To Buy or Not To Buy

Why we overshop and how to stop.

My Shopping Addiction Airs October 15th

A new reality TV show on Oxygen concerning compulsive buyers

Beginning next Monday night, October 15th, the new reality show My Shopping Addiction will air on Oxygen -- and I can't wait to see it!  Shopping addiction, so prevalent and so under recognized, has been a really hard sell to both the general public and the professional community.

My Shopping Addiction has the potential to be enormously helpful to people struggling with this serious problem; it will surely bring shopping addiction even farther out of the closet. Maybe we'll even get some government funding for research and some buy-in for "shop responsibly" campaigns.

"From an heiress who spends an average of $30,000 per month to a woman who packs her home full of products from the 99 cent store, this series will capture an intimate look into the lives of young people facing a crisis brought on by a dangerous addiction to shopping. Viewers will witness what happens when their obsession causes their finances and lives to spiral out of control. "
(from the show's website)

Last week, I spoke with Dr. David Tolin, one of the two psychologists on the show. He and his colleague, Dr. Rahmani Durvasula, do most of the therapy at the actual venues where the client's desire to purchase is aroused. The work consists partly of helping the compulsive buyer to see when distorted or irrational thinking is starting to take over and then, in real time, helping the person submit this distorted thinking to a reality test so that he or she can wake up and see things as they really are.

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To the woman who believes she'll only get a promotion if she buys the expensive portfolio she saw a coworker carrying that morning, Dr. Tolin would ask questions like: What evidence do you have to support this thought? What evidence do you have to refute it? What's the effect of believing the thought? What's the effect of believing the opposite? What would a trusted friend say about this thought?

Another major focus of the work is making direct instructions to the overshopper to do things differently, often in a way that he or she doesn't feel like doing, in order to develop better impulse control. For example, if Sara habitually buys clothes without trying them on in the store, she'll be guided to try them on and then select rather than seize.

Both types of interventions will help talk the client down from the emotional ledge he 

April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is the author of To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop. She specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder.

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