The Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft & Spending

             August 2008 e-Newsletter

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Fall 2008 Conference on Compulsive Theft & Spending takes place Saturday September 27, 2008 in Detroit! Early Bird Discount--register by August 1st! Space is limited! See for information and registration.

Mr. Shulman's new book
Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending is available now through Amazon or Mr. Shulman's websites.

"The Devil Wears Prada," "Sex and The City," "Confessions of a Shopaholic,"
MTV's "True Life"


Terrence Daryl Shulman


These are strange times we live in.

The U.S. economy is sluggish with record home foreclosures, layoffs, spiking gas prices. 

But never underestimate the American (or human?) inclination for escape.

"When the going gets tough, the tough go shopping!"

"Retail therapy, anyone?"

Many of us continue to be obsessed by and chase the lifestyles of the rich and (in)famous, even as our own lives desperately need tending to--financially and otherwise.

About 2 months ago, the movie "Sex and The City" opened. I went with my wife and, I admit, enjoyed it. I was a big "Sex and The City" fan when the show aired on HBO for several years. I was drawn to the series by the snappy dialogue, the camaraderie between friends, the relationship issues tackled, and just being a "fly on the wall" into the "real" lives and concerns of women.
I used to think Carrie, Jessica Sarah Parker's character, was a caricature of sorts--with her obsession with shoes and fashion at the expense of living in a cramped apartment and paycheck to paycheck. Besides, she had other charms: depth (or neuroticism, depending on your point of view) and a longing for meaningful (if dysfunctional) partnership.

But as I've continued to learn about and counsel compulsive shoppers from all backgrounds, it recently occurred to me how sad and dysfunctional Carrie's character must be inside despite the Hollywood happy endings (sorry if I gave too much away!). I know it's unfair to think a film version of "Sex and The City" would go into much depth about the origins of Carrie's obsessions when the five-year TV series didn't. It's safe to say part of her condition springs from the culture she swims in. Besides, "Sex and The City" is, at heart, more comedy than drama.

Like the movie before it, The Devil Wears Prada," which gave an inside view of the high fashion industry and the emotional toll it takes on those in it, "Sex and The City" shows--if nothing else--that looking good, having money, or having the perfect outfit doesn't guarantee a problem-free life. But I suspect that's hardly the message most people come away with; instead, the glitz and glam are likely a big part of what drew people to both movies. Even the reviews of both films stoked the fires by naming designers; after all, product placement is everything! No, I suspect many people come away from the movie secretly wishing: "I wish I was Carrie" (or her three other pals).

I'm not one for lectures or preaching, but I find it increasingly fascinating how the lines of fantasy and reality get blurred. A Stanford University study in 2006 estimates that 6% of the U.S. population suffers from compulsive buying disorder. I think it's safe to say those numbers are conservative; at least some equal or greater percentage have serious money, spending, or debt problems that may cross the line (yet) to compulsivity. Yet, there have always been and always will be those movies and TV shows which paint alcoholics, drug addicts, gambling addicts and shoplifters as just "quirky" or "captivating." 

Well, don't look now: just around the corner comes the new feature film "Confessions of a Shopaholic" based on the chick-lit novella of the same title by Sophie Kinsella (who also penned several "sequels" with the word "Shopaholic" in their titles. Apparently, shopaholism sells.

Now, I haven't read any of Ms. Kinsella's books--and I doubt I will (I don't wish to carve out the time). But I will, likely, go to the movie just to keep up with pop culture and to further marvel at the phenomena of consumer madness masquerading as glorification.

(As a side note: I was contacted earlier this year by someone from the film who was looking to change the name of the support group the protagonist attends from 'Shoppers Anonymous" to "Shopaholics Anonymous" and wanted to clear it with me as they found my website and thought I owned a trademark on that name).

A synopsis of the plot, taken from the Internet, reads as follows:

Confessions of a Shopaholic--major motion picture--due out August 8, 2008.

Rebecca Bloomwood just hit rock bottom. But she's never looked better....Becky Bloomwood has a fabulous flat in London's trendiest neighborhood, a troupe of glamorous socialite friends, and a closet brimming with the season's must-haves. The only trouble is that she can't actually afford it -- not any of it. Her job writing at Successful Savings not only bores her to tears, it doesn't pay much at all. And lately Becky's been chased by dismal letters from Visa and the Endwich Bank -- letters with large red sums she can't bear to read -- and they're getting ever harder to ignore. She tries cutting back; she even tries making more money. But none of her efforts succeeds. Becky's only consolation is to buy herself something ... just a little something.... Finally a story arises that Becky actually cares about, and her front-page article catalyzes a chain of events that will transform her life -- and the lives of those around her -- forever.

Happy endings are never far away in make-believe land.

Now, contrast this with the recent airing this past month of MTV's (yes, MTV!) painfully frightening and sad portrait of two young, honest-to-God, real shopaholics on it's series "True Life." Ali, 19, from Columbus, Ohio and Gabby, 18, from Queens, New York show the dark side of compulsive shopping with no holds barred. See

Already in debt in the tens of thousands of dollars before age 20 (the average American carries nearly $10,000 in debt to to excessive spending), Ali and Gabby stand as shells of human beings. Ali is like a drug addict needing her next fix, estranged from her family who previously bailed her out but is now drained financially and emotionally. She is afraid to open up her bills--a virtual mountain of them. She takes advantage of her naive and caring boyfriend. Her furniture is repo'd by "Rent to Own" and she sits in an empty apartment. The only good news is she recognizes, fairly early in her disease, that she has a problem and seeks counseling and Debtors Anonymous groups.

(As a side note, I got to meet Ali a few weeks ago on the set of CBS TV's "The Early Show" which was highlighting compulsive shopping among young people--a particularly vulnerable group who make up most of audience of "Sex and The City" and "Confessions of a Shopaholic." I was the guest expert for the segment which was all of 4 minutes long. Ali struck me as intelligent and sensitive and dedicated to her recovery; yet, without being critical, I felt she clearly still possessed the common elements of her disease, namely, a preoccupation with her looks and her fashion.)

Gabby, the other young woman in the MTV segment, likely presented the more typical shopaholic: one still greatly in denial and unwilling to change. She lived with father and mother--who is homebound with a debilitating disease--and basically holds them hostage to her barrage of material demands, guilting them at every turn. She even expects them to pay for "a boob job," uttering flippantly: "Six thousand dollars is nothing. I'll have them for the rest of my life." She is shown shopping and partying with her friends who express only mild concern or protest over her excesses--all too typical as well.

My hunch is there was and will be much less fanfare for the stark portrayal of shopaholism immortalized in MTV's "True Life" segment. The media and public will fawn over "Confessions of a Shopaholic." And, of course, realistically, even if everybody in the country saw the MTV segment, it's unlikely to shake many into immediate sanity. But it's a good start. It's a seed. I hope we see more shows like it. I truly believe we are at the doorstep (or have we already crossed the threshold?) of an individual and collective epidemic around compulsive shopping and spending. We need to get to our young people quickly. They are our future. And as much as the young are heralded and bemoaned for their inherent feelings of invincibility and battle cry "It won't happen to me," something's got to change. If it doesn't, we're going to be in even more trouble.


THE OLYMPICS begin on 8/8/08. For all you numerology buffs, the number "8" is often believed to be associated with prosperity. If you turn the "8" on its side, it creates the "infinity" symbol. August 8, 2008 is also my wife's and my 6th wedding anniversary. I feel thankful to have her as my partner.

The Olympics inspire me to think about recovery.

The Olympics present an opportunity for awe and drama in the art and science of the human potential of body, mind, and spirit as each athlete and team of athlete's compete to be their best, to break the records of what was or is thought to be unbreakable. The Olympics is also an opportunity to put aside our difference as people and nations and to... play! (Even though this form of "play" gets awfully competitive sometimes).

I have often thought of recovery as a form of an Olympic marathon of sorts--it's ongoing and we need to pick ourselves up when we fall and keep shooting for our personal best (not to be confused with trying to be "perfect").

I also think of how we do all this training in recovery--going to therapy, support groups, feeling our pain, reading books, making small and dramatic changes in our lives. All for what? In essence, just to allow ourselves to stop or pause and observe the simple gap of time that allows us to move from automatic actors to more conscious choice and decision makers. That really sums it up for me. An Olympic athlete trains years to shave off a fraction of a second from his or her time--a fraction of a second that can make the difference between a medal or no medal. The same is true for we recovering people. And the training never ends. Hopefully, it gets easier though. And hopefully, whether we ever achieve a "medal" or not, we find meaning and peace and strength in the training itself. That's called being a good winner... even when we've lost.

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Fall 2008 Conference on Compulsive Theft & Spending takes place Saturday September 27, 2008 in Detroit! See our website for info and registration. Also, Mr. Shulman's new book Bought Out and $pent! Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending available now and may be purchased through Mr. Shulman directly or through any of our websites.


June 21st--Mr. Shulman co-presented with Professor Michael Whitty on "Affluenza and Super-Consumerism" in Detroit, Michigan.

June 29th--Mr. Shulman was featured in an article in The Washington Post by Nancy Trejos on cosumer credit card debt and compulsive shopping/spending.

July 14th--Mr. Shulman was featured in an article in the New York Daily News on compulsive shopping and spending.

July 17th--Mr. Shulman was featured in an article in the Gainesville, Georgia Times newspaper about employee theft.

July 18th--Mr. Shulman was featured on CBS TV's "The Early Show" discussing compulsive shopping and spending--especially among younger people.

July--Mr. Shulman was interviewed for an article on compulsive shopping in the Decatur, Illinois Herald and Review newspaper.

Mr. Shulman is working with CNN on a story about how the faltering economy has led to more people shoplifting out of basic need and necessity.

Mr. Shulman is working on a German-based television segment on addictions--including compulsive theft and spending.

Mr. Shulman is working on an Australia-based television segment on addictions--including compulsive theft and spending.


Mr. Shulman continues to assist with a documentary on American excess called "American Dream: The Movie"

Mr. Shulman will be featured in a 2009 book on recovery in the USA called "America Anonymous" by Benoit-Denizen Lewis.

Mr. Shulman is working with MSNBC on a series on addiction--including shoplifting addiction to be aired in September 2008.

Mr. Shulman is working with A & E TV's "Intervention" show on a shoplifting addiction segment.

Mr. Shulman is scheduled to be interviewed on Metro-Detroit's TV News program 'Street Beat" to be aired on September 21, 2008. He will be discussing his work with compulsive theft and spending.


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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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Products for Purchase--SALE!

Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute DVD Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Livonia, Michigan Financial Manager's Conference 10/19/06. $75.00

Mr. Shulman's 75 Minute DVD Power Point Presentation on Employee Theft at Louisville, Kentucky Business in Industry Conference 9/19/07. $75.00

Mr. Shulman's two books "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction & Recovery" and "Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic... New Perspectives, New Solutions" are availabe for $25.00 each (includes shipping/handling) or both for $45.00 (includes shipping/handling).

Mr. Shulman's 90 minute DVD Power Point presentation for young people: "Theft and Dishonesty Awareness Program." $75.00

Mr. Shulman's 33 minute psycho-educational DVD: "The Disease of Something for Nothing: Shoplifting and Employee Theft." $50.00

First International Conference on Theft Addictions & Disorders 4 DVD set (13 Hours). Recorded 10/05. $125.00


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© 2007 The Shulman Center