The Gordon Moody rehab centre is turning around the lives of chronic addicts
By John Cobb
It is an ordinary Victorian house on an ordinary south London street but powerful things happen here – it is a place where lives are transformed, even saved.
The house is run by the Gordon Moody Association and is one of their two centres that rehabilitates the most chronic gamblers. Their houses – the other is in Dudley in the West Midlands – are the only residential centres in Britain that treat solely gambling addiction.
The Gordon Moody Association does not believe in quick-fix, temporary cures. Courses last 14 weeks and are intense. When you walk through the door you give up your mobile phone and all contact with the outside world and its manifest betting temptations.
Most importantly, when you enter it is to turn your life around. Those who arrive are desperate; they have usually lost everything, home and family. They will be deep in debt. A third of them will have considered suicide.
They are lucky to be there. The waiting list has more than 100 names and there are only nine beds in each treatment centre. Gordon Moody does not need to advertise. Unlike drug or alcohol addicts, clients are not usually referred by health professionals but have sought help, maybe after a lifetime of gambling, when they have finally realised this is the only way to save themselves.
For once, their luck really has changed, because this is a course that works. "People find us. They're in trouble and they find us and they generally see the programme through," says Adele Duncan, CEO of Gordon Moody and the driving force behind the operation.
"We have a high completion rate, 60-70 per cent," she adds. "People come to us because they've decided they want to engage. If some think 'I'll come for a couple of weeks, get cured and go home again' they won't last the course."
Getting into a Gordon Moody house is not easy. "First there is an online application to assess their level of need, then a panel to assess if they're suitable. We'd look at all the risk factors.
"They need to be relatively stable. No recent suicide attempts. They arrive with a certain level of anxiety, partly caused by coming here, by owning up, facing up to things. They might have life issues for which gambling is an outlet. We're stripping all that away from them.
"The first two weeks are to see if they'd be suited to a residential course. They have to be able to fit in.
"First they have a 'life audit', an in-depth exploration of their history, from birth, of what has brought them here. This can be traumatic, but it gives real insight into gambling-type behaviours early on, which might have been family focused, triggers which have led to severe gambling.
"The majority get through the assessment but for some it's just not the right time. If they're not ready, they're not going to engage and the programme isn't going to work for them."
How do staff know they're taking in those who need this high level of care? "If they don't need it the other guys soon find them out and the staff will too.
"Our staff are pretty experienced. People come in and say 'you've never seen a gambler as bad as me; never seen someone who owes as much as I do'. Well hello, welcome to eight other men who are pretty much in the same boat. What you can afford to lose and what someone else can afford to lose may be different but the principle is the same – you got out of your depth."
And who are they? "All ages, but the average is 25-34," says Duncan. "We've had enquiries from as young as 17, but we take only over-18s and the youngest we've accepted was 20. Then there are some in their eighties who have been gambling all their lives.
"They are predominantly white British, which may be to do with culture but is something we probably haven't spent enough time looking at."
The residential courses are for men only. An increasing number of women apply but are directed towards the mixed model which involves days of intensive residential therapy and then periods at home with support by telephone and Skype.
"With that we're able to see many more people," Duncan says. "There are four courses a year, three for women and one for men, and each takes 10-13 people.
"We had a women's treatment centre but women often can't get away for 12 weeks because of childcare.
"When the guys arrive they spend two weeks settling in, finding ways to open up and talk, to deal with things in a way they never have before in one-to-ones with therapists and group discussions.
"For men it's difficult to share feelings. Women are much more open and empathetic, wanting to help each other. The men are more 'I'm broken, fix me. Tell me how I stop gambling.'