Podcast: Gabor Maté, Richard Schwartz & Marc Lewis – Rethinking Addiction

This post links to a recent podcast, where I join Dick Schwartz, the founder of Internal Family Systems (IFS), and Gabor Maté, a well-known commentator on addiction and its impact on marginalized communities. As I’ve blogged about lately, I rely on IFS as a ground-breaking therapeutic tool in my psychology practice. Here in this podcast, the three of us put our heads together to examine how parts psychology and self-compassion can ease the anguish of addiction and related difficulties.

The Weekend University disseminates progressive, evidence-based ideas and opinions about the workings of the human mind and the possibility of relieving suffering, worldwide, through sharing this knowledge in our work and our lives. This post is hosted by Niall McKeever, the founder and curator of the Weekend University podcast series. The series regularly features lectures in psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, evolutionary studies, and mindfulness approaches, as well as new ways to conceptualize pernicious social and geopolitical issues through the lens of these disciplines.

I was delighted when Niall invited me to share the mic (and camera) with Maté and Schwartz a few weeks ago. In a previous podcast in this series, I described how IFS enriches the reservoir of therapeutic techniques available for working with people in addiction. But this episode was a special treat for me. I’ve known Gabor Maté for some time, I often recommend his Hungry Ghosts book, and we spent a few hours walking around Vancouver and chatting years ago. But I’d never met Dick Schwartz. I’ve listened to scads of talks and interviews with him, taken online courses with him, I’ve truly immersed myself in his psychotherapeutic brainchild, but I’ve not had the pleasure to connect with him directly. Until this podcast.

So without further ado, here’s the episode: Rethinking Addiction.

I hope you’ll give it a listen. And before, during, or after that, take a look at the following point-form summary and relevant links posted on the podcast website:

In this meeting of the minds discussion, we’re joined by three of the world’s leading experts on addiction: Dr Gabor Maté, Dr Richard Schwartz, and Professor Marc Lewis.

Although their backgrounds vary widely, with Gabor initially training as a medical doctor, Richard as a family therapist, and Marc as a developmental psychologist and neuroscientist, all three of them have reached similar conclusions in their understanding of, and approach to treating addiction.

In a lively and wide ranging discussion, we explore:

  • Why do we need to approach problems with addiction not by asking: “what’s wrong with it?”, but instead by asking, “what’s right with it?”
  • Why both the ‘self-indulgent’ and ‘disease’ models of addiction are both fundamentally flawed and harmful (from a scientific point of view)
  • The root causes
  • How the internal family systems (IFS) model can improve our understanding of the mechanisms underlying addiction
  • How Gabor Maté’s Compassionate Inquiry approach can help heal addictions by simply asking the right questions from a place of compassion and genuine curiosity
  • Why IFS therapy may be one of the most effective approaches out there for working with addictions.

And more.

You can learn more about each speaker’s work via the selected links from this episode.

Selected Links from the Episode


Postscript and retort:

Please forgive me for pooping out in the middle of the podcast. We had a power outage in my region of Toronto — a very rare occurrence — so I disappeared for about ten minutes and then returned when I was able to figure out (with my wife’s help) how to use my phone as a “personal hotspot.” Ironically, perhaps, it was during my personal blackout that Gabor aired his opinion that I saw “non-physiological” addictions as mental events disconnected from brain activity. Of course, that’s not what I think at all, as my book, Memoirs of an Addicted Brain, and many subsequent articles make clear. I think the brain is intrinsically, fundamentally involved in all mental and emotional activities, certainly including addiction. What I describe as “non-physiological” addictions in the podcast are simply those that don’t unleash massive physical withdrawal symptoms — e.g., addictions to cannabis or cocaine or, for that matter, gambling and porn. In my view, all addictions are psychological. But some, as epitomized by opiate addiction, tack on the additional agony of physiological rebound reactions, while neurophysiological supplies and demands get readjusted to life without the drug.

Gabor and I seemed to patch up our misunderstanding through a flurry of recent emails. But I’m still simmering, as you can see. Let it not be said that Lewis dismisses the brain’s role in addiction! And speaking more broadly, the notorious mind-body distinction needs to be thrown out — for once and for all — not merely recycled. Descartes has been dead for centuries.



6 thoughts on “Podcast: Gabor Maté, Richard Schwartz & Marc Lewis – Rethinking Addiction

  1. Carlton Bright November 8, 2021 at 5:40 am #

    Thanks for the link to this Marc, the first listening was refreshing, and having 3 professionals at once with an attentive and listening host is works well.

    Looking forward to the second listening. Great to actually see you, you look well!


    • Marc November 8, 2021 at 6:21 pm #

      Thank you, Carlton! Indeed I’m feeling well, though I may have looked a bit sleepy at moments during the podcast. Good to hear from you. I hope you’re also doing well.

  2. Marcus Concannon November 10, 2021 at 9:10 am #

    Thank you so much for all your work in the field of addiction. I myself got sober 28 years ago with the help of A.A. but was feeling a little despondent with its philosophy 3 years ago. I found secular A.A. online and through this medium came across yourself, Gabor, Lance Dodes, Maia Szalavitz among others to be a revelation. The idea that I was not in control of my own body but needed a higher power to take care of me never sat well in my thinking and to hear theories of why I drank to excess expanded in your, and other books really helped me to come to terms with my own life. Keep up with the good work and this social medium as it is a great resource especially with your links to other sites not least being your latest ” the Weekend University podcast series.” Thanks again.

  3. alison November 15, 2021 at 9:09 pm #

    Thanks Marc that was a great summary between the 3 of you, I wish more people in the treatment field could listen to this, there is too much judgement and diagnosing rather then compassionate understanding of where the behavior/symptoms are coming from. Especially liked Richard’s statement of how those struggling to connect to Self, often have more complex traumas and have a longer journey to heal. At times, the treatment field is so quick to judge “personality disorder” and deam a person “unfixable”….especially the homeless…which is a trauma in itself.

  4. carlton November 17, 2021 at 8:17 pm #

    I agree with Alison that “disorder” and especially “abuse” are unhelpful terms.

    However, I think the next big step in the understanding of addiction may be researching people that have found that their feelings for an addiction have changed, and life no longer revolves around “control”, “maintenance”, or even self-awareness, regarding the addiction.

    There was a group of researchers at Mt Sinai hospital here in NYC and a group in Hong Kong looking into brain pattern changes, but that was several years ago, and haven’t seen any followup articles on it, but it is the next rock to turn over in the understanding addiction.

  5. J.L. Krier November 28, 2021 at 7:42 pm #

    Hello Maec

    It has been several years since I have commented as my last entry seemed to have upset you, probably with good reason.
    For some reason my E Mail picked up your blog and I am answering because of a major break-through in my struggles with addiction, and I thought you or your readers might be interested.
    It started with a search for an effective non-addictive pain killer for my arthritis. I was lucky to find a local physician who worked with addicts. His primary treatment was a pain-killing drug called Buprenorphine. After several months of use as a fairly effective pain-killer something drove me to have my first alcoholic drink (in 17 years) while my wife was out of town. 12 years of AA pounded in my head that “one is too many and 100 is not enough”. Needless to say, I was concerned about my behavior but I didn’t need to be. Not only did that martini taste terrible but after drinking it I had no desire to drink another. A couple months later I had a glass of my favorite tipple; expensive white wine but the reaction was the same. In the last year I have had a total of 6 alcoholic drinks always with the same reaction.
    I can’t guarantee the eliminating of my alcoholism was due to the Buprenorphine but I am 90% convinced that the pain killer (also not addictive) is the driver behind the elimination of my addiction (at one time averaging 1.5 bottles of wine per night, every night).

    Best Regards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *