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      Cupchik Centre for Assessment and Treatment

             of Atypical Theft Offenders



 Dr Cupchik's latest (2013) book              Dr Cupchik's first book (2002)                                                                             




Dr Will Cupchik, Head,  Cupchik Centre for Assessment

and Treatment of Atypical Theft Offenders             


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  A Note from Dr Will Cupchik

      Welcome to the WhyHonestPeopleSteal.com website. Over the past 40 years I have assessed -in a many cases- treated, more than 700 generally honest persons who have committed acts of seemingly nonsensical and/or bizarre theft. As a result, my extensive clinical investigations have helped determine the underlying reasons for such odd -and potentially personally and professionally devastating -behavior.


      In my most recently published book, WHY USUALLY  HONEST PEOPLE STEAL, I have described in detail the findings of my latest clinical study of some 30 cases of mostly successful individuals who have risked so much for (usually) so very little in terms of material gain, by shoplifting and/or other acts of theft. This latest study indicates the circumstances, personality features and personal backgrounds that so many of these individuals have in common - and these factors can help point the way to assisting these persons to stop their theft behavior.  


     For more than a decade and one-half I have offered a multi-session Intensive Intervention Program that incorporates the main assessment and treatment procedures that I have found to be most effective in assisting these 'Atypical Theft Offenders' to (1) understand why they have carried out such bizarre theft behavior and (2) to learn to stop such misconduct in the future. The latest rendition of these Intensive programs are 20 sessions in length and is  usually carried out via Skype so that the client can experience minimal disruption in his or her daily life.(The more costly and inconveniencing in-person version of this program also continues to be offered for those individuals who prefer to travel to Toronto for several days and physically sit in the same office as myself.) 


    By all means, click on the Skype-based and In-Office Intervention Programs    webpage to learn more about these programs. At the least, by carefully reading the pages on this website you will likely learn some important information related to your own (or a loved one's) issues with atypical theft behavior.


    After reading the pages on this website, if you care to communicate with me personally to inquire further about these programs, by all means email me at wcupchik@aol.com .


All best,


Dr Will Cupchik 

                                            [Reviewed and Revised Feb 5, 2014]


     Dr Will Cupchik, licensed as a Registered Psychologist listed with the Ontario College of Psychologists, provides services in person or via telepsychology (telephone, Skpye, etc…) to individuals in Ontario as well as other provinces and U.S. states, and elsewhere.


    It is noteworthy that, for example, The California Board of Psychology website states: Section 2912 of the Business & Professions Code allows a person licensed as a psychologist in another state or province to provide psychological services in CA without obtaining a license for (as many as) 30 calendar days per year.” (Retrieved November 25, 2013).


    Recently Dr Cupchik worked via Skype with a physician located in California who had been apprehended for shoplifting (not for the first time). The state's Medical Board was concerned about that individual's fitness to practice medicine and accepted Dr Cupchik's expertise in the area of atypical theft behavior as worthy of being utilized to assist it with its decision.


   It may well be that you will be able to work with Dr Cupchik, either in person or via telepsychology. Of course, given that each jurisdiction is different and that the regulations concerning telepsychology are increasingly subject to change [especially as it is becoming more widespread  and increasingly recognized as a viable, efficient and cost effective means of providing psychological services], if you are considering working with Dr Cupchik, then by all means check with him to determine whether regulations similar to those in California are also currently applicable in your jurisdiction.

    Note that Dr Will Cupchik has been a full member of the American Psychological Association and the Canadian Psychological Association as well as the Ontario Psychological Association for over 33 years and that now he holds the designation of 'life member' in all three organizations. Dr Cupchik is also a member of the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) and has been granted a Certificate of Professional Qualification (CPQ) and an Interjurisdictional Practice Certificate (IPC) by the ASPPB.  




  MEDIA EVENTS: Dr Cupchik has been interviewed on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's Early Show, MSNBC Investigates as well as a great many other television and radio programs to discuss his extensive clinical findings regarding the reasons why usually honest persons have shoplifted or committed other acts of theft.

 He has also been quoted in the New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle, the LA Times, Globe and Mail plus PEOPLE, SELF and HEALTH and numerous other magazines.



  An article by Dr Will Cupchik, Head of The Cupchik Center For The Assessment And Treatment Of Atypical Theft Offenders


[My more than 40 years of clinical investigations also clearly indicates that ‘Kleptomania’ hardly exists... although the use of antidepressants may help trigger it!]  


          There is hardly a behavior more headline-grabbing and curious than when a usually honest (and sometimes wealthy, prominent or famous) person has been charged with shoplifting. And what if the alleged thief is someone you know personally; perhaps one of your friends or relatives, or -heaven forbid-, yourself, who has committed a seemingly nonsensical, bizarre act of stealing! Such behaviors are usually referred to as examples of ‘kleptomania’?

    Consider this scenario; until a short time ago, you - an honest, hard-working, possibly deeply religious person - had never shoplifted. And yet, you have now done it, and perhaps, amazingly, not for the first time! What gives?

     My over 40 years of clinical investigations suggest that it is very likely that you have recently experienced an extraordinary amount of stress, perhaps ever since your marriage disintegrated, your child became very seriously ill, you or a loved one had a cancer diagnosis, or ever since you've gotten that new, entirely unreasonable boss. Or perhaps there is some other very troublesome situation in your life. And now, here you are - charged with stealing! Chances are you're very scared, deeply embarrassed and very anxious that some family members or friends -or perhaps someone at work- will find out. And to top it all, you really haven't a clue why you would have risked stealing anything, and certainly not something you could easily have afforded, and perhaps didn't even want!!!

     So, why did you do it? After all, you have always viewed stealing as inexcusable! And why would you – or anyone for that matter - risk so very much for an item that cost so little especially when compared with your readily available assets? Until you determine why you did it, how can you be sure that you won’t do it again? Answering these and related questions have been at the centre of my own clinical investigations as a psychologist for more than four decades. 

     Consider the following remarkable cases:

    (I) Victor, a wealthy retired business owner and Holocaust survivor, was referred to me back in 1995 by a psychiatrist who knew of my work in the area of ‘atypical theft behavior’. A scrupulously honest man, Victor assured me that he had never stolen before, and certainly could not possibly understand why he had stolen a package of Dr Scholl’s footpads from a drug store on May 12th of that year. During our lengthy interview it finally emerged that he had stolen on the exact 50th anniversary of his liberation from a concentration camp. On May 12, 1945 he and his fellow inmates had been marched, at night, bare feet bleeding, along a rough gravel-filled rail line for hours until dawn, at which point they were freed when their captors ran away and when the American army and Red Cross were just miles away. Was Victor’s single instance of shoplifting a case of his unconscious mind at work? Should his stealing behavior be labelled ‘kleptomania’?  

     (2) In 2002, Winona Ryder, the Hollywood actress, was charged with allegedly stealing items from a Saks 5th avenue store in Beverley Hills. In another case, a prominent surgeon was caught stealing jewellery and cash from colleagues’ lockers while they were in their operating rooms.  In a third case, a religiously devout woman stole whenever her husband had yet another bout of prostate cancer. She had never stolen before his initial diagnosis, had never been caught, and furthermore, she always threw the items she stole into the Goodwill box on her way home immediately after her thefts.

     (3) In January 2012 California Assemblywoman Mary Hayashi (D), wife of Dennis Hayashi, an Alameda County Superior Court judge, allegedly left a Neiman Marcus store without paying for items of clothing worth nearly $2500. She pleaded ‘no contest’ to misdemeanour shoplifting.

      (4) As a last example, consider that in 1993 the Acting Secretary of the U.S. Army, John W. Shannon, was charged with stealing $30 worth of goods, including a blouse, from a store on an Army base.

     Should any of these folks be considered ‘kleptomaniacs’? Readers can be excused if they quickly associate the term 'kleptomania' with any of the above cases; after all, this is the term that is still most frequently used by the media and by far too many psychiatrists and psychologists, when referring to seemingly nonsensical shoplifting. But, I would suggest, based upon my extensive clinical work in this area, that the application of this term, ‘kleptomania’, to these and a myriad of other cases of atypical theft behavior, is almost always wrong!  

     Our first article on this topic, titled Shoplifting: An Occasional Crime Of The Moral Majority, was published in the major peer-reviewed journal, the Bulletin of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law, more than thirty years ago, in 1983. Our clinical investigations of a representative sample of 34 shoplifters who had presented on our forensic service (at the University of Toronto-affiliated Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, between 1974 and 1982) concluded that when usually honest - and yes, in some instances, prominent and/or financially affluent - people stole, one or more psychological factors had very likely precipitated their actions. These contributing factors included: (i) what the theft offender perceived as actual or anticipated unfair personally meaningful losses (of a spouse, job, country, health, etc…), (ii) extreme stressors, (iii) a desire for unconscious retribution or manipulation, and/or (iv) the actual or anticipated occurrence of cancer in one’s self or in a loved one, among other reasons.    

     My latest (2013) study of 30 more recent cases, as described in my latest book titled Why Usually Honest People Steal (2013) provides considerable additional  insight into such behavior. It turns out that many of these ‘Atypical Theft Offenders’ (as we term usually honest persons who display atypical theft behavior) had highly disturbed or traumatic childhoods, often involving serious mental, emotional, physical and/or sexual abuse perpetrated by one or both parents, who themselves had serious mental, emotional, alcohol and/or drug abuse problems. These theft offenders also, almost invariably, had very low self-esteem (regardless of how accomplished they actually were in the world – consider that three were highly successful physicians, three others were experienced nurses and four others were exceptional teachers).  And they all had long-standing feelings of anger and major problems in their primary relationships.

     Another likely precipitating factor has become prominent in our finding over the past more than fifteen years - the use of antidepressants. It has become almost a common form of treatment for physicians to prescribe antidepressants for these sorts of theft offenders. Now, major questions have arisen in recent years about the efficacy of such medications. To this debate I would merely point out that the pharmaceutical manufacturers themselves indicate that the side effects of such drugs can include increased hostility and aggressivity, disinhibition and self-defeating, acting out behavior.  My clinical experience is that when usually honest people shoplift, they do so while experiencing these very emotions and behaviors.  In fact, among the 30 individuals in my latest study were three senior physicians, three dedicated nurses and a pharmacist. All seven medical professionals were taking prescribed antidepressants at the time they stole and all reported that their stealing had not decreased - or had actually begun - while taking such drugs. Also, seven of the 30 persons in the latest study reported that they had never shoplifted until shortly after they had begun taking antidepressants.    

     Among the several serious objections that have been raised by other clinicians regarding the American Psychiatric Association’s latest Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-5), some of which have been discussed in these pages, I would like to add one more, based upon the more than 700 cases that I have dealt with over the past four decades. In virtually all instances, thorough assessments of these individuals have suggested that their theft behaviors were very likely precipitated, at least in large part, “to express anger or vengeance”, which according to explicitly stated DSM-5 criteria, must exclude them from being labeled as suffering from kleptomania.   

     Actually, I have likely never encountered a single instance of true ‘kleptomania’, as defined by DSM. It is my professional opinion, as possibly the most experienced and senior clinician to have dealt with acts of seemingly nonsensical or bizarre shoplifting by usually honest persons, that true cases of ‘kleptomania’ hardly exist. A much more useful and realistic classification would be to refer to these folks as ‘Atypical Theft Offenders’, as indeed I have referred to them in my own writings for over 28 years. As well, I have developed a 33-item questionnaire, the Theft Offender Spectrum, which helps differentiate such individuals from the more common thieves who happily steal without remorse or embarrassment, and who we have termed Typical Theft Offenders. 

     Helping Atypical Theft Offenders stop stealing invariably requires that the these individuals uncover and deal with - probably with the help of a suitably trained therapist - the psychological factors that helped trigger their stealing. Successful clinical work usually involves dealing with earlier as well as more recent issues, which nearly always includes long-standing feelings of anger and low self-esteem.  I always encourage these individuals to inquire from  their physicians whether they can reduce, or even eliminate, their use of antidepressants.  

     My two books on atypical theft behavior, Why Honest People Shoplift Or Commit Other Acts Of Theft (Revised Ed, 2002), and Why Usually Honest People Steal (2013), can be of considerable benefit to both clients and the therapists who wish to work with them. The Intensive Intervention Programs that I offer (one via Skype; the other in-office) also have the same goals: (a) to help determine the underlying reasons for the individual's atypical theft behavior, and (b) to help minimize the likelihood of recidivism.

     Meanwhile, the most important thing for Atypical Theft Offenders to keep in mind, especially as they tend to be extremely self-punitive in relation to their theft behavior, is that they are undoubtedly worthwhile individuals who deserve to get the appropriate psychological help they need. And in the meanwhile, they and their loved ones need to treat them with consideration and kindness. 

                                                                                                  This article was last modified on Feb 13 2014

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