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Getting Help


Information about Counselling for Gambling Problems

What is Counselling?

Counselling is a place to talk about what is happening in your life. It is safe and private, and you won't be judged. Problem gambling counsellors are specially trained to understand your difficulties. You decide with your counsellor how often you want help and what to talk about.

There is no shame in seeking help. It is the first step to regaining control of gambling and other problems.

In Ontario, counselling is free to anyone affected by problem gambling—not just the person who gambles. In most areas, an agency that offers specialized counselling for problem gambling is available close to home. In addition, telephone counselling and a self-help guide are also available. You may also benefit from credit and debt counselling services, family counselling and other resources. The Ontario Problem Gambling Helpline (1 888 230-3505) can link you to the support and resources you need. It is open 24 hours a day.

Some agencies offer evening and weekend appointments for face-to-face counselling. Counselling can be one-on-one, or with your partner or family. Group counselling may also be available.

Counselling is confidential, within legal limits. Your counsellor should explain these limits to you before counselling begins. He or she should also tell you what you can expect from counselling, and what will be expected of you.

How Can Counselling Help a Family Member?

When a member of your family has a gambling problem, it can be hard to find hope for the future. Counselling can help you see that things can change. It can also help you see your family’s strengths and the positive steps you may already be taking.

Counselling is a learning process. With new information, you can make good decisions. Counsellors can help you solve your main problems. This may include fixing your financial situation, healing family relations and restoring trust between you and your partner. Counselling can also:

  • help you understand the things that seem out of control
  • help you decide what actions to take
  • give practical information about dealing with money problems
  • link you to credit counselling, legal services and other resources
  • help you understand and reduce the triggers for your family member’s gambling
  • get information about services in your community
  • help you manage stress, anxiety and depression
  • help you see that you are not alone.

How Can Counselling Help the Person who Gambles?

People often ask if they will have to stop gambling to begin counselling. Only you can decide to quit gambling. Your counsellor should not pressure you to make changes before you are ready.

Gambling affects people and their families in different ways. Problem gambling counsellors give you information about gambling. They help you look at your options so you can decide what is right for you. This may include taking a break from gambling. Some people know right away what actions they want to take, and others aren’t sure. Either way, taking a break from gambling can help. Then you can think about how gambling affects you, and how to get back in control.

Counselling is a learning process. With new information, you can make good decisions. Counsellors can help you solve your main problems. This may include fixing your financial situation, healing family relations and restoring trust between you and your partner.

Counselling can also help you:

  • gain control over your gambling
  • put your finances in order
  • heal family relationships
  • deal with your urge to gamble
  • handle stress and other problems
  • get your life back in balance
  • find other things to do with your time
  • deal with other life problems
  • avoid slipping back.

Next we will talk more about some of these steps.

Gaining Control Over Your Gambling

Some people don’t want to stop gambling. They just want it to cause less harm. Other people know that they must stop gambling completely.

Counselling will help you reach your own goal. It will teach you to control gambling by identifying triggers (things that make you want to gamble). If you know the warning signs, you can take action. Gambling triggers may include:

  • having money (e.g., on payday)
  • feeling bored, restless, angry, depressed or lonely
  • money worries or rising debts
  • drinking or taking other drugs
  • reading the sports section and daily market figures in the newspaper
  • passing places to gamble
  • spending time with gambling friends
  • regular gambling times (e.g., Friday night bingo).

Putting Your Finances in Order

People with gambling problems often seek help after a crisis with money. Steps for taking control of your money may include:

  • seeing how much debt you have and planning how do deal with money problems, both urgent and long-term
  • getting financial and legal advice, such as credit counselling
  • setting a realistic budget
  • removing gambling triggers to protect your money.

If you are part of a family, you will need to work together on the family’s shared money problems.

Healing Family Relationships

It is important to win back trust from family members. This may feel impossible now. Not every relationship survives a gambling problem.

But with the help of a counsellor, you can work through concerns with family members at your own pace. Counsellors are skilled in:

  • helping restore trust
  • helping you learn how to communicate better
  • helping you learn forgiveness
  • helping to reduce guilt and raise self-esteem
  • finding ways to begin to improve your relationships
  • exploring ways to repair the financial and emotional damage gambling has caused
  • understanding what your family may be going through, and what you can expect as the whole family gets better.

Dealing with Gambling Urges

Counselling teaches people how to reduce their gambling urges and stay in control. You may already have some strategies. Counselling can help you learn others. There are three main ways.

1. Changing Your Behaviour

Changing your gambling behaviour is important, especially when you first start dealing with your problems, as this is often a time when gambling urges are especially strong. Changing your lifestyle can help, including:

  • making clear goals about your gambling
  • identifying your gambling triggers and planning for them (e.g., avoiding gambling venues and gambling friends, restricting your access to money)
  • finding activities to replace gambling (e.g., time with friends and family, pursuing old interests or trying new ones).

You may want to block your own access to casinos or to Internet gambling sites. In casinos, this is called self exclusion. Your counsellor can explain how self exclusion and/or Internet blocks can help you.

2. Changing How You Think about Gambling

People who gamble excessively have false beliefs about gambling. These beliefs cause problems. Many people think they are more skilled than they really are, or that their odds of winning are better than they really are. Other people believe they have special ways to increase their chances of winning.

Counselling helps you uncover these beliefs so you can make decisions based on accurate information. Understanding how gambling really works can be a big help in staying motivated to change.

3. Dealing with Your Feelings

Many people use gambling to avoid feelings of depression, anger or anxiety. Some use it to cope with abuse, sickness, loss or stress.

Through counselling, you can learn to recognize your feelings, and express them in a healthy way. This helps reduce the urge to gamble. It also helps you restore health, wellbeing and closeness with your family.

Getting your Life Back in Balance

Gambling problems are often about losing balance in your life. Counselling can help you and your family find a healthy balance, and find ways to replace gambling. Finding balance includes:

  • creating healthy routines (e.g., eating well, exercising and taking care of your physical and emotional health)
  • getting support from friends and feeling better about yourself
  • learning to manage your stress
  • learning to deal with gambling triggers like being bored and lonely.

Dealing with Other Problems and Finding Hope

Gambling may not be your only problem. People who gamble excessively often struggle with, for example, alcohol or other drug problems, impulsivity (acting without thinking) and mental health concerns. Counselling can help you with these problems and improve the overall quality of your life.

When you have a gambling problem, it can be hard to find hope for the future. Counselling can help you see that things can change. Counselling works best when the whole family pulls together and supports each other. This is why help is available to all members of the family.

Most people who have worked with a problem gambling counsellor say it helped them. They say that:

  • they feel better about themselves
  • they are physically and mentally healthier
  • their thinking is clearer
  • their family relationships are better
  • they feel in control of their lives—not controlled by their gambling
  • their debts are under control.

Avoiding Relapse

Sometimes when people have started to recover, they slip back into gambling again. There are many reasons for this. Slipping back, or relapse, happens to many people, and doesn’t mean you can’t or won't change. But it can make the work of change much harder, and threaten your progress. Your counsellor will help you look at how to avoid relapse, or how to learn from a relapse so it doesn’t happen again.

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