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Dr. Gabor Maté    

Retired Physician & Bestselling Author; Expert on Addiction & Mental Illness

Gabor Maté (pronunciation: GAH-bor MAH-tay) is a retired physician who, after 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience, worked for over a decade in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side with patients challenged by drug addiction and mental illness. The bestselling author of four books published in twenty-five languages, Dr. Maté is an internationally renowned speaker highly sought after for his expertise on addiction, trauma, childhood development, and the relationship of stress and illness. His book on addiction received the Hubert Evans Prize for literary non-fiction.

For his groundbreaking medical work and writing he has been awarded the Order of Canada, his country’s highest civilian distinction, and the Civic Merit Award from his hometown, Vancouver. His books include "In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction"; "When the Body Says No"; "The Cost of Hidden Stress"; "Scattered Minds: The Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder"; and (with Gordon Neufeld) "Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers". His next book, "They Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture" is due in Autumn, 2022.

Speech Topics

When The Body Says No: Mind/Body Unity and the Stress-Disease Connection

Based on the book When The Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress (U.S. subtitle: Understanding the Stress-Disease Connection) Stress is ubiquitous these days — it plays a role in the workplace, in the home, and virtually everywhere that people interact. It can take a heavy toll unless it is recognized and managed effectively and insightfully. Western medicine, in theory and practice, tends to treat mind and body as separate entities. This separation, which has always gone against ancient human wisdom, has now been demonstrated by modern science to be not only artificial, but false. The brain and body systems that process emotions are intimately connected with the hormonal apparatus, the nervous system, and in particular the immune system. Emotional stress, especially of the hidden kind that people are not aware of, undermines immunity, disrupts the body's physiological milieu and can prepare the ground for disease. There is strong evidence to suggest that in nearly all chronic conditions, from cancer, ALS, or multiple sclerosis to autoimmune conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or Alzheimer's, hidden stress is a major predisposing factor. In an important sense, disease in an individual can be seen as the “end point” of a multigenerational emotional process. If properly understood, these conditions can provide important openings for compassion and self-awareness, which in turn are major tools in recovery and healing.

Dr. Maté’s presentation includes research findings, compelling and poignant anecdotes from his own extensive experience in family practice and palliative care, and illuminating biographies of famous people such as athlete Lance Armstrong, the late comedienne Gilda Radner, or famed baseball legend Lou Gehrig. The presentation is based on When The Body Says No, a bestselling book that has been translated into more than ten languages on five continents.

Topics covered:

  1. The mind/body unity as explained by modern science (psychoneuroimmunology);
  2. The nature of stress and its physiological consequences;
  3. The three major stressors: Loss of Control, Uncertainty; and Conflict;
  4. How the early environment “programs” us physiologically and psychologically into chronically stressful patterns of feeling and behavior;
  5. Why stress remains hidden in our culture;
  6. The stressful work environment: how to recognize it and transform it;
  7. How to recognize stress and prevent it;
  8. How the understanding of stress can inform and enhance clinical practice.

The Hungry Ghost: A Biopsychosocial Perspective on Addiction, from Heroin to Workaholism

Based on the book In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction

For twelve years Dr. Maté was the staff physician at a clinic for drug-addicted people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, where he worked with patients challenged by hard-core drug addiction, mental illness and HIV, including at Vancouver Supervised Injection Site. In his most recent bestselling book In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, he shows that their addictions do not represent a discrete set of medical disorders; rather, they merely reflect the extreme end of a continuum of addiction, mostly hidden, that runs throughout our society. In The Realm Of Hungry Ghosts draws on cutting-edge science to illuminate where and how addictions originate and what they have in common. Contrary to what is often claimed, the source of addictions is not to be found in genes, but in the early childhood environment where the neurobiology of the brain’s reward pathways develops and where the emotional patterns that lead to addiction are wired into the unconscious. Stress, both then and later in life, creates the predisposition for addictions, whether to drugs, alcohol, nicotine, or to behavioural addictions such as shopping or sex. Helping the addicted individual requires that we appreciate the function of the addiction in his or her life. More than a disease, the addiction is a response to a distressing life history and life situation. Once we recognize the roots of addiction and the lack it strives (in vain) to fill, we can develop a compassionate approach toward the addict, one that stands the best chance of restoring him or her to wholeness and health.

Topics covered:

  1. What is the source of addictions?
  2. What happens chemically and physiologically in the brains of people with substance dependency or behaviour addiction?
  3. The false “blessings” of addiction as experienced by the addict (e.g., as emotional anaesthetic, as personality booster, as social lubricant, and so on;)
  4. The development of the addicted mind: how early childhood experiences shape the brain;
  5. The social basis of addiction in economic, cultural and political dislocation and disempowerment;
  6. How much choice does the addict really have, and how much responsibility?
  7. Developing a therapeutic relationship in which healing is possible;
  8. How to encourage the addict to take responsibility;
  9. The prevention of addiction, both in adolescence and before.

Beyond The Medical Model: A Biopsychosocial View of Attention Deficit Disorder and other Childhood Developmental Disorders

Based on the book Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder (U.S. title: Scattered: How Attention Deficit Disorder Originates And What You Can Do About It) The diagnosis of attention deficit disorder, or AD(H)D (with or without hyperactivity), is burgeoning. Nearly three million children in the U.S. take stimulant medications for this condition, while in Canada the number of Ritalin prescriptions has more than quintupled in the last decade. The prevailing medical model of ADHD views it as an inheritable illness. In his bestselling Scattered Minds Gabor Maté rejects a narrow genetic perspective – and this despite the fact that he has been diagnosed with ADD himself, as have two of his children. He shows that while genetic predisposition may play a role, it is by no means decisive.

Neurobiological research has clearly demonstrated that the development of the human brain is not genetically determined but rather is significantly influenced and shaped by the environment. An increase in societal and parental stress, affecting the developing highly susceptible brains of infants -- as opposed to some sudden, highly implausible proliferation of an “ADD gene” on a large scale -- is responsible for the increasing number of cases now being diagnosed among children and adults. Such a biopsychosocial view has profound implications for the treatment of AD(H)D and related developmental disorders in both children and adults. The circuitry and physiology of the brain are affected by the environment not only during critical periods of early childhood development, but throughout the human lifetime. Medications may be part of the overall treatment plan, but they should not necessarily be the primary, and never the only, line of treatment. Too often, symptom-control approaches actually undermine what should be the long-term goal: neurobiological and psychological development.

Topics covered:

  1. How to recognize AD(H)D: symptoms and signs;
  2. The psychological/emotional characteristics of AD(H)D;
  3. How the human brain develops in interaction with the environment;
  4. Understanding the behaviours of the ADD child and adult;
  5. The uses, misuses, dangers and limitations of medications;
  6. The use and abuse of medications in treating AD(H)D;
  7. The AD(H)D student in the classroom;
  8. How to promote healthy development at any age.

Peer Orientation: Why Children Are Stressed, Why Parents and Teachers Are Disempowered and How To Restore a Healthy Balance in Adult-Child Relationships

Parenting and teaching are much harder these days than they used to be, and than they should be. In Hold On To Your Kids, Dr. Gabor Maté (with developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld) forward a provocative and important view of why this is, and what we can do to counteract it. The root of the problem is that children no longer look to adults for emotional support, the teaching of values, or the modeling of behavior. Peer orientation refers to the tendency of children and youth to look to their peers for direction: for their sense of right and wrong, codes of conduct, and their very identity. Peer orientation undermines family cohesion, sabotages healthy development and fosters an aggressive and prematurely sexualized youth culture. For parents already challenged by the demands of our multitasking world and stretched by stark economic realities, peer orientation further complicates the task of child rearing. Children were never meant by nature to be in a position where they are so dominant in influencing one another. This state of affairs may be the norm today, but it’s neither natural nor healthy. Historically it is a very new development, due to economic and social influences prevalent since World War II, resulting in a deep undermining of adult-child connections. This talk aims at restoring parenting to its natural intuitive basis and the adult-child relationship to its rightful preeminence. The concepts, principles and practical advice articulated will empower parents, teachers and other adults who play a nurturing role to be for children what nature intended: the true source of contact, security and warmth. Parents must regain their natural authority, without coercion, punishment and artificial consequences. Children need to be protected from becoming lost in the emotionally barren and culturally backward world of peer orientation.

Topics covered:

  1. The basis of healthy child development: the attachment relationship with parents, teachers and other adults;
  2. Why the traditional relationship has become undermined, leaving parents and teachers frustrated and children alienated and immature;
  3. What peer orientation is and how it competes with children’s adult attachments; how to recognize its signs;
  4. How peer orientation leads to boredom, aggression, bullying, precocious sexuality, drug use, developmental problems and “unteachability;”
  5. How to restore the healthy adult orientation of our children, including methods of discipline that do not alienate children but bring them closer.

The Biology of Loss: What Happens When Attachments Are Impaired and How To Foster Resilience

This presentation, based on the best-selling Scattered Minds, Hold on To Your Kids, and In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts, outlines the mental health implications of early childhood emotional loss, whether due to abuse in the family or simply of stress on the parents, on the subsequent loss of attunement with the child. Childhood developmental disorders such as ADHD, ODD, and other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, personality disorders, etc. can all be traced to either negative childhood experiences or the absence of sufficiently positive ones. Addiction and adult mental health issues also flow from the same source. The impact of the environment on brain development is discussed, along with ways of recognizing and helping to heal the negative consequences of early loss. Also discussed is the impact of peer orientation, as articulated in Hold On To Your Kids.

Topics covered:

  1. The basis of healthy child development: the attachment relationship with parents, teachers and other adults;
  2. How the human brain develops in interaction with the social/psychological environment;
  3. The stresses in our culture that have undermined the necessary conditions for healthy development, and their consequences in childhood and adolescent disorders;
  4. The role of medicalized birth practices;
  5. Why, even for the average “normal” child, the traditional relationship has become undermined, leaving parents and teachers frustrated and many children alienated and immature;
  6. What peer orientation is and how it competes with children’s adult attachments; how to recognize its signs;
  7. How to recognize intra-family stresses, and how to deal with them to create a safe, nurturing environment for our children;
  8. Understanding resilience and its promotion as a function of attachment.

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