Historically, Minnesota’s focus on problem gambling has not taken into consideration how it may fit within the context of other addictions and mental illnesses. However, Minnesota’s Department of Human Services (DHS), the agency that provides oversight of problem gambling treatment in the state, is in the process of bringing a more comprehensive, team approach to the issue of problem gambling.

The goal of DHS is to ensure that the state’s problem gambling program is operating smoothly and that there’s an effective educational awareness campaign to individuals, family members and the public about the dangers of problem gambling. This includes oversight of the problem gambling helpline and problem gambling awareness campaigns. DHS is also responsible for producing policy standards for problem gambling treatment.

The state’s increased leadership role in bringing additional resources to problem gambling will impact both providers and those with gambling addictions. “We’re doing more with clinical resources and evidence-based treatment services as part of a greater strategic improvement process,” says Cynthia Godin, director of the Adult Mental Health Division at DHS.

One example is an emphasis on co-occurring mental illnesses that will be employed to address problem gamblers. “People may come to problem gambling treatment, but it’s important to know what brought them there. Is it due to depression, anxiety, substance addiction or other factors?” says Cynthia.

“We’re looking at what gambling treatment providers are doing with assessments and interventions and seeking to make a connection between that and what other providers for substance abuse and other treatment fields are doing,” says Julie Pearson, clinical services policy supervisor with the Adult Mental Health Division at DHS. “We know that there is a considerable amount of crossover from our work with co-occurring disorders.”

DHS will also take an active role in establishing best practices standards for providers. “We know that certain therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and motivational interviewing, have been shown to be effective in helping problem gamblers,” says Cynthia. “We are working with providers in the treatment field to develop a state certification that will ensure we have uniform and high standards, and are using evidence-based treatments.”

Some of DHS’s goals for the next six to twelve months regarding problem gambling include the following:

  1. Continuing a strategic planning process, which began in December, to establish standards relating to problem gambling treatment
  2. Ensure that the problem gambling treatment crisis helpline has measurable outcomes in place that can be reported back to an advisory committee on compulsive gambling
  3. Create a public awareness campaign for the next two years that reaches the public and new stakeholders who might not have been aware of problems associated with gambling
  4. Build a strong partnership with gambling treatment providers, the advisory committee, the general public and other stakeholders to continue to improve problem gambling treatment services in Minnesota

“What Minnesota is doing is very exciting,” says Cynthia. “There’s a lot of work to be done but there are great benefits to having everyone work together. And ultimately, it’s a real benefit to those in need of these services.”