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As a qualified social worker, we need to hold the belief that people can change, especially when we work with the clients who have committed to some kinds of deviant behaviors. As a student who has received professional social work training for more than four years, I think most of the clients have the ability to alter to a better condition for themselves. However, I am not sure when it comes to pathological gamblers. Effected by my past experience, it is hard for me to trust a person who addicts to gambling. How I will react if there is one day I have to face to a client who is a pathological gambler? I am quite uncertain about that.
Who is pathological gambler?
The DSM-III (the third edition of the codebook of mental disorders) includes PG for the first time as an impulsive disorder (Álvarez-Moya; Jiménez-Murcia; Neus Aymamí; Gómez-Peña, 2010).The original definition if pathological gambling stated the person "is chronically and progressively unable to resist impulses to gamble" (as cited by Ciarrocchi from American Psychiatric Association, 1980). According to this definition, pathological gambler (PG) refers to the people who has involved in gambling for a long time. Besides, their gambling behavior has become more and more severe but they refuse to quit gambling. Blaszczynski and Nower (2002) proposed the Pathways model as an etiological framework for understanding PG (as cited by Ledgerwood and Petry, 2010). According to this model, three subtypes of pathological gamblers exist: behaviorally conditioned, emotionally vulnerable, and antisocial impulsive.
The reasons behind pathological gambling are various. Take behaviorally conditioned one as an example. People engage into gambling because of long period expose to gambling games. If most of friends or relatives addict into gambling, it is more likely for that person to participate in the same games, because his or her behavior is triggered and then maintained by the surroundings. Besides, grief emotion or suffering great loss may also lead to problematic gambling. Many PGs participate in gambling games in order to escape from sad mood or release stress. Moreover, somebody tries to pursue excited feelings by engaged in big wins and chasing loses games. As a result, PGs tend to lose more than before. We can often hear that one gambler lost all of his or her money, estates as well as families. Besides, problematic gambling also contributes to other social problem, such as domestic violence, robbery, theft, suicide and so on. Pathological gambling attracts broad attention in the recent years.
Social worker may encounter with PG in many circumstances, no matter in doing case work, group work or community work. For instance, when a battered woman comes for seeking help, we need to elicit the reason behind her husband's abuse behavior. In some domestic violence cases, the abuser has problem gambling behavior. Solving the problematic behavior then becomes the worker's initial task. We may not cope with PG directly since referring to another professional clinical social worker is needed for the clients with severe problems. However, it is inevitable for us to face with such kind of clients.
I never doubt whether a person is able to change. I believe a drug abuser can quit drugs if he or she realizes the harm that drugs done to his or her body. I believe a man can stop violence to his family members when he learns to know how to manage his temper after cognitive behavior treatment or any other therapies. I believe a juvenile delinquency can clean up his or her act and begin his or her new life after receiving punishment by law and guiding by youth social worker. However, it is still hard for me to believe a PG can give up gambling forever. Unlike other types of addicts, there is no substance that stimulates gamblers' emotion or feeling. From my point of view, all the problematic gambling behaviors are triggered by instinct, which cannot be changed by outer power.
When I am preparing this term paper, I do self-introspection by myself. Indeed, similar to other social workers who encounter with counter transference, I am affected by my own experience.
My aunt plays the lead in my story. My father had a big brother who died from a traffic accident in 1994. He left a large amount of heritage for my aunt as well as his two daughters. My aunt, a middle-aged housewife, starts her gambling life after the death of my uncle. At first, all of my family members including my grandparents thought she participated in gambling games just because she wanted to escape from the sadness. Besides, there is an old saying in Chinese "little gambling can be entertainment". The whole family believed she just gambled for fun. As a result, nobody tried to impede her gambling action until one day she came to my home to borrow money from my father. She said she planned to open a grocery shop so that she could afford the life expenses for her as well as my two cousins. We were happy to see she could recover from sorrow and started new life again so my father and other uncles tried their best to support her. The grocery shop opened eventually; however, it was the beginning of the nightmare. She rarely stayed in her shop and we heard the rumors about her from our relatives. They saw my aunt appear in the most "famous" local casino and lose numerous of money. When we confirmed with her, she denied. However, finally she lost her shop and was in heavy debt which was estimated about two million. Faced with accusing from family members, she came to my grandparent's home, asked for forgive and swore she would never gamble any more. To our disappointed, she violated her vow over and over again. Every time after we know she engages in gambling game again, she will conduct her "drama" once by showing us how much determination she has made for quit gambling behavior. To our disappointed, her promise is provide nothing eventually. She still "visits" casino frequently until now, despite that she has really burdened a lot of debts.
I know she has ever tried to get rid of gambling behavior, but all the trials are failed in the end. My two cousins, who should have been enjoying their marriage life, have to work harder to pay back the debt for their mother. My grandparent, who should have been enjoying their retired life, is troubled by my aunt's gambling behavior and finally my grandpa died with regret. It may unfair for my aunt if I contribute the entire fault to her; nonetheless, she is the initiator of the evil.
As a consequence, I lost the confidence on the gambler. By witnessing how my aunt indulges into gambling activities time and time again, I do not attach any extravagant hope to problematic gamblers. My aunt tried to make use of every possible means to get money and found every possible excuse to cover what she has done. I cannot believe one person can be so bad! In the first second, she swears she will never gamble again; the next second, she shows up on casino. When I called my grandma last week, she told me that my aunt participate in gambling again.
Being a potential social worker, I may have to face all kinds of clients in the future. If I have to handle with a PG some day, I will out of my wit for sure. Because in my opinion, it is impossible for a PG to stop gambling, I cannot get start my work at all. Referring to another social worker should be a good idea, but I am afraid my stereotype towards PGs will still affect my professional practice unavoidably.
In fact, after finished my presentation, I know what my problem is. If one day I show uncertain and suspect to my client who is PG, it means counter transference happens on me. The more contemporary view of counter transference is that the professional's reactions, real and unreal, to a client can occur irrespective of origin and can be based on their own past or present experience or client characteristics (James, 2008).Fortunately, I know how to introspect my feeling though my presentation. By self-reflection, I am aware that I lose the confidence on PGs because of my unsolved problems. I am the youngest one in the whole family. My grandparent and parent are always trying to protect me from the possibilities that may do harm to me. Although they tried their best to present me with a harmony picture of the family, I know more and more things when I grow up. I want to share the burden with my parent but I am too young to do anything. My helplessness makes me feel that I am not eligible to work with problematic gamblers. Actually, I lose the confidence on myself not on the PGs.
What to do next?
Just as Hepworth et al.(2010) mention in their book: introspection and self-assessment, as well as the ability to maintain appropriate boundaries and distance, will assess you to achieve or regain a realistic perspective on your relationships with clients. I cannot wait until one day counter transference really occurs then do I take introspection. Hence, I plan to take the following methods to cope with my problems:
Trying to understand the reasons for PGs should be the first step. In fact, before I get start to write this paper, I already changed some of my perception about PGs because of literature review. After reading many dissertations and books, I begin to know the reason behind such behavior are complicated and various. People get addicted into gambling are not just for fun. Some of them want to escape from cruel reality by gambling games. Once engaged into gambling games, they can forget the troubles for a while. Apart from that, other gamblers may find gambling can be an effective stress reliever. They can release their anger, their workload, their family burden as well as other emotion that cannot erupt when they are at gambling desk.
Secondly, I have to get start to solve my unsolved problem. I am not a little innocent girl any longer. It is necessary and possible for me to discuss my aunt's gambling problem with my family members. Although I am not sure if I can help her or not and there is little clinical social service for PGs in mainland China, I still want to try. At least, I need to solve my own problem first and to make sure it will not have influence on my professional practice in the future. Knowing my aunt's problems from all of the dimensions may help me to understand more about her. On the other hand, I hope I can share what I have learned from class with my family members so that they will know how to cope with my aunt in a better way.
Thirdly, I will pay more attention to the part about how to deal with addicts while in the MSW program. Since I know my irrational emotion is mainly caused by my unhappy experience, I should equip myself to be qualified social worker so that one day I may be able to assess the PG to get rid of problematic gambling. I need to do continuously self assessment before I go into fieldwork. Only by realizing my disadvantage can I know where I should improve.
Last but not least, I will discuss with my classmates when I feel uncomfortable with the relative cases. I can learn from other people's views and may know how to change my stereotype. Furthermore, I may consult supervisor when it is necessary. I believe as a experienced social worker, my supervisor will give me some applicable suggestions and guide me to cope with the problem properly.