Compulsive spending often serves an underlying emotional need such as low self-esteem. Working with a therapist can help people gain greater emotional awareness. Therapy can help people identify ways they may use shopping to soothe themselves. Then they can practice healthy emotion regulation strategies to replace compulsive spending.
According to therapist Angela R. Wurtzel, MA, MFT, “It is essential to validate both the destructive and the useful sides of compulsive shopping to help a person discover how the behavior serves the self. Ultimately, the goal is to incorporate more adaptive skills over time that lead to a more balanced and less self-destructive lifestyle.”
There are many forms of therapy that can address compulsive spending tendencies. Mindfulness techniques in therapy can help improve one’s impulse control. Cognitive-behavioral therapy can help someone develop self-esteem independent from their possessions. Couples counseling can help couples affected by the overspending of one or both partners. Residential treatment centers can serve more severe cases of shopping addiction.
As a supplement to psychotherapy, people with shopping addiction may benefit from financial counseling. Financial counselors can help individuals pay off debts or manage a budget. They are distinct from financial coaches, who tend to focus on building wealth rather than solving a financial crisis.
Some individuals may have a mental health concern occurring alongside compulsive spending. In these cases, treating both conditions is likely to have more success than addressing shopping symptoms alone.
Treatment for shopping addiction does not have to stay inside the therapist’s office. A counselor may ask people to try certain prevention strategies on their own. These include:
- Making lists before going to the store and sticking to those lists
- Shopping with a supportive partner who will hold one accountable
- Getting rid of credit cards (cutting up the card won’t get rid of debt, but it may prevent individuals from adding to their balance)
- Avoiding stores, websites, or people which tempt one to spend money
- Blocking Internet shopping sites, email subscriptions, TV shopping channels, etc.
- Waiting a set period of time before making an impulsive purchase
- Developing a new hobby to replace shopping
Simply avoiding shopping will not solve one’s underlying emotional issues. But these tactics can help reduce a person’s compulsive spending as they are getting treated. A counselor can help an individual decide which prevention strategies work best for their unique situation.
- Obsessive collecting: Trinden, age 22, attends therapy at the pressure of his parents. They have expressed concern with Trinden’s impulsive online purchases. Trinden spends roughly $600 on the Internet each week to expand his collection of movie memorabilia. He has over $12,000 of credit card debt that he cannot afford to repay. It takes many sessions of therapy before Trinden moves past his denial and acknowledges his spending problem. He and the therapist brainstorm strategies to control his shopping. Trinden uses software to block memorabilia websites from his computer. The therapist also refers Trinden to a financial counselor to help manage his debt.
- Filling the emotional void: Rei has spent most of her life caring for others. She spent her childhood babysitting younger siblings. She dropped out of college to take care of her elderly parents. By age 30, Rei feels burnt out and unappreciated. She often spends weekends at the mall treating herself to new clothes. While Rei is trying on outfits, she feels excited and confident. But on the drive home, she feels guilty for spending so much money on clothes she doesn’t need and can’t afford. Rei finds a therapist to help her cut back on spending. The therapist shows Rei how she has using the thrill of shopping to boost her mood. After several therapy sessions, Rei acknowledges her resentment for being forced into a caregiver role. She had been using clothes to give herself the love she felt her family was not returning. At the therapists’ suggestion, Rei convinces her siblings to help nurse their aging parents, giving Rei time to practice self-care. As her mood improves, Rei feels less compelled to buy clothes.
- Black, Donald. (2007, February). A review of compulsive buying disorder. World Psychiatry, 6(1). Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1805733
- Carlson, M. B. (2014). Financial counselor versus financial coach: What’s the difference anyway? The Standard, 32(4). Retrieved from http://afcpe.org/assets/publications/newsletter/Q4-2014.pdf
- Williams, A. D., & Grisham, J. R. (2012). Impulsivity, emotion regulation, and mindful attentional focus in compulsive buying. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 36(5), 451-457. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10608-011-9384-9
- What is compulsive shopping? (n.d.) The Shulman Center. Retrieved from http://www.shopaholicsanonymous.org