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Centacare helps problem gamblers to work through crisis

Responsible Gambling Week - 17 to 23 May
Centacare counsellor William Vogels and senior manager Ann O’Brien. Photo: Virginia Knight
By Virginia Knight

Responsible Gambling Week runs from 17 to 23 May. It aims to increase awareness through education about the risks associated with excessive gambling and its impact on the lives of those involved.

It seeks to assist family and friends of a gambler to identify the problem, understand the motivations, and provide avenues to get help.

Centacare Catholic Social Services in the Diocese of Parramatta offers counselling for gamblers, their families and friends to help them to deal with the impact of excessive gambling.

Through individual and family sessions a counsellor will discuss issues such as the breakdown of the marriage relationship through loss of trust and intimacy, the impact on children, and offer help to people trying to coping with the shock of being in financial difficulty.

Centacare also provides financial counselling assistance to help people deal with the fallout from a gambling addiction, including loss of home, job or even bankruptcy.

Management strategies are put in place through negotiation with financial institutions and creditors. In addition to Centacare’s counselling services there are many resources available to the families of gamblers, including a 24-hour hotline, website, print material and DVDs.

Centacare senior manager Ann O’Brien said problem gambling was well hidden, more so than many other addictions.

“Those around the gambler may be completely unaware until something catastrophic happens,” she said.

“While insolvency is often the first indicator, in some cases the gambler may be brought to the brink of suicide through being overcome by the hopelessness of what they perceive to be the situation.

“They don’t know how to get out of the mess or how to tell their partner. They need counselling to help them through the distress and the drama. We help couples to work through the stress and repair their relationship.”

Centacare counsellor William Vogels has assisted many problem gamblers and their families to work through the crisis and get back on track.

While he has worked on cases with financial deficits ranging from $10,000 to as much as $7 million frauds, he said it was not the depth of the financial hole that was the only indicator of the level of addiction. It is often the family member closest to the gambler who seeks help.

They may have been worried about unexplained absences, mood swings or missing money and be completely unaware that their partner has a gambling problem.

What leads a person to seek counselling may be the panic that sets in when they receive a foreclosure notice from the bank. William describes a case where the wife waved the husband off to work every morning unaware that he had lost his job several months before. Others worry that the secretiveness or long absences of their partner may be attributed to an extramarital affair.

Once the partner becomes aware that gambling is the cause of the problem there are a number of issues that affect all involved:

  • Shock at the amount of money involved and the depth of the financial hole and impending asset loss;
  • The loss of social interaction through embarrassment, not wanting to face family or friends, and seeking seclusion to protect themselves from inevitable reactions; and
  • The breakdown and loss of relationship, which can be destroyed through violation of trust and a lack of feeling safe. The partner often feels they cannot confidently share anything with someone who has acted so irresponsibly.

William describes the case of Frances and Tony (not their real names) from the Hills district who have three children aged from primary to early teen.

Tony was a prominent member of the community with a responsible job. When his gambling debts came to light the depth of his addiction plunged all around him into shock.

In addition to his credit card debt, he had been borrowing vast sums from his parents, ostensibly to fund an overseas holiday. Faced with insolvency and, ultimately, bankruptcy he wanted to run away from the relationship, the crushing awareness of his actions led to him shutting out family and friends.

It was Frances who sought help from Centacare. The family unit was breaking down and she faced not only the loss of her relationship but her lifestyle and had no idea how to cope.

William described the impact on her, Tony’s parents and their children and asked Frances what she wanted to happen. Frances received her own attention and counselling support, as William stressed it was also important to work through the needs of the individuals and not just focus on them as a couple.

While one person must accept responsibility for what has happened, together they must ‘fix’ the situation and achieve healing on both sides.

In joint sessions he teaches couples how to focus on the positive rather than the negative, communicate differently, and look at how they can fill their own individual needs within the parameters of a partnership.

Through counselling and self examination William helped Tony to identify the reasons that may have led to his gambling addiction. Tony suffered from a lack of self confidence and struggled to believe he was a good person.

He admitted that he had always felt challenged as a father and saw this as one of the factors that had led him to seek escapism through gambling.

By helping him to accept that parenting skills are developed over time and not necessarily immediately present, he became more comfortable with his role as a father. After 10 weeks Tony moved back into the family home.

William will see the couple again in six months to assess if the goals they have set are still achievable. “Things can happen if you put in enough effort and have the support of your partner,” he said. “Tony and Frances have faced some really personal issues and there has been a positive outcome.”

« Return to Catholic Outlook May 2010

He who sent me is with me.John 8:21-30

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