I had a client today for gambling addiction. She told me that she binges on the slot machines, and has done for years.
She described a pattern of behaviour in which about once a week she just could not resist going to the slot machines (called pokey machines in this country) and spending hours on it. Once she has started she feels unable to stop. When she runs out of money she would just go and get some more. She has spent up to $2000 in one night.
She has no interest in horseracing or any other kind of gambling. At other times she has actually no interest in it, and feels no pull towards it. It's just that something happens and she has to go and use the pokey machines.
Is gambling addiction the wrong diagnosis?
This sounded exactly to me like a black and white thinking. I got her to look at the symptoms of dysthymia, laid out in a grid that I use. She looked at it and said "I am all over this. Just about everything listed here applies to me. "
I explained that she was self-medicating by going to the pokies. Every time she felt overwhelmed by all the other things in her life she went to the pokies. The noise, the lights, the music, the focus attention – all of this took her away from her problems. It made her forget all about her issues. She agreed that that was exactly what she was doing.
We spent the rest of the session talking about dysthymia. She seemed very open to it, and very relieved to finally find an answer. She said that she had been to another hypnotherapist. After a few sessions she sensed that that other therapist was getting annoyed with her because she could not find anything in childhood which explained her gambling addiction.
After she had gone, I thought about the foolishness of that other therapist continuing to press for a reason when there is no reason. There is the famous quote that "to the man who has only a hammer, everything looks like a nail." I think that it is a problem for hypnotherapists who think that everything must be dealt with by hypnosis. There are many things that we are presented with, that do not come from childhood and cannot be reached by regression. I believe that in many cases what is called "gambling addiction" in fact is a part of a wider depressive illness. With this client I'm going to deal with the causes of the depressive thinking, and deal with the gambling problem that way.
In our next session I'm going to teach her self hypnosis so that she can learn to cope with her anxieties. Then I will teach her some thinking exercises so that she can learn to deal with the destructive thoughts. And finally I will show her how to deal with the childhood issues she came from the fact that her mother also had black and white thinking and took it out on the children.