Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

In Consultation, Something for Nothing: How to Approach Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery

Magazine article Psychotherapy Networker

In Consultation, Something for Nothing: How to Approach Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery

Article excerpt


Something for Nothing How to approach shoplifting addiction and recovery

By Terrence Daryl Shulman

Q: I have a client who's a shoplifter. This is new to me. What do I need to know and what should I do? 

A: Before my appearance on Oprah on September 21, 2004, as an expert on shoplifting addiction and recovery, I'd been conducting research on stealing, both professionally and personally, for nearly two decades. I'm an attorney, social worker, and certified addictions counselor. I'm also a recovering shoplifter, having shoplifted from the age of 17 to 25.

By 1990, after two shoplifting arrests, I felt suicidal. I entered therapy for the first time and painfully began to peel back the layers of the onion that had become my life. Gradually, I discovered the same seeds I'd find so often within my own clients: a history of family addiction, repressed anger, shame, and grief with codependent relationships, ignorance, and denial fertilizing the mix. I wanted to stop shoplifting, but kept clinging to it for dear life. Eventually, my therapist suggested that I'd become addicted to it. His words stunned me. Then the light bulb went on: I wasn't so different from my alcoholic father.

In 1992, I founded Cleptomaniacs and Shoplifters Anonymous (C.A.S.A) in Detroit. For the past 15 years, this weekly group has provided ongoing support for more than a thousand people of all backgrounds. C.A.S.A. is one of only a handful of such groups in North America and, perhaps, the world.

Statistics from The National Association for Shoplifting Prevention estimate that 1 out of 11 people in America shoplift: nearly 25 million individuals. The price tag to stores is substantial--more than $10 billion per year. There's no typical profile of a shoplifter. Men and women shoplift about equally. Adults comprise 75 percent of shoplifters. The vast majority of shoplifters (nearly 75 percent) shoplift not out of economic need or greed, but in re-sponse to personal and social pressures. It's rarely about the money or the object stolen--Winona Ryder's case illustrated that.

Most shoplifters steal out of feelings of anger, loss, disempowerment, and entitlement, and many become addicted. Therefore, according to some statistics, 69 percent of shoplifters arrested will shoplift again. This kind of stealing is beyond the rare condition of kleptomania--an impulse-control disorder that affects 6 out of 1,000 Americans, mostly women from the age of 20. Yet, kleptomania remains the only officially recognized diagnosis for stealing as a mental health issue.

Employee theft--with which most people have had some "inside experience"--is usually viewed and handled in the same way as shoplifting. The FBI calls employee theft "the fastest-growing crime in America." The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that 75 percent of employees have stolen from the workplace in some form--embezzlement, fudged time cards, padded expense accounts, personal errands on company time, excessive personal phone calls, and pilfered office supplies--and that most do so repeatedly. The American Society of Employers reports that 20 percent of every dollar earned by an American company is lost to employee theft, to the tune of $53 billion per year, in the retail sales industry alone! And 55 percent of employee theft is committed by managers and supervisors. The average time it takes to discover a scheme is 18 months, which is plenty of time to develop a habit or etch a character trait. As with shoplifting, employee theft isn't usually about the money or the items stolen; it's about getting even and entitlement--"they owe me!" Many don't even think of theft from the workplace as stealing.

So who's doing all this stealing and why? What, if anything, is being done other than employing more sophisticated security systems in stores and tougher consequences in workplaces and the courts? Why is this an important--and neglected--issue for clinicians and others in the mental health fields? …

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