Getting Help With Gambling Addiction - Therapy

Are you looking for information regarding finding help with gambling addiction for a loved one?  If you haven't already visited the Help for Gambling Addiction intro page where I talk about Gamblers Anonymous, please feel free to read that first.  In my non-professional experience and mind, I truly believe that GA (Gamblers Anonymous) is not a full solution to recovery.  I believe that GA can be tremendously valuable in helping problem gamblers enter abstinence, however, I honestly believe that truly entering a path to recovery requires a multi-faceted approach, which includes the following:


Here I classify therapy as individual, one-on-one sessions with a professional therapist.  Why is therapy a potentially important element in the recovery process related to getting help with gambling addiction?  Again, this is my non-expert opinion, however, from my experience, and research, I believe that gambling is actually not the problem.  Gambling is a symptom of another underlying problem(s) in the same way that bleeding is not an injured person's problem.  Bleeding results from an underlying wound, a cut, a bleeding organ, tissue damage, etc.  Stopping the bleeding does not heal the underlying damaged organ in this analogy.

A skilled therapist should be able to dig more deeply into the gambler's mental health, history, and experiences to address what's truly the source(s) of pain.  There are no doubt many many different underlying reasons why someone might be drawn to gambling (and become a problem gambler); here are some examples to help you understand what experts have articulated as possible causes:
  • Childhood trauma such as:
    • physical abuse
    • emotional abuse
    • psychological abuse
    • neglect
  • PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) from a trauma that occurred at some point in one's life
  • Personality disorder
  • Etc...
Apparently it's extremely rare to find a compulsive gambler who has not experienced some type of ailment or trauma in their lives.  Some of you may be thinking that this excuses the gambling behavior.  I don't believe these findings are meant to excuse such behavior, but rather simply to help explain what emotional or psychological experiences might drive someone to find escape, control, or otherwise some type of pleasure from gambling.  More on this topic later.

A Word of Caution About Therapists

If your gambler agrees to see a therapist, it's highly worthwhile for them to interview a number of them before selecting one to see regularly in getting help with gambling addiction impacting their life.  I'm told by therapists that it's not unreasonable to request even just 15 to 20 minutes to meet with them at no cost.  Even if they're covered by insurance, they shouldn't have to pay the co-pay fee for the initial interview.  Consider that if your gambler selects them as a therapist, they will either be billing a fair amount of money over the coming months/years to insurance, or be paid directly.  In other words, they should be willing to meet with prospective patients for an initial free interview.

Why interview therapists?  Many therapist have experience with addictions, however, they often don't have direct experience providing help with gambling addiction.  They simply bundle gambling along with everything else with the rationale that all addictions are the same.  While there are certainly many similarities amongst addictions, gambling is considered to be unique enough that it can't simply be lumped together with other addictions.  Also, even a therapist with direct and extensive experience treating problem gamblers, may not be a good fit.  A therapist that I saw described this as "the therapeutic alliance".

Think about a regular relationship.  You may meet someone who is attractive, smart, funny, and meets all of your criteria on paper, however, when you meet them and spend time with them, there's just something about the rapport, or chemistry, that just doesn't feel comfortable or right.  The relationship with a therapist is equally important to find a good fit, or therapeutic alliance.  Even though it may be time consuming and a pain to go through an interview process, in the long run, it could mean the world of difference between recovery and relapse.  Needless to say (but I will say so anyway!), getting help with gambling addiction is not an easy process, and requires time, patience, and perseverance.

Also consider a related question about when is a good time to start therapy on the What Is Early Intervention page.

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