Compulsive Shopping Treatment

Many people who have shopping problems have already tried to change this behavior and haven’t been able to. Often they feel as if they’ve failed, when in truth, what they’ve needed is some structure and guidance.

If this describes you, it is very important that you know that effective compulsive shopping treatment is available.

Dr. Benson and her associates can work with you to help you stop the shopping insanity and turn your life around.
About Our Services:


The Stopping Overshopping Individual Program

Dr. Benson and her associates are available for individual counseling or therapy in Manhattan, for overshoppers who live in the New York metropolitan area, and individual coaching by phone and Skype, for overshoppers who live anywhere outside of the New York metropolitan area.

The work begins when you complete a Personal History and Demographic Data Questionnaire, two valid and reliable compulsive buying rating scales, and a Purchasing Recall form. Completing these intake forms will immediately increase your awareness about your overshopping behavior and give us important information that will help us to get to know you more quickly. The goal of the work is to break the cycle that leads to compulsive buying and to teach skills, tools, and strategies to help you eliminate your compulsive buying behavior and develop the capacity to lead a richer life in the process.

The comprehensive program in Dr. Benson’s book, To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop is the basic structure of the individual work, although the program is tailored to each person’s specific needs. The coaching we’ll do approaches the problem from feeling, thinking, and behavioral levels and employs a variety of effective techniques to meet the goal of helping you to resist and  eliminate self-defeating overshopping behavior and replace it with interests, relationships, and competencies that enhance your life rather than erode it.There is no set number of sessions, although it usually takes at least 12 50-minute sessions to get through the entire program.

The focus is on changing problematic buying behavior, and the program employs a wide array of techniques to achieve this goal. Each individual receives a copy of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop and the companion Shopping Journals. One of the Journals is for more narrative writing and the other is for on the spot writing and reference.

Over the course of the twelve  weeks, you explore why you overshop, how it all began, what triggers it and what the consequences are. You explore your ambivalence about changing, the centrality of saving and the high cost of credit card debt, track your spending and evaluate the relative necessity of each expenditure. You begin to look at what you’re really shopping for, and how to get that. You learn how to resist the pull of the six major shopping magnets and develop the capacity to shop mindfully, utilizing the wisdom of your body, your heart, your mind, and your spirit. You learn how to anticipate lapses, avoid relapses, and plan for upcoming high risk situations. Finally, you look at shopping with a wide-angle lens by shopping for ideas and experiences and, in the process, acquiring true wealth.

An important part of the process is formulating specific, achievable, and measurable weekly goals.

If you are concerned about your or a loved one’s buying behavior and wish to contact Dr. Benson about individual coaching or therapy, please contact her by clicking here.


The Stopping Overshopping Group Program

The Stopping Overshopping Group Program is a comprehensive 12-week experience designed to teach specific skills, tools, and strategies to help you eliminate overshopping. Group coaching offers a powerful, time-tested combination of peer support, encouragement, and feedback under the guidance of a trained professional. The presence of others with the same addiction helps members bear their isolation, failure, guilt, and pain, and greatly reduces their fears of judgment and humiliation. Further, group coaching helps break through the denial of the destructive behavior, leading to awareness rather than avoidance of the problem. The group fosters hope: members share triumphs and disappointments and grow from both. Highly supportive, the group has educational and experiential components and includes homework and goal setting each week.

We offer the Stopping Overshopping Group Program in two formats: telecoaching for people that don’t live in the New York metropolitan area and in-person group therapy for people that do live in the New York metropolitan area.


12-Week Stopping Overshopping Telecoaching Group

The 12-week Stopping Overshopping Telecoaching Group meets once a week for 75 minutes on the telephone. The focus is on changing problematic buying behavior, and the program employs a wide array of techniques to achieve this goal. Group members discover triggers, cues, and consequences of their overbuying, learn specific tools, strategies, and techniques to break the cycle of overspending, gain control, and develop mindfulness and increased capacity to use their “wise mind” in making decisions.

Each group member receives a copy of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop and the companion Shopping Journals. One of the Journals is for more narrative writing and the other is for on the spot writing and reference. Over the course of the twelve weeks, you track your spending and the relative necessity of each expenditure. You also be writing a money and shopping memoir and constructing a money dialog to help you better understand the roots of the problem and the way those roots manifest themselves in your current behavior.

An important part of the process is formulating specific, achievable, and measurable weekly goals. You also find and utilize the help of a Shopping Support Buddy, someone from either inside or outside of the group whom you select to be an advocate for you as you work toward changing your buying behavior. Didactic material related to compulsive buying, paper and pencil exercises, and experiential exercises are part of each group session. We address the role of culture, and develop media literacy. Each group member learns how to identify and restructure dysfunctional thoughts, manage stress, resolve conflict and social pressure assertively, and deal with the inevitable lapses and relapses that are a part of recovery.

The group is in email contact during the week in between sessions and after each group meeting, the group gets a debriefing email from the group coach recapping how each group member did with his or her goal, reviewing the most important points that came up during the group, and previewing the work for the next week.

This powerful 12-week coaching group offers a time-tested combination of peer support, encouragement, and feedback under the guidance of a nationally recognized expert in this problem to help you conquer the urge to overshop. The presence and support of others who share your challenge helps to transform isolation to hope, and offers the encouragement each group member needs to stay motivated and create healthy change. Group coaching also helps break through the wall of denial of this self-destructive behavior, leading to awareness and positive action rather than avoidance. The group fosters hope: members share triumphs and disappointments and grow from both.

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12-Week Stopping Overshopping In-Person Group

The 12-week Stopping Overshopping In-Person Group meets in Manhattan once a week for 12 weeks for 100 minutes. The focus is on changing problematic buying behavior, and the program employs a wide array of techniques to achieve this goal. Group members discover triggers, cues, and consequences of their overbuying, learn specific tools, strategies, and techniques to break the cycle of overspending, gain control, and develop mindfulness and increased capacity to use their “wise mind” in making decisions.

Each group member receives a copy of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop and the companion Shopping Journals. One of the Journals is for more narrative writing and the other is for on the spot writing and reference. Over the course of the twelve weeks, you track your spending and the relative necessity of each expenditure. You also be writing a money and shopping memoir and constructing a money dialog to help you better understand the roots of the problem and the way those roots manifest themselves in your current behavior.

An important part of the process is formulating specific, achievable, and measurable weekly goals. You also find and utilize the help of a Shopping Support Buddy, someone from either inside or outside of the group whom you select to be an advocate for you as you work toward changing your buying behavior. Didactic material related to compulsive buying, paper and pencil exercises, and experiential exercises are part of each group session. We address the role of culture, and develop media literacy. Each group member learns how to identify and restructure dysfunctional thoughts, manage stress, resolve conflict and social pressure assertively, and deal with the inevitable lapses and relapses that are a part of recovery.

The group is in email contact during the week in between sessions and after each group meeting, the group gets a debriefing email from Dr. Benson recapping how each group member did with his or her goal, reviewing the most important points that came up during the group, and previewing the work for the next week. During one of the group meetings, the group takes a short field trip to a local mall to do some “on the spot” work on dealing with urges as they strike.

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Treatment Overview:

Compulsive shopping is a disorder that our culture has largely seen fit to smile upon. Feelings of emptiness, low self-esteem, insecurity,boredom, lonliness − or the pursuit of ideal image–can cause people to buy compulsively. But managing these feelings and mood states by buying compulsively can have extremely serious consequences and significantly erode quality of life.

As with most other addictive, impulse control, or compulsive disorders, there is a wide range of effective treatment options: drug treatment, individual, group, and couples therapy, counseling for compulsive buying, Debtors Anonymous, and Simplicity Circles can all be effective. The choice of what form or forms of treatment to use with a particular person is a complex decision that goes well beyond the scope of this overview. For further information about making treatment decisions, consult my own writings, the For Therapists page of this website, as well as the bibliographic references at the end of each chapter in I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self.

Psychotropic medications, including antidepressants, mood stabilizers, and opiod antagonists have been used to treat compulsive buying, with varying effectiveness. For further details, see McElroy and Goldsmith-Chapter 10 of I Shop, Therefore I Am and in Benson, April L. and Gengler, Marie. “Treatment of Compulsive Buying,” in Handbook of Addictive Disorders: A Practical Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment Handbook, Robert Coombs, (ed.), Wiley (2004).

Group therapy for compulsive buyers has been reported since the late 1980s. At least five different forms of group therapy have been utilized with this population. My own group treatment model is an amalgam of three things: useful techniques from existing models; didactic and experiential material used in group treatment for Borderline Personality Disorder; and material I’ve found effective in my clinical practice. A study of the efficacy of this model has been submitted for publication to the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery and two additional papers, one about the model itself, and the second, a case illustration of the model, will appear in Volume 8, Number 1, of the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery (2013).

There are chapters about two of the existing group therapy models in my book, I Shop, Therefore I Am and I describe all five in detail in Benson, April L. and Gengler, Marie. “Treatment of Compulsive Buying,” in Handbook of Addictive Disorders: A Practical Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment Handbook, Robert Coombs, (ed.), Wiley (2004).

Couples therapy for compulsive buying is an extremely important treatment modality, because couples act as a financial unit and generally blend income as well as spending. Money issues are an intrinsic part of marriage and are often a source of intense and pervasive friction that can seep into other aspects of the relationship. Couples therapy is indicated when the compulsive spending problem can’t be dealt with adequately on an individual basis. Olivia Mellan, the country’s foremost expert in this area, discusses the treatment in Chapter 15, “Overcoming Overspending in Couples”, of I Shop, Therefore I Am.

Counseling for compulsive buying targets the specific problem and creates an action plan to stop the behavior. Targeted counseling for this problem alters the negative actions of compulsive buying and concurrently works toward healing the underlying emotions, although less emphasis is placed on exploring the emotional significance of compulsive buying than in traditional individual psychotherapy. The major premise of counseling for compulsive buying is the idea that insight alone will not stop the behavior. All stages in the compulsive buying cycle must be identified: the triggers, the feelings, the dysfunctional thoughts, the behaviors, the consequences of the behavior, as well as the meaning of the compulsive buying. Creating and using a spending plan is a cornerstone of compulsive buying counseling. More information about compulsive buying counseling can be found in Karen McCall’s chapter “Financial Recovery Counseling”, as well as in my treatment chapter in Handbook of Addictive Disorders: A Practical Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment Handbook, Robert Coombs, (ed.), Wiley (2004).

Debtors Anonymous (D.A.) can be a powerful tool in recovery from compulsive buying, especially for compulsive buyers who have problems with debt. D.A. sees debting as a disease similar to alcoholism that can be cured with solvency, which means abstinence from any new debt. Since individuals are trying to control their lives with addictive debting, D.A. offers a regimented program of surrender and recovery, a program with a spiritual emphasis. Individual debtors work through the steps of the program with a sponsor, a more experienced member of the group, using newly acquired tools in conjunction with the steps. How Debtors Anonymous and psychotherapy can work synergistically is the topic of Kellen and Levine’s chapter of I Shop, Therefore I Am.

Simplicity circles can be a helpful support to compulsive buyers, although the compulsive buying problems are not dealt with as directly as in the various therapies for compulsive buying or Debtors Anonymous. What simplicity circles do have to offer is a forum: a place to gather with others to discuss personal transformation and the satisfactions of living a simpler life. The caring atmosphere and the discussion of how to create a more fulfilling life is a healthy way to meet some of the principal needs that a compulsive buyer seeks to meet in shopping. In Chapter 20 of my book,I Shop, Therefore I Am, Cecile Andrews discusses simplicity circles and the compulsive buyer.

Compulsive buying treatment is still very much in a formative stage. Society, advertising, and the media all conspire against the cultivation of true wealth, which cannot be quantified in a financial balance sheet but must instead be felt and sensed: self-esteem, family, friendships, a sense of community, health, education, creative pursuits, communion with nature. It is inner poverty, both emotional and spiritual, that is at the core of most compulsive spending. The acquisition of truth wealth is crucial to recovery.

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