While gambling can be a harmless diversion and form of entertainment for many, for some, it can escalate into 'problem gambling': a behavioural pattern where a person will persistently and consistently engage in gambling, despite the significant negative impacts it can have on their life. The negative effects for people who are struggling with problem gambling can span across various aspects of their life, and include financial instability, strained personal relationships, and detrimental effects on their mental health. Their draw to gamble is persistent, and often escalates in frequency and intensity over time, driven by their inability to resist the urge to gamble despite their being aware of the negative consequences.
Although it can often be difficult to identify, as many people will conceal their habit, if you're worried about someone - or if you're here looking for support for yourself - counselling and psychotherapy can be incredibly valuable in helping people to understand their drive to gamble, to put in place systems that work for them to help them stop gambling, and to work towards a future where gambling is no longer a problem.
Understanding Problem Gambling
Problem gambling is characterised by an uncontrollable urge to continue gambling despite its adverse consequences. It's a self-perpetuating cycle: the more someone gambles, the more they want to gamble. There could be wins that they're chasing, the dopamine high you get from winning a large amount of money; or there could be a hope that gambling will solve any money worries they may already have. Gambling may have led a person to take on debt, and they may hope that they can pay off that debt, or they may hope for an easier future with fewer money worries if they can have a few good wins.
Problems with gambling can permeate all facets of a person's life, influencing their relationships, financial stability, and mental health. If someone is hiding their gambling from a partner or spouse, this can erode the trust in their relationship once it comes to light (which it invariably does). Obsessive use of gambling apps, or trips to betting shops, mean time away from their partner or family, and not nurturing their relationships. People can end up taking on debt that they can't afford in order to support their gambling; to cover the shortfall in their expenses like rent, bills and food when they lose more than they win. This means that, every month, their disposable income is shrinking, putting more and more pressure on them to not lose; to keep trying to win their money back.
It's a very slippery slope, and it's not hard to see how this can have a huge effect on someone's mental health.
The Therapeutic Approach to Problem Gambling
When addressing problem gambling, therapists can use a range of interventions to help people explore the root of their addiction and develop strategies for overcoming it. Therapy offers a confidential and supportive environment that fosters a sense of safety and trust, and encourages the open exploration of personal issues, experiences, thoughts, and drives.
There is no single 'right way' to approach therapy when it comes to problem gambling and addiction in general; it will depend entirely on the person and their needs and preferences.
As examples, though, a therapist might use techniques such as Motivational Interviewing, which aims to enhance a person's motivation to change; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which is very much goal-orientated and involves the therapist and client working together to understand the client's beliefs and thought processes, and looking to change those, and usually involves undertaking 'homework' between sessions; Psychodynamic Therapy, which works to resolve unconscious conflicts that might be contributing to the compulsive behaviour; Schema Therapy, which looks at the 'themes' of a client's life, as well as the coping skills that the client used as a child and how they translate to the present, or Existential Therapy, which is a more philosophical method, and encourages clients to engage in significant, honest self-reflection.
This isn't a complete list of the tools a therapist might use, but these are some of the more common ones. Again, there is no right 'model' to use; simply what works for each individual, unique person.
The Path to Recovery
The journey to recovery from problem gambling is rarely straightforward. It requires resilience, perseverance, and a willingness to engage in the therapeutic process. But through this journey, people can gain a better understanding of their drive to gamble, as well as themselves more generally, and learn coping mechanisms that can help them regain control over their lives.
If you're looking for a therapist who can help you, or someone you care about, with problem gambling, then please do search our Register to find a qualified, insured, and supervised therapist.