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Something For Nothing

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.

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