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Dr. Gabor Maté    

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

A renowned speaker and bestselling author, Dr. Gabor Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development. Rather than offering quick-fix solutions to these complex issues, Dr. Maté weaves together scientific research, case histories, and his own insights and experience to present a broad perspective that enlightens and empowers people to promote their own healing and that of those around them.

After 20 years of family practice and palliative care experience, Dr. Maté worked for over a decade in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side with patients challenged by drug addiction and mental 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;" "Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers;" and "The Myth of Normal: Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture."

His next book, "Hello Again: A Fresh Start for Parents and Their Adult Children" is expected in 2025. Gabor is also the creator of a psychotherapeutic approach, Compassionate Inquiry, now studied by thousands of therapists, physicians, counselors, and others in over 80 countries. More on his books and programs can be found here.

Speech Topics

When The Body Says No: Mind/Body Unity and 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 best-selling book that has been translated into more than thirty languages on five continents.

Topics covered:

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

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

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:

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

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:

  • How to recognize AD(H)D: symptoms and signs
  • The psychological/emotional characteristics of AD(H)D
  • How the human brain develops in interaction with the environment
  • Understanding the behaviours of the ADD child and adult
  • The uses, misuses, dangers and limitations of medications
  • The use and abuse of medications in treating AD(H)D
  • The AD(H)D student in the classroom
  • 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:

  • The basis of healthy child development: the attachment relationship with parents, teachers and other adults
  • Why the traditional relationship has become undermined, leaving parents and teachers frustrated and children alienated and immature
  • What peer orientation is and how it competes with children’s adult attachments; how to recognize its signs
  • How peer orientation leads to boredom, aggression, bullying, precocious sexuality, drug use, developmental problems and unteachability”
  • 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:

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

Trauma, Illness & Healing in a Toxic Culture

Half of North American adults suffer from chronic illness - a fact Western medicine views largely in terms of individual predispositions and habits.

Western medicine imposes two separations, neither tenable scientifically. First, it separates mind from the body, largely assuming that most chronic illnesses have nothing to do with people's emotional and psychological experiences. And yet, a large and irrefutable body of research has clearly shown that physiologic and behavioural functioning of human beings can be understood only if we integrate our body functions with those of the mind: functions such as awareness, emotions, our interpretations of and responses to events, and our relationships with other people. Second, Western practice views people's health as separate from the social environment, ignoring social determinants of health such as class, gender, economic status, and race. Such factors, in reality, are more important influences on health and longevity than individual predispositions and personal factors such as genes, cholesterol levels, blood pressure and so on.

This talk shows how a society dedicated to material pursuits rather than genuine human needs and spiritual values stresses its members, undermines healthy child development and dooms many to chronic illness, from diabetes to heart disease, from autoimmune conditions to cancer.

You will learn to:

  • Identify two separations imposed by Western Medicine on the health and well-being of the population
  • Name three chronic conditions that are correlated with stressful social environments
  • Describe one shift in focus that would support a healthier population.

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Compassion Fatigue: Caring for Ourselves while Caring for Others

Though compassion fatigue is an oft-used phrase, how accurate is it? Does one truly become fatigued by feeling, expressing, or manifesting compassion? This workshop will explore the deeper source of the well-known phenomenon of burnout, when people engaged in caring for others experience a depletion of their energies, a psychic and physical lassitude. That deeper source, it will be demonstrated, is to be found the personal history of the individual and his or her relationship to the work, not merely in the nature of the work itself. Practices will be taught to prevent what is known as compassion fatigue, and to restore our energies if we have been affected by it.

Fostering Resilience in a Stressed Culture

Many more children than in the past are diagnosed these days with various learning and behaviour difficulties and many have problems learning from negative experiences. Schools are also having to deal with an increasing incidence of bullying which zero tolerance” policies do not seem to be diminishing. Dr. Maté's sessions, based on his best-selling books, will include generous time for interactive dialogue with participants and will focus on the causes and underlying dynamics of the challenges faced by today’s children—and therefore, by the adults tasked with nurturing and educating them. It will be shown that the most important feature of any approach to resilience needs to be the attachment relationship between children and the adults responsible for their care. Sometimes we seek to avoid conflict by keeping each other at an emotional arm’s length, creating yet another impediment to genuine connection.

You will learn to:

  • Understand the sources of bullying and why the ‘zero tolerance’ bullying policies in school do not work and, are in fact, harmful
  • Learn the causes of the challenges faced by todays children: why an increasing number of children are being diagnosed with a plethora of disorders, from ADD to ODD, from depression to anxiety
  • Understand the correlation between the underlying dynamics of these challenges and how they arise from and can be mitigated by children’s relationship with the adults who nurture them
  • Learn the basis resilience
  • Understand why approaches that seek the change a child’s behaviors without addressing the underlying and changing the underlying dynamics only exacerbate the distress that leads to those behaviors in the first place
  • The importance of self-care in promoting the resilience of children and others

Compassionate Inquiry

Compassionate Inquiry™ is a psychotherapeutic method developed by Dr. Gabor Maté that reveals what lies beneath the appearance we present to the world.

Using Compassionate Inquiry, the therapist unveils the level of consciousness, mental climate, hidden assumptions, implicit memories and body states that form the real message that words both express and conceal.

Through Compassionate Inquiry, the client can recognize the unconscious dynamics that run their lives and how to liberate themselves from them.

Dr. Maté will demonstrate the process of Compassionate Inquiry with course participants and instruct therapists in the practice of this powerful technique to help clients access deep healing and transformation. This will be both an experiential, participatory workshop where participants will be guided through their own personal process, as well as an introduction to the training to teach the method of Compassionate Inquiry to health professionals, therapists and social workers. Please note, Dr. Maté will not teach the Compassionate Inquiry approach, but will demonstrate it.

Topics covered:

  • How to cultivate presence, being with what is
  • How to bring attention to body signals in clients and yourself
  • How to create and maintain a safe sacred space between client and therapist
  • How to keep a client engaged in present moment experience
  • How to decode the unconscious beliefs that contribute to personal suffering in self and others

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