Thinking About Stealing

by Steven Houseworth, MA


I was in a meeting a few days ago with a group of fellow educators. The subject of "THEFT TALK"™ came up and Mrs. Rollins said, "What I want to know is how you talk people out of stealing?" Trying to be brief and appropriate to the setting, I gave an answer which pacified the audience. To me, the question was as important as the answer. It had never struck me that "THEFT TALK"™ would be perceived as trying to "talk people out of stealing."

Recognizing Mrs. Rollins' question was a legitimate one, it lingered in the back of my mind. She was right, it would be easy to make the assumption that an agency called "THEFT TALK"™ would try to talk clients out of stealing. This perception could pose several problems for the agency. From a marketing perspective we could be perceived as amateurish lay persons. From a client's perspective it could cause defensiveness even before entering our door.

Simply stated, a better answer for Mrs. Rollins would be that "THEFT TALK"™ has never tried to talk people out of stealing.

"THEFT TALK"™ talks about stealing. "THEFT TALK" talks about thinking, and "THEFT TALK"™ talks about thinking about stealing.

"THEFT TALK"™ focuses on thinking - the offender's thinking, their thinking errors and thinking omissions. We not only talk, we also have our clients think, - about stealing. This may sound trite and, at first hearing, you may try to blow this notion off as meaningless. However, the fact is we are very successful at having our offenders talk and think about stealing. Interestingly this may be the first time these people have ever seriously thought or talked about stealing, - or on any one subject for that matter, - ever, in their entire lives. Think about it, when is the last time you stopped and talked, or thought, on any one subject for four continuous hours.

At "THEFT TALK"™ we do not try to talk people out of stealing. We do the opposite. We set them free. We recognize we have no control over our client's lives and openly admit this to them. We have ideas and we have an agenda, but we don't try to sell or cajole. We tell our clients they are not required to agree with us but they do need to understand us. We have ideas and they are only required to think about and understand those ideas. They are free to present their own ideas. They are free to make their own choices. Choices which, after "THEFT TALK"™, are not impulsive, instinctual, or likely to be based on pure selfish greed. Choices which come from, for the first time in their lives, having examined themselves, their actions, and the issue of stealing. Choices which go beyond their animalistic survival of the fittest response, and their previous dog eat dog selfish mentality. Choices including new variables which, now, must also be considered. Choices which allow the metamorphosis from human animal to that of human being. Choices which now include other people as part of the formula.

No, "THEFT TALK"™ does not try to talk people out of stealing. "THEFT TALK"™ asks its clients to think. The goal is for each client to think themselves into, or out of, stealing. Knowledge reveals options and choices. Knowledge sets them free, and simultaneously provides new boundaries.


An Online Theft / Shoplifting class

An 4 or 8 hour Theft / Shoplifting class that you can stop and start anytime you want - on your schedule! This Theft / Shoplifting class is completely self-paced, sign out and come back later, the computer will take you back to where you ended. That's right, work on it a half hour at a time, more sometimes, less others - you choose.

Less Expensive: One fee, no added fees. Our online Theft / Shoplifting class sets an industry standard as one of the nation's premier provider of online Theft / Shoplifting classes. We also offer 4 or 8 hour Impulse Control and Theft Class for those required to take a Theft / Shoplifting class or an Impulse Control and theft Class.Take an online theft class

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About Us

At Outcome Alternatives® we are quite proud of what we have accomplished. "THEFT TALK"™ was founded in 1983 through the combined 44 years of experience of a parole officer, a juvenile probation officer, two college instructors and a justice system policy analyst. Each of these roles contributed greatly to the style, delivery and content of our Theft / Shoplifting class.

Over the years, "THEFT TALK"™ has received national recognition in magazines such as Seventeen, The Lookout, The Business Journal, Consumer Reports' Zillions Magazine, The New Yorker and Counseling Today. HBO and MSNBC have  featured our services.  US News and World Report did a story on "THEFT Talk"™ in October 2008.

The underlying concepts of "THEFT TALK"™ Counseling Service originated between 1975 and 1983. Two Juvenile Court Counselors, Steve Houseworth, MA and Patrick Murphy, felt ineffective as they worked within the juvenile justice system and set out to improve their skills. Originally while dealing with juvenile offenders, these men, like the majority of correctional personnel, focused on the deed, stressed consequences and assumed the offender knew what was wrong with stealing. Later, out of personal interest and frustration at watching offenders recycle themselves, they decided to research and specialize in theft counseling. "THEFT TALK's"™ theory and philosophy is outlined in our approach page.

For a comparison Steve and Patrick began to conduct research with non-delinquent youth and responsible adults. Rather than find a disparity in values and attitudes among the various groups, they discovered a pattern of responses so similar, they were forced to conclude this problem of theft is so ingrained in today's society its essence is rarely addressed or understood. Basically what we as a society have taught people is "don't get caught, get good."

Thousands of theft offenders later, this exciting program has undergone many changes. Feeling the results of their study and research was too important to keep to themselves, Steve and Patrick founded a corporation, "THEFT TALK"™ Counseling Service Inc., a nonprofit corporation. Since March of 1983 "THEFT TALK"™ Counseling Service Inc. has been a nonprofit corporation and actively involved in theft diversion and prevention counseling throughout Oregon. More recently, the "THEFT TALK"™ Counseling Service Inc. Board of Director's business plan calls for a nationwide presence. To that end the Board was made aware of, and approved, of a plan to create "THEFT TALK"™ Online Services and later Outcome Alternatives®.

Our staff are frequently asked how we talk people out of stealing. Our answer to this question is that we do not try to talk people out of stealing. Instead, we recognize that we cannot control their behavior nor make their decisions for them. Further, we realize that threatening, trying to scare, or educating on the possible consequences of stealing has continuously proven to be an ineffective intervention. We find our clients are much less resistant once they learn we do not judge them and we genuinely admit our position of powerlessness. A pleasant benefit of this position is that it diffuses the more traditional power struggle between "The System" and "The Offender".

Our position is that it is undesirable and unrealistic for our communities to have cameras, police, security tags, mirrors, etc., everywhere in a persons world. Though this approach proves very effective for individual merchants, it has very little effect on the motivations of those who are inclined to steal or shoplift, (they simply choose a different store).

We believe the pursuit of self pleasure appears to be a very human trait. With this in mind, and without human intervention, stealing should predictably be a world wide phenomenon, (as it is). Further, living in a country which cherishes its freedom of choice, or one which has few social boundaries, would likely demonstrate higher incidences of theft.

Instead of thinking about stealing as a behavior that does not make sense, we have been successful at trying to understand how it does make sense - at least to the theft offender. Our human intervention is to encourage our clients to examine their own thinking, their attitudes and beliefs.

We try to get our clients to understand how stealing makes (or made) sense to them. "THEFT TALK"™, while continuing to respect the autonomy of the individual, focuses on THINKING. We tell our clients they do not need to agree with anything we say. We only ask that they take the time to understand. At the point where we accept and respect one another we are well positioned to look for thinking errors and for the client to examine his or her own attitudes, values and beliefs. Once this genuine inventory and examination has been completed the client is well positioned to be able to self correct - IF, he or she chooses.

"THEFT TALK"™ Counseling Service uses an evidence based cognitive restructuring approach in all of the services it offers.  Though our class material is heavily laced with content which addresses thinking errors, the classes are not marketed as "thinking error" classes.  If the person referring is wanting the client to be exposed to a class which introduces thinking errors and focuses on the different types of thinking errors our theft class would not meet that standard.  If, however, the referring person wants the person being referred to be exposed to specific thinking errors (and omissions) related to stealing and to have those thinking errors confronted and corrected, then our programs and services meet that standard quite well.

Some of the key thinking errors focused on in the "THEFT TALK"™ curriculum deal with the offenders focus on trying not to get caught, an attempt to avoid punishment vs impact on the victim as the primary force driving decision making, "License", the thinking a person has which gives him/her permission to steal, Circular Thinking (failure to think of the victim), empathy development and developing an in depth understanding as to why stealing is wrong and an aggressive confrontation regarding an introspective character assessment.

As you may know, getting results with offenders is no easy task. We don't make ridiculous claims like a 95% success rate but we do know that we use best practices. We address the criminogenic risk factor - attitudes, values and beliefs. "Theft Talk"™ addresses victim issues, accountability and personal responsibility. Our approach is the most effective intervention - cognitive restructuring - and based on the ground breaking work outlined in "The Psychology of Stealing" by our founder Steven M. Houseworth, MA.

We know that of the thousands of clients who have gone through - and successfully completed - our Theft / Shoplifting program, 86% do not re-offend with a new theft related offense within one year. We are proud of our work and expect you will be pleased too.

As you can probably tell by now, the theory, philosophy and techniques of "THEFT TALK"™ are quite unique, specialized and effective. The primary intervention used is referred to as cognitive restructuring.

Again, welcome to the "THEFT TALK"™ web page provided by Outcome Alternatives®. Please take the time to peruse all our pages, we think they will prove to be of interest to you.



A Really Good Choice

Our Theft / Shoplifting class is a convenient way to complete a court ordered, PO, diversion or school required program.

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Change your thoughts and you change your world .

~Norman Vincent Peale
(1898 - 1993)

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