Grow Your Firm

Accountants as Armchair Therapists

Caleb Newquist Editor-at-Large, Gusto 

Programming note

This the last edition of On the Margins for the year. We’ll return on January 21. Thanks to everyone for reading, your feedback, and most of all, your work in helping small businesses get through this pandemic. I think I speak of all of us when I say: Good riddance, 2020.

And now, the newsletter.

Mental health

I’m a fan of talk therapy, and I recommend it to pretty much everyone. There’s nothing quite as cathartic as unleashing the things rattling inside your head to someone who can’t or won’t bring them up with anyone else. Virtually everyone I know who talks to a therapist recommends it. Every therapist I’ve known or worked with talks to a therapist, too. Don’t be afraid of the feels, people. Even if you don’t want someone plumbing the deepest, darkest corners of your mind, however, a therapist will just listen to you complain for 45 minutes. And unlike your loved ones, they’ll never get tired of it; you’re paying them, after all.

Accountants are advisors to businesses and business owners, and although that doesn’t qualify them as therapists in a professional sense, maybe in an armchair sense? I only bring this up because small business owners could really use the help.

[Dr. Michael] Freeman is among the mental health professionals around the country concerned about small business owners’ well-being. Beyond the personal toll, entrepreneurs who feel isolated and overwhelmed by forces they can’t control find it harder to make their businesses survive or to hatch new ventures, according to Freeman and other professionals.

Since many who are self-employed or running smaller businesses can’t afford comprehensive health insurance coverage, they need better access to “social and emotional support, as well as everything you normally think of, like loans, debt forgiveness, and tax incentives,” Freeman says.

Accountants as therapists isn’t quite as unheard of as it might sound. Many firms provide professional coaching services, which fortunately doesn’t require a master’s degree in psychology, but does require certification. And that’s fine, since accountants seem to love certifications [shameless People Advisory Certification plug here].

And as the actual doctor/therapist noted—there’s a big need for emotional support. The pandemic and its effects have taken their toll on everyone, but there certainly is another level of stress when you own a business that is responsible for your livelihood and the livelihoods of others. Employees’ burdens become employers’ burdens; decisions by employers may directly affect the well-being and security of employees. This is especially true for smaller, tight-knit businesses. (Meanwhile, big businesses are crushing it and laying people off.)

Small business owners see the consequences of their decisions on the faces of the people that they work with every day. That can’t be hidden away by layers of middle management or mass email lists. How those small business owners wrestle with the decisions that may put some in a more vulnerable position can impact how well they make the next critical decision. If they have a trusted person to talk to regularly, a person who can ask questions and provide perspective—not just numbers from a spreadsheet—that business owner may make better decisions.

There’s been a lot of chatter about how accountants have been reinventing themselves during the pandemic, and so much of that is wrapped up in elevating the work beyond the nitty gritty and focusing on the opportunity to become indispensable business gurus. And that’s fine, many accountants will have that chance. But it’s easy to gloss over the fact that people are suffering, and sometimes they just need someone to talk to. Maybe that someone is their accountant.

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Updated: January 21, 2021

Caleb Newquist
Caleb Newquist Caleb is Editor-at-Large at Gusto. In 2009, he became the founding editor of Going Concern, the one-of-a-kind voice on the accounting profession, serving in the role for 9 years. Prior to Going Concern, Caleb worked as a CPA for nearly 6 years in New York and Denver. He lives in Denver with his wife, two daughters, and two cats.

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