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Can Hypnosis Help Treat Gambling Problems?

Gambling problems can undoubtedly be crippling; often taking a financial and relational toll on those affected. If you or someone you know has developed a gambling problem, 800-GAMBLER understands how little self-control is felt. At times, it can feel like there’s no way out, aside from self-rationalizing or white-knuckling gambling abstinence. However, willpower may prove unfruitful as it begins to loosen its grip hours, days, or months down the road. However, there exists an alternative method to treat problem gambling — a way that may not immediately come to mind when you’re thinking of practical ways to dig yourself out of compromising activity: Hypnosis.

While hypnosis has a distinct association with entertainment and performance art, its practice has brought measurable results to a host of recovery efforts for weight management, anxiety, sexual dysfunction, tobacco addiction, insomnia, and even problem gambling. Hypnosis — its application sometimes referred to as hypnotherapy — is a trance-like state in which the hypnotized individual has heightened focus and concentration. It is usually done with the help of a therapist’s verbal repetition and prompting of mental images, although self-hypnosis practices may also be effective.

Cognitive Treatment Strategies

Hypnotherapy works to disassociate gambling from any benefits you perceive to gain. Several cognitive strategies help clients understand their thoughts concerning gambling:

Cognitive Restructuring

Certain problem gamblers exhibit irrational beliefs and superstitions regarding gambling activity. These may relate to winning probability, causal relationships between behaviors and winning, and self-talk. Cognitive restructuring analyzes ritualistic tendencies the problem gambler partakes in before, during, and after a gambling session and attempts to alter them.

Some of the most common “distortion cognitions” gamblers share are that gambling is financially viable, that they can extract themselves when they want to, and that any money lost is rightfully theirs and that they should continue to gamble until they reclaim it. Treatment involves the client challenging their own beliefs and tackling black-and-white thinking, overgeneralizing, and catastrophizing. Cognitive reasoning employs strategies such as Socratic questioning, guided imagery, and other therapy techniques to rationalize thoughts.

Imaginal Desensitization

This simple yet effective relaxation-based technique utilizes images to assist individuals. The method involves teaching a brief progressive muscle relaxation procedure, after which clients are instructed to visualize themselves being exposed to situations that trigger their drive to carry out the problem behavior in question. They are to leave the situation in a state of continued relaxation without having acted upon their urge. For problem gamblers, this technique can significantly decrease the heightened state of arousal and anxiety typically associated with urges to gamble.

Thought Stopping

Thought stopping, also known as thought blocking, is a common technique used to help clients change obsessive behavior. Many gamblers report feeling irresistible urges to gamble and describe gambling venues like magnets that draw them in. During therapy, the client is instructed to monitor impulses to gamble. When they generate a thought regarding gambling, a few thought replacement techniques can be instigated. These include verbal commands and proceeding to replace the gambling-related thought with a productive one, the client snapping a rubber band against their wrist as a sort of punishment when unwanted thoughts surface, and dismissing the thought entirely.

Treatment Techniques at Work

Studies show improvement among those afflicted with problem gambling or diagnosable psychiatric disorders such as problem gambling:

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Sources:

https://hypnosis.edu/help/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/hypnosis/about/pac-20394405#:~:text=Hypnosis%2C%20also%20referred%20to%20as,verbal%20repetition%20and%20mental%20images.

https://www.healthline.com/health/cognitive-restructuring#gathering-evidence

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/254381105_Imaginal_Desensitisation

https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Antonio_Madrid2/publication/21197816_A_Hypnotic_Protocol_for_Eliciting_Physical_Changes_Through_Suggestions_of_Biochemical_Responses/links/551d97f80cf29dcabb0306d8/A-Hypnotic-Protocol-for-Eliciting-Physical-Changes-Through-Suggestions-of-Biochemical-Responses.pdf#page=196