Weekly Feature

2017-07-20 / Local News

Problem gambling conference visits Depew


For a second consecutive year, mental health practitioners from across the region gathered at Grapevine Banquets in Depew for a conference on problem gambling, part of a state-sponsored effort to educate clinicians and address an issue that experts say is largely invisible.

The two-day conference, one of four being held this year by a collaboration of mental health associations known as the Problem Gambling Training Partnership, took place on July 11 and 12, and featured workshops and presentations from problem gambling experts who shared the latest research and educational resources to help practitioners mitigate and address gambling disorder, according to a PGTP release.

According to conference organizer and University at Buffalo Assistant Professor Kayte Conroy, a disordered gambling specialist who holds a doctorate in counselor education, the conferences and the PGTP were created along with a push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers to construct four new casinos in the state. The idea was to create a support system to address any gambling problems that might follow creation of the casinos.

“The governor wanted to make sure that if there are any potential problems, that we have some folks that are working in the mental health field to at least be aware of how to look for these types of problems,” she said, later arguing that the invisibility of problem gambling, seen often as only financial difficulty or physical stress, leads to a higher rate of suicide attempts among sufferers — 50 percent, according to some studies — compared to addictions such as alcoholism.

“They just don’t see the way out, because it’s minimized by so many people as a problem that they don’t see it themselves, or if they do see it, they don’t know what to do about it.”

Conroy said the conferences are intended to provide practitioners with basic information on assessing problem gambling and referring clients to services, and give more detailed information and guidance later to practitioners who are interested in going further.

“We’re trying to get them whatever types of support they need, so that the clients get what they need,” she said.

Once trained at the conferences, practitioners who meet a few additional prerequisites can be placed on a referral list used by the state Office of Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Services HOPEline, a 24-hour toll-free service that takes calls from those seeking help with alcoholism, drug abuse and problem gambling.

Conroy said the HOPEline, which is also used by attorneys and doctors to find help for their clients and patients, matches sufferers with qualified mental health practitioners in their area, and with local support groups such as Gamblers Anonymous.

For Erin Koprevich, a licensed clinical social worker with a practice on Grand Island who wants to provide that support, last week’s conference was a chance to interact with gambling counselors and other professionals, expand her understanding of gambling in New York, and get a refresher on treating gambling addiction.

“I wanted to be able to learn the most updated treatment approaches that are evidence-based, and any updated news about gambling and public policies,” she said, calling it especially helpful to take part in a workshop on how problem gambling can be addressed using motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral therapy, strategies she uses often.

Koprevich, who also participated in workshops on family engagement and the biochemistry of a problem gambler’s brain, said the conference was also a chance to improve her ability to screen clients.

“Most of my clients are coming in for anxiety or stress or depression,” she said. “So I need to always kind of keep my radar up to date, and having a whole training focused on [problem gambling] helps me keep my radar up for those who may not be even coming in with a gambling problem as their presenting problem.”

Conroy said approximately 70 mental health practitioners from WNY attended the conference in Depew this year, joining about 500 who were trained at conferences last year.

Conferences will be held later this year on Long Island and in New York City by the PGTP, a joint initiative formed by the New York Council on Problem Gambling, the New York State Chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, the New York Mental Health Counselors Association, the New York Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, and the National Association for the Advancement for Psychoanalysis.

To learn more about the Problem Gambling Training Partnership, visit http://nypgtp.org/. To learn more about problem gambling, visit http://knowtheodds.org/.

To reach the HOPEline, dial 1-877-8-HOPENY, or 1-877-846-7369.

email: arizzo@beenews.com

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