Gabor Maté

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Gabor Maté CM (born January 6, 1944) is a Hungarian-Canadian physician and author. He has a background in family practice and a special interest in childhood development, trauma and potential lifelong impacts on physical and mental health including autoimmune disease, cancer, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), addictions and a wide range of other conditions.

Dr. Maté in 2013


  • Physical well-being depends on more than keeping our bodies fit. Emotions and the people who come into our lives matter just as much...
    “‘I never get angry,’ says a character in one of Woody Allen’s movies. ‘I grow a tumor instead.’ Much more scientific truth is captured in that droll remark than many doctors would recognize. Mainstream medical practice largely ignores the role of emotions in the physiological functioning of the human organism. Yet the scientific evidence abundantly shows that people’s lifetime emotional experiences profoundly influence health and illness.
  • The separation of mind and body is an erroneous view, incompatible with science. Personality traits—that is, psychological patterns—conduce to disease because the brain circuits and systems that process emotions not only exert a profound influence on our autonomic nerves, as well as our cardiovascular, hormonal, and immune systems: In reality, they are all conjoined... Most medical students never hear the word ‘trauma’ in all their years of training, except in the the sense of physical injury. ‘The medical profession is traumaphobic,’ a well-known colleague in San Francisco once told me. The results for patient care are devastating, whether in the treatment of physical or psychiatric conditions—a distinction that, given the mind/body unity, is in itself misleading.”
  • People far-flung have told me that it saved their lives, it changed their view of addiction or it made a big difference to their families... the book addresses — the origins of addiction and a sane and humane way of treating addiction of all kinds — has not become mainstream practice or awareness yet... When the book came out, we still had a federal government that was completely against supervised injection sites, for example, or the provision under observed circumstances of prescribed heroin to dependence users who needed it. We had a completely retrograde federal policy which has opened up quite a bit under the current administration.
  • I think we live in an insane culture. By insane, I mean a culture that does not meet real human needs. It meets our physical and economic needs, for the most part, for many people — at least in the privileged West. But at the same time, it alienates people. It cuts people off from themselves, from their gut feelings, from nature [and] from other people. It sets people against each other. We're destroying the earth. It's a very unhealthy system that we're living in right now. So where's hope in that? Hope in that is people realizing that we live in troubled times, to look for solutions within themselves and within their communities and ... recognizing our spiritual nature, that we have needs beyond the physical ones. We have to look at the other needs we have that this way of life just does not satisfy.
  • In our society, we tend to look at people's behaviours, rather than ask what is behind the behaviour... Kids are considered to be bad or good, but nobody's asking what is making the child behave a certain way... I've never met a single person who ever chose to be a drug addict... It's easy to focus on how someone is different from you than recognize what you share... That tendency is magnified when the person doesn't resemble you. Consider the "stereotyped image" of a drug user one may pass on the street... We see them as something other than ourselves... And it's hard for us to recognize our common humanity... In reality, most people have more in common with drug users than they'd like to admit... Virtually everybody's got some kind of an addiction. Maybe not to drugs, but to some behaviour that they crave that gives them relief. Whether it's video games, sex, work or shopping, addictions to any of these activities tap into the same brain circuits that drug users activate with intoxicating substances.
  • If you look at the origin of the word ‘trauma’, it’s simply the Greek word for wounding. Trauma is a wound. You can think of a wound in two ways. One is that it doesn’t heal, and every time you touch it, it really hurts. Or it’s a wound that’s healed, leaving scar tissue... Trauma is a process, a part of your life, and therefore you have agency, you can do something about it... The word for healing comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for wholeness, and the essential nature of trauma is that it’s a loss of wholeness...
    • Quoted in Catherine Jackson talks to Dr Gabor Mate about trauma and compassionate inquiry, Therapy Today, (September 29, 2020)
  • If you come to me and say, ‘I’ve got an addiction to… whatever,’ I could say three things to you. One is that you have a genetic disease, which is the mantra in most of the medical world. Or I could tell you, ‘You are an idiot, you made a bad choice, you are morally degenerate, you are lacking will power,’ or I could say, ‘Hmm, what is that addiction doing for you? Oh, it’s soothing your pain, is it? So how did you develop that pain? What happened to you? And how can we help you heal that pain and handle it in ways that are not self-destructive?’ So, the role of the therapist is in helping people understand that what happened to them has a role in what happens inside them, so they don’t see themselves as deficit, bad or stupid, or as diseased; they see that how they are functioning is actually a fairly reasonable and understandable response to what happened to them.
    • Quoted in Catherine Jackson talks to Dr Gabor Mate about trauma and compassionate inquiry, Therapy Today, (September 29, 2020)
  • It is time to realize, then, addiction is neither a choice nor an inherited disease, but a psychological and physiological response to painful life experiences. It can take many forms, but whatever form it takes:
    • it employs the same neurological pathways and emotional patterns;
    • the damage it does extends well beyond the suffering imposed by drug use specifically;
    • to ostracize the drug addict as somehow different from the rest of us is arrogant and arbitrary;
    • to criminalize certain substances, say heroin, while allowing the profitable distribution of more deadly products such as cigarettes is irrational and harmful—yes, though it may be a startling assertion it is medically a simple fact: heroin use, short of overdose, is far less lethal than cigarette smoke;
    •to treat the addiction, which is a symptom, without treating the pain that underlies it is to deal in effects rather than in causes, and therefore dooms many to ongoing cycles of suffering.
  • Capitalism is the system that we live under... and for all its economic achievements and scientific breakthroughs — which are very unevenly distributed, with a lot of inequality, which itself is a source of illness — it’s a system that’s based on fundamental assumptions... that people are individualistic and competitive... In fact, from an evolutionary point of view, had we been individualistic and competitive, we never would have evolved. We evolved as communal creatures in close contact with each other, with a lot of mutual support. Now, if you develop a system that’s based on the opposite perspective... then you’re running roughshod over human needs. And so to understand what’s happening on an individual level, you really have to look at what’s happening on a macro level. And this trauma shows up, not only in the personalized, but of course in politics and other areas of our culture. So we really have to look at the larger picture, and not just think that illness is somehow an individual aberration. It’s really a manifestation of a system that is a toxic culture.
  • Trauma and stress are so normal in society that we take them to be almost natural occurrences... We think this is normal. But actually, from the point of view of human needs and human evolution, the current way of living that we pursue is actually abnormal and is the cause of a lot of ailments of body and mind... a lot can be done as long as we recognize the problem. The issue is that my own profession, the medical profession, despite all the science that links the mind and body, emotions and physiology, doesn’t link them... physicians are not trained in understanding the whole human being and the unshakeable oneness of our existence.
  • The average physician, when they do their prenatal visit, they don’t ask about the woman’s emotional state or the stress in their lives... In British Columbia, the Caesarean section rate is almost 40 per cent now, which is incredibly high... that degree of intervention actually interferes with the natural bonding between mother and infant. So right from the beginning, we just don’t get it... At the University of British Columbia, where I was trained 40 years ago, the average medical student still doesn’t get a single, coherent lecture on the impact of emotional trauma on physical health, even though we know... that people with stress and trauma in their lives have an increased risk of rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, depression, psychosis, ADHD, and so on. So, the first thing has to be at least the training of physicians in the unshakable unity of mind and body, of educators as well, because many of the troubled kids that educators are helpless to know what to do with are actually traumatized kids. And politicians, if their policies are trauma informed, are going to have a totally different legal system, we’d have a totally different approach to addiction and so on.

Quotes about Maté[edit]

  • Hungarian-born Canadian physician Dr. Gabor Maté also ascribes... widespread illnesses and lifestyle risks ─ our leading causes of death and disability ─ to “toxic societies.” ... Maté also cites Australian hospital records showing 9-times higher incidents of breast cancers among women who, after onset of lumps, were emotionally stressed and socially isolated during monitoring.... The proper way to look at [Earth] stewardship is the care and nurturing of other life, not its destruction and exploitation which, Maté explains, are earmarks of toxic societies and byproducts of materialism. Restoring planetary and national health calls for significant cultural and societal reformations... Maté calls it an ideology and way of looking at human beings (and nonhuman animals as well) through psychological connections to others.

External Links[edit]

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