The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft & Spending

       September 2007 e-Newsletter

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 Happy Labor Day!


Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous--Detroit Area
Celebrates 15-Year Anniversary!
Where Have We Been, Where Are We Now, Where Are We Going?

by Terrence Daryl Shulman

Hello, my name is Terry. And I'm a recovering shoplifter. I'm also a recovering employee theft addict. I don't know if I'd call myself a recovering "kleptomaniac" because kleptomania is a pretty rare condition and I don't meet all its criteria. But here I am--and here we are--15 years after I started C.A.S.A. (Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous) in Southfield, Michigan in September 1992. I'd like to share a bit about C.A.S.A.'s history as well as a bit of my own.

There's a lot I'd like to say and could say but, in essence, I want to thank myself for beginning my recovery journey in 1990 and for starting C.A.S.A. because it, more than anything, gave me my life. It's hard to say what my life would be like if I hadn't started the group—and showed up year after year. I got some therapy prior to starting C.A.S.A.--which was helpful—but the group gave me a mission and a purpose which led to all kinds of other people and opportunities who have impacted me greatly.

Some of you know my story or parts of it. I won't go into much detail here—you can read about that in my books.  But I will say that from the age of about 15-25, I struggled mightily with chronic shoplifting and, to a lesser degree, various forms of employee theft. By the time I hit my bottom in 1990, I was in the middle of law school and on the verge of my second (and, hopefully, last) arrest. I was also contemplating suicide. It was not a pretty picture. Finally, I knew I needed to ask for help.

Through 9 months of therapy in 1990 I began to realize why I was stealing and that, in fact, I had become addicted to "getting something for nothing" as a way of battling back my deep feelings of loss, hurt, anger, stress, feelings of over-obligation and life being unfair. I looked for a group like C.A.S.A. and none existed. I did find a local support group in early 1991 called S.O.S.—Secular Organization for Sobriety. There was an article in the paper about this group and, while its emphasis was more on recovery from drugs and alcohol, it also was open to recovering co-dependents. During my therapy, I had discovered I fit qualified for that as well.

I continued to go to S.O.S. meetings once or twice a week until 1994. I shared openly about my shoplifting issues and the group didn't seem to judge me even though I was a bit of the odd duck there. The format was fairly loose. They didn't use the 12 Steps or invoke religion or even spirituality per se. But somehow, it seemed to work for me—just showing up and talking and listening and learning and growing. I made some good friends along the way. I felt proud of my progress in stopping stealing and several members of the group encouraged me to start my own group for people with theft issues. I thought about it  but I chose to lay low for a bit. After all, I was a newly practicing attorney who'd just been narrowly approved for licensure despite having two shoplifting convictions on my record. I didn't want to take this gift for granted.

Funny, though, how fate often has other plans for us. By mid 1992 I was finishing a local 12-week personal growth course called "Self-Expression and Leadership." I enrolled in it because it was the fourth and final prong of some earlier work I had done that year. As it turned out, the primary focus of the course was for each of us to create an event or project in our community for which we had some passion or sense of commitment.  I remember scratching my head and thinking: "what am I passionate about?" Then, like the proverbial lighting bolt, I thought: "I'm passionate about my recovery right now. And it would be great if there was a group in my community and I could go to and others could attend to get well." C.A.S.A. was born in thought. I chose the name C.A.S.A. (Cleptomaniacs And Shoplifters Anonymous) and intentionally misspelled the "kleptomania" because I wanted the acronym "casa" which means "home" in Spanish. As in, "mi casa es su casa" ("my house is your house").

Then came the fear. Can I do it? How do I do it? What if someone finds out about me? What if nobody comes?  I pushed through this and created a strategy to launch the group in September 1992. I secured a weekly day and time at the church where S.O.S. meetings were held. I thank the church for trusting me and believing in me. I created flyers and began posting them here and there around town and mailed them to local courts. I tried to get a local newspaper article about the group but was initially unsuccessful. And then I showed up that first Wednesday and waited. And waited...

And waited. September passed. October passed. I started to get nervous and began calling the courts to see if they were going to refer anybody to the group. One of my first calls was to the same court where I'd last been prosecuted two years before. The probation officer told me: "Yeah, I remember seeing that flyer. We thought it was a hoax! A group for kleptomaniacs and shoplifters? And there was no name or phone number on it." I felt so defeated and frustrated. The only saving grace was that she connected me with a local therapist who had done a presentation at their court the year before on shoplifting and anger. I called him up and met with him to seek his advice on starting the group. I connected immediately with him and saw him for therapy over the next two years. He was a mentor to me until his untimely death in 1994.

... November passed! For 13 straight weeks I showed up and played the piano at the church waiting for someone, anyone to show. Finally, in mid-December, a man walked through the door. I don't even remember how he heard about the group, but we had our first meeting. Around the same time, a reporter from the Detroit Free Press contacted me to write an article on our group and how shoplifting increases during the holiday season. That was my first interview and I wanted to remain totally anonymous. No photo. No name. The reporter called me "Rudolph."

The article was published on December 26, 1992. People began to trickle in afterwards. What a journey it's been since.

C.A.S.A. continued to grow steadily over the next few years. Most of our members were--and always have been--court-ordered. We had three members in particular, David N., Fran S. (rest-in-peace), and Sandra J. who came to C.A.S.A, in 1993, 1994, and 1995 respectively and who helped provide some early and needed co-leadership. In the old days, our weekly meetings ran from 7-10pm and, on occasion, went past 11pm for those who stayed. Back in the day, our format was much looser, with more crosstalk and questions and no specific time limit for sharing. There were some complaints as you can imagine. C.A.S.A. averaged about 15 members per meeting. One night we had 25!

In the Fall 1995, I moved to Ann Arbor to pursue my Masters in Social Work at U-M. I'd end up living there until 2000 when I moved to Southfield. I left C.A.S.A. in the capable hands of David, Fran, Sandra and others. Occasionally, I'd attend the group when I could. I started a C.A.S.A. group in Ann Arbor that ran from 1995 through 1998. The courts had promised me they'd refer people and I posted flyers and did community television spots fairly regularly. But, for whatever reasons, we rarely had more than a few people attend. Eventually, I got burned out and folded the group.

1997 was a banner year: I landed my first job as a therapist--at an intensive outpatient chemical dependency clinic. I started my first website: . And I completed a first rough draft manuscript of my book "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction & Recovery." Soon afterwards, I received an offer to publish my book but I didn't feel comfortable with the project: they wanted the whole book to be just about me—nobody else's stories, no exercises, no statistics, no self-help explanations. Frankly, I thought I could land a better publisher and better deal so I put them on hold. Several months and many rejection letters later, I came crawling back to the original offer which was no longer on the table. My dream of completing and publishing my book languished over the next 6 years.

I bought my first home in 2000 with my fiancee and came back to C.A.S.A. as a regularly attending member. Our group had continued to thrive with some periodic fluctuations in attendance and minor changes in stewardship. 2000 was also the year I started CASA-online, an e-mail support group for people interested in recovery from shoplifting and theft behaviors. I was getting all kinds of e-mails, letters, and phone calls asking if C.A.S.A. had groups in other states, other countries. In the early days of C.A.S.A. online, anyone could join just by clicking a button on my website. Bad idea. Within 2 years, we had nearly 500 members and there was all kinds of friction and safety issues between members. Not a good forum for sensitive recovery to take place. I closed the list in 2002 and, after a few more configurations, re-opened it in 2003 to former members in good standing, clients of mine, and persons who successfully completed a phone screening with me. With minor exceptions, the list has provided a safe and stable environment.

In 2002, I got married and became increasingly busy trying to finish my book and launch my own counseling practice. C.A.S.A. celebrated its 10-year Anniversary but I continued to lean of the support of other C.A.S.A. members to help lead the group. It seemed like not many old-timers stayed around. By 2003, Fran had taken leave of the group to attend to family health issues, David was experiencing some health and family crises, and Sandra was making the long drive less frequently. I was worried that C.A.S.A. had reached its apex and was in decline.

But in early 2003, I felt a spark of life. I was invited to give a presentation on shoplifting to a local court in the Downriver Detroit area. They wanted to have a C.A.S.A. meeting around their area that they could refer probationers to. By the end of 2003, I collaborated with a C.A.S.A. member who lived Downriver to start a group in Lincoln Park.

In mid-2003, I had also begun working part-time at a new local counseling clinic in Southfield called Clean House. They had meeting space for A.A. and N.A. meetings and I thought it might be time for a change of venue for C.A.S.A. The space was nice, the building was always opened so nobody had to have a key, and the weekly rental fees were more reasonable. I also thought the exposure our group would get from the clinic mailings and traffic could only help.

Somehow, I finally managed to self-publish my book "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery" in late 2003.

C.A.S.A. met at Clean House from October 2003 through August 2006. Our meetings ran from 7-9pm. The transition was pretty smooth and our group began growing again. We routinely had 20-25 people at our meetings—but that was our limit due to space. Also, noise from other meeting rooms sometimes traveled through the walls. In late, 2004 I assisted Sandra in starting a chapter of C.A.S.A. at Brighton Hospital in Brighton. I felt a renewed passion for C.A.S.A. and it felt like the group was really doing well. Like icing on the cake, we had the special honor and privilege of having the Oprah Winfrey camera crew sit in and film one of our meetings in August 2004. Oprah aired a show on "Secret Lives" on September 21, 2004 (it has re-aired several times since). I felt a renewed passion for C.A.S.A. and  the group was really doing well. After Oprah aired, I received many phone calls and e-mails about my book, online group, and my counseling services. The Shulman Center for Theft Addictions and Disorders was officially launced.

But I became increasingly aware of the delicate tightrope I would walk between "Terry S., the recovering person--the same as any other C.A.S.A. member--and Terry the author, Terry the therapist, Terry the Oprah guest expert, Terry "the leader." Admittedly, I enjoyed the adulation at times but it created a trap: if C.A.S.A. was "Terry's group," what would happen if Terry wasn't there? I hoped it would survive and tried to think of other ideas to take C.A.S.A. to new levels.

In early 2005, I suggested that we, as a group, inject some new components into our group. I suggested that each first Wednesday of the month be a special "open meeting" for family and/or friends to attend and where one of our group members would lead off the group meeting with an open talk from 5-20 minutes long. I gave the first open talk and I believe we filled most of the slots for 2005. I also began planning and organizing for the 1st International Conference on Theft Addictions & Disorders in Detroit  and, in late 2005, I self-published my 2nd book "Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic... New Perspectives, New Solutions" just in time for our conference. It was around this time, as well, the ABC TV's "48 Hours" highlighted shoplifting addiction and sat in and filmed one of our C.A.S.A. meetings. While the conference was a success, I felt disappointed more C.A.S.A. members and locals didn't attend the conference

By the end of 2005, I was exhausted. I remember giving an open talk around this time calling out for more help leading the meetings. I had 4 or 5 volunteers say they'd step up to the plate. That didn't happen. As a matter of fact, 3 of them virtually stopped attending the meetings.

Then, the bottom nearly dropped out. In February 2006, one of our members gave an open talk to a packed house. There were some members who were acting rude, whispering, chatting, and passing notes. The following two meetings were spent processing this and a lot of people aired a variety of concerns about the meeting and its format. There were even concerns about racism within the group. It got pretty ugly. I felt C.A.S.A. was coming apart at the seams. Members were at each other's throats. Some members expressed gripes about me. It was like one big dysfunctional family and who could you call to sort it out? You couldn't just call 911. I felt I had an important choice to make. Do I step-in and try to save the group or do I step back and let the group rise or fall on its own? I guess I chose the middle road in some respect. I called a special meeting where we all got to calmly and respectfully process our feelings and ideas. But I also announced, quite clearly, that I would be taking a 2-month hiatus from the group effective after the meeting and challenged the group to take ownership for C.A.S.A. and be part of the solution not part of the problem.

For me, it was about letting go and not being the hero to save the day—an all too familiar pattern. I kept true to my word and took off March and April 2006. I heard through the grapevine that the group had its ups and downs but it survived. When I returned, I told the group that I will not be attending regularly but maybe every 2nd or 3rd week. A few members stepped up to the plate to help facilitate meetings. A few others dropped out again for various reasons.

In mid-2006, I attended The National Retail Federation's Annual Loss Prevention Conference in Minneapolis, MN. I've toyed with the idea of lending some progressive thoughts about theft to the loss prevention field and I'm always curious how they look at things. I felt like as fish out of water as most of the focus was pretty much on "hard line" security and technology deterrence. I did have the chance to visit the Minneapolis Shoplifters Anonymous group that has been meeting since the mid '80's. Thanks Lois L. for being such a tireless beacon of hope.

Also in mid-2006, I tried to start a meeting on the East Side of Detroit but was unable to get much assistance. It also was becoming apparent that we and our host--Clean House--weren't a great fit anymore. We needed more space to grow but there were no other rooms in the building for us to use and the noise from the neighboring room continued to disrupt our meetings. I was no longer professionally associated with the clinic.

I asked members of the group to help find a new place for C.A.S.A. to meet. Nobody stepped up. So, I called our old meeting place at the church and they happily welcomed us back— still on Wednesdays no less. Though the rent would be twice as much as we had been paying, the building was quiet, secure and we could have as much room as we needed. It felt like coming home in a sense. We celebrated our 14-year Anniversary there in September 2006. I remember thinking: let us last another year to at least hit "15." Earlier this year, Fran S.--one of our early group co-facilitators--passed away. I remember how, at age 60, she first came to a C.A.S.A. meeting and truly began to change her life. She taught me, truly, "you're never too old to change." As for David N., who became a good friend of mine over the years, his health, marriage, career, and recovery had taken a turn for the worse. His story, unfortunately, stood in stark contrast to Fran's successes. I haven't seen or heard from him in a year.

In January 2007, I asked Mike R. of Seattle and Louise M. of Maryland to help me co-moderate the online support group. Thanks Mike and Louise! Our online group membership has hovered around 150 members over the last year or so. I am proud of the several C.A.S.A. groups that have cropped up over the U.S. over the last few years due to the efforts of various online group members (in Philadelphia, Connecticut, Seattle, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Virginia, Redding, CA, Sacramento, CA, and Atlanta). Previous groups existed in Houston and Minneapolis. It is sad, however, that each of these groups has had to struggle to thrive and that several have had to fold or take a hiatus.

Since January, C.A.S.A. Detroit has regrouped and had some great meetings again. After helping to usher the transition back to the church, I've tried to balance leadership with a bit of a "hands-off" approach. I've noticed that over the last 6 months, nobody has volunteered to give an open talk and few members are bringing family or friends to our open meeting. I've debated whether to get more involved or just let it be. As you may have guessed, it was hard for me just to let it be: I've volunteered to give an open talk on September 5th and have been the pointperson to head up our 15th Anniversary party/meeting on September 12th.

In the meantime, our Brighton group is growing and is nearly 3 years old. Sandra has remained at the helm but I've even told her—share the leadership, don't do it all yourself. The Lincoln Park group—nearing 4 years old—has had at least 5 changes of the guard including just this past month. I visited both groups in August.

So, where are we now? And where are we going? Only time will tell. We've come so far in the last 15 years and I believe shoplifting and stealing, while still shameful and stigmatizing, has inched forward a bit in the mainstream thinking. Winona did it. Oprah aired it. Obviously, we've got a ways to go. Maybe we need to convert all our groups to formal 12 Step groups. But that's no guarantee groups will pop up or thrive. In order for C.A.S.A. to survive and continue growing, it needs more than a few people to step up to the plate and be a part of this rare but important forum for people to connect, learn, heal, and grow. And let it began with me... and you. Like the old saying goes: you get what you put into it. I know I have.




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2007 Conference on Compulsive Shopping and Shoplifting set for Saturday November 3, 2007 in New York City has been postponed. We regret any disappointment and hope to create a conference somewhere and sometime in 2008.

Please check-out the website for helpful & exciting information and resources on all addictions including shopping and shoplifting.

Also, check out Minnesota-based therapist and author John Prin's website


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Media Items from July/August:

Women's Entertainment Channel's "Secret Lives of Women" shoplifting segment aired on Tuesday July 10, 2007! Look for repeat airings at


July issue of Psychotherapy Networker Magazine features an article by Mr. Shulman on compulsive shoplifting and employee theft.

Chicago area Elburn Herald newspaper storey about people who steal from restaurants, featuring quotes from Mr. Shulman

September and beyond...

September... The Alabama Anniston Star Newspaper will feature an article on compulsive shopping/spending in which Mr. Shulman is prominently featured.

September 19th: Mr. Shulman will be the keynote speaker in Louisville, KY at the Annual Kentucky Certified Public Accountants conference. He will be speaking about employee theft and why it occurs and how to deter and prevent it.

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Now Available!

*Available on DVD or CD: My 90-minute presentation on theft addictions and disorders at the 2006 Michigan Social Workers Annual Conference. $90 for the DVD, $25 for the CD or $100 for both;

*Available on DVD: My hour-long presentation on theft addictions and disorders from Brighton Hospital September 7, 2006: $60.00;

*Available on DVD: My 75 minute-long presentation on employee theft at The Michigan Financial Managers Conference on October 19, 2006: $75.00;

*Available: My two hour-long presentation on theft addictions and disorders at the Birmingham Community House November 9, 2006: $100.00;

*Available: My two hour-long presentation on theft addictions and disorders at the San Fernando Valley Employee Assistance Meeting on October 27, 2006: $100.00; and

*Available: 13 Hours (4 DVDs) of The First International Conference on Theft Addictions & Disorders in Detroit 2005: $200.00; 12 CD's $120.00; DVD's and CD's $300.00.

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Contact The Shulman Center

Terrence Shulman
P.O. Box 250008
Franklin, Michigan 48025


Call (248) 358-8508 for free consulation!

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© 2007 The Shulman Center

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