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« 10 Ways Organizers Help With "Stuff" | Dreams Need Help Too »
Tuesday
Aug202013

Ask the Expert: April Lane Benson, Ph.D.

Dr. April Lane Benson "Ask the Expert" interview about Enlisting HelpThe “Ask the Expert” interview series connects you with industry thought leaders. This year we’ve spoken with Leslie Josel about motivation, David Allen about time management, Peter Walsh about clutter, Sheila Delson about letting go, Laura Berman Fortgang about next steps, Judith Kolberg about change, and Sue West about fresh starts. This month I’m thrilled to bring you a dynamo in the field of psychology, Dr. April Lane Benson, to share her insights and experience about enlisting help.

April and I met in 2004 when she spoke at the National Association of Professional Organizers New York chapter (NAPO-NY) meeting about compulsive buying. I became a fan immediately. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of talking with her and hearing her present many times. She’s straightforward, energetic, compassionate, and the expert on shopping addiction. My deepest thanks goes to April for taking the time to join us. Before we begin, here’s more about her.

April Lane Benson, Ph.D., is a nationally known psychologist specializing in the study and treatment of compulsive buying disorder. She edited I Shop, Therefore I Am: Compulsive Buying and the Search for Self  (2000) and authored To Buy or Not to Buy: Why We Overshop and How to Stop (2008). April recently conducted empirical research on the efficacy of the Stopping Overshopping treatment model; results will be published in early 2014 in the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery. You can connect with her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, blog or website.

 

Linda Samuels:  You are a nationally known psychologist who specializes in the treatment of compulsive buying disorder. What is the tipping point that motivates people to reach out for help?

April Lane Benson:  People reach out for help when their behavior has either become unmanageable to themselves, or poses such a big issue for someone else that the other person insists on it. Overwhelming debt is a big motivator for many; feeling enormously burdened by the lying and secrecy that are often part and parcel of this problem is another trigger. As far as other people’s reactions being the catalyst for the compulsive buyer to get help, these are common scenarios. A couple is trying to get a mortgage and in that process, the debt of one member of the couple is revealed. Family members may find a compulsive buyer’s secret stashes or find a credit card or money has been stolen. There may no longer be any room to navigate at home because of such an overabundance of stuff.

 

Linda:  What conditions make self-help a viable option?

April:  If someone has a history of having been able to utilize self-help resources productively for another behavior or is doing so currently, he or she is a good candidate for self-help. Someone who has one or two individuals who are willing to be very involved in a nuts and bolts way with the compulsive buyer and function as shopping support buddies is another good candidate. Knowing about the availability of self-help resources, books, audiotapes, online support groups, and in-person support groups is also key to making it a viable option.

 

Linda:  When seeking professional help is the appropriate option, what are some useful questions to find the right fit?

April:

  • Has the provider worked with compulsive buyers before? Approximately how many?
  • What does the treatment consist of?
  • What kind of success rate does the potential provider have?
  • What method or school of thought does the potential provider utilize?
  • How long is the treatment?
  • How much will it cost?
  • Will any other family members be involved?
  • Will the provider collaborate with a professional organizer if the client wishes?

 

Linda:  As professional organizers we often encounter clients with shopping addictions. What is important for us to understand so that we can best help our clients?

April:  It’s important for organizers to understand that there are sometimes deep psychological issues that are maintaining the compulsive buying behavior and that the emotional underpinnings of the problem need to be understood and worked with alongside the behavioral interventions.  Organizers need to be very clear about their own boundaries and be aware of the differences between organizing, coaching and psychotherapy.

 

Linda:  What has been your biggest personal challenge around enlisting help?

April:  For many years, I engaged in a self-defeating habit that no one in my life saw as a significant issue. In part because of that feedback and also because of my own ambivalence about change, it took a long time for me to seek professional help.  By the time I did, I was so clear about wanting to change and ready to change that it no longer mattered what anyone else thought.  What a great decision!

 

Linda:  Is there anything else you’d like to share about seeking help that I haven’t asked?

April:  It’s important that professional organizers know that there’s no shame, and more likely wisdom, in telling the client that some of what he/she needs goes beyond your area of expertise and that you’ll assist him/her in getting help. This is great modeling for the client who needs to know that effective help is available and that it’s a strength, rather than a weakness to ask for it.

 

Thank you, April for sharing your ideas about enlisting help. You’ve provided many ways to think about getting the type of support that’s needed. I love your list of questions for finding the right type of professional help. Perhaps what I found most encouraging was your perspective that asking for help is a “strength rather than a weakness.” What a great thought to end with.

I invite you to join April and me as we continue the conversation. We’d love to hear your thoughts about enlisting help. What resonates with you?

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Reader Comments (28)

Thank you, Linda for this wonderful interview with Dr. Benson. I particularly appreciate her tips for professional organizers.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDiane Quintana

Powerful specific awareness for us as professional organizers and the public to know what to look for and what starts a person on a self-help path. Thank you for sharing this!

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterEllen Delap

@Diane- I'm so glad you enjoyed April's interview. Like you, I too thought her suggestions for professional organizers were right on and really useful.

@Ellen- Sometimes self-help is the way to go and sometimes we need professional help. April's suggestions around both options are so helpful.

Great sharing you two! It's always wonderful to "hear" your voices.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

How important is recognize when we have a problem and seek the professional help. Particularly in the case of compulsive shopping, is part of modern life, nowadays you need to have in order to being someone is what all ads say to us, buy and be happier, buy and be slimmer, buy and be prettier, buy and be successful. In the process we forget that we are someone already no things needed, no need to buy other than the obvious purposes like just dress, just eat, just being healthy; I insist in the just because living in a consumerism era generally fall in the trap of overshopping anything (buy at large, shop by bulk, etc).
Thanks for sharing the interesting point of view of April.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNacho Eguiarte

@Nacho- It's wonderful to have here with us to share. You make such important points. And you're so right that the "consumerism era" encourages us to buy more, get more, have more so that our lives will be better. But as you said, more stuff is not what life is about. Recognizing a compulsion or addiction and seeking help for it is the beginning.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

I appreciated Dr. Benson's points about professional boundaries. Earlier in my career, I didn't know what I didn't know. With education and coaching training, I learned, and then observed in client work, where my boundaries needed to be. No matter how much "good" we THINK we might be doing, we must step back, often, and ask if we are where we should be, with respect to our capabilities and the client's needs. This is a daily, moment to mInterest, curiosity and a desire to "help" are not enough and can backfire, doing more harm. This is a moment to moment question to ask ourselves. Collaborating with other professionals is a rewarding and useful experience for each one of those involved.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSue West

Another great interview, Linda! This is a great topic to be bringing out into the open and discussing. I so agree that POs need to be able to speak about where our expertise ends and other resources should be brought to bear. My only question is, will Dr. Benson come and speak to NAPO CT:)

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterSeana Turner

This is really valuable information! It brought to mind an organizing client I once worked with who had an abundance of fitness and weight loss products (mostly unopened) purchased from The Shopping Channel. I helped her identify which items she was likely to use and to let go of the others, but it wouldn't have occurred to me to suggest she might have a problem with compulsive shopping. How could I have raised that subject diplomatically?

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJanet Barclay

What great additions to this conversation! Wonderful to have you here with us.

@Sue- Oh, yes...the professional boundary issues. These are ones to learn because as you said sometimes the help we think we are giving is in fact causing more harm than good. It's so important to know when we're out of our league and another professional needs to be part of the helping process.

@Seana- Aside from boundary issues, you also make a good point about having resources (beyond our expertise) that we can refer our clients to. April continues to be an excellent resource for all of us. And as far as a NAPOCT visit from April goes, it could happen. Ask her.

@Janet- You ask a great question about how to diplomatically approach a potential shopping compulsion. When I first met April, part of the talk she gave talked about that. I'll wait to see if she responds directly before writing more.

August 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Dr. Benson's book was one of the very first books I bought before I started my organizing business in 2002. Her advice has always resonated with clients and I LOVED seeing her in action on TV. She's really one of the very best go-to resources on this topic.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGeralin Thomas

Thank you for bringing us another wonderful and insightful interview, Linda. I really appreciate the tips that Dr. Benson shared for professional organizers that are dealing with a client that has a shopping addiction. It’s important for us to recognize when something is beyond our expertise and it’s time for us to call on other resources.

thank you Linda for this rock star interview. I also read her book cover to cover and literally lapped up all her insights and information. She is a wonderful resource bar none. Thank you for bringing her to us with a different slant.so inspiring.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLeslie Josel

I'm a psychotherapist based in Melbourne Australia, dealing a lot with people presenting with problematic shopping compulsions. I certainly agree with your point about addressing emotional underpinnings rather than merely behavioural interventions. Last week a new patient started treatment after spending ten sessions with a psychologist who told her she simply had to budget better. No consideration for, in her case, the enormous history of loss which this lady was trying to fill in all the wrong places... Providers who lack depth, or otherwise fear going to places with their patients which evoke unpleasant affect, won't be able to resolve compulsive spending anymore than trying to limit a gambler to a budget.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Szmerling

How great to hear from all of you! Love your additions to the conversation. I'm grateful for the time you gave to share with us.

@Geralin- Amazing that April's book was one of the first ones you read after starting your organizing business. Great to know that she was then and continues to be a great resource for you.

@Peggy- You're welcome. And yes... love that April has reminded us to respect the boundaries and know when help beyond organizing is needed. Essential.

@Leslie- Great to know another April fan! Glad you enjoyed the insights she shared with us.

@Adam- Welcome all the way from Australia! Thank you sharing the story about your patient who had been going to a therapist (before you) that didn't understand how to treat compulsive spending. That highlights the importance of not just reaching out for help, but reaching out for the right type of help...or finding that right fit. How lucky that she has found you.

August 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

After hearing Dr. Benson speak, I referred one of my clients to a potential provider. This client had numerous purchases never taken out of the bag. Fortunately she shopped at the Dollar Store. Unfortunately she could not afford the provider and had to see someone not qualified to help her. This made me sad for her.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Zechini

@Deb- That's quite a story. It's great you were able to refer your client to a provider after hearing April speak. It is sad that due to economics, she wasn't able to afford the provider that was qualified to help her. April can confirm this, but I think she has some affordable group therapy that's done over the phone. If she still offers this, perhaps it's a viable and cost-effective option for your client.

August 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Linda, l always look forward to your great "ask the expert" interviews. As I progress and continue to grow my business, I am exposed to the more deeply-rooted problems of my clients. With so many, I had initially assessed incorrectly. As April points out, compulsive shopping is fueled by so many acute emotional triggers, hence my techniques to organize them fall shy of my ability to change their behavior. I now have the intuition to recognize that when the situation may go beyond my scope of my expertise, I must step away.

August 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNancy Borg

@Nancy- Bravo to you for recognizing the boundary for knowing when a situation is beyond your "scope of expertise." That's huge and so important. Equally important is having resources (like April) to refer our clients too. Thank you for sharing and being so open and honest.

August 20, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

Great interview, Linda. Thanks to you both.

I've suggested therapy to a client in the past, but not without some trepidation. Your comments are validating. It's a fine line, but an important one.

August 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlys Milner

@Alys- Always good to know when we are part of the "help team," but not the only member. For many of our clients, the challenges they have go beyond the organizing piece. Understanding when the boundary is being crossed is key. ICD (Institute for Challenging Disorganization) and Coach Approach for Organizers both offer courses that teach about the lines and roles of organizers, coaches, and therapists. Well worth the investment.

August 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

I don't have anything to add to the conversation at this time, but I just wanted to say that I find Dr. April Lane Benson's research, as well as her understanding of the role of professional organizers, to be invaluable.

August 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterValentina Sgro

Dear Diane, Ellen, Nacho, Sue, Seana, Janet, Geralin, Peggy, Leslie, Adam, Deb, Nancy, Alys, and Valentina, and Linda,

I’m overwhelmed and enormously gratified by all of your responses to my answers to Linda’s important, astute questions about getting help. The kind of acknowledgement so justifies all the time and energy I devote to this work.

I’ve said this publicly and I’ll say it again here: as professional organizers, you may be the profession that holds the key to blowing the lid off this shameful secret, this “smiled upon” addiction that upwards of 18 million Americans now have. As you continue to identify compulsive buyers among your clients and develop targeted, effective ways to help them and also help them to find other professional help, you are providing a service that goes well beyond what our communities and our government have been willing or able to do to address the plague of materialism and overconsumption that is reaching epidemic proportions.

I’ve seen lives ruined by compulsive buying, known about suicides, divorces, business partnerships lost, people barred from entering their chosen professions, and entire families polarized. Other than the few mental health professionals that have chosen to specialize in this problem, you are the ONLY ones in the trenches and I can’t express my appreciation to you enough.

Let me respond to some of your specific thoughts and questions. As I will refer a few of you to specific places on my website as part of my response to your comment or question, I wanted to give you the url. It’s www.shopaholicnomore.com

Nacho, I couldn’t agree more with your comments and Linda’s response to them about consumerism and the bill of goods that we’re sold that happiness is only as far away as our next purchase. Or, in the words of a post-it note that a friend gave me many years ago, “Whoever said that money can’t buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.” We need to do whatever we can to counteract this dangerous message.


Sue and Nancy, your comments bespeak the wisdom you’ve obviously gained in your years as professional organizers. So many of us don’t know what we don’t know and it takes courage to even educate and train ourselves. But as we could read from your comments, it so pays off! I particularly liked this statement: “No matter how much ‘good’ we THINK we might be doing, we must step back, often, and ask if we are where we should be, with respect to our capabilities and the client's needs. …curiosity and a desire to ‘help’ are not enough and can backfire, doing more harm. This is a moment to moment question to ask ourselves. Collaborating with other professionals is a rewarding and useful experience for each one of those involved.” It’s as true for my fellow mental health and health professionals as it is for you and your fellow professional organizers. Thanks so much for reminding us to take a good look in the mirror.
Seana, I’d be delighted to talk with you about speaking at NAPO Connecticut!
Janet, as far as your diplomatically bringing up the possibility that your client may be a compulsive buyer, I wouldn’t necessarily have that as my goal in addressing the client. What I’d probably do is get very curious about the circumstances around each of the purchases, what was going on in the person’s life that week, that day, what she was hoping this equipment would do for her, whether she regretted the purchases and if so, why did she regret making them and when did the regret begin. These kinds of questions are part of a shopping visualization that I ask each of my clients to complete and the text of the visualization is in Chapter 3 of my book, To Buy or Not to Buy. I’m not suggesting that you do the visualization with your client, just that it contains some useful questions to broach with a client that you think may be overshopping and overspending.
Adam, it’s so disappointing to hear once again of a therapist who didn’t know enough about compulsive shopping to be helpful, rather than harmful. It’s just as hard for therapists as it is for professional organizers to know when someone we’re working with needs a kind of help we can’t provide, but all of us have to remember that we can’t help everyone. There’s no shame, only wisdom in helping someone find the right help. I’m very glad she found you! By the way, if there are therapists you know who want to learn about working with compulsive buyers, I’ve put together a 4-session audio course that they can find in the For Therapists section of my website.

Deb, I too, am sorry to hear that your client couldn’t afford the help of a qualified provider. We do offer 12-session telecoaching groups and have two beginning in September. If this client wants to be notified when we do a free preview call for the groups, please invite her to put her name and email address in the opt-in box in the telecoaching group section on the professional help page of my site. If she can’t afford the telecoaching group, there are three free online support groups that are listed in the resource section of my website and the Recovering Shopaholic blog is another very good resource. The author, Debbie Roes, responds to every comment that is made on her blog posts!
Some of you might want to refer some of your clients to some of the simple living sites that are listed on my website in the resource section. There are some wonderful, relatively new blogs and other resources on my site that you could recommend to your clients. In addition to Recovering Shopaholic, Shopyourwardrobe.com is one of the best.

And finally, Linda, thanks so much for your sensitive, thoughtful responses to each persons’ comments. Those of you that I didn’t respond to specifically, please know that your acknowledgment means a great deal to me. I feel inspired to offer a consultation group to professional organizers that would have an interest!
Warmest regards to each and every one of you,
April

August 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterApril Benson

Following Sue West's comments about balancing desire to jump in to help and stepping back to assess what is best for the client. Many organizers I know hold 'service to others' in high regard. Widening our perspective on the definition of this value can be a good starting place. Educating our clients about the various resources available from a trained professional to a caring relative and supporting them in acquiring these resources will create the ultimate service-a more resourceful and resilient client.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCameron Gott

I found this conversation inspiring and very practical. Everything April touches upon I can relate to. There are two points, in particular, that resonated the most with me.

Being able to determine when a client needs to be referred. Over the years, I've developed a network of "experts" that I can refer my clients to. I'm keenly aware that I can't possibly help everyone who comes to me but I also need to trust who I'm referring people to.

Being able to have healthy boundaries in place. It's important to accept that I'm the conduit and not the "savior." I also need my life to be separate from what I do. After all, isn't this what I tell my clients? I'd better be able to practice what I preach:-)

Thank you Linda and April for this gem of a conversation.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterYota Schneider

Linda, April, etal,

I was out of town and am "late" to the conversation, but I did want to thank you all for your rich conversation on this topic. I truly appreciated reading your comments and learning from you this evening.

Best,

Andrea

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAndrea Sharb

The jewels of wisdom and understanding here are incredible. Thank you all for being here to share.

@Val- "Invaluable" is the perfect word choice for describing what April brings to the table.

@Cam- Ahh. The balance between "jumping in" to do and "stepping back" to assess. What a great distinction and reminder.

@Yota- Loved hearing the pieces that resonated with you - resources and boundaries... and especially your idea of being the "conduit" and not the "savior." Just lovely.

@Andrea- Never late and always welcome. Glad you are with us.

@April- Wow oh wow! Thank you for your thoughtful, generous gifts here of encouragement, resources, and opportunities. We are truly lucky to have you with us. Thank you.

August 22, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLinda Samuels

Another great interview that raises several fascinating issues. Thank you both, Linda and April. I welcome, in particular, the reminder that there are critical differences between professional organizers, coaches and psychotherapists in terms of training, expertise and experience. Let's each of us value the services we offer but also recognize our limitations. This is especially important when dealing with vulnerable clients. The list of questions for compulsive shoppers to ask before employing help is also very useful. Since trust is so vital to the relationship, I'd like to propose 2 additional questions:
1. Does the provider belong to a professional body ( such as NAPO or APDO-UK) and adhere to a code of ethics?
2. What is the provider's policy on confidentiality?
Thanks again for the interview and the opportunity to be part of this conversation.

August 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJuliet Landau-Pope

Juliet- A key point you made, "value the services we offer but also recognize our limitations." That speaks right to the essence of being a responsible service provider. Thank you. Also love your two additional questions. Knowing that the service provider abides to a code of ethics, is connected with a professional association (at least one,) and has a confidentiality policy in place are also key. Wonderful to have you with us for this conversation.

August 25, 2013 | Registered CommenterLinda Samuels

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