Few seek licenses to counsel problem gamblers

A state board that licenses problem gambling counselors has certified only one person in Northern Nevada since beginning the state-required program this year - a slow start to the statewide effort to help fight the addiction.

With seven others in the Las Vegas area, the total number of counselors certified to provide help is few in a state with an estimated 117,000 gambling addicts.

"It's a little bit slower (than anticipated)," said Sharon Atkinson, executive director of the Board of Examiners for Alcohol and Drug Abuse Counselors.

State certification became effective in January after being approved by legislators last year and requires counselors who are not licensed clinical social workers, marriage and family therapists or medical doctors to be licensed for gambling treatment.

Counselors are now required to meet specific education and training requirements specific to gambling addiction, pass a written test and be interviewed by the board before becoming certified.

The statewide effort to address gambling addiction has also resulted in a new program at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

But the series of classes to train problem gambling counselors attracted fewer than a dozen students since opening for enrollment last fall.

The slow start is not discouraging to state advocates who want better-trained professionals available.

About 12 counselors in the state were nationally certified in the field.

The state requirement is more stringent, requiring a bachelor's degree to quality.

The Reno counselor who obtained state certification was also nationally licensed.

The state board has notified its 1,200 members of the new license requirement and is trying to get the word out.

"The goal is to really get the rest of the counselors and mental health professionals out there to become aware this is now a process to become involved in and achieve certification," said Carol O'Hare, executive director of the Nevada Council on Problem Gambling.

The lack of state funding to provide low-cost treatment and the reluctance for gambling addicts to seek help contribute to the struggle, O'Hare said. Only 10 percent of problem gamblers seek help. A 2002 state study estimated 6.4 percent of the population has a some level of gambling addiction.

Gambling addicts are less likely than alcoholics to seek treatment, maybe because of the stigma attached or that they have to pay for treatment out of their own pockets, O'Hare said.

Comparing the lack of specialized gambling counselors, 870 counselors are certified in alcohol and drug treatment and 238 counselors are interning in the field.

"The good news is, we have a great system in place to have qualified counselors," O'Hare said.

"The bad new is, we've not yet allocated any financial support for funding of this disorder. Gambling treatment simply isn't covered."

The board is continuing to get inquiries and four applications are pending, Atkinson said.

Gambling addiction treatment, first gaining attention in 1980, still has a long way to go for social acceptance, O'Hare said.

"That's what makes certification so valuable," she said. "We need to pull this picture together."

Contact Jill Lufrano at jlufrano@nevadaappeal.com or 881-1217.


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