Kleptomania: a case history

March 3, 2016

 Layla, 19, seemed full of remorse as she sat in the back office of the supermarket. Minutes earlier she had been apprehended for shoplifting. Although this had happened to her before, the authorities usually let her go after she returned the stolen item or paid for it. This time, however, her parents were called.


When Layla’s parents learnt of the incident they were shocked. They had always provided for their daughter in every way and had made sure that she wanted for nothing. They were surprised to know that this had happened before. This time she was trying to shoplift a book– something she could have easily afforded to buy. Bewildered her parents took her home with them after settling the matter with the authorities.


Layla’s case is not unique. Teenagers tend to shoplift, but for different reasons. There are some who shoplift for the thrill of it and others to fulfil a desire they cannot afford. These individuals tend to give up the habit sooner or later. Then there are some who steal out of sheer compulsion. They may not even want or care for the things they steal, but are driven to do so.


Layla’s parents resolved to get to the bottom of the matter. Aside from this behaviour she was the model of a perfect child. Neither her performance at school nor her choice of friends was at fault. Try as they might, they could not get her to talk. Every time they brought up the topic, she would burst into tears. Neither her friends nor her teachers knew if there was anything upsetting her. They took her to a clinical psychologist hoping that she may open up to a professional, rather than to her own family.


The psychologist assessed and concluded that Layla suffered from Kleptomania. The fact that she shoplifted things she had little to no use for her and that they were things she could easily afford, was sufficient to finalise the diagnosis. Also she would steal things out of a compulsion to do so rather than a want or need. After some counselling it emerged that she was also suffering from depression.


Over a few sessions of cognitive behavioural treatment, the patient made significant progress – the intensity of the compulsions came down and she was not acting on them. Although the compulsion to shoplift still makes its way into her mind she manages to overcome it using the techniques she learnt in therapy. She now lives her life as normally as possible.

Please note that the information in this case study should not be considered as medical advice for an individual’s condition. If anyone shows or feel symptoms of a possible medical condition, we strongly encourage you to seek advice from your primary physician or a mental health professional for an evaluation as soon as possible.


The names been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.

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