Therapy shown to reduce gambling harms

07 Jul, 2022
Therapy shown to reduce gambling harms
Associate Professor Maria Bellringer, Director of the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre.

The report, released today, indicates that cognitive behavioural therapy and motivational interviewing are both effective long-term.

“As well as reduced gambling behaviour, both treatments were associated with reduced negative effects on the participants’ professional life, social life, family life, and physical health, which were maintained after two years,” says principal researcher Associate Professor Maria Bellringer, Director of the AUT Gambling and Addictions Research Centre.

A randomised clinical trial – led by Auckland University of Technology (New Zealand) in collaboration with researchers at Flinders University (Australia) and the University of Calgary (Canada) – was conducted as part of ‘real life’ gambling treatment services offered by The Salvation Army Oasis throughout New Zealand.

People who contacted The Salvation Army Oasis for gambling help were recruited for the clinical trial. The 227 participants were assessed on four separate occasions – before they received gambling treatment, at the end of treatment, after one year and two years.

Very few clinical trials on gambling treatments have followed participants longer than 12 months. This research is important in understanding whether the effects of these treatments are maintained over time.

Further research to understand the characteristics of people who seek and benefit from these gambling interventions is an important next step.

The Salvation Army Oasis National Operations Manager, Lisa Campbell says: “We were happy to participate in this robust research to evaluate the effectiveness of our two main treatment approaches.”

Researchers investigated the effectiveness of two gambling interventions within a service setting:

  1. Combined low-intensity Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) plus Cue Exposure Therapy (CET), conducted face-to-face.
  2. Motivational Interviewing (MI) in a single face-to-face session, with follow-up phone sessions and a self-help workbook.

A text-messaging ‘gambling relapse prevention’ intervention was given to half of the participants, who received either CBT or MI, but did not provide any additional benefits.

“Although mental health and quality of life improved, neither treatment changed co-existing substance abuse,” says Bellringer.

“Holistic treatments dealing with substance use in conjunction with gambling-related issues may be important, as substance use is highly associated with gambling problems.”

While a significant proportion of people will terminate gambling treatment before it is completed, noticeably fewer people dropped out of the motivational interviewing intervention.

“Having an intervention where most sessions are provided by phone is unusual in a face-to-face gambling treatment service but may be beneficial for people with transport or childcare issues who find it difficult to access physical services,” says Bellringer.

The Salvation Army Oasis’ remote delivery methods like phone and online sessions have been beneficial during the COVID-19 pandemic when clients were unable to seek in-person support.

“This research concludes that our counselling reduces gambling harm in the long-term and supports improved whānau relationships. We encourage people impacted by gambling harm to seek the support available,” says Campbell.

  • Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is a talk therapy that can help people manage problems by changing the way they think and behave.
  • Cue Exposure Therapy (CET) is a form of CBT where people are exposed to relevant cues or stimuli in an effort to extinguish conditioned responses.
  • Motivational Interviewing (MI) is a collaborative conversational approach designed to help someone move from feeling ambivalent about changing a particular behaviour, to feeling that they need to change the behaviour, to believing that they can change the behaviour.