Finding Professional Help for a Spending Addiction

by Reader Contributors

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If your overspending habits are starting to harm more than your finances, it might be time to seek professional help. These tips can help you seek out the right type of professional help for you.

Dear Dollar Stretcher,
I am in serious trouble with my overspending and I think this time it is going to end my marriage. For the first time in my life, I’m so scared and ready to find out what the cause of my problem is.

I would like to go to a psychiatrist to seek these issues out, but I don’t know how to begin to pick one that will help. Is there a place or association that refers doctors who are good in their fields?

I look forward to your reply. I don’t know where else to turn. Thank you in advance.

How To Find Professional Help for a Spending Addiction

Some overspending can hurt your budget, but major overspending can destroy relationships. If you feel controlling your spending habits may require professional counseling, read on for recommendations from both professionals and people with spending addictions to find the help you need.

Seek Out a Psychiatric Social Worker

I am a psychiatric nurse. Before going to see a psychiatrist, try to see a psychiatric social worker. It has been my privilege to work with these wonderful therapists and they are superb. Psychiatric Social Workers can be seen at a community mental health center, hospitals, as well as in private practice.

At a CMHC, the fee is based on a sliding scale fee. Your insurance and even EAP (Employee Assistance Program) at work can provide a list, but talk to friends and get referrals. Therapy, with some hard work on your part, has the power to free lives. Those trained in Cognitive Therapy are especially helpful. If the first one is not a good match, try another. It is worth the effort; this is your life we are talking about, after all.

You may need to go back for family and/or couple therapy through the years. Also, a “tune-up” may be necessary. This is an ongoing process, after all.

In the meantime, one of the easiest and most insightful things you can start doing is keeping a diary of your spending, what happened, and how you felt prior to (and after) the purchase. Keep it for a week. When you have time and are able to review it calmly, look at patterns of emotion and behavior.

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Find a Professional You Can Afford and Who Will Meet Your Needs

As a retired psychotherapist, I recommend that “B” start by asking for a psychiatric referral from her internist or family doctor. If she does not have one, or if she has no insurance, then I recommend seeking out a medical school-based clinic or a state or county mental health clinic in her area. The latter usually charge on a sliding scale.

Once she has an appointment, she should carefully consider her goals in seeing the psychiatrist. Even a very competent psychiatrist will not be able to meet the needs of every patient. She needs to ask how the doctor works with patients. For example, does the doctor provide a medical assessment and medication only or does the doctor also provide psychotherapy? If the doctor does not provide therapy, is there someone else in the office who does provide it or someone nearby with whom the doctor collaborates?

My personal belief is that the best doctors work with patients rather than dictating treatment. B needs to know which approach feels comfortable and to ask the doctor which is used. I have a few more suggested questions to ask. How long is my treatment likely to last? What outcome can I expect if I work with you? Do you also offer group therapy (which should cost considerably less and provides support from other patients with similar problems)?
Barbara in CT

Join Debtors Anonymous

Look up your local office of Debtors Anonymous (DA). They have offices all over the US (and world). They operate similarly to Alcoholics Anonymous. I have not personally participated in this program, but I know of several people who have, and it has saved their financial (and the rest of their) lives.

Have you overspent your way into debt?

Make a plan to get back out. Get How to Conquer Your Debt No Matter How Much You Have and create a debt payoff plan personalized to your budget and lifestyle.

Have You Considered These Options?

  1. Ask a friend if they have a good psychiatrist or psychologist they can recommend.
  2. Ask your family physician for a referral for a psychiatrist or psychologist who specializes in this problem.
  3. Ask a caseworker at a hospital in your area for help.
  4. Call your area’s mental health clinics for help in finding a professional.
  5. Ask your union rep (if you are working and have a union) for help finding the right people to talk with.

Do something now. You are only human, and you already have done the hardest part by admitting that you have a spending addiction.

Seek Referrals From Friends and Family

Unfortunately, psychiatry is self-regulated, and every state has slightly different regulations on what is needed, etc. So, it’s hard to find a trustworthy website or reference place. That said, her best bet is to look into addiction treatment centers (that’s what compulsive spending is, actually) and schedule a consultation. Most have free consultations. She can Google “compulsive spending treatment,” and her city and state, and that should bring up a list of treatment centers. She can check the BBB and the state psychiatric board to make sure they’ve no complaints against them.

Aside from that, the only option is to ask for referrals from friends, family, co-workers, etc. She is going to want to find an addiction specialist, but she may not need a psychiatrist. Many psychologists and behavioral therapists deal with these issues as well. Behavioral therapy is one of the most effective treatments for addictions, so she may want to look up those therapists with a behavior philosophy.

There are often support groups, and those can be a better source of referrals. Some are held like AA meetings and others as group therapy sessions. She should be able to find those online through the addiction treatment centers, or through her local health department. Other people in the same situation are likely to give her the most honest, useful referrals.

Learn From the Struggles of Others

In the short term, while you’re looking for counseling, don’t be afraid to go to a bookstore or library and check out the self-help section. Spending can be like an addiction and many people have written about their struggles. Reading about other people’s experiences may help you connect and see things from a new perspective.
Toni B.

Attend Financial Peace University

I was also starting to get out of control lately and decided to take a class. I went to and searched for FPU (Financial Peace University) classes in my area. They are usually held at churches all over the US. They also offer financial help to pay for the course if you are unable to pay the fee. So far, it has curbed my spending.

Reviewed September 2023

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