NCRG Conference on Gambling and Addiction

Monday, November 13, 2006

Coverage of Morning Plenary Sessions: Helplines, Natural Recovery

Making the Call: How Can Helplines be More Helpful?

Christine Reilly, executive director of the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders, kicked off this morning opening plenary session, Making the Call: How Can Helplines be More Helpful?, with a quick overview of the helplines that currently exist in the U.S., including what they cover, what kind of services they offer and how they offer those services.

Peter Bensinger, president & CEO of Bensinger, DuPont & Associates, a company that operates a number of helplines throughout the country, and J. Michael Ryan, executive director of the Missouri Gaming Association, whose organization funds the Missouri problem gambling helpline, followed Reilly's overview with specific examples from the helplines they're involved with.

According to Bensinger, the most important factor in the success of a helpline is making sure it's not a secret. In addition to ensuring a high level of availability and awareness (through publicizing it in a variety of ways), the helpline's services have to be able to accommodate both a large number of callers and callers who speak a variety of languages with live counselors, Bensinger says. He also strongly encourages referring callers to Gamblers Anonymous (GA), as data collected by his company indicates attendance at GA meetings was a common factor among callers who stopped gambling.

To be truly effective, Bensinger believes helplines need to provide immediate, live response (no answering machines); a deep staff of qualified, masters degree level counselors so that no one is put on hold; the ability to handle calls in multiple languages; accurate, in-depth data collection and reporting; extensive knowledge of available treatment resources near the caller; a solid relationship with the local GA chapters; familiarity with state and federal legislative and executive processes so the helpline can better understand and encourage government funding; briefings to the gaming board, industry and the public; the ability to conduct training and research, including providing information to researchers; and, financial stability and credibility.

Ryan echoed Bensinger's emphasis on the importance of a well- and diversely-publicized helpline, citing statistics from the Missouri helpline in which 67 percent of callers found the helpline number on their players cards, a wallet-sized card required by the state of Missouri for patrons to enter a casino gaming facility. Ryan also pointed out that the helpline is the gateway to other programs run by the Missouri Alliance to Curb Problem Gambling, a partnership of state and private agencies that includes the Missouri Gaming Commission.

All the panelists acknowledged there is a lack of research on how effective helplines are, in part, perhaps, because there are no national standards for helplines and the goals of some helplines are different, with certain helpline focusing on providing information and other going a step further and providing treatment.

"If all we're doing when people call is telling them where the GA meeting is or referring them to a care provider, we're missing an important opportunity to help," Bensinger said.

Additionally, all agreed that facilitating and promoting more research on helpline outcomes will be important to defining future improvements helplines can make to ensure their effectiveness.

Getting Well on Your Own: New Research on Natural Recovery Among Disordered Gamblers

Immediately following the opening plenary, Dr. Wendy Slutske, associate professor of psychology at the University of Missouri-Columbia, shared with a diverse audience her research on natural recovery among pathological gamblers. As reported in the pre-conference post on this session, Slutske found that approximately one third of pathological gamblers recover without seeking or accepting formal treatment. Slutske further clarified her definition of natural recovery by explaining that the pathological gamblers she characterized as experiencing natural recovery may have calsubstantialbstantialbstansial support from family and friends, but they didn't attend GA meetings or meet with a mental health or counseling professional about their problems

Among the most interesting outcomes of Slutske's research is that that pathological gambling does not always follow the chronic and persisting course the disorder is assigned under the DSM IV, the "diagnostic bible" for psychiatric disorders.

Slutske laid out five insights about natural recovery for the audience: first, that reducing gambling may not always be a deliberate choice; the fact that someone recognizes he or she has a gambling problem is not the same as that person having a clinically diagnosable pathological gambling disorder; recovery does not require abstinence; intentional natural recovery involves many of the same strategies used in formal treatments; and lastly, that there are individual differences that can determine who can achieve natural recovery, but there isn't yet enough data to know what makes someone a good candidate.

Slutske also offered some ways natural recovery can be incorporated or addressed in practical applications. She said that just being told that there are people who do get better can help people currently struggling with disordered gambling. She also encouraged the use of treatment strategies that promote moderate solution, for example controlled gambling outcomes and exclusion programs that last for perhaps a one year period rather than a blanket, lifetime exclusion.

These moderate solutions are particularly important for people who don't identify with the stereotyped picture of a problem gambler. Slutske stressed it is important that counselor and helplines don't just offer referrals, but that they also promote self-recovery. She also encouraged stakeholders to create a different public picture of problem gamblers, not the dark pictures currently promoted, to help raise public awareness and help people with gambling problems to be more comfortable in identifying with and recognizing themselves as problem gamblers.

Please visit the Institute for Research on Pathological Gambling and Related Disorders' NCRG Conference Resource Page for Slutske's full study and articles on her research from The WAGER. Enter the case sensitive password: institute when prompted. You can also read the Responsible Gaming Quarterly article on Slutske’s research by clicking on the linked publication title.


Post a Comment

<< Home