Problem women gamblers have unique needs for recovery

Women who were identified as problem gamblers show more success in counselling sessions if the participants are working in same-sex groups, according to a recent University of Lethbridge study. The findings could help to change the way in which women problem gamblers receive treatment.

University of Lethbridge researchers Dr. Noella Piquette and Erika Norman, a recent master's graduate and community-based counsellor, published their findings in the Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery.

Piquette, a registered psychologist and associate professor in the Faculty of Education, says that the majority of research has focused on problem gambling in men, with scant attention paid to women's unique challenges as they recover.

Dr. Noella Piquette leads a discussion group. Her research indicates that women could benefit from same sex counselling treatment groups in their recovery from problem gambling.

"Female problem gamblers have been found to have many different attributes than those of male problem gamblers," says Piquette. "Research into the female gambler population has identified differing demographic characteristics, preference for specific types of gaming activities, differing emotional states related to gambling, and life experiences that led us to believe there are opportunities to develop unique gambling interventions for women, but none with any type of testable outcome."

Piquette says there are several challenges to helping female problem gamblers, not the least of which is their under-use of established treatment programs. As well, she wanted to further explore different types of therapeutic interventions to ensure counsellors are meeting the needs of diverse and vulnerable populations.

"In North America, males use programs such as Gamblers Anonymous at a much higher rate than do females, and often form a majority of the participants in gambling addiction treatment programs. Many programs designed to help individuals with a gambling addiction do not meet the unique needs of women. Female problem gamblers have specific concerns regarding the social stigma associated with gambling problems, the traditional male-oriented treatment model for addiction, as well as economic and child-care concerns surrounding treatment, among many other factors."

Piquette adds that in surveys that measure counsellors' interest in same sex programs, more than 80 per cent indicate they are desirable, but no more than 11 per cent actually report implementing them.

Piquette and Norman set about to test the theory that same sex gambling treatment groups could affect a change in how the women recovered by involving a group of women enrolled in a 12-week recovery program at an addictions treatment centre in Alberta. The participants were interviewed, participated in focus groups and kept journals to document their time in the program.

At the conclusion, Piquette says that several themes emerged, giving researchers insight into the effectiveness of the same sex program.

"We saw that the participants benefitted from relationships they built while in the program, and from the ability to learn more about addictive behaviours and how to manage them. As well, the way the program was facilitated was helpful to ensure success. All three elements seem to be required for effective treatment."

Piquette says the study participants themselves felt more connected to the recovery process as they developed relationships with their counterparts and ultimately felt more comfortable sharing their experiences.

"We were looking to the participants themselves to tell us what worked for them, and how they felt about receiving treatment in this way," she says. "People reported seeing themselves in the experiences of others, and also learned about some coping strategies they may not otherwise have received in a mixed-gender group. We want to further test this process, and are encouraging other researchers to do the same, because the more we learn, the better equipped we will be to help people recover."

A brief audio recording of Piquette discussing this research project can be found here: