Research Targets Women Gamblers: All-female groups work better for treatment

Story courtesy of Caroline Zentner, Lethbridge Herald

New research from the University of Lethbridge suggests women with gambling problems may do better when they receive treatment in all-women groups.

Noella Piquette, a registered psychologist and education professor, and Erika Norman, a recent master’s graduate and counsellor, wanted to study women’s challenges as they recover from problem gambling.

“Traditionally the experience of gambling has been almost 100 per cent looking at the male problem gambler so it’s important to gain the voice of females,” Piquette said.

The researchers wanted to better understand women’s progression from social gambling to problem gambling. Only a small portion of people go on to become problem gamblers but women often progress more quickly into problem gambling. They also wanted to learn more about the ways women sought treatment and their experiences with treatment.

“We need to find out what is effective for women therapeutically,” Piquette said. “We still sit very much in a male model for most therapeutic interventions and a medical model, at that.”

Women who see a counsellor about a gambling problem are often directed to various other treatments such as seeing a financial counsellor, marital counsellor or for depression.

“These are problems that have arisen outside of gambling but the gambling issue really is not addressed,” she said.

Participants in the study were women in a treatment group run by a Calgary-based addiction agency. The findings show women seeking treatment in mixed-gender groups had better success when they were treated in all-women groups. Women participants found their role responsibilities and unique stresses were more taken into account in all female groups. Women often have children to care for and households to manage that can make getting treatment more difficult.

In a therapeutic setting women want to create a sense of community where they can share what’s happening in their lives over a cup of coffee before they start sharing their innermost secrets. Feeling connected and accepted within the group was key for women who participated in the study.

“There were quite a few women who made mention that in mixed-gender groups they felt that the type of gambling they did was not accepted,” she said.

Men tend to gamble with strategic games such as poker while women tend to gravitate toward games of luck like bingo or VLTs, something men often said wasn’t real gambling.

“They’re almost in a competitive gamble lock,” she said.

The results point to the need for gender-specific treatment groups in addition to mixed-gender groups.

“The problem is that we need funding to be able to run these different small groups and we need funding to train therapists about unique needs of each gender,” Piquette said.

She advises women to pay particular attention to the connection between stresses in their life roles and gambling.

The results have been published in the Journal of Groups in Addiction and Recovery.

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