After finishing the first stages of treatment for gambling addiction, a problem gambler may have a better understanding of the disease, the circumstances that trigger undesirable gambling behavior, and the importance of taking things one day at a time. But because money is essentially the drug of choice for a gambler, effective financial management is critical to recovery as they move into aftercare and beyond.

To get a sense of current practices in the field, Northstar spoke with several state gambling treatment providers to learn how they address this issue. Here’s what we found:

Craig Johnson, LADC, Club Recovery
Financial education is part of the curriculum at Club Recovery. Specific topics include looking at what money means to the client, helping clients understand the value of money, examining the emotional meaning of money, developing a repayment plan, exploring attitudes about money in the family of origin, and looking at potential conflicts with partners or others about money. “To me, the two most important things for gamblers to understand are that their drug of choice is money and that having access to money is a bad thing,” says Craig.

Education is also focused on what clients can do immediately to lessen their access to cash, such as using cards designed exclusively for gas or food, or using reloadable debit cards. Craig also encourages clients to adopt low ATM withdrawal limits, such as $10, to create a barrier where the client has to at least stop and think about what they’re doing.

Clients are also referred to Freedom Financial as necessary to help them get out of debt. “Most clients have maxed out their credit cards and need some type of debt consolidation,” says Craig. “Half of my clients say this was the best thing they ever did.”

John Rundquist, LADC, Crossroads Aftercare
Crossroads provides financial counseling for clients so they can better understand how they perceive money, the value it has to them, and how to budget. “Before, money was an avenue to act out,” says John. “Now, it’s supposed to help them do normal things, such as paying for groceries, housing and fun.” Crossroads employs a financial coach trained by Prepare + Prosper, a nonprofit that works with individuals and families to improve their financial situations.

John also feels that the field, as a whole, needs to incorporate more focus on the financial aspect of aftercare. “It seems there’s a lot of talk about trauma and therapy at national conferences, but not that much focus on money, which is essentially the drug,” says John. “Financial counseling as part of aftercare for those with gambling addiction is vital.”

Susan Campion, MS, LADC, Fairview Recovery Services
At Fairview, money and a gambler’s relationship with it is one of the topics discussed in the group program. “Initially, money has no value to gamblers,” says Susan. “It’s like Monopoly money.”

Fairview works to incorporate a client’s healthy relationship with money into a plan for getting clean. It also encourages recovering gamblers to use Family Means, a Stillwater-based nonprofit that can help with consolidation of debt, financial education and, if needed, bankruptcy.

Sheryl Anderson, LADC, Vanguard Center for Gambling Recovery
Vanguard contracts with nationally certified financial counselors from the University of Minnesota Extension. Counselors meet with each patient and their potential payee or family member on a one-to-one basis to develop a spending plan that supports recovery. The counselors also provide a monthly educational session for patients and families about how to manage a loved one’s finances. Patients are encouraged to identify a trusted individual who can help manage their finances to slow down access to cash and credit while incorporating accountability and structure. Various other resources are provided, such as the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, Family Means, LSS Financial Counseling Services and the Village Financial Resource Center.

“We also do a great deal of psycho-education counseling on the value of money, a person’s worth not being tied to their bank account, etc.,” says Sheryl. “Money is seen as the drug.”

A Glaring Need for Affordable Professional Payees
All providers stressed the importance of having a payee, someone who can essentially conduct and oversee the financial affairs of an individual to ensure that money is disbursed in a responsible fashion. The goal is not so much to monitor everything, but to look at where money goes and to make sure it’s all accounted for.

Some recovering gamblers use a family member for this role, but that can create difficulties. “When someone has to ask their partner for money it can create a one-downmanship,” says Susan, “so it’s often preferable to have an outside party involved.”

Unfortunately, finding a professional payee that’s affordable is an increasing challenge. “There used to be more payees but the liability has become quite high,” says Craig. “You almost have to go to a CPA, but CPAs can cost a lot of money for a population that doesn’t have much money.”

The Field as a Whole
While these practices reflect what’s being done by the larger providers of gambling counseling in the state, Northstar has not surveyed small or sole practitioners. We welcome hearing from these providers as to how they handle financial counseling with their clients. It seems clear that engagement with a financial counselor as part of a client’s treatment plan is a best practice that all providers should consider.

For more information about the financial counseling services available in Minnesota to help gamblers and their families, please click here.

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