Last month pAul Montgomery Co-Director of Unique Outcomes, the Outcomes Star™ in Australia, had the pleasure of participating in the official launch of the Gambling Recovery Star. Although a number of Australian organisations have collaborated in new Star development over the years, this was his first experience of being involved from the very beginning.

Late one afternoon in 2018, after a big day of Outcomes Star training with colleagues in mental health services, I was reflecting on how far we’ve come in these fields thanks to the “recovery” model. I was thinking about how, in mental health and other fields, the journey metaphor has proved so much more helpful than the metaphor of illness or disfunction. Just at that moment, I got a call from Steve Novak, then recently appointed to a new role as Manager of Client Outcomes for Relationship Australia, Queensland (RAQ).

Steve spoke of the ways Gambling Help services had been using the Mental Health Recovery Star in their work with people living with problem gambling. These workers, including Outcomes Star Licensed Trainer Wil McAlister of Uniting Care in Cairns, had been spruiking the benefits of using the Star in this work. However, they’d bumped into the challenge of conceptualising problem gambling as a mental health issue, as many of the folks effected did not see it this way. These practitioners using the Mental Health Recovery Star began to wonder how much better it might be to have a Star specifically developed for this unique area of practice.

I connected Steve with Triangle in the UK and many conversations later, in 2019, a grant was secured through the Queensland Governments’ Gambling Help Innovation Fund to commence the process.

At the launch last month, RAQ CEO Dr Ian Law highlighted the “spirit of collaboration at the heart of the project” with involvement from the Queensland Government Department of Justice and Attorney General, the Outcomes Star in the UK, Unique Outcomes in Australia, Lifeline Darling Downs and South East Queensland, UnitingCare, Centacare and RAQ.

Like all versions of the Outcomes Star, the Gambling Recovery Star was created through a rigorous process of literature review, consulting, workshopping, and road-testing. One of the authors of the Outcomes Star, Sara Burns from Triangle, was able to lead the initial workshops in Queensland in early 2020, before the process went online. Despite the impact of COVID-19, the pilot period was a great success with the prototype version being used in practice with over 100 clients, clearly demonstrating its effectiveness and psycho-metric properties.

Dr Law explained that, with 5 million Australians effected by problem gambling each year, there is a keen interest in improving clinical practice and gathering data about what works. He identified the importance of the Outcomes Star promoting a dynamic approach to assessment and planning, centred on client’s voices and priorities. He said the Gambling Recovery Star is now routinely used with almost all clients in Queensland’s Gambling Help Services, “Empowering clients to be agents of change”.

David McKarzel, Executive Director of the Office of Regulatory Policy, speaking at the launch on behalf of Attorney General Shannon Fentiman, said the Qld government commits $7M each year to the provision of Gambling Help services, and have funded services in this field for over 20 years. Contributing to the development of the Gambling Recovery Star, he said, had been a welcome opportunity for policy staff to work with these services in a different way- toward the creation of a clear and consistent methodology for service provision.

Marty O’Hare, Counsellor/Community Educator for RAQ said the real advantage of using the Gambling Recovery Star is that “you’re able to dial into conversation with clients about various aspects of their lives”.

According to Marty, many clients come to Gambling Help services assuming there’ll be a narrow focus on their gambling behaviour:

“The Gambling Recovery Star helps us broaden the conversation, so they see gambling in context, see connections to issues relating to their emotional wellbeing… Many people have compartmentalised gambling and not realised it’s effects in other areas of their life and relationships.”

Marty explained,

“I usually start with a plan focused on practical gambling specific interventions such as cash management, handling urges and self-exclusion options, then the Star helps us get to what’s under the surface. Typically, I give some info about the Star at the end of the second session and bring it along to the third session. At best, completing a Star together takes about 30 – 40 minutes in this session. This conversation builds awareness of the possible scope of our work together, so clients have the chance to realise ‘if I really invest in this work, there’ll be other benefits beyond getting on top of the gambling’.

“It means we get to see these insights early on rather than 6 sessions later… Most often we do this early Star together to inform a richer more collaborative plan and then create another Star together just before we conclude our work together …In the review Star, I encourage the client to connect the dots and see just how big and bright their Star has become. This is such a nice metaphor for the work and its usually really obvious clients get a lot of satisfaction from seeing their progress in this visual way.”

The Gambling Recovery StarTM is the Outcomes Star for people with gambling related problems – a holistic way of supporting and measuring recovery. It has been designed specifically for organisations that work with individuals to support them in recovering from harmful gambling and its effects. Full resources are available for organisations with a Star Licence and training for all workers and managers using the Star. Triangle are also actively researching into the psychometric properties of the Integration Star and Star data and intend on publishing a factsheet for this Star. Please contact us for more information.