Hungry Ghosts: Required Reading for Addiction Counselors

Addiction and the Hungry Ghosts
Addiction and the Hungry Ghosts
Hungry Ghosts Scroll. late 12th century

What do you know about addiction and how did you learn it? Experience certainly plays a significant role for many counselors. Many college programs are beginning to provide more course work on the nature and treatment of substance use disorders. Is that enough?


Some of us have personal experience with addiction. Having personal experience gives one a certain level of credibility at the beginning of the counseling process. However, personal experience can become a hindrance if you only see the client through the filter of your own past. In the end, it is knowledge and skill as a counselor that often makes the difference.

 So how do we get that knowledge and skill? For me, continuing education is not just a requirement for licensure, it’s a part of my everyday life. I’m always looking for some greater insight into the nature of the problems and approaches to helping.

I’m very excited about a book I found while watching videos on addiction. The author is Dr. Gabor Matè and the book is called “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts: Close Encounters with Addiction”. I’ve only started reading it but the author makes clear his belief in the connection between adverse childhood experiences and addiction.

In addition to authoring books and working with some of the worst addicts in Vancouver Canada, Dr. Matè is featured in a number of videos discussing addiction as well as other related topics. Here’s an interview where Dr. Matè discusses his ideas about addiction:

And here’s a video from his TED talk in Brazil:

What do you think? As always, I’d love to hear comments from other professionals about any of the topics discussed on this blog.

11 thoughts on “Hungry Ghosts: Required Reading for Addiction Counselors

  1. This is a really great book, insightful, describing the complexities of addition and more importantly humanity.. Wow Listening to him speak, should give us all pause, self acceptance, and hope for a brighter future.

    1. The videos were what grabbed my attention. It’s as if something within me “lights up” when I hear someone speaking truthfully about the things I see every day. I hope others enjoy the book as much as I have.

    1. I agree…it’s provided a welcome reframing of some of the traditional views on addiction.

  2. I’d say it’s one of the best books on addiction out there. Compassionate approach, rooted in neurobiology and early childhood experiences. He’s also a fantastic speaker, being a Canadian in the west I’ve had the chance to hear him speak at a few conferences. Very compelling stuff.

    1. I particularly like the fact that he addresses both the neurobiology and the spiritual implications of addiction. I’m just surprised I haven’t heard of him sooner.

  3. This to me is obvious, standard and I am a lifelong learner myself. I take knowledge and experience from everything I encounter. I have not read this book. I have seen first hand growing up adverse childhood experiences and the effects they have. There have been studies to show evidence of mothers stress on unborn baby & difficult or stressful labour. Nature/nurture. They both have a role to play and the way society lives is alien to our true needs. Society is sick and there are big changes that need to be made, there are plenty of sociological and psychological studies that show what changes are necessary. But you don’t see the system implementing them. In fact society continues to move further away from these necessary ideals and that is why mental health and addiction are not saved for the poor or uneducated. There is no discrimination and as long as society continues to move away from proven necessary ideals. Then it will continue to be unsuccessful in its attempts to 100% treat addiction & mental health. And moreover will continue to rise to epidemic proportions. Still some people will have a job!!!! What’s an NHS consultant psychiatrist paid?

    1. Maybe I’m a cynic but I don’t hold out much hope for systemic change very often. I try more to focus on the things I have control over and attempt to make changes from the ground up. In the end, if I’m able to have a positive impact on some of the people I work with, I’ll believe I’ve been successful. I used to believe more in nature than nurture but I’ve been converted to one who realizes the significant impact of both.

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