Screenshot of a pokie machine from the online program

Free at-home gambling pilot treatment launches

23 October 2020
Training the brain to prevent gambling urges

An online gambling pilot program launched today by the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic incorporates effective treatments used in the clinic, for people at home who have started to notice they have a problem.

Initially delayed because of COVID-19, an at-home online pilot gambling treatment that incorporates effective in-clinic treatments is being launched today, during GambleAware Week.

The free pilot, which is available to anyone in NSW is being run by the University of Sydney’s Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic (GTRC) at the Brain and Mind Centre. This program is supported by the Office of Responsible Gambling and funded by the NSW Responsible Gambling Fund.

The GTRC’s senior clinical supervisor, Dr Christopher Hunt, said people interested in participating in the pilot should get in touch and that in-person support was also available for people with complex problems.

It is expected that the program, aimed at people who are just starting to notice they have a gambling problem, will launch as an official trial next year.

“The pandemic has had a range of impacts on people’s mental health, and the area of problem gambling has not been immune,” said Dr Hunt, from the School of Psychology in the Faculty of Science.

“COVID-19 has highlighted that psychologists need to change the way we think about problem gambling and update the way we work to deliver our services.”

The GTRC will evaluate the effectiveness of the online self-directed treatment option, compared to receiving face-to-face treatment.

The self-directed program, which was developed by GTRC deputy director, Dr Fadi Anjoul, based on the treatment for problem gambling that he developed, rejects the historical understanding of gambling as a ‘brain disease’. Instead, it focuses on helping individuals become aware of unnoticed patterns-of-thought, and then explains how reducing desire to gamble in the future is something that can be trained.

Dr Anjoul says: “Traditional treatment approaches focus on managing uncontrollable urges, but there is no need for anyone to struggle with managing an urge to gamble if they understand how to prevent it from occurring.

“We will of course continue to offer our more intense, face-to-face treatment options for those with more complex needs.”

Dr Hunt adds: “GambleAware Week is really the perfect time to launch this new treatment option, as that is what we want – for people to become more aware of why they gamble, and what they can do to change their gambling habits."

Screenshot from the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic online program.

Above and top of page: screenshots from the Gambling Treatment and Research Clinic online program. 

About the online program

Those who want help are screened via a quick initial conversation with a psychologist. If they meet certain criteria regarding their gambling and their mental health status, they would then be given access to the program, which they could work through any time and any place that is convenient for them. This would be accompanied by regular phone calls with a psychologist to offer support and check on their progress.

The program consists of five sections, containing a series of videos, demonstrations, and quizzes. They include simulations of gambling sessions, an estimate of a person’s lifetime gambling losses, and myth-dispelling; for example, about how outcomes are programmed into the machine.

The program is designed to be completed over four to six weeks, taking approximately one hour a week. The program is free and open to NSW residents until the end of 2021.

For more information, and to express interest in participating in the program, people can contact the clinic on 1800 482 482, or email Dr Christopher Hunt.

Vivienne Reiner

Media and PR Adviser (Science & Health)
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There is no need to struggle with managing an urge to gamble if we understand how to prevent it from occurring.
Dr Fadi Anjoul

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