Therapies — 02 October 2014

An average of four to five sessions of psychological treatment for problem gamblers can improve gambling severity along with levels of depression and anxiety, according to new research.

Dr Jemima Petch, head of research at Relationships Australia, researched the effects of a diverse range of psychological treatments on 60 clients seeking assistance for gambling over a six-month period.

The Brisbane psychologist assessed participants for gambling severity, unhelpful beliefs around gambling, psychological distress, loneliness, alcohol problems, along with work, social and relationship issues.

Her study found 55 per cent experienced clinically meaningful improvement in their gambling behaviour, severe depression dropped from 36 per cent to 14 per cent while severe anxiety declined from 25 per cent to 13 per cent.

Dr Petch also found clients’ severely impaired work and social functioning dropped from 59 per cent to 43 per cent, while the number of clients classified as problem gamblers dropped from 95 per cent to 40 per cent at six months.

She said the study found little improvement in stress, with 30 per cent of clients self-reporting severe stress, as well as no significant improvement in relationship distress, self-reported at 62 per cent, and drug and alcohol problems.

Dr Petch, who is presenting her research at the 49th Australian Psychological Society’s annual conference this week, said the results were a surprise.jackpot-281423

“It did surprise me because in our clinical psychology training we get taught a lot about evidence-based treatments for particular psychological disorders and cognitive behaviour therapy is consistently seen as the first treatment option,” she said.

“Typically that treatment ranges from, the shortest I’ve seen it run for gambling is six hours, but more of them are 18 to 24 hours of intervention.

“I knew that our mean session attendance was a lot lower than that so I was really curious to see how our service would compare to cognitive behaviour therapy types of interventions which are typically a lot longer.

“In an organisation such as our own, the not-for-profit sector, we tend to use an eclectic mix of interventions but even they are showing that they work – so there’s something about seeking treatment, being engaged with a professional that I think produces positive effects not just the treatment itself.”

Dr Petch said her study found engaging problem gamblers immediately in treatment is also vital, with between 10 to 20 per cent of problem gamblers initially failing to attend booked sessions or attending just one session of treatment with the service.

As a result, Relationships Australia is now using therapists to provide on-the-spot motivational gambling therapy sessions for callers to its Gambling Help Service.

“We had experienced telephone counsellors take each and every call from problem gamblers and offer to do an intervention on the phone with them then and there, and then to book them into face to face counselling if they wanted to continue, so already they were engaged in the service before they had to come to the building,” she said.

“We found that early drop-out rate or not turning up rate has dropped by a third so it’s definitely making a difference to try to engage with them and give them access to some help immediately.”

The APS annual conference, ‘Psychology meeting society’s challenges’, features psychologists speaking on suicide, climate change, domestic violence, eating disorders, positive psychology and anti-doping in sport.

This article first appeared on ‘Nursing Careers Allied Health’ on 30 September 2014.

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