The Shulman Center

Terrence Shulman
Founder/Director of
The Shulman Center

Terry Shulman

November 2011 Monthly e-Newsletter
"Thanks for Everything"
By Terrence Daryl Shulman

            Happy Halloween, Thanksgiving and Holiday Season Kick-off!

October 21--
Mr. Shulman presented online webinar on compulsive theft, spending & hoarding 1-4 pm EST through Recovery Today Magazine. See:

October 24--Mr. Shulman was interviewed on Internet radio Voice America's"One Hour at a Time" program.

October 25--Mr. Shulman's interview on Michigan Entrepreneur channel aired on metroDetroit TV.

October 25--Mr. Shulman presented on compulsive shopping/spending and hoarding disorder from 7-9:30pm EST at The Birmingham (Michigan) Community House. 

November 4--Mr. Shulman to present day-long seminar on compulsive theft, spending and hoarding in Chicago through the llinois Institute for Addiction/Recovery. This training is especially for therapists. Cost is $100. See:

November 21-26-Mr. Shulman will be in New York City and is working on several possible media appearances on the holiday season and how it impacts compulsive stealing, spending and hoarding.



THE GUEST HOUSE (A Thanksgiving Poem)

This being human is a guest house.

Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-- Jelaluddin Rumi, 

translation by Coleman Barks


So, here we are again: at the start of the holiday season: Halloween, Thanksgiving, Hannukah, Christmas, New Years. Each of us, especially those in recovery, has a choice how we want our holidays to go. Research shows that addictions and relapses tend to increase during these times. We don't have to fall off the deep end and go through the ritual of making New Years resolutions on January 1st. It's been my experience working with compulsive stealing, spending and hoarding that the holidays are a particularly stressful and tempting time. Don't wait until you're in the midst of the holiday craze to have an action plan: if you're not preparing for recovery, you're preparing to relapse. Here are a few tips to keep you centered and grounded and safe...

1. If you choose to shop, shop early, before the crowds hit. 

2. Go through your belongings and see if there are any gifts you can re-gift or recycle. 

3. Set a budget that works for how much you can spend comfortably on yourself and others. 

4. Remember the spirit of the holidays--it's not about the things, it's about the joy and shared experience with key family and friends. 

5. If you have few family or friends and you're worried about loneliness, be proactive and find local support group meetings, other open gatherings/events, and make a plan to attend some: you might just make a new friend or two. 

6. Stop and remember what has happened and how you felt when you were in your addiction during holidays past. Did you shoplift or steal from work and feel guilty? Were you arrested or fired from a job for stealing? Did you break your budget and regret it later, starting the new year stressed out? Did you feel ashamed to have friends or family over because your home was a disaster zone? KISS--Keep It Simple Silly! 

7. If you have kids and you're feeling pressured to buy for them, stop and remember what you're teaching them. Remember when you were a kid, it's most likely your best memories are about the activities and the time together you spent with loved ones, not the stuff you got! Be creative and get kids engaged in activities they'll cherish forever. Take photos. Have fun! 

8. If you feel lack due to finances or other issues in your life, consider volunteering (and bring the kids, too, if you have them) at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, or donating Toys for Tots (again, recycle gifts if need be). Bring a smile--safely and responsibly--to the lives of those less fortunate. 

9. Don't abuse alcohol, drugs or food: they're a waste of time, energy and money. Have a plan to get some moderated exercise, get some outdoor fresh air, eat healthy, get enough sleep, and find some quiet solitude. 

10. If getting together with family/friends brings up difficult emotions, choose either not to attend or minimize the time spent with them and "book-end" your visits with calls to support people or meetings before, during, and after your visit.



Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls: Compulsive Stealing, Spending & Hoarding

Guess what? You might just be addicted to stuff! Author Terrence Shulman

By Brian Smith


Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls: Compulsive Stealing, Spending & Hoarding by Terrence Daryl Shulman

Infinity Publishing, $24.95, 247 pp. See or

Ever been caught stealin' and wonder why? Ever speculate why you can't stop blowing every dime you get your hands on? Ever wonder if because you can no longer navigate inside your cluttered home that you might have a thing about hoarding? Ever consider that you have a problem?

Terrence Daryl Shulman can offer insight. He's a therapist, attorney and recovering theft addict who has written extensively on compulsive behavior — namely stealing, spending and hoarding — including three other books and various newspaper articles. He has guested on many TV and radio shows here and around the country as a kind of expert witness on the subject. The author himself says he went from handcuffs to recovery to appearing on Oprah in 16 years.

In the worthy Cluttered Lives, Shulman writes with the empathy of a longtime recovering addict and details with aplomb the expanding and absurd cultural trends of self-entitlement, and the compulsive behaviors that give rise to it in our own lives. He does a commendable job explaining in simple terms the sickness behind often complicated addictions that aren't so easy to detect; an alcoholic is a lot easier to identify, than, say, an overspender — and aren't most of us overspenders?

His "prose" chugs along with command — unburdened by hackneyed 12-step dogma — but too often he furthers his points with interruptive lists and factoids, half of which fascinate ("Time theft [loafing] costs U.S. companies $500 billion a year in lost productivity."); others just dull-down proceedings ("May 2011 Shulman Center Online Theft Survey Results" — what?) 

Through stories of clients and acquaintances, Shulman shows how compulsive stealing, spending and hoarding are symptoms of deeper traumas and fear-based issues: We meet a spending-addict businesswoman who's an autistic mother of two; we read about a Vietnamese doctor and father of four who was discharged from the U.S. military for shoplifting; we learn of a Frenchman who left his country to avoid legal issues and physical harm from those he ripped off; another example is a financial planner whose shopping and hoarding began to damage her physical health.

The overriding theme of Cluttered Lives is out-of-control compulsivity, much like that featured on TV shows such as Hoarders, revealing an ugly underbelly to life that says we compulsively define ourselves through stuff — that is, we are what we can steal, what we go in debt to own, what we hoard. That hole in your soul? That's where you put it. —Brian Smith

Author Terrence Shulman talks shoplifting, self-entitlement and addiction

Metro Times: You were a kind of a kleptomaniac as a kid. What's the first thing you'd say to a young sufferer now? 

Terrence Shulman: I first shoplifted at about age 10 — a piece of candy — around the time my parents were separating. I stumbled into shoplifting a few years later as a result of keeping in a lot of intense feelings of loss, anger and anxiety; I became the man of the house and assumed the role of helper, which put a lot of pressure on me. Shoplifting became my secret outlet to express my pain and symbolically try to get back what I felt I lost, my childhood, my family, myself. So, I'd suggest to anyone who is shoplifting, young or old: Get help now. I shoplifted for 10 years and was arrested twice before getting help.

MT: In your book you connect character imperfections, such as narcissism and low self-worth, to negative trends in society. Isn't it difficult to identify compulsive behavior? What do you look for in those who appear to be OK on the surface and functioning in society but are headed to addiction darkness? 

Shulman: I've heard it said that police officers develop a skill of catching certain drunk drivers who appear to be trying to drive too perfectly. In a similar vein, it's often the star employee who is led out in handcuffs for employee theft or fraud. Many addicts — sometimes referred to as "functional addicts" — can be quite adept at hiding or overcompensating for their secretive, destructive behaviors. I was no exception; I hid my shoplifting for a decade beneath a veneer of perfectionism. Most persons who become addicts have struggled with low self-esteem, usually due to abuse, neglect, trauma or poor role modeling; they often learn to overcompensate and become great at achieving and giving to others. But certain narcissistic or selfish traits usually develop — as well as grandiosity — which really signal a deep-seated sense of inadequacy and shame. I believe our society is fairly dysfunctional and narcissistic due to pervasive emptiness and insecurity. We're constantly bombarded with messages that tell us we're not good enough, we don't have enough and we must be perfect, which fuels widespread addiction, which, in turn, reinforces our feelings of inadequacy and insecurity. 

MT: With the rise of social media, and video channels based on user-created content such as YouTube, a person can now basically be anything they choose. And the choices are often insincere, a kind of personal fraud. Does that insincerity or insecurity lead to compulsive behaviors and addictions? Is it already compulsive and addictive?

Shulman: There's a wonderful line from Kurt Vonnegut short story where a character asks: "Do you think every advancement in technology is good for humankind?" We often seem to be more concerned about quantity of connections rather than quality. It's been documented that a byproduct of the Internet is addictions to sex, shopping, gambling, gaming and even surfing the Internet itself. Yet, it's harder to avoid the Internet than it is to avoid a bar, a casino, the mall or a strip club. So, we have to find new ways to function without falling into a hole.

MT: Your book is thrust largely on alluring personal experiences of others, so it's not exactly a "how to" self-help guide to recovery. But a close read reveals many recovery answers are in the actual stories. Was this intentional? 

Shulman: "Human face" stories are what we relate to most. The fascinating thing about these stories, to me at least, is how similar most people's issues are, even though their addictive tendencies manifest differently. As a recovering person myself since 1990, I relate to addicts and know the struggles of recovery and peeling back the layers of the onion to get to greater self-awareness.

MT: Do you think our culture — that is, American culture — is beginning to revolve around a rising narcissistic idea of self-entitlement? 

Shulman: I think we're living in a "me" culture instead of a "we" culture. Look at our political system and the difficulty with compromise. Giving in to others is viewed as a sign of weakness. Kids, in general, see the few stories of those who've gotten rich or famous at a young age and feel like this should come easily and quickly to them as well. Addiction thrives on impatience and entitlement.

MT: How does one detect inner compulsive behavior? What are the signs that it's progressing?

Shulman: It's true that people can be in denial that they have an addiction or a compulsion even though nearly everyone around them sees a problem; after all, denial stands for "don't even know I am lying." But most addicts know they have a problem on some level — they can see or feel it progressing in their stress, anxiety or the various problems in their lives, be they financial, health, legal, relational, etc. But the denial process leads most addicts to blame others, society, God or bad genes for their problems. Change is a process. So, as we see, this is why recovery is a one-day-at-a-time, ongoing journey of change. 


Cluttered Lives

By Ronelle Grier
Contributing Writer

The back room of the Franklin Public Library is filled to capacity on this recent fall evening, but none of the men and women sitting in the large circle has come here to read. They are here to learn about a disorder known as hoarding from author, attorney, therapist and consultant Terrence Shulman, whose latest book is called Cluttered Lives, Empty Souls: Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding.

Shulman, a former shoplifting addict who has been in recovery more than 20 years, specializes in the treatment of compulsive and often-related behaviors such as kleptomania, shoplifting, employee theft, uncontrollable shopping and spending, and hoarding.

According to Shulman, hoarders come from a variety of backgrounds; many had parents who hoarded, while others were forbidden to keep their own possessions. The common denominator is the emotional attachment to the clutter. A person who hoards finds it difficult, if not impossible, to discard things, even items that are no longer useful, such as old newspapers or moldy bread.


Shulman says the distinguishing factor of hoarding is the inability to discard things because of an emotional attachment, to the point where the living spaces are too cluttered to be used for their intended purposes.

George B. said he came to hear Shulman's presentation because of his mother, whose home was so cluttered that he feared for her safety. The problem, which began during his childhood, had gotten worse once the kids had grown up and left home. "I could never have friends over; there was no room," he said. "To my mother, getting rid of stuff is like giving away a piece of yourself."

This kind of situation is typical, according to Shulman, who has worked with people whose homes are filled with excessive amounts of items ranging from jewelry and clothing to expired coupons, empty yogurt containers and even used bandages.

Jonah H., a retiree, said he has been trying to get rid of the piles of old paperwork that have gradually overtaken more and more of his living space.

"The room isn't really that small; it's just that I have so much junk it makes it look small," he said. "I don't know why I'm holding onto this stuff. I'm trying to let go of things, but it's a slow process."

Shulman believes that "a complicated equation of risk factors," which includes genes, chemical imbalance, heredity and environment, determines whether a person develops a hoarding disorder. He also attributes the behavior to what he calls "spiritual risk factors," such as childhood trauma or other emotionally wounding experiences.

"There may be also be some organic differences in the brain of a hoarder, but it is possible to build new neuronal pathways to change the behavior," said Shulman, founder and director of the Franklin-based Shulman Center for Compulsive Theft, Spending and Hoarding.

There are no statistics on the incidence of hoarding among Jewish people; however, some experts believe certain factors may cause Jews to engage in hoarding behavior.

Those who survived the Holocaust may be more likely to stockpile items such as food and household goods, according to Dr. Charles Silow, director of programming for Holocaust Survivors and Families at Jewish Senior Life.

"Many survivors who went through such extreme deprivation, including starvation, have a sense of fear that what they have could be taken away again," Silow said. "As they built new lives, many would accumulate things like canned goods or extra linens. They want to psychologically assure themselves that it won't happen again."

Shulman agrees that the Holocaust as well as other individual and collective traumas such as war, violence and anti-Semitism can trigger hoarding behavior.

"Hoarding often results in reaction to loss of control, fear of property being taken away, and loss of security," Shulman said.He added that the generalized value that many Jews place on acquiring things can cause these people to become hoarders. In addition to those that he treats professionally, Shulman said he has seen evidence of hoarding among Jewish people he knows on a personal basis, including some friends and relatives.

Jim M., one of several local Jewish hoarders who spoke out but wanted to remain anonymous, said his family never ate a meal at the kitchen table because it was perpetually covered with newspapers and other clutter that his ex-wife refused to remove. Every time he would try to clear the mess away, she would become extremely agitated, telling family members not to "touch her stuff."

A 2010 article in Time magazine estimated that between 6 million and 15 million people in the United States have the mental health disorder known as hoarding. The condition has received attention in recent years from popular television shows such as Hoarders and Hoarding: Buried Alive.

"Exploitainment" is the word used by Clinton Township therapist Debbie Stanley to describe those shows, which she claims are unrealistic and misleading.


"They show the worst-case scenarios, people with very little insight and a lot of squalor," said Stanley, who specializes in treating chronic disorganization and hoarding. "My clients are well functioning — some are extremely high functioning — and they are not dirty."

Stanley added that the shows' quick-fix solutions, where years of clutter disappear in the course of one weekend, are misrepresentative.

She said that two years of treatment, including psychotherapy and hands-on decluttering, is a reasonable time period for achieving a successful outcome. The transformation can take place more quickly when the client agrees to use outside help to perform the clean-up, but Stanley stresses that the person doing the hoarding should make the decisions about what to discard.

"Stripping away a person's coping mechanism before a better one has been gradually established is not only cruel, but it doesn't work," she said.


Shulman said people who hoard often exhibit related compulsive behaviors such as kleptomania, shoplifting and excessive shopping and spending. Hoarding can include people whose homes are overrun by animals to the point of posing a health hazard. Many individuals now engage in a process known as digital hoarding — their computers are filled with thousands of emails, photos and electronic files they are emotionally unable to delete.

Nina J. decided to seek professional help as she approached her 70th birthday. Always a collector, Nina now has more than 2,000 pairs of earrings, countless pieces of costume jewelry, which she stores away in plastic boxes and a bag filled with 200 nightgowns she has never worn.

"I would save things for best, and best never came," said Nina, who also has so many houseplants that it takes an entire day to water them.

Nina also engaged in compulsive shoplifting, a behavior she has since overcome through a combination of therapy and 12-step meetings.

"I was arrested three times, and it still wasn't a deterrent," she said. "It began to make me sick; it was a real conflict between the person I knew I could be and a crazy lady."

Nina still has not overcome her compulsion to shop and stockpile items she knows she will probably never use. She has tried to get rid of some of her possessions through consignment shops, but ends up returning to the store to buy them back.

"I once gave some clothes away to a friend and went into terrible mourning and agony," she said. "I humiliated myself by asking for them back. She just laughed at me. I find that people just can't comprehend; they have no sympathy."

Nina felt the therapy she received did not help her overcome her emotional attachment to the possessions that fill several areas of her colonial home.


"No amount of looking at why was helpful," she said. "Many other people have the same why's, but they don't hoard."

Stanley believes the key to successful treatment is getting to the root of the hoarding behavior. She said it is common for concerned family members to want to swoop in and perform a major cleanup, thinking this will resolve the problem. According to Stanley, this kind of well-intentioned intervention can do more harm than good.

"It's not about the stuff," she said. "First you have to honor the fact that this behavior is serving them in some way."

Stanley has worked with clients who used the clutter as a kind of barricade; they felt that being surrounded by a lot of things protected them from robbers or other invaders.

"I've heard people say they feel more vulnerable when the clutter begins to go," she said. "I tell clients, 'First you have to figure out what the hoarding is giving you. If it's safety, then let's find another way to make you feel safe.'"

Sometimes adding extra locks or installing an alarm system will reduce the fear so the client can begin to deal with the mess.

Hoarding, in its extreme, can pose serious health and safety hazards. West Bloomfield Fire Chief Jay Wiseman estimates that his staff members encounter at least one hoarding situation in any given month when responding to medical emergencies. Wiseman said that severe clutter makes rescue efforts more difficult for EMS workers, who have encountered homes where floors are completely covered with shoulder-high stacks of newspapers, piles of clothing and overflowing shopping bags. Navigating through narrow paths, known as "goat trails," can be dangerous, especially in emergency situations where every second counts.

Wiseman said that hoarding also increases the chances of a fire, especially when the clutter spills over into utility rooms where hot water heaters are housed.

"A substantial number of fires are caused by combustibles that are too close to a water heater or other igniter, such as a space heater," said Wiseman.

He said that stockpiling old newspapers, clothes, books and other household items adds to the overall weight of the house, increasing the risk of structural collapse. When unsanitary or otherwise dangerous situations are discovered by public safety workers or township code enforcement personnel, the resident is usually referred to a local social service agency.

"We try to get these people help," Wiseman said. "There's usually some degree of mental illness involved."

There is currently no insurance diagnostic code for hoarding, although treatment is sometimes covered using diagnoses of depression, anxiety or obsessive compulsive disorders, conditions that can also be present in people who hoard. A new category for hoarding disorder will be included in the fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which comes out in May 2013.

Nina, a published writer and poet, said she is more optimistic now than she was a year ago when she discontinued therapy. She hopes her attachment to material possessions will lessen as she grows older.

"You wouldn't know to look at me that I have this problem," she said. "My mind is not the mess that my house is. It's like I'm two people."



by Debbie Stanley, LLPC, NCC, CPO-CD

Boston Market used to have a salad that I found especially delicious. I discovered the "used to" part the last time I went there with a hankering for that salad. When I learned they had discontinued it, I stepped out of line and left without buying anything. I wasn't mad, didn't make a scene--I just wanted what I wanted, and I wasn't going to settle for something else just because I was there.

The employees and the other customers all gave me the same look, one that said, "Seriously? Aren't you hungry? Just pick something else."

But I wanted a salad, none of the others appealed to me, and I knew that Panera has another salad that I find especially delicious, so I went and got that one.

I see too much settling-for-less among my clients. It makes me loath to do it myself. If they don't have what you really want, sometimes you might have to settle (if you're too hungry to wait, say), but more often you could just leave emptyhanded.

This is not something that came naturally to me. As a child, I acquired the message that people who leave a store without buying anything probably stole something. I don't know who taught me that, but I know it's a belief I carried well into adulthood. I felt like I was doing something wrong if I couldn't find anything I wanted and left the store emptyhanded. I felt like I had to buy something to legitimize my presence there.

Eventually, I came to resent this and I started to leave without buying-just-to-buy, but it felt really strange. I felt like all eyes were on me--especially security. I was careful not to hurry, to keep my head up so I wouldn't look guilty, to hold my hands away from my body ... all contortions to demonstrate my innocence.

I hadn't done anything wrong, but leaving emptyhanded felt criminal.

Maybe stores perpetuate this feeling intentionally. Have you noticed how many of them make it difficult to leave without goingthrough the checkout lines? My favorite is to leave a warehouse club without any purchases--no receipt for the suspicious door person to mark off with a highlighter. Oh how they scrutinize me as I leave emptyhanded. The irony there, of course, is that pretty much everything they sell is in huge packages. I couldn't fit a pallet of paper towels in my pocket or my very small purse. So they look at me like, "Nobody leaves here without buying. Where did she hide it?" At first it rattled me, but now it gives me smug satisfaction.

Try it sometime: Go to a warehouse club, look around at the things you don't need, and leave without buying anything. Join me in the resistance. See:


Check out our new online support group for compulsive shoppers/spenders and hoarders. To register, go to:

Check out our 1-hour employee theft online course. Learn why people commit employee theft, how to deter it, and how to confront it. See

New sites in progress! and


October 2011/November 2011... 

October 21--Mr. Shulman presented a 3-hour webinar on compulsive theft, spending and hoarding through Recovery Today Magazine (online). See:

October 24--Mr. Shulman was interviewed on compulsive stealing, spending and hoarding on Voice America internet radio's  "One Hour at a Time"  show. See:

October 25--Mr. Shulman spoke on compulsive shopping/hoarding at the Birmingham (MI) Community House.

November 4--Mr. Shulman to present day-long seminar on compulsive theft, spending and hoarding in Chicago, through IIAR. See:

December 2011 and beyond ...

December 1--Mr. Shulman speaks on compulsive theft/spending/hoarding at Detroit area Rotary Club. 


Mr. Shulman is assisting the Baton Rouge, Louisiana court system a court-ordered three hour, facilitated educational program for retail fraud offenders. The program is based on material from his book "Something for Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery" (2003).

Mr. Shulman created a 1-hour employee theft online course with 360 Training. Learn why people steal from their jobs, how to deter it, prevent it, and what to do when confronted with it. See or enroll in course at:

Mr. Shulman is consulting on a major motion picture tentatively called "The Rush" in which the lead character is addicted to shoplifting and stealing.

Mr. Shulman created an online continuing education course on compulsive shopping and spending called "Bought Out and $pent!" based on his book and Power Point presentation. The course, offered through The American Psychotherapy Association, is available for purchase by APA members and non-members. CEUs are available. He's working on a therapist certification program in compulsive theft/spending. See:


  Contact: The Shulman Center

Terrence Daryl Shulman, JD, LMSW, ACSW, CAADC, CPC
Founder/Director, The Shulman Center

P.O. Box 250008

Franklin, Michigan 48025


Call (248) 358-8508 for free consultation!

Related sites by Terrence Shulman:

Mr. Shulman's four Books:

Something For Nothing: Shoplifting Addiction and Recovery

Biting The Hand That Feeds: The Employee Theft Epidemic

Bought Out and $pent!
 Recovery from Compulsive $hopping and $pending
Cluttered Lives: Empyt Souls:
 Compulsive Stealing, Spending and Hoarding

All book are available for $25.00 each (includes shipping/handling).

Click here to purchase

E-mail Mr. Shulman: or call 248-358-8508