Gamblers' thoughts have a fundamental influence on their gambling problem. Cognitive restructuring is the intervention of choice to correct those thoughts. However, certain difficulties are noted in the application of cognitive restructuring techniques and the comprehension of their guidelines. Furthermore, the increase of skill game players (e.g. poker) entering treatment creates a challenge for therapists, as these gamblers present with different thoughts than those of the gamblers usually encountered in treatment (e.g. chance-only games like electronic gambling machines).
This systematic review aims to describe how cognitive restructuring is carried out with gamblers based on the evidence available in empirical studies that include cognitive interventions for gambling. Of the 2607 studies collected, 39 were retained.
The results highlight exposure as the most frequently used technique to facilitate identification of gambling-related thoughts (imaginal = 28.2%; in vivo = 10.3%). More than half of the studies (69.2%) clearly reported therapeutic techniques aimed to correct gamblers' thoughts, of which 37% involved visual support to challenge those thoughts (e.g. ABC log). Of the 39 studies retained, 48.7% included skill game players (i.e., poker, blackjack, sports betting) in their sample.
However, none of these studies mentioned whether cognitive restructuring had been adapted for these gamblers. Several terms referring to gamblers' thoughts were used interchangeably (e.g. erroneous, dysfunctional or inadequate thoughts), although each of these terms could refer to specific content. Clinical implications of the results are discussed with regard to the needs of therapists. This review also suggests recommendations for future research.