Jodi Clarke, photo: Paul Jeffers
After 14 years as a Gambler's Help counsellor, working with gamblers and their families, Jodi Clarke recently joined the foundation in a role to support her former colleagues at the coalface. Here she reflects on helping family members and friends of gamblers, and looks forward to continuing to make a difference.
How have you seen someone's gambling affect people close to them?
The big issue is often betrayal and loss of trust. When a partner or other family member finds out, there can be a lot of grief that the relationship wasn't what they thought it had been. Financial stress is also a factor. So repairing or rebuilding relationships is an important part of recovery.
The people I saw were often in crisis. Their partner was threatening to leave or they were about to lose their house, so they were very motivated to change their gambling and get some help.
Do partners or family members come to counselling with gamblers?
This has evolved over the time. When I first started at Gambler's Help, people mostly came individually – either a gambler or a family member. But gradually, more couples started coming, and then later, I saw more families.
Hopefully we can encourage more family work because it's a really powerful medium for change.
When counselling couples or families, are there typical sticking points?
Often a partner finds it difficult to give up their anger, which is understandable. I would have individual sessions with that person, helping them get to where they could take the next step – to move on to rebuilding their relationship or sometimes deciding to leave the relationship.
Another sticking point is when parents bring in adult children whose gambling is out of control. The parents are often stuck because their primary focus is their child's recovery, which is out of their control. Often, they find it difficult to step back and focus on their own lives.
Is it common for partners and family members to have counselling?
Often non-gambling family members think, 'I don't have the problem'. They don't recognise they might need support, too, and this is an important part of the healing. It's valuable to work with them either in the session with the gambler or by themselves.
I ask them: What are your needs? What's going on for you? I also raise practical needs, like protecting money and assets, and protecting other family members, especially if there are children involved.
One of the most distressed clients I ever worked with was a woman whose parents had gambling issues in her formative years. It can be equally, if not more, destructive for family members. Especially for children who are dependent. My work with her was long term and it helped her understand what had happened and to link in with a lot of our support services, like peer support.
How can you help clients stop history repeating across generations?
We go through their family history and create a genogram, which is a family tree with detail about the relationships between individuals. This is often really insightful for clients.
Identifying a gambling culture within the family and talking about other family members who have had gambling problems can help clients understand what might be driving their gambling issue.
More often than not, there is a history of gambling. It's important to talk about it as a cycle that might perpetuate and to help them work out how to break it.
What do you like most about counselling? Any inspiring stories?
The best part about it is seeing people feel better about themselves, get stronger and be happier. It's a very satisfying career in that respect.
One former client I'd seen ten years before came into my service and said she was really grateful for the work we did together. She told me all about her life and how she was going very well in her relationships. Her daughter, who was young when I first met her, was now doing very well in school. It's lovely to get that feedback.
What are some of the challenges?
One of the issues with counselling is self-care because you can get burnt out easily without proper support.
It is an occupational health and safety issue and, I think, an area for improvement within the services. Not just for the sake of counsellors, but also for clients. If the counsellor is not supported and functioning well, it's not going to benefit the client.
In my new role I can ensure Gambler's Help providers get the support they need.
If you are experiencing problems with gambling, or someone close to you has a problem, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. Find out more about getting help.