Working with Gambling Addictions: One Strategy that Works!
By Denise F. Quirk, M.A.
“K.I.S.S.” & Gambling Disordered Clients
In the rooms of 12-Step support groups, “K.I.S.S.” stands for “Keep It Simple, Stupid.” Therapists like me who thought of “stupid” as a bad word and a put-down, something shaming that therapists are already trying to reduce, changed the last “s” to “sweetheart.”
Whichever version you prefer, it doesn’t matter.
The adage is clear: when one is in recovery from a behavioral addiction like gambling, keeping things simple is preferred to the old, familiar chaos.
A “4-Part” Strategy For Gambling Disordered Clients
Each time we begin a therapy group at the Reno Problem Gambling Center (rpgc.org) in Reno, Nevada, the clients, whether their first group or 100th, are asked to check in with a simple, but certainly not easy, method. I call it the “Four-Part Feeling Statement.”
This formula was taught to me in various forms during my Marriage and Family Therapist training in the 90’s. It is part of my essential repertoire as a therapist. I use it myself regularly, and my children are familiar with using it in our home. It’s designed to be a one-sentence wonder, where brevity and clarity are desired. That way the person hearing and repeating it will hopefully capture the thoughts and feelings and be able to repeat it back to the sender.
By filling in the blanks, the Four-Part Feeling Statement goes like this:
I feel ________
I want _______ and I need ________,
And I’m willing to do__________.
A version of this that I use as a poor but clear example (believing that “you better be careful what you ask for, you may get it!), is, “When I was in college doing poorly and feeling depressed, I wanted a red Corvette and a million dollars, although I needed to get to work and save my money, and I was willing to rob a bank to get it.” Thankfully, that example never left the loading dock of my brain and was tossed out for a better idea…working two jobs and going to see a therapist.
How the “Four-Part Feeling Statement” Helps
So how does the “4-Part” (as one astute client abbreviates our RPGC check-in recipe) help? In my 25 years as a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in treating addicts, especially gamblers and their families, this is the KISS that works.
And it’s uncomfortable.
Practicing and getting past the uncomfortable first few attempts takes effort. I acknowledge that awkwardness from the beginning and ask clients to do it anyway. Clients soon find that everyone will be required to do it and we will help folks who struggle.
In addiction recovery, the work required is often about feelings: identifying and defining them for ourselves, then practicing effective ways to contain and express them at appropriate times, in appropriate ways, with appropriate people. By practicing the “4-Parter” at the beginning of every group and in every couple’s session and individual session with me, my clients are learning new neural pathways. In other words, I am brainwashing them, in a good way.
Clients report that as they try the new communication formula in everyday settings like the grocery store and move up to more challenging areas like the workplace, they are astonished how effective a tool it is to help them both identify their own feelings, wants and needs, and the willingness of others to hear them and possibly empathize with them. Or, they find out who their true friends are and who just wants to continue to talk over them.
These simple exercises are what newly recovering and long-term alumni of the RPGC report as effective, helpful, and satisfying therapy tools. The alumni regularly return for aftercare and have some confidence in using the “4-Parter,” a little bit of a badge of accomplishment in front of newer clients.
As they lead with a strong four-part feeling statement to check in, I often hear that sweet shifting of gears, zooming along the therapy highway, that one might hear in a well-cared for sports car…perhaps a Corvette.
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