In this W.O.W. Chat episode, I chat with Dr. Gabor Mate, renowned best selling author, highly sought after international speaker and physician, about his work and perspectives surrounding ‘Compassionate Inquiry’ when working with patients (and in his personal life too)!  I ask Dr.Mate to comment on a statement he made while compassionately inquiring with someone at one of his workshops.

Dr. Mate generously shares what was going on ‘inside’ of him, the importance of awareness, what he did to address it, and how this relates to all health care providers as we compassionately inquire with patients to help attune to and align with each patient and his or her needs, which ultimately helps to reduce suffering.

Have a listen to the 8 minute W.O.W. Chat video HERE or read the entire transcript below:

Shelly Prosko:  Welcome to my W.O.W. Chats! Words of Wisdom with people I admire and respect and whose work is in line with making this world a better place. I have the honour and the privilege of bringing the Words of Wisdom of Dr. Gabor Mate!

Gabor Mate:  Well thanks for those kind words.

Shelly:  Thank you so much. For those of you that don’t know Dr. Mate or maybe you don’t know of his work, just look at all the links below.  I’ll leave his website and links to his books and calendar of events below.

I just spent two full days with Gabor at his Compassionate Inquiry Workshop.   (In this workshop, Gabor demonstrates how he compassionately inquires and how he uses different concepts and approaches with people).

Yesterday, there was something that happened that I would like you to comment on and just elaborate on a little bit. It was when there was a woman up on stage and you were working with her, and there was a moment that felt a bit off — just not in that flow –and sure enough, you said something under your breath; you said, “I’m trying too hard. I’m working too much . . .” and then you sort of switched course.  And I’m wondering if you can comment on that and maybe even how it relates to healthcare practitioners in the therapeutic environment.

Gabor:  Mmm.  Well – thanks for the question.  I don’t actually recall the specific incident. When I am actually doing the work I am so much in the flow, I actually end up not recalling what happens. But I can certainly relate that to other times when that has occurred.  So, it’s compassion and inquiry.  It’s really about going into what’s behind people’s feelings, states, emotions, and behaviours and chronic patterns.  And to conduct it effectively, it’s not enough that I pay attention to the client, but I have to really pay attention to the client’s voice, facial expressions, body language.  In other words what they are messaging me about their internal states, and not just what they are saying and how they’re saying it; but also who is present in them at that moment.

So that requires attention. But requiring equal attention is what’s happening inside me.  So what would have happened in that incident yesterday, is that I would have noticed some tension inside me . . . inside myself.  Which is not about the client, it’s about what’s happening inside of me at that moment. And that happens when I’ve got an intention and I’m maybe working a little bit too hard to get the client aligned with my intention.  But getting the client aligned with my intention is not the purpose of the work.  The purpose of the work is to get me in line with the client’s intention and the client’s needs and internal states.  So if I find myself pushing too hard, trying to get them to see something that I might see that I want them to see, then I’m going to notice the tension in myself. And my mantra on that is:  whenever there is tension, it requires attention.

So it requires that I tend to myself because I know surely from grievous past practice, that if I’m pushing too hard on a client, and if I don’t pay attention to that tension myself, I’m actually gonna never mind not help them, I may even create some unnecessary suffering for them. So that’s what that would have been about.

Shelly:  Thank you for sharing that.  I resonate with that as well and if I can just ask you one other thing about that. When you said you noticed the tension: is it a feeling that’s always the same? Is it something that you’re familiar with every time or does it change and depend? Do you sometimes feel it differently in your body, your breath, or your mind? Do you know what I’m getting at? Is it the same cue?

Gabor:  Well I can give you two broad cues. On a body level, it’s actually . . . if I pay attention, there is a tension here in my chest area.  On a mind level, I’m wanting them to see something. I’m really wanting something to happen that isn’t happening.  I’m not inquiring anymore.  Inquiring means you don’t know and you’re curious.  When I want something to happen and I know where I wanna go with it, that’s not curiosity anymore. That’s not inquiring anymore.  And so if I notice that urgency on a mind level or a tension in the body, then it’s absolutely time for me to pause and inquire as to what’s going on with them, and what’s going on with me . . .   And just to switch gears.

And, as soon as I do, I just feel an easing of the tension and an easing of the compulsiveness of the intention.

Shelly:  I find then at that point, the mind becomes clearer too and things become more in flow.

Gabor:  Yah.  Well my mind becomes clearer because I have removed this content; but the mind of the client becomes clearer too. Because when people are pushed upon — if they perceive themselves as pushed upon even when they may not be pushed upon — it puts them into physiological and neurological states of defensiveness.  And as soon as you put somebody in the state of defensiveness, their mind doesn’t work; their upper brain circuits don’t function as well.  So, it certainly leads to clear thinking on the part of the healthcare provider and it certainly leads to more clarity on the part of the client as well.  And with clarity, you clear out what’s in the way . . .  then there’s clarity.

Shelly:  I hope so many of you healthcare practitioners find value in that. Do you use that in your regular personal life too, in relationships (giggle)?

Gabor:  Just a minute, what kind of interview is this anyway (smile and chuckle)?  Yeah, more and more I do, yeah. You know, I hadn’t always and hadn’t for a long time. The effects of, let’s say my relationship with my wife, we were always negative.  And so, I have actually learned to do that.  And it creates SO much space; so much space and so much more clear and loving communication.

Shelly:  That’s beautiful.  Thank you.

Gabor:  And thank you

Shelly:  Words of Wisdom  with Gabor Mate! I hug people. Are you a hugger . . .?

Gabor:  Absolutely

Shelly: Thank you So much . . . I really appreciate it.

Gabor:  My pleasure.  Thank you

Shelly:  Thank you.

Thanks for watching this W.O.W. Chat episode with Dr. Gabor Mate.  Please check out some of my other WOW chats with people that I admire and respect!

For more information on Dr. Gabor Mate’s phenomenal and transformative work, his many best selling books, and upcoming calendar of events worldwide, please visit

Dr. Mate’s books:

“When the Body Says No”

“In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts”

“Scattered Minds”

“Hold On To Your Kids”


For more “Words Of Wisdom” from people that Shelly admires and respects, please check out some of her other W.O.W. Chats!