#359 – Addiction In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts with Gabor Mate

Gabor Mate


Gabor Maté M.D. is a physician and bestselling author whose books have been published in nearly twenty languages worldwide. Dr. Maté is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics, from addiction and attention deficit disorder (ADD) to mind-body wellness, adolescent mental health, and parenting. A renowned thinker and public speaker, he addresses audiences all over North America, including professional and academic groups like nurses’ organizations, psychiatry departments, and corporate conventions, as well as presentations and seminars for local community groups and the general public. As a writer and speaker, he is widely known for the power, insight, clarity, candor, compassion, humor, and warmth of his presentations.

Common to all of Dr. Maté’s work is a focus on understanding the broader context in which human disease and disorders arise, from cancer to autoimmune conditions like MS, rheumatoid arthritis, ulcerative colitis, or fibromyalgia; childhood behavioral disorders like ADD, oppositionality, or bullying; or addiction, from substance abuse to obsessive gambling, shopping, or even workaholism.
Rather than offering facile, 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. His approach is holistic and kaleidoscopic – linking everything from neurophysiology, immunology, and developmental psychology to economic and social policy – and even touches on the spiritual dimensions of disease and healing.

His books, all Canadian best-sellers, include:
Scattered Minds: A New Look at the Origins and Healing of Attention Deficit Disorder(1999)
When the Body Says No: The Cost of Hidden Stress (2004)
Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers (2005), co-written with Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D In The Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters With Addiction (2009). Dr. Maté was recipient of the 2009 Hubert Evans Prize for Literary Non-Fiction.

A psychology podcast by David Van Nuys, Ph.D.

copyright 2013: David Van Nuys, Ph.D.



  1. gloria
    Posted July 12, 2013 at 9:35 pm | Permalink

    David, what a coup to get Gabor Mate and how great that you managed to get him before he went on his sabbatical. It says a lot for your reputation that he agreed to come on your show. I was surprised to hear at the end that you felt a bit intimidated by his experience and erudition. It didn’t show at all and your questions were pertinent and insightful. If you had a rating system I would give this interview maximum stars.

    What an extraordinary gift to humanity this man is, not only for his work with others but for his role modeling of the process of transformation at work within himself. His work and personal example is reminiscent of Stan and Christina Grof.

    That he has such a genuine and authentically positive approach in spite of being immersed in the very difficult arena of hard core addictions is testament to the efficacy of his own healing work.

    I loved the story he told of Cynthia’s healing and his comment that there is always the possibility of transformation no matter what you suffered, given the right support. What has long intrigued me is what is it that turns a person towards the path of transformation or keeps someone walking the path toward self destruction. Somehow, I think the answer lies in the kinds of experience he described as that enabled by the Ayahuasca – the experience of knowing at a deep level that love is our true reality. As he said, when you know that at a deep level you don’t need to seek for it on the outside in any form.

    Are the hungry ghosts simply the ignorance of our true nature and the fear that it might be other than love? Your interview with David Schoen where he talks about the archetypal shadow/ archetypal evil and its antidote, archetypal good is worth listening to in addition to this one.

    Generational trauma goes back a long, long way and even those who haven’t suffered significant trauma in their own, or their family’s lives, can’t escape the effects of it because it is embedded in the collective unconscious. As Gabor pointed out, addictions can be very subtle and we can be easily deluded by them. We all need to do the healing and transformational work and it is hard work at times but so rewarding.

    Thankfully we have an extraordinary range of support in this day and age and this podcast is one of them.

  2. Richard Powell
    Posted July 13, 2013 at 12:49 pm | Permalink

    Dr. Dave,

    I echo Gloria’s comment about the amazing good fortune of catching Dr. Maté before his sabbatical but unlike Gloria I noticed right away the challenge you were having creating rapport at the beginning of the interview. Dr. Maté seemed to be acting true to his value for truth when he corrected you on several points. I love how you shifted gears, undeterred by Dr. Maté’s vigilant tone, and moved the conversation to a personal and deep level. I also appreciated how Dr. Maté shared this transition with you and I have to say that the dynamic involved in creating the rapport brought out the best in both of you. I was fully engaged throughout and I thought to myself that this is what makes Shrink Rap Radio so different from other interview style podcasts and radio shows. Not only are guests allowed to fully unwrap their ideas and experiences, but that unfolding occurs inside a genuine conversation.

    With regard to Dr. Maté’s work and writing, I find that his discussion of the relationship between trauma and addiction rings true to the work I am involved with at Island Crisis Care Society. Though not a front line worker I have been involved in the field for over 15 years and have met and heard many stories of people whose lives have been shaped by generational abuse, trauma, and the expanding circle of harm so often associated with substance use.

    Dr. Maté has been a voice of reason and experience in Canada, where funding for treatment has either stalled or been cut, depending on the province. With an aging population, a shrinking middle class, and an uncertain future, we can count on more dis-ease and pain and less money to address it. The solution, in my mind, is to explore alternatives like those discussed on this show, and also by looking again at the religious conversion phenomenon you touched on in your closing comments.

    Powerful religious experiences (such as a Christian born again conversion, Sufi ahwâl, or Buddhist enlightenment, etc.) have been an effective method of transformation since the beginning of human history, yet even with academic exploration of these topics for well over a century (William James, Jung, Freud, Joseph Campbell, etc. etc.) the medical community has largely avoided the role of religious experience in health. The work of people like Dr. Maté who combine openness to effective, if unorthodox, modalities with the highest critical thinking give me real hope. That interplay of critical assessment and openness to what works, is what washes the gold from the sand.

  3. Posted July 14, 2013 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    He is obviously addicted to the attention he gets from lecturing. And then he intends to spend his sabbatical – WRITING? Sounds like he finds his work so rewarding he can’t stop. And why should he stop. There is nothing wrong with doing those things you find bring you pleasure and avoiding the things that bring you pain.

    I am thankful that Dr. Dave is addicted to podcasting. It helps me with my addiction to listening to his podcasts.

    Trauma is wonderful for therapists. It not only is something to blame but you often have to spend billable hours reconstructing it.

    I am “Leary” of those who want to promote psychedelics. Sure they may be effective but the warning is always there to make sure you take it in the presence of the proper guide. Don’t underestimate for a second the ability of drug companies to flood the market with their little pills to a point far beyond the capacity of available enlightened guides.
    Society needs to proceed with due caution and is correct in slowing the process down.

    Dr. Mate was obviously squirming when he was mildly challenged about genetic causes of addiction. When asked about any blow-back from scientists who are inclined to give serious consideration to genetic causes he gave a very weak answer. He said the audiences silence is a kind of proof that these ideas aren’t defendable. He should know that science isn’t settled in debate especially when an audience wants to hear a lecture. Science settles things in peer reviewed journals.

    Dr. Mate should have at least directed listeners to journals where he has specifically criticized the genetic claim and produced properly conducted research that falsifies the claim that genetics plays a significant role in drug addiction.

  4. gloria
    Posted August 24, 2013 at 6:40 am | Permalink

    I have obtained Dr. Mate’s book since listening to this interview and can highly recommend it. I got the audiobook initially which is exceptionally well read by Gabor’s son Daniel and I also ended up getting the Kindle version as I wanted to have ready access to the information. If anyone is thinking of getting both forms, if you buy them together it is cheaper and the book and audio are synchronised.

    One thing I came away with was a feeling that Dr. Mate is exceptionally hard on himself. This was strange in a way because his book paves the way for a deeper understanding into the mechanisms of addiction and therefore more compassion for all the forces that drive us mere mortals.

    I think this is one of the strengths of the book – the insight and knowledge that we are all programmed and driven by forces that we had little control of in our formative years. Relieving ourselves and others of the burden of blame, shame and guilt goes a long way towards healing.

    His observations on the ineffectiveness of the war on drugs were compelling and sound and coming from someone who is/was in the trenches has a credibility that law makers could benefit from.

  5. Rachel Newton
    Posted December 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm | Permalink

    Dear Dr Dave,

    I have just finished listening to this podcast and was moved to comment (finally). I felt your discomfort while interviewing Dr Mate and recognized that my sense was correct when I heard your follow up at the end of the interview. I am sorry that your typically natural and easy flow when interviewing was not there for you in this particular case. It still did not detract from the engaging discussion you had with Dr Mate. I have subscribed to his website and look forward to when I can attend one of his events when he is in Vancouver again.

    As a counsellor myself, I was particularly struck by Dr Mate’s observation of seeing himself in the eyes of his clients – in both the seemingly negative and positive attributes. I often experience this with my own clients. For me it creates an environment that challenges me to find my learning edge and grow with my clients as I assist them in their personal journey of growth in our work together.

    Thank you for your authenticity regarding any difficulty you had with this interview. Rest assured IMHO, you are an inspirational interviewer and thank you for all the work you do to share your talents with the world!

    Rachel 🙂

  6. Anne
    Posted March 24, 2015 at 5:21 am | Permalink

    Hi Dave – I love your podcasts (and Wise Counsel too!) and listen often. I listened to this episode last night while walking my dog, and felt moved to comment. I feel very strongly that your troubles in the interview were NOT OF YOUR MAKING but were due to the unfriendliness and narcissism of your interviewee. I felt like he challenged you (needlessly) on almost everything you said. And I heard you get quieter and quieter as the interview went on so you could avoid his scolding! My sense was that he was not going to be happy unless he asked his own questions himself … and then answered himself. Dave! You are an extremely nice and friendly interviewer. You ask good questions, and if it ever happens that your interviewees want to tweak their replies in order to clarify a point or make a different emphasis, they usually just good-naturedly go ahead and do that. Dr. Mate came off seeming like a real jerk, IMHO, when he repeatedly challenged you for not asking him the questions HE would have preferred you ask. I have never heard you be anything but respectful and friendly and generous to your interviewees. I’m sorry that this interviewee did not exhibit those same qualities to you.

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