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What is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and how can it help you with your gambling?
By: Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)
One common concern expressed by people seeking help for gambling, is their uncertainty about what therapy actually involves and how it might help.
Several different types of therapies can be beneficial for overcoming gambling difficulties, with one of the most common and evidence-based therapies being Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, or CBT for short. In this article, we delve into explaining what Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is and how it can assist you in dealing with your gambling struggles.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is an extensively researched therapy that has proven effective for individuals dealing with a range of mental health challenges, including depression, anxiety, anger, addictions, and more. It is a therapeutic approach that centres around changing problematic and unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is based on the framework outlined in the image below. It shows that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours are interconnected and influence one another. We have thousands of thoughts daily, but we often fail to consider whether these thoughts are true or helpful to us. We don't always actively assess whether our thoughts are conducive to achieving our life goals or whether they might be counterproductive.
CBT helps people by fostering awareness of their thought processes. A therapist assists a person in recognizing any untrue or unhelpful thinking patterns they may possess. This is something all of us experience at times. We sometimes engage in catastrophic thinking, personalise situations that aren't related to us, assume we understand the motives behind other people's actions when we really don't, or believe we can predict outcomes when they are beyond our control. These are various forms of unhelpful thinking patterns we may fall into. CBT helps us bring these patterns to light and challenges us to evaluate their truthfulness or falsehood by seeking factual evidence.
The ability to identify and challenge our thoughts is a crucial skill in CBT. Let me provide you with an example related to gambling. A person playing a poker machine may start thinking, "I haven't won in a while, I am due for a win." This is an untrue thought based on the fact that each spin is random and unrelated to the one before or after it. This thought tricks our minds into thinking we can predict a win when we cannot.
Alternatively, someone might think, "I'm such a failure because I gambled and lost money today when I said I wouldn't." This is an unhelpful statement that needs to be challenged and replaced with a more realistic and reasonable thought like, "I am disappointed that I gambled today when I didn't want to, but I am committed to my gambling recovery program and can maintain self-compassion while still sticking to my decision not to gamble this week." This process of challenging and changing thoughts is known as cognitive restructuring.
In the CBT model, we also examine how these thought patterns can influence our emotions and subsequent actions. The thought "I'm due for a win" is likely to make someone feel excited, leading to the behaviour of continuing to gamble. The thought "I'm a failure" is likely to result in feelings of sadness or hopelessness, which may cause withdrawal from important life activities, further reinforcing the sense of failure and perpetuating a cycle. Understanding not only how our thoughts function, but also how these patterns are perpetuated, helps us bring about emotional shifts and behavioural changes.
Whilst CBT can be highly effective for some individuals with gambling concerns, there are other types of therapies, such as Dialectical Behavioural Therapy or Schema Therapy, that can also be beneficial.
If you are struggling with gambling, it's important to know that help is available. For more support on this topic or any gambling issue, call Gambler’s Help on 1800 858 858 or visit our Find Support page for more options.
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