Addiction is a disease of perception. This is ever more so apparent with pathological gambling. According to a guide for financial counsellors, gambling can be put on a continuum from no gambling on one side of the spectrum, to pathological gambling on the other. The gambling spectrum features an addiction to gambling as the final progression in gambling behaviors and recognizes it as a mental disorder, as it is deemed in the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition). The guide further states that people with gambling issues this severe, are unable to control the urge to gamble, despite harmful consequences. That is what is most puzzling about pathological gambling to the sufferer – the belief that it is still a recreational behavior that needs to be put under personal control/discipline even though the evidence proves that the gambling has replaced life and only with proper counselling and treatment, can the gambler recover from it to live life meaningfully.
Financial counsellors are not expected to diagnose or treat gambling problems, but assist their clients in addressing the gambling problem and prevent further harm. It is about gaining confidence and ensuring a safe and supportive environment for the client to disclose the nature of the problem gambling, financial consequences, as well as the underlying issues. With such exposure, it is hoped that the gambler will take matters into his/her own hands and seek recovery from this illness. Nevertheless, undertaking a course of counselling while in treatment will aid the gambler to make the choice for recovery that much easier.
There are a number of reasons as to why counselling is a vital step in the recovery of pathological/problem gambling. They are as follows:
a) Motivational Interviewing - The importance of counselling is in establishing a trustworthy relationship with the client. Within this framework, much of the important issues that may be blocked due to shame and guilt could be unraveled and worked on. Motivational interviewing allows the client to have faith that the counselor is on his/her side and will collaborate with the client to work on the issues that are causing and facilitating the gambling behavior to the extent it has reached.
b) Build awareness of the pathological gambling – The most cunning aspect of this disease is the delusion that the gambler has about his/her problem as merely being an undisciplined grasp on gambling. This had resulted from the subtleties that had taken place between serious or social gambling and pathological gambling. The gambler still feels that he/she may be in the former state when in actual fact the gambling has progressed to a problematic level. As one client noted that by providing a clear reflection of this progression, the realization of the illness has become an effective stepping stone to seeking and committing to the work of recovery.
c) Harm reduction – Many gamblers enter treatment with concerns about settling the debts of their addictive behavior. The counselor’s role in this regard is to address these issues insofar as to settle the psyche of the gambler. Yet, the more pertinent function of a financial counsellor is to set a new blueprint to which the client will live by that will ensure that further harm in the future will not recur. This could pose a clash of interests between the gambler and counselor because the preoccupation of the gambler is how to have safer gambling practices, which at times, may be useful to entertain; such as the reduction of certain habits and the speedy repayment of debts. Yet, if it is not properly moderated, the relief of being debt-free could trigger a relapse in the gambling behavior. Therefore, the counsellor’s priority when dealing with harm reduction is to reduce the amount of post-addiction anxiety rather than to relieve responsibility for the consequences of the illness, i.e. harm reduction rather than eradication. The points that follow will contain what this blueprint for living will look like.
d) Gaining control over triggers – Using CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), counsellors are capable of challenging the faulty belief systems around the addiction, such as the role of skill, the odds of winning, and the power to influence chance and control other gamblers and game settings by sheer willpower. In addition, counselling will also teach clients how to surf those imperial urges to use through learning mindfulness strategies. It’s about gaining control over the triggers rather than a better grasp of the game.
e) Living with feelings – Gambling has been used to numb important feelings such as anger, anxiety, fear, guilt, shame, sadness, and joy to name a few. Through counselling, clients learn how to identify these feelings and respond to them in more constructive ways.
f) Address health problems – There may be underlying physiological or psychological health issues that may be driving or are part of a co-morbid partnership with the gambling. Such issues may include mental disorders such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, and other addictions; such as sex, drugs, and food addiction issues not to mention alcoholism; alongside physical ailments such as obesity, malnutrition, and asthma. These health problems may have left the client in poor health. All of these presenting maladies need to be addressed by behavioral change, which can be implemented through various interventions meted out in counselling.
g) Address relationship issues – Broken families, failed marriages, lost friendships, and a myriad of codependent issues always follow active addictive behaviors. Some of these issues could be the cause and or result of the addiction. For instance, gambling may have resulted from an underlying unhappy home environment or that the divorce occurred as a result of the spouse being unable to live with a pathological gambler. Either way, learning to live in a functional relationship is necessary for healthy recovery and that usually gets addressed during a counselling session.
h) Prevent relapse – By learning how to live life on its own terms and to have the skill to live as a recovering pathological gambler, relapse can be prevented as the disease is owned. Counselling will equip the gambler with methods to avoid relapse by highlighting dangerous people, places, and things; which ought to be avoided in order to remain within a safe sphere of influence/ environment.
i) Find balance – Normality and a balanced life can be attained through counselling. The gambling has left the life of the gambler in shambles. It is about time that the recovering gambler attains the life he/she has always wished for, one of peace, contentment, and happiness.
Success can be measured in various ways:
• Reducing the intensity/frequency of gambling to minimize harm.
• Total abstinence from gambling – hard to achieve and many lapses may happen to solidify the commitment to long-term sobriety.
• Opening up the discussion of gambling as a viable topic if it is shrouded by shame/secrecy.
• Making a decision and disclosing that to a loved one rather than trying to solve problems in secrecy.
• Choosing to address recovery to gambling rather than adhering to the label of being a “loser” to gambling.
• For those with long-term recovery, success may be defined as working through the guilt over lost assets and opportunities, repairing relationships with loved ones, and healing their entire lifestyle to be one for life!
We at Solace Sabah administer to those with a gambling problem. We are a treatment center located in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, in Malaysian Borneo. Our treatment program is designed with a mixture of counselling, group therapies, as well as social reintegration. If you or your loved one is suffering from pathological gambling and are in need of treatment, we are here to help!
We have counsellors from all over the world with a myriad of addiction backgrounds, who are not only experts in their fields of specialty, but who can empathize at a personal level, the pain, frustration, and fear; you or your loved one is going through at this moment.
What you or your loved one needs the most is not a solution to the gambling, but a solution from gambling, and you can begin here, where we will teach you how to live for life!