Controlling gambling with online therapy

Cognitive behavioural therapy on the Internet helps people with gambling disorders.

Approximately 3% of Finns are addicted to gambling. Peli poikki (Time to Fold), an online programme based on research results, has proven an effective treatment for gambling disorders.

The eight-week programme includes online assignments which encourages participants to analyse the reasons and consequences of their gambling, and to think of ways to regain control of their finances. Participants are also given a half-hour phone consultation with a therapist on a weekly basis. The programme provides peer support, as participants may chat anonymously online with other people in treatment.

Sari Castrén examined the programme in her psychological dissertation.

“Of the people in my study, nearly half completed the treatment – a good result for addiction treatment programmes. The eight-week programme is shorter than typical cognitive behavioural therapy. Research-based programmes should be used to treat gambling problems on a larger scale in Finland,” Castrén states.

A gambling disorder is often accompanied by cosymptoms such as substance abuse and mental problems. According to Castrén, gambling disorders are also often associated with more generalised issues in coping with everyday life.

Participants in the programme reported a lowered desire to gamble. At the same time, their consumption of alcohol decreased, and their general mood improved. These positive developments in coping were still apparent in the six-month follow-up interviews.

Registration for the Peli poikki programme is available through the website of the Peluuri gambling helpline. The waiting time between registration and beginning of treatment is about one to three months. The treatment is free of charge.

“Gamblers often struggle with their need for treatment, and the problem typically lasts a long time before they seek therapy. Gamblers are likely to seek help online, and the Peluuri website seems to be reaching gamblers in need of help throughout the country,” states Castrén.

Peli poikki, a cognitive behavioural treatment programme originally developed in Sweden, has been in use in Finland since 2007.