Maverick psychotherapist or revolutionary?
“Dr. Gabor MatÈ has lived several lives in one. He’s most decidedly a risk-taker: the bestselling author of a controversial book on attention-deficit disorder called Scattered Minds, MatÈ is a political activist known for his (even more controversial) views on the Middle East, and a physician/psychotherapist who gave up his family practice several years ago to work with HIV-positive heroin addicts on the Vancouver’s downtown east side. Unflinching in the face of criticism, this is a man who will not keep silent about his multiple passions.
In his latest book, When the Body Says No, he goes out on a medical limb with his passionately-argued thesis that certain types of chronic disease can be triggered by stress. And not the garden variety stress we usually think of (the job, the kids, the mortgage), but internal stress generated by the repression of powerful emotions, particularly anger.
In his many years as a palliative care physician, MatÈ observed in his dying patients certain eerie similarities in personality. Many of them were cheerful and agreeable to a fault, never seemed angry, placed everyone else’s needs above their own, and were harshly critical with themselves. Their personal boundaries seemed fragile and uncertain, as if they did not know where they left off and others began. In many cases, it was nearly impossible for them to say “no,” to the point that their bodies had to say it for them.
These personal observations matched up with certain discoveries in the relatively-new field of psychoneuroimmunology, the science studying the intricate interaction between psyche and soma. The mainstream medical idea of a “mind/body split” no longer made sense to MatÈ, so he set out to probe the mystery of what makes us sick, and how we can guard our health through a better understanding of boundaries, emotional honesty and personal autonomy.”
Some of reminds MatÈ’s ideas remind me of a technique called “Focusing” developed by University of Chicago professor Eugene Gendlin and made famous in the eponymous book published in 1982. Focusing is a “technique of self therapy that teaches you to identify and change the way your personal problems concretely exist in your body. Focusing consists of steps of felt change. Unlike methods that stress “getting in touch with your feelings,” there is a built-in test: each focusing step, when done correctly, is marked by a physical relief, a profound release of tension. Focusing guides you to the deepest level of awareness within your body. It is on this level, unfamiliar to most people, that unresolved problems actually exist, and only on this level can they change.”
*Mens Sane Incorpore Sano: Healthy Body, Health Mind.