“The 24/7 counseling has the real-time intervention on the beneficiary’s situation, increasing the possibility to change the player’s mental state and behavior”
Psychologists of the Non-Stop Online Psychological Counseling Service of the Responsible Gaming Association explain the major importance of the existence of this type of service dedicated to people with potential gambling problems
Cezar Hagău is a clinical psychologist specialized in online counseling for people with gambling problems, combined arts therapy and integrative psychotherapy. From 2019 he is part of the team of psychotherapists who ensure the functioning of the 24/7 Counseling Service of the Responsible Gaming Association, a service launched in September last year, unique in Europe in that it offers, non-stop and in real-time, specialized support to people with potential problems related to excessive gambling, or those close to them. Cezar Hagău answered a few questions about conducting the first six months of online psychological counseling and pointed out that compulsive gambling can occur when the usual mechanisms of an individual’s life no longer cope with the stress of not meeting a need. “Then there is this exaggeration of the behavior that seeks to achieve the desired mental state, to regain functionality within the normal parameters.”
How would you describe the experience of psychological counselor of the game Responsible Online, the only 24 hour chat program dedicated to people with potential gambling problems in Europe?
It is a unique experience, we are pioneers in Romania from this point of view and we have been able to perfect the counseling techniques specific to this niche. I feel honored to benefit from the experience of recognized experts in the field and to work with people who, in the absence of this project, have no other chances to be consulted by a specialist prepared to support them. The quick response we have to give to the requests of those who call the service provides us with challenges regarding our professional efficiency. In this context, the assessment of the situation and the elaboration of the best counseling strategy takes place in a much shorter time than in the cabinet. On the other hand, the people who access this service are more sincere in evaluating the help received, so we can adjust the intervention quickly so that they can be as useful as possible.
Has the existence of this program started as a result of a request from industry operators to help people in this case? How did it all start?
24/7 counseling is a tool requested by players. After a good period of interaction with the beneficiaries of the program, the Responsible Gambling Association has understood that there was a need for such a service. If you miss the moment when a player is in a crisis, he or she may face a serious problem.
Can you provide us with updated information on who accesses the program and what are his problems? We would like to know the age and gender categories, which time intervals are the busiest, which are the most frequent problems exposed by those who call?
In the six months since we are online, people from 18-52 years old have asked for the counseling service. With a percentage of over 80%, men access the program in greater numbers than women. We have not yet determined a clear pattern of time intervals in which more people use this service, but there are some correlations between the number of hits and the weekend period and the days immediately following, as well as certain appearances on this subject in the media. In general, the moment someone calls for our support is when the individual is facing a crisis, has spent a large amount of money on gambling, his family found out about his problem and he is in danger of losing important relationships or a close person has done this and wants to help him in order to keep the situation under control. Even if we punctually address the situation in question, providing the necessary strategies and information, we also try to identify the cause of the person’s vulnerability to this problem. From this point of view the causes are similar to those of other people.
Is the online counseling program an indefinite one or will it end at some point?
As technology news is becoming more and more complex, we can only keep up with it and align with trends. Which the Responsible Gaming Association has done. The Responsible Gambling Association’s online psychological counseling service is unique in Europe and it functions for an indefinite period. There is something similar in the UK, but there is a definite program, and after a certain time, a robot will respond on the chat. Our service is non-stop so the interested persons can interact at any time with psychologists specialized in this issue.
Do those who access this service have strict gambling addiction symptoms or have problems associated with other anxieties?
Right now, over 90% of the people who call for our help have a gamble control problem. Only 60% of them say they are addicted. That is why there is a code classification to provide the necessary help on time to the person who needs it. People who call this service do not have much different problems from other people. A combination of genetics and epigenetics, certain life conjunctions, results in their attempt to solve these problems through uncontrolled play behavior. Usually, gambling is used as a way of adapting to a life situation. The way this adaptation mode is learned is similar to other behaviors acquired by the individual to manage certain events, states of mind. When the usual mechanisms no longer cope with the stress of not fulfilling that need, this exaggeration of the behavior appears, aiming to obtain the desired state and to regain the functionality within the normal parameters. This category also includes excessive eating, extreme sports, behaviors that have the role of producing or mitigating certain mental states for the person. In our interventions we often offer the person concerned the opportunity to evaluate the respective behavior before and after certain important events in his life. In addition, he may receive a different perspective on the current situation, along with new strategies for achieving his objectives in a healthy way.
Regarding the codes in which the players are assigned, can you tell us what they represent?
Maximum priority has the red code which means that the person is in danger (declares that he intends to cause harm to himself or others). In this case, even if it can be only declarative, the procedure requires unlimited time resources and the involvement of the authorities. In the meantime, the counselor finds out location and identification data and supports the person preparing for recovery. From the point of view of priority, the Orange Code follows, where the beneficiary needs actions to help him concretely and immediately. Due to the specificity of this stage, the counselor tries to involve relatives, friends, partners. A more detailed case file is completed and a systematic intervention decision is made (therapy programming, series of online sessions). Yellow code is applied when the beneficiary is in a self-evaluation stage and needs clarity and awareness. The counselor offers a planning of the following steps (online test, solutions, information, motivation). In the case of the green code, the beneficiary requests and receives information about the program, about the steps needed for an intervention, etc.
How many members does the 24/7 online Counseling team have?
The team of psychologists from the 24/7 Counseling is currently formed by four psychologists who ensure the continuous operation of the service, under the direct coordination of Dr. Cristian Andrei. Behind this program are all the people involved in the smooth running of the Responsible Gambling Association, including psychotherapists from the Responsible Gambling offices in Bucharest and in the country.
What is the procedure by which a person wishing to contact a psychologist of this program can ask for help? Is this complicated?
The beneficiary must have a minimum knowledge of using a telephone or computer and an Internet browser. The procedure involves accessing the website www.jocresponsabil.ro, completing some conversation identification data and a self-classification of the beneficiary in one of the priority codes. Then he directly stars a discussion with a psychologist counselor. Thus, it has been tried to make the service easy to access and efficient at the same time.
What happens after this first contact? How to continue the intervention?
This first contact also includes one of the codes mentioned above by the counselor. Depending on this classification, the intervention is made according to the procedures required for each code. An evaluation of the situation presented by the beneficiary is performed and the treatment is started taking into account the individual short, medium and long term mental health. This method requires the counselor to relate to the individual’s actual stage (eg awareness) and to prepare him for the next stage. The purpose of the intervention is to change the beneficiary’s mental state (usually a crisis), informing and preparing him for the next steps in the recovery process. These stages include almost invariably and a few sessions in the cabinet, the first five being free for the player and/or his family members. 24/7 counseling program has the real-time intervention on the beneficiary’s existing situation, greatly increasing the impact and the possibility of noticeably changing player’s condition and behavior, as well as the course of events in his life. The evolution of those who have received support under this program depends on many variables.
And what is the purpose? Is there a monitoring of those who reported a problem at one time and were healed?
This issue has as defining feature the multitude of factors, this aspect making it very difficult to set clear terms in the evolution of the case. According to DSM, we are talking about remission after the person reach at least 12 months of not playing anymore. Given the fact that we only have six months of 24/7 Counseling, we have not yet reached the period required to declare the remission. However, we can see very good results in achieving the objectives of each online intervention. The beneficiaries received the necessary information, were supported to overcome the difficulties they were facing and called the service when they had rough times, relapse being part of the healing process. For each stage, the beneficiary is prepared, together with the close persons, the pace of his development dictating the speed of this process.
Why is it important to use this program?
It is important because it may be the only chance to get specialized help when certain prejudices, shame, flight from reality and awareness reinforce a natural resistance to any change of beliefs, respectively of the attitudes and behaviors generated by these beliefs. In this area, things can reach relatively quickly proportions that may seem overwhelming, so it is important to prevent the development of such a problem as early as possible.