Following is a letter "THEFT TALK" sent to the television news
magazine, Dateline in response to a story they did on kleptomania. (The DSM IV explanation of Kleptomania follows.)
Your news story on Kleptomania, (1998), though one which captivates an audiences imagination and intrigues us as much as the notion of a split personality, perpetuates another social myth about human nature. I find it amazing that our culture has come so far as to call stealing a disease and to even have a "Doctor" looking for the right medication to "fix" this poor victims malady.
I specialize in counseling theft offenders and was not at all surprised that the medications being tried have not been successful. Maybe a lobotomy would work, but even then it would fail to get to the root "cause" of this problem - good old fashion selfish greed, self gratification, thrill-seeking, doing that which is taboo and, an attraction to the forbidden.
This lady being portrayed as a victim of her "illness" is ludicrous. I found it interesting that on one had she was engaging in impulsive behavior and yet, on the other hand, she meticulously scouts the room out until she perceives it to be safe. I ask why, if she really is out of control, she steals items which can not only be worn by her, but are also the correct size.
From a counseling perspective this lady will continue to have a license to steal as long as she believes she is not in control of her behavior. In fact, if she doesn't get better - stop stealing - it's not her fault, she can blame the stupid doctors for not doing their job. This gal has it made, she can seduce the good doctor into declaring her a hapless victim of her illness; and, she doesn't need to feel bad, guilty or responsible, - after all she's not in control. The cycle goes on - no wonder!
She sure goes through a lot of planning and thinking for an out of control impulsive person. Looks like modern day voodoo to me - some magical force must be controlling her. I understand the appeal, and that drama draws media types to this stuff, but this kind of voodoo make my job a lot harder. My offenders already have enough thinking errors.
Sincerely,Steve Houseworth, MA,
"THEFT TALK" Counseling Service Inc.
The DSM IV says about Kleptomania:
DSM-IV 312.32 KleptomaniaDiagnostic Features
The essential feature of Kleptomania is the recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal items even though the items are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value (Criterion AO. The individual experiences a rising subjective sense of tension before the theft (Criterion b) and feels pleasure, gratification, or relief when committing the theft (Criterion C).The stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance, is not done in response to a delusion or hallucination (Criterion D), and is not better accounted for by Conduct Disorder, a Manic Episode, or Antisocial Personality Disorder (Criterion E). The objects are stolen despite the fact that they are typically of little value to the individual, who could have afforded to pay for them and often gives them away or discards them.
Occasionally the individual may hoard the stolen objects or surreptitiously return them. Although individuals with this disorder will generally avoid stealing when immediate arrest is probable (e.g., in full view of a police officer), they usually do not preplan the thefts or fully take into account the chances of apprehension. The stealing is done without assistance from, or collaboration with, others.
Associated Features and Disorders
Individuals with Kleptomania experience the impulse to steal as ego-dystonic and are aware that the act is wrong and senseless. The person frequently fears being apprehended and often feels depressed or guilty about the thefts. Mood Disorders (especially Major Depressive Disorder), Anxiety
Disorder, Eating Disorders (Particularly Bulimia Nervosa), and PersonalityDisorders may be associated with Kleptomania, The disorder may cause legal, family, career, and personal difficulties.
Kleptomania is a rare condition that appears to occur in fewer than 5% of identified shoplifters. It appears to be much more common in females.
There is little systematic information on the course of Kleptomania, but three typical courses have been described: sporadic with brief episodes and long periods of remission; episodic with protracted periods of stealing and periods of remission; and chronic with some degree of fluctuation. The disorder may continue for years, despite multiple convictions for shoplifting.
Kleptomania should be distinguished from ordinary acts of theft or shoplifting. Ordinary theft (whether planned or impulsive) is deliberate and is motivated by the usefulness of the object or its monetary worth. Some individuals, especially adolescents, may also steal on a dare, as an act of rebellion, or as a rite of passage. The diagnosis is not made unless other characteristic features of Kleptomania are also present. Kleptomania is exceedingly rare, whereas shoplifting is relatively common. In malingering, individuals may simulate the symptoms of Kleptomania to avoid criminal prosecution. Antisocial Personality Disorder and Conduct Disorder are distinguished from Kleptomania by a general pattern of antisocial behavior.
Kleptomania should be distinguished from intentional or inadvertent stealing that may occur during a Manic Episode, in response to delusions or hallucinations (e.g., in Schizophrenia), or as a result of dementia.
Diagnostic criteria for 312.32 Kleptomania
A. Recurrent failure to resist impulses to steal objects that are not needed for personal use or for their monetary value.
B. Increasing sense of tension immediately before committing the theft.
C. Pleasure, gratification, or relief at the time of committing the theft.
D. The stealing is not committed to express anger or vengeance and is not in response to a delusion or hallucination.
E. The stealing is not better accounted for by Conduct Disorder, a Manic Episode, or Antisocial Personality Disorder.
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