director of the Disaster Management program at the University of Central Oklahoma.
In addition to his work at Prince George's Community College, Carelock recently initiated his own business, which specializes in supporting program development and project management consulting for nonprofits, education institutions, government agencies, and business-to-business services. Carelock provides financial counseling services for veterans through the Wounded Warrior Project, and serves on the COVID-19 Task Force for financial wellness through the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education (AFCPE). His numerous talks and consulting services include guidance on content strategy and diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging, and justice.
The Clinton School Speaker Series not only enhances the education of Clinton School students, but also provides a venue for the public to engage in intellectual discussions on the issues of the day.