UKAT psychotherapist: “Human-to-human” connection required to help problem gamblers

By Iqbal Johal

Jason Shiers, certified psychotherapist and transformative coach at UK Addiction Treatment (UKAT), talks to Gambling Insider about the misconception of addiction, and the best way the gambling industry can help players.

There’s been a lot of money raised by the industry recently to try and deal with problem gambling. What are your views on these contributions from operators, do you think they’re having the desired effect?

People involved have good intentions I am sure, and while it looks like more money is the solution, then any amount can be thrown at it, but what we are currently doing is not effective. Although there is room for new ideas on how to make the biggest impact. The current psychological paradigm of change is failing to make a big impact on any form of struggle labelled in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), but also it is such a subjective subject with so many variables in the results that makes it difficult to measure clear impact.

It would be useful if operators had ways to invest their money into helping people struggling other than the current channels, a place to send people to, where they would see that the people suffering, who wanted help got the help they needed. There is certainly enough funding in the industry.

Pledging money into helping problem gambling charities will help with the treatment of cases, but what can be done to ensure players don’t have to get to that stage?

The operators are not responsible for causing addiction, it just doesn’t work this way, their responsibility falls with helping the people who use their platform that are struggling and supporting them by reducing harms. Reducing harms and helping addiction are two completely different things.

The industry is a medium through which people act out their addiction. They make money from it, so helping people who are beyond harm reduction, and want support would be great if it was effective and channelled in the right directions. If that medium of acting out their addiction wasn’t there, they would find another way.

How can operators improve the way they communicate with problem players?

Trying to get through to someone who is really struggling maybe difficult, unless you are understanding of the suffering they are going through, this is often why people in recovery can talk to people suffering much easier, because there is a sense of shared experience. That doesn’t happen so easily with professionals or people who are just calling because they have to do the right thing for the operator and it’s their job to do so. Not suggesting that operators should employ only people who had a problem for their responsible gambling teams, but it would help open the communication lines.

Another thing would be to constantly educate and re-educate the responsible gambling teams, like we are doing at UKAT, with workshops around understanding what is really going on with the end user. A lot of the information out there is still all focused around the symptom rather than the core problem. Have someone who actually cares about people, and making a difference in the world, who also has an ability for that human-to-human connection that is required.

Addiction is a complex subject, and goes deeper than just gambling, and as you’ve said before, is to do with being a coping mechanism for low state of mind. Would trying to get to the route of addiction, rather than the different industry you can become addicted in, be a more relevant area for the health authorities to explore?

It shows that the perception of addiction is purely focused on the symptom as being the actual problem. That is partly a misunderstanding of society and also a misunderstanding of psychology in their attempts to fix the ‘problem’ have perpetuated it even further with the idea that there is a real thing called ‘gambling addiction’.

There is money, and big pharmaceutical companies involved in mental health treatment, there are regularly new diagnoses made, and then with news, media, social impact on the ‘problem’ it becomes a thing, then focus is spent on solving the thing, when in fact yes, only the symptoms are different.  

It could be a complete red herring to be focused on the harm reduction, but it is playing with people’s lives to find out. If you take the example of Portugal in the fight against drug addiction, they lowered it significantly by decriminalising illicit drugs in 2001, and have since reported reductions in harms over the years.

If all addiction is the same, why does the gambling industry get such a big wrap compared to others, when it comes to problem gambling?

The big wrap comes from the fact that the industry, if you look at the big picture, while providing ‘entertainment’ it is merely a platform to act out a person’s escapism from life. You can see this with the highlights of the VIP schemes monetary value for companies in the APPG report. Money, news, social media, and the national press make it all worse. You could also argue that breweries, public houses, and off licenses should contribute to the rehabilitation of people who suffer with alcohol addiction if that was the case.

Gambling gets targeted more because there is money involved and a medium that facilitates people to indulge in their addiction. As the industry makes money by providing a medium for people to act out their addiction, it is also great that they provide help for anyone suffering.

Jason Shiers has been working with addictions and mental health for more than 20 years in evolving ways until finding and experiencing the three principles. Shiers has been teaching and sharing the three principles in his work with addictions since.

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