Compulsive Buying Sends Shopaholic to Rehab

money disorder

Nikki Ebben, a 32-year-old mother from Appleton, Wis., has been addicted to shopping for more than a decade. She owns approximately 160 pairs of shoes -- some of which have only been worn once.

And it's not just shoes. Ebben has a compulsive buying disorder -- she's bought 100 tubes of lip gloss, stacks of cosmetics and fragrance candles, and closetfuls of jeans, which can cost as much as $320 a pair.

VIDEO: Nikki Ebbens shopping addiction lands her in severe debt and financial rehab.
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"It's like you spiral out of control. You just keep doing these things and doing these things, and then you feel a little bit of remorse so then maybe you stop for a little bit. And then you do it again and do it again and do it again, and it's a vicious cycle," she said. "But when I was looking at all of these, it's really a sickening feeling. All the money I've wasted? I mean ... the money we could've saved, invested, it's all here in the shoe collection."

When asked about her credit card debt, Ebben says she owes "probably about $38,000 right now."

For years she says she committed "financial infidelity," lying to her husband about her spending. Finally, when he discovered her secret, he took away all her credit cards.

The marriage, once solid, was on the verge of collapse, as money that could have been saved for her children's education was gone.

"I can deal with the fact that ... maybe I'm hurting myself. But, the fact that I'm hurting my husband and my kids for something that they didn't even do, that they have no control over, that ... makes me pretty sick," Ebben said.

But when Ebben approached a local mental health clinic for what she calls her "shopping addiction," she was met with skepticism.

"I have a shopping problem. I'm spending too much money on clothes. I'm a shopaholic," she said. "Is there anybody here that can help me?"

As she recalls, the mental health professional she contacted "pretty much laughed at me."

With nowhere else to turn, Ebben agreed to let "20/20" send her to Cumberland Furnace, Tenn., the home of Onsite -- the only live-in week-long money treatment center in the country -- for their "Healing Money Issues" workshop.

In April 2009, Ebben joined eight others from all over the country, who were each at their wit's end financially. Made even worse by the sour economy, these strangers arrived looking for answers at this intensive, residential, money detox center.

Workshop Seeks to Tame Out-of-Control Money Habits

Without the help of their cell phones, BlackBerries, televisions or cars, the group hunkered down with psychologist Ted Klontz to try to tame their out-of-control money habits.

Klontz, along with his son Brad, 38, a clinical psychologist, and financial planner Rick Kahler, are a threesome, helping participants who mainly face compulsive buying disorder, workaholism, financial enabling, financial incest and compulsive hoarding.

"A money disorder is a self-defeating ... self-destructive ... relatively ... persistent ... resistant to change behavior involving money," explained Ted Klontz.

But what makes this workshop unique is the belief that serious money issues are not about money. Money is basically the symptom, but it's actually not the disease, they say.

The real disease is a complicated mix of psychological baggage, which the week is designed to unpack. Using therapeutic exercises, role-playing, meditation, and behind-closed-doors group therapy, the goal is to find the root of the problem, and then change the behavior.

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