Psychodynamic psychotherapy and the treatment of pathological gambling

Abstract

OBJECTIVE: The search for empirically based treatments for pathological gambling is in its infancy, with relatively few clinical trials and an absence of naturalistic studies. Treatment retention of gamblers has been a problem; cognitive-behavioral treatment and pharmacotherapy studies report especially high dropout rates. Psychodynamic approaches, with their emphasis on the therapeutic relationship, and the meaning of the patient's self-destructive and seemingly irrational behaviors, and on obstacles to self-forgiveness, might improve outcome. METHOD: After a description of psychodynamic psychotherapy, the literature on both short-term and longer therapies is reviewed regarding their efficacy for a variety of disorders. With regard to pathological gambling, the author summarizes the early (1914-1970) psychoanalytic literature then reviews the more recent psychodynamic psychotherapy literature on pathological gambling. RESULTS: A review of the recent psychodynamic psychotherapy literature on pathological gambling failed to disclose a single randomized controlled study of treatment efficacy or effectiveness. However, there are eight positive outcome studies described as multi-modal eclectic; half of those seem to utilize psychodynamic approaches. Two of the more successful programs are described. CONCLUSIONS:A review of the outcomes literature for psychodynamic psychotherapy demonstrates efficacy for a variety of disorders sufficient to justify a clinical trial for pathological gambling. Short-term psychodynamic psychotherapy, with its focus on core issues, may be particularly applicable to the pathological gambler's need to avoid or escape intolerable affects and problems. Longer therapies may be needed to modify an avoidant coping style and defenses.

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