is one of the most commonly used and misused
terms in both the legal-clinical field, and by the public at large.
fact, after over 38 years of clinical investigations into the seemingly
bizarre and non-sensical theft behavior of usually honest individuals,
it is abundantly clear that the term 'kleptomania' is probably seldom
used correctly in the courts or even by most clinicians, let alone
in the court of public opinion (as led by a too often misinformed media).
a result, many thousands of theft offenders in the U.S. judicial
system are likely mis-labeled, each and every year as suffering
from kleptomania, when our clinical investigations have indicated that
probably much less than 1% of shoplifting cases involve true instances
people have so frequently been mis-diagnosed and mis-labeled as
suffering from 'kleptomania', these individuals are seldom successfully
treated, usually by the administration of prescribed antidepressants; then, each time they re-offend, the system
and the public reinforce the 'kleptomania' label (wrongly) yet again,
and then the dosage of antidepressant is increased again, with the same
Q- On what grounds
have the above statements been made?
A- On the basis of the
fact that the official psychiatric definition of kleptomania, according
to the American Psychiatric Association's DSM (Diagnostic and
Statistical Manual) clearly states, that in order to classify someone as
suffering from kleptomania, the person who has stolen must not
have done so out of anger or vengeance.
and again, in the great majority of cases that I (Dr Cupchik) and Dr Atcheson assessed and treated during the past decades, persons who had
committed what for them were atypical acts of theft, sometimes
frequently and seemingly uncontrollably, have been very angry indeed
at the time of the thefts, and very often the thefts were
acts of vengeance (carried out to embarrass or otherwise impact spouses, bosses or other individuals or companies).
the above-stated reasons, these cases should never have been labeled as
instances of kleptomania. To have done so also has usually resulted in
either no treatment or mis-treatment, with the result that the
persons' underlying reasons for stealing have remained unrecognized and un-dealt with. Consequently, the probability of re-offending is high. If, or more
likely when, the individual does steal again, the
uninformed clinician, lawyer, or judge may then erroneously think (and
probably say): "Ah, ha! That just proves the theft offender is a
a few clinicians have added to the muddying the psychological
waters by suggesting that, even though the
American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual
(DSM) makes it very clear that an individual should only be
labeled as suffering from kleptomania if he or she is not
acting out of anger or vengeance, these
clinicians has suggested that the DSM criteria are only 'suggestions'. In our decades of
clinical work with usually and otherwise honest people who steal, Dr. Atcheson
and I believe we only ever encountered a very few such cases, out of
the several hundred atypical theft offenders we had
assessed and treated professionally.
I have indicated in my book, Why Honest People Shoplift..., a future version of DSM would be well
advised to employ the term 'atypical theft offender' to refer to all
those whose stealing is atypical of their usual ways of functioning in
the world; a small subset of these persons could correctly be referred
to as suffering from kleptomania. Most however, are not suffering from
this psychiatric problem. While there are
indeed ways and means of assessing, identifying and treating most
atypical theft offenders, there is, at present, no reliable way of
treating those exceedingly few persons who suffer from kleptomania.
Most persons who display what is, for
them, atypical theft behavior, are more correctly termed Atypical Theft
Offenders, a term introduced into the professional literature by myself and Atcheson, in a chapter entitled, Shoplifting: An
Occasional Crime of the Moral Majority, in the book Clinical
Criminology: The Assessment and Treatment of Criminal Behavior,
published in 1985.
web site describes cases of atypical theft behavior; while it is
true that 'kleptomaniacs' may belong to the category of
offenders we have termed 'Atypical Theft Offenders', most Atypical
Theft Offenders are not kleptomaniacs.
the many pages of this web site, and in my book, you
will learn a good deal about why compulsive shoplifters (and other theft
Q- I have read
that it has been estimated that about 5% of theft offenders
suffer from kleptomania. Is that true?
A- The 5%
estimate was made by myself and Dr Atcheson in our first (1983) article published more than 29 years ago. This
number has been repeated over and over again by all manner of
professional and media sources. With the advantage of an
additional nearly three decades of increased expertise in the
clinical investigatio of theft behavior, I have revised my
estimate of the likely existence of cases of kleptomania
markedly downward by between a factor of 10 and 100. In
other words, my current estimate of the likely
occurrence of kleptomania among theft offenders is closer to
between 0.5% and 0.05%. That is, among 100,000 cases of theft
offenders, perhaps 50 to 500 persons might deserve the use
of the label 'kleptomania'. The actual number may in fact be
even less; it is hardly likely to be more.