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What to expect when seeing a counsellor

By: Dr Anastasia Hronis (clinical psychologist)

If you’ve been contemplating going to see a counsellor to get help for your gambling, then this article is for you. The process of going to see a counsellor can be quite daunting, so let’s talk about what therapy involves and how it can help.

Having a conversation with your doctor/GP can be a useful first step to navigate the process of getting a referral to a mental health clinician. There are many different types of professionals that may be able to assist you – counsellors, psychologists, psychiatrists, financial counsellors etc. Your doctor will be able to recommend what sort of professional would be best to help you, and can provide a referral.

Your first couple of sessions with a counsellor are usually “get to know you” sessions. The counsellor will ask you a number of questions to understand not only your current situation, but also your past. The counsellor will likely ask you about more than just your gambling patterns. They will also want to know about your relationships, work, day-to-day life, general stressors, other potentially addictive patterns, and more. They will also ask about your general mood and mental health, and whether you may be experiencing symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, trauma or other conditions. This is all what we as therapists refer to as an “assessment”.

Following on from this, you and your counsellor will work together on setting some goals and coming up with a plan. You and your counsellor may discuss whether it is better for you to take an abstinence approach to your gambling, or to work on reducing your gambling.

Depending on your needs, counselling can cover the following:

  • Understanding why you may have developed difficulties with gambling
  • Understanding what your triggers are to gamble
  • Understanding what might be getting in the way of you stopping or reducing gambling
  • Learning skills and strategies to manage the urge to gamble
  • Learning skills and strategies to manage general mental health, and improving overall social and emotional wellbeing
  • Identifying and modifying negative or unhelpful patterns of thinking
  • Building healthy ways to manage feelings of stress, anxiety, low mood and loneliness
  • Processing past traumas
  • Building a support network
  • Developing healthy relationships with people in your life
  • Providing recommendations for programs, apps, websites, self-help resources that can assist you in managing your gambling urges

If you don’t feel like the first counsellor you see is the right first for you, don’t be disheartened. For many people, it takes a few sessions with different counsellors before finding someone that they feel comfortable with. Gambling counselling can often be about much more than gambling itself, and therapy can help you to build a life that feels meaningful, satisfying and fulfilling.

For more support on this topic or any gambling issue you might want to talk about, call Gambler’s Help 1800 858 858.

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