Cognitive-behavior therapy for problem gambling: A critique of current treatments and proposed new unified approach

Abstract

Background: There is evidence supporting the use of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) in the treatment of problem gambling. Despite this, little is known about how CBT works and which particular approach is most effective. This paper aims to synthesize the evidence for current CBT and propose a more unified approach to treatment.

Methods: A literature review and narrative synthesis of the current research evidence of CBT for the treatment of problem gambling was conducted, focusing on the underlying mechanisms within the treatment approach.

Results: Several CBT approaches were critiqued. These can be divided into forms of exposure therapy (including aversion techniques, systematic desensitization and other behavioral experiments) those focusing on cognitive restructuring techniques (such as reinforcement of nongambling activity, use of diaries, motivational enhancement and audio-playback techniques and third wave techniques including mindfulness. Findings, in relation to the treatment actions, from this synthesis are reported.

Conclusions: The debate surrounding the treatment of problem gambling has been conducted as an either/or rather than a both/and discourse. This paper proposes a new, unified approach to the treatment of problem gambling that incorporates the best elements of both exposure and cognitive restructuring techniques, alongside the use of techniques borrowed from mindfulness and other CBT approaches.

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