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The Effectiveness of a Motivational Interviewing Treatment for Help-Seeking Problem Gamblers in a Community Organization


Motivational Interviewing (MI) has been used as an approach to enhance readiness for change and behavior modification in a range of addiction and substance use disorders. Large meta-analyses comparing MI with non-MI interventions point to mixed conclusions about the short-term and long-term effectiveness of MI, with participant, outcome, and delivery factors being important moderators. The current study aimed to assess the immediate (1–2 weeks) and long-term (18 months) effectiveness of MI when delivered at the first point of client contact at a community gambling help counselling service and to investigate whether practitioners’ MI adherent and non-adherent behaviors were significant predictors of change in client outcomes. There were 146 individuals presenting for gambling help counselling at an Australian not-for-profit organization who participated in this research. From the overall sample, 55% completed the 18 months follow-up assessment. Multilevel modelling showed a significant reduction in participants’ problem gambling severity and psychological distress, which was a small effect size change in the short-term and large effect size change by the 18 months follow-up. While MI adherent practitioner behaviors were not found to be significant predictors of improvement in participants’ problem gambling severity and psychological distress, MI non-adherent practitioner behaviors were significant predictors of deterioration in participants’ problem gambling severity and psychological distress. This study highlights the importance of excluding MI non-adherent (confront and persuade) practitioner behaviors in order to prevent deterioration in client outcomes.

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We would like to thank all the study participants for their time and participation in this study. We are also thankful to the Relationships Australia (Queensland) RAQ Gambling Help Service (GHS) staff for their assistance with recruitment for this study. Further, we would like to thank Ruban Ganesaratnam, Jeffrey Gough, Candice Low and Jaslyn Dugmore for coding participants’ first GHS call recordings for practitioners’ use of Motivational Interviewing (MI). We would also like to thank Dr Gary Chan for providing statistical consultation on this study and Dr Elizabeth Howe for assistance in managing this study.


Conduct of this research was supported by RAQ and a part of this study was funded by the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG).

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Correspondence to Jemima Petch.

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Although this may not require Full Disclosure of Interests, we want to declare that JM, AL, JP and WT were paid employees at RAQ at the time this research was conducted. RAQ is a community-based, not-for-profit organization predominantly funded by Federal and State Government contracts. DJAG had no involvement in the study design, data collection, data analysis or interpretation of the data collected and reported in this manuscript or writing of this report. The CEO of RAQ supports the submission of this paper for publication.

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Milic, J., Lohan, A., Petch, J. et al. The Effectiveness of a Motivational Interviewing Treatment for Help-Seeking Problem Gamblers in a Community Organization. J Gambl Stud 38, 607–626 (2022).

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  • Motivational interviewing
  • Problem gambling severity
  • Psychological distress
  • Effectiveness study