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Pilot study to inform future problem gambling treatment research

Investigators from Flinders University have completed the first randomised control trial to compare the effectiveness of exposure therapy and cognitive therapy in treating people with gambling problems.

Acknowledged for its high quality data and the establishment of research and recruitment protocols, the pilot study will inform the design of a larger randomised control trial for problem gambling treatment in the future.

Cognitive versus Exposure Therapy for Problem Gambling: A Pilot Randomised Control Trial was funded as part of the third round of the Grants for Gambling Research Program managed by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation.

Foundation chief executive officer Serge Sardo says the study has important implications for clinical research into treatments for problem gambling.

"The encouraging results and research protocols established in this study demonstrates the importance of trialling clinical therapies to ultimately improve treatment options for people with gambling problems," said Mr Sardo.

Participants in the trial randomly received either cognitive or exposure therapy for 12 weeks.

Exposure therapy helps people build resistance against the urge to gamble by exposing them to gambling cues, and teaching them skills to reduce and eventually overcome the urge.

Cognitive therapy helps people unlearn gambling behaviours by changing the way they think about gambling, and encouraging more accurate beliefs.

While there was no significant difference between the treatment groups, both groups showed a substantial decrease in the severity of their symptoms by the end of treatment and for up to six months after treatment was completed.

The recruitment and research protocols established in the study include therapy techniques and manuals, data collection methods and preliminary data.

The team from Flinders University Human Behaviour and Health Research Unit includes Professor Malcolm Battersby, Mr David Smith, Professor Peter Harvey and Dr Rene Pols with Professor Robert Ladouceur, an international consultant to the research team.

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