Pitt to train gambling counselors

By ELIZABETH WILLIAMSON

Almost one year ago, Pennsylvania opened its first slot machine casino – Mohegan Sun at Pocono… Almost one year ago, Pennsylvania opened its first slot machine casino – Mohegan Sun at Pocono Downs racetrack near Wilkes-Barre. However, the state had no plan for treating the expected rise in compulsive gamblers.

Now, social workers at Pitt are preparing for a program that will train and certify counselors to help those with a gambling addiction.

“Before the casinos, the state did not recognize gambling as an addiction,” Jody Bechtold, a licensed clinical social worker at Pitt, said. “With the casinos coming into the state, there is legislation that requires gambling assistance programs.”

Bechtold, one of only a handful of nationally certified gambling counselors in Pennsylvania, will assist in administering the Nationally Certified Gambling Counselor Program at Pitt.

The first rotation of 25 trainees will begin the certification process in February 2008. Bechtold has added two more rotations beginning in May and September because of increasing interest in the program.

Applicants to the program need at least a bachelor’s degree and should have experience in the mental health and substance abuse fields.

The program requires that participants receive 30 hours of gambling-specific training over a period of four days. Additionally, participants must complete 100 hours of gambling-related counseling activities with gamblers and their families.

“The gambling problem was there prior to the casinos,” Bechtold said. “Compulsive gamblers are the ones going to the casinos, seeing the number for the Gamblers Anonymous Hotline posted and calling.”

Bechtold, whose name is one of the referrals on the Hotline, is receiving two to three calls a week at her private practice.

“Gambling is rarely just about money,” she said. “It is an escape.”

College students who gamble compulsively, for example, are often times facing anxiety, depression or difficulty in transitioning into college.

Bechtold believes that people must learn to gamble responsibly.

Responsible gambling includes setting limits in terms of time and money, gambling with friends, never gambling alone and always leaving without withdrawing more money.

“Gambling is like drinking,” she said. “People need to be educated in order to do it responsibly.”

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