The Important Role of Family and Friends

In order to change our behaviour it is necessary to change our way of thinking and our beliefs. We need to challenge ourselves to go the extra mile and practice a new way of life. Changing certain behaviours such as gambling, adopting a new diet, quitting smoking or doing something new in our life, do not happen overnight. It is a journey that involves many steps.

The Cycle of Change Model enables the individual affected by gambling, their family, friends and gambling support workers to understand the challenges and the support systems that are required to ensure a full recovery.

The Cycle of Change Model has five stages

Stage 1 – Pre-contemplation

In the pre-contemplation stage the individual who gambles is either not aware of the effects of their gambling behaviour on their own emotional and physical wellbeing or on others around them. In Stage 1, the individual could be defensive or reluctant to do something about the behaviour. Reasons for this include fear, lack of self-belief, low self-esteem, feeling a sense of loss, emotional pain when exploring the issue or simply a lack of knowledge about it.

The biggest challenge for family and friends during Stage 1 is getting the person to access help. The best approach is one that enables the person not to feel like a victim or the ‘problem itself’. Family members, friends and workers need to recognise that defensiveness and reluctance are signs of the problem. Creating a supportive environment is best achieved through believing in them and discouraging blame and fault-finding.

Stage 2 – Contemplation

During the contemplation stage the person starts to question their own gambling behaviour as they come to recognise the effects of gambling on themselves and others. At this stage the support of close family and friends is essential. Helping the person experiencing gambling harm to collect information about treatments and recovery planning and encouraging the person to learn more is useful in Stage 2. It is very important not to pressure the person into making a commitment, but rather to acknowledge the difficulty of taking this step. Providing support and encouraging the individual to talk about their fears in seeking help or making decisions is recommended. The person needs to be able to recognise their own strengths and abilities to go through the process of treatment. This is not easy!

It is common for individuals who are in the contemplation stage to move back to Stage 1 if Stage 2 has been painful and confronting. The individual will find it difficult to move into the third stage if they did not explore and challenge their realistic and unrealistic fears. Strong and consistent support by family and friends is vital in Stage 2.

Stage 3 – Preparation

The preparation stage is a significant stage for change, as the individual now begins to set up achievable and meaningful goals. Family and friends need to reaffirm the person’s commitment to change and offer support and assistance to develop a realistic action plan to help the person achieve their goals.

Stage 4 – Action

This stage is when the individual makes challenging decisions about their life and develops an action plan. The person needs lots of energy and problem-solving skills as they face the challenges of their triggers for gambling.

It is essential that family and friends know how to provide support at this stage. This could simply be listening and empathising with the individual or celebrating the small achievements they make on the way. Family members may need to take on new roles within the family, or look at how they can be actively involved in making the home or community environment more pleasant and supportive of change.

Stage 5 – Maintenance

The maintenance stage is where the individual continues the new and helpful behaviours and addresses the triggers that are likely to push them to gamble. It is an important time for reinforcing learning from the previous stages and be continually aware of triggers and strategies to challenge them. New behaviours are commonly maintained for any length of time – from months to years, or even a life time. It is worth noting that relapse (going back to old gambling behaviour) and going through the cycle of change all over again can be an integral part of recovery. This is common when someone in recovery encounters an unexpected or difficult life circumstance. It could take up to three or more attempts to reach lifetime maintenance.

If a person relapses it is important that they are remain connected to professionals who can assist them to re-commit, reflect on their experiences and implement more helpful strategies.

Change is neither an easy task, nor is it impossible. The essential ingredients in achieving change are commitment, support from others, self belief and having the skills to make the necessary changes.

Remember, you are not alone.


Reference: The Cycle of Change Model, Prochaska and DiClemente, 1983

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