Stages of Change

Gwen was referred by a social worker to our centre for counselling service due to her anxiety and depressive mood. She was not the one with gambling disorder, but her husband whom she had been married for 3 years. He had gambled over his limit for three times and accumulated debts, which stressed Gwen a lot. What upset Gwen the most was her ignorance of his debts. Concerning his debts in the past, he stated calmly, “she was just too nervous and over reactive. As long as I could find financial companies to reallocate my debts, difficulties will be resolved. I merely go to Macau to earn some family expenses.” Blaming wife’s anxiety and minimizing his gambling severity and rationalizing his gambling behaviour, was his perception of his situation. This was how he understood his difficulties upfront. At husband’s “pre-contemplation stage”, he hadn’t yet seen his needs to change and reasoned for his gambling behaviour.

From Prochaska’s understanding of “Stages of Change”, when the difficulties resulted from gambling disorder extend continuously, gamblers are forced to move to the next stage to face his/her problem. When Ken’s marriage was in danger and his friends lost trusts in him, he entered the stage of contemplation. Debts from gambling and disturbance of creditors made his family isolate him. “I must stop! I can’t hurt my family anymore!” Ken started reminding himself. Ken was not awakened all of a sudden. He had been annoyed by his gambling disorder for a few years. Yet he couldn’t stop regardless of win or loss, which was experienced universally among all pathological gamblers. Being unable to stop was a critical cause of heavy debts. Ken should reconsider his ways to manage debts and correct his understanding of gambling to solve his long term problems. Although Ken wasn’t inspired at a spark, he was willing to change his gambling problem step by step and put his plan into action. I asked Ken, “Can you endure for a period of time?” Ken replied with determination, “I can’t repeat my mistake again and again.”

Clinical experience teaches me that cessation of gambling is the key to solve gambling disorder. For Mark, it was a new page of life that prevented him from falling into the risk again. This is a process of rebuilding life. Changing one’s interests takes time. Regaining trusts from family and friends and repairing broken relationships require patience and acceptance.

Clinical experience further tells me that addiction in gambling can be changed. Mark had refrained from gambling for four months already and his relationship with family was improved. Mark said frankly, “I still want to gamble again for financial reason.” While readjusting to a new life, there must be moments of feeling lost. To walk through each stage and complete the race, determination is a vital element. No one can coerce you to bet, but you are the one to walk away.