Monday, 30 March 2015

Addiction Demystified:
Free Information Workshops

Workshop 1: For Addicts
Workshop 2: For friends, partners and families of addicts

These 2-hour workshops will provide practical, no-nonsense information concerning:
·       What addiction actually is
·       The most effective strategies for dealing with addiction
·       An overview of available resources

Who am I?
  • A Registered Clinical Counsellor in private practice for 6 years
  • The creator and for 3 years facilitator of Skills for Recovery, a holistic and innovative eight-week Addiction Program.

Workshops will run on week days, 6 to 8 pm or 7 to 9 pm, and will be scheduled as soon as 8 people have committed to attending.

For more information, or to register, contact Matthew Gardner at:
Cell: 778-678-7776;

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Love, Authenticity and Healing

It’s not all about me, honest. However, if you happen to look at the ‘About Me’ page of my website, you’ll find this line: “An irrepressible humanist and optimist, I believe passionately in the power and beauty of the human spirit”. It’s true. One of the things that brought me to counselling in the first place was the work of the great humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, who believed that the human psyche has an innate capacity to heal itself. Rogers used the analogy of a broken bone. A doctor cannot mend your broken leg: all they can do is put a cast on it, creating a safe environment in which the leg mends itself. Similarly, the job of a counsellor is to create the optimum space in which psychic self-healing might take place, and he or she does this through the demonstration of three qualities: Empathy, Congruence (basically authenticity) and Unconditional Positive Regard. I prefer to think of that third quality as Unconditional Love; and to my mind (and to quote a famous line from Corinthians) the greatest of these is love.

Why? What does love have to do with healing? The answer is: everything.

Frequently, all we need in order to move forward, make appropriate changes, and heal our emotional scars is to tune back into our deepest truth, our highest authenticity. Once we stop second-guessing ourselves, the answers we spontaneously generate are more effective and come more easily because they are harmonious with our most genuine desires, needs and beliefs.

But often we have to dig deep to reach that place, because we’ve spent a lifetime behind a series of masks and disguises designed to please and appease others. From the moment we’re born, we humans experience pressure: pressure from parents, family, friends, schools, the media, our culture, maybe our religion; pressure to conform, to succeed, to obey, to consume, to live up to expectations. Our innate capacity to cope, weather changes, and deal with life’s harsh but inevitable challenges gets muddled because we’re confused about who we are, what we want, and what the right thing to do might be. Everyone we talk to has their own advice, opinions, and agendas, which only adds to the confusion. 

We can only draw from the well of truth that resides in that place of personal authenticity when we are able to recognize and accept ourselves exactly as we are. As social herd animals, that frequently means receiving the message from others that we are intrinsically lovable and accepted. For Gabor Maté, Gordon Neufeld and other proponents of Attachment Theory, the very best thing a parent can do for their child is to offer them this kind of unconditional love: love with no strings attached, love that says ‘no matter what you do, I will continue to love you for who you are’. Such love gives a person permission to pursue their true self, which is their destiny. And, as Oscar Wilde says, “To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.”

I believe that unhappiness and mental dis-ease are rampant these days precisely because the Culture of Narcissism makes it very difficult for people to offer any other human being – even their own child – the kind of love and acceptance that comes without conditions. Because, when it’s all about me, of course I will only accept you on my terms.

I remember an interview in which the famous French actor Gerard Dépardieu said, ‘My role is to love’. It took me a while to understand what he meant by that. Great acting involves allowing the character being portrayed to shine through unfiltered: to accept them completely on their own terms, without getting in the way. And that is a kind of love. I realize now that the same is true of counselling.

Alison asked me shortly before we got back from our trip what I believed to be my greatest asset as a counsellor. At first I answered (without a trace of conceitedness, honest) that it was my sharp mind: my ability to follow clients through the most complex and labyrinthine stories, and understand their situation deeply enough to ask just the right question at the right time. But later, after thinking about it, I changed my (maybe not so sharp after all) mind. My greatest asset, I suddenly understood, is the ability to love my clients unconditionally. And this involves seeing them for who they really are, even when they have lost sight of that person themselves. It is my sincere belief that, when you cut through the conditioning, the defences, the games, masks, pain and fear, everyone has a heart of gold, everyone is lovable. To paraphrase a slogan we used back at Woodwynn Farm, I am able to believe in people until they are ready to believe in themselves.

The answer for us as a society – I’ve said it before – is to create communities in which we embrace and celebrate others for their diversity and uniqueness. Then we will all be free to live out our truths, nurture our genuine individuality and pursue our personal and collective destiny. Until that day comes, the best answer I see for struggling individuals is counselling: the opportunity to co-create a relationship – perhaps for the first time – in which unconditional love encourages their authentic self to shine its light upon times of darkness.  

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Community As Cure

After eight months in Southeast Asia, I was shocked all over again to encounter the obvious prevalence of homelessness, addiction and mental health issues in Victoria and Seattle. Even in Cambodia, a very poor country that suffered appalling atrocities in the recent past, we witnessed almost no such social problems. Most people seemed happy, friendly, curious, and miraculously well-adjusted. The only beggars we saw had invariably lost limbs to mines left over from someone else’s war. You may assume it’s their religion that buoys up the citizens of these countries, but I don’t think so: Buddhism might be the official state religion, but in Vietnam, for example, only a minority of people actually believe and practise. So what are they doing right?

In his book, The Globalization of Addiction, Bruce Alexander – a professor at Simon Fraser University – argues that addiction is a way of adapting to dislocation. Since the Industrial Revolution, we have been trained as a society not to question the inevitability of moving away from our friends, families and cultural roots in order to go where the work is, leaving behind everything that grounds, supports and perhaps defines us; and to do so repeatedly if necessary. He suggests that the West Coast has a particular problem with addiction because we are the end of the line, the terminus of a gradual and continual movement westwards. Almost everyone you meet comes from somewhere else: we’re all dislocated. And the most obvious addictions – to drugs, alcohol, cigarettes, gambling, porn etc. – are just the tip of the iceberg. People might be equally, and just as destructively, addicted to money, work, success, Facebook, shopping, even their own ego. Addiction can be any obsessive and destructive behaviour, and almost always results from dissatisfaction with life as it is.

I believe that Professor Alexander’s Theory of Dislocation is not the whole truth but is a very large piece, and that it is powerfully connected to the Culture of Narcissism that I discussed in my last blog. Just as schools continue to operate on a model designed to churn out drones to man the production lines of the Industrial Revolution (see Ken Robinson for more on that subject), the very culture by which we and our parents were conditioned has prepared us to accept a world in which we are destined to be fundamentally alone. We will throw our employers under the bus if a better offer comes along, knowing that they could and would do the same to us at any moment; we will relocate at the drop of a hat, necessitating the acquisition of a whole new set of friends, neighbours, colleagues, and social involvements. So what’s the point of investing too much time or energy in any of the people around us now? Ultimately, we have even become prepared to accept that the statistical probability that our marriage will end in divorce, and that we will perhaps lose or alienate our kids in the process. There is nothing left to depend on but our own self: narcissism is an obvious adaptation.

Of course, this state of affairs is unsatisfying at an inexpressibly deep level. We are herd animals: we need community. In traditional societies, banishment – being forced to live outside the community – was considered the ultimate punishment. Nowadays we all accept (or quietly ignore) our aloneness on the surface, but underneath we suffer: our various addictions are destructive attempts at psychic self-medication; our various issues are symptoms of the deeper sickness. In Southeast Asia, people are far more resilient because they live in a culture that’s defined by community. They are never alone. They never have to ask themselves that most uncomfortable of questions: does anybody really care about me?

The famous Hopi Prophecy, delivered by Elders of Oraibi in Arizona, refers repeatedly to the need for community: “What are your relationships? Are you in right relation?Create your community. Be good to each other.” “The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off into the middle of the river, keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water. See who is in there with you and celebrate.” And, “The time of the lone wolf is over.” The breakdown of community has led to most of the personal issues I see in my life and practice; and it is in the re-creation of communities, individually and collectively, that we will ultimately heal ourselves. This is why I take my hat off to old organisations such as Citizens’Counselling Centre, who have been diligently building community for decades, and new ventures such as Club Kwench (my friend Tessa) who are addressing the problem with energy, optimism and creativity.

In my next blog I will discuss the reasons why I consider counselling to be the best short-term solution to the issues generated by our culture of narcissism and lack of community. But I would also like to get more involved in attacking the problem at its roots. Please help me by sharing your ideas about how we might do this. 

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Culture of Narcissism

Eight months of travelling through different cultures, writing a novel, and not doing a full-time job have given me the opportunity to revisit what I believe; to reconsider the philosophies, convictions and commitments that underpin my life and counselling practice.  And what keeps reasserting itself persistently in my mind is the awareness that Western civilization has become increasingly infected by a culture of narcissism. One of the characters in my book summarizes our history like this:

And so we see the steady progress of our decline into narcissism and superficiality. From animism, where everything is alive with magic; through polytheism, in which powerful archetypal energies are anthropomorphized into human-like gods; to today’s world, in which actors and rich socialites have become the new Olympians; and on into our probable future, in which FaceBook and Instagram and YouTube and Twitter encourage each of us to grab the fifteen minutes of fame Andy Warhol predicted for us, becoming in the process our own gods, the very false idols we were once warned not to worship.

The cult of individualism has been stretched to breaking point. All around me I see symptoms of the disease: depression, anxiety, addiction, insecurity, loneliness, failed relationships, and a pervading sense of emptiness and meaninglessness. Why? Because, from the moment we are born, we are so heavily programmed to think about ourselves that it has become almost impossible for us truly to be there for each other.  And yet we are herd animals: we are not meant to live alone, but in communities, caring for and about each other.

At the extreme end of the scale, it has shocked me just how many of my clients have been emotionally and psychologically damaged by a parent who – according to the client’s description – would merit a diagnosis of Narcissistic Personality Disorder. But I would also estimate that at least 90% of my clients would have been able to work through their own psychic issues without the help of a professional if only they were embedded in a support community capable of offering them unconditional love and listening to them without agendas, opinions or unsolicited advice. 

In the two blogs that follow, I will propose that the practice of unconditional love and the formation of communities are our most powerful and appropriate responses to this pernicious culture of narcissism; and that, in the meantime, counselling is the most obvious remedy to the sickness that plagues us, precisely because all good counselling is built upon a foundation of unconditional love.

In the meantime, I urge you to react to this blog, and hope to inspire some meaningful dialogue around this crucial topic.


Sunday, 18 March 2012

Affordable Counselling

At Matthew Gardner Counselling, we are passionate about helping people.

We believe that everyone would benefit from counselling. Counselling can and should function as preventative medicine for the mind, heart, body and spirit. In a perfect world, we would all see a counsellor as regularly as we see our doctor for a check-up, the dental hygienist for a cleaning, or the mechanic for a tune-up. This would lead to significant decreases in mental health issues, addictions, divorce, homelessness, suicide, heart attacks, cancer, disease, bad parenting, unhappiness...the list goes on and on. Millions of dollars and untold suffering would be saved.

We believe that access to counselling is a basic human right: that everyone should have access to this vital and undervalued service, regardless of their income.

Sadly, this is not the case. Counselling, even from a Registered Clinical Counsellor, is not covered by medicare, nor even by many extended health packages. Most RCCs charge $100-120/hour, a rate you probably cannot afford unless you are in the most highly paid section of the population, in which case you are statistically much less likely to need counselling (not because you are 'better' than the rest of us, but because money solves many problems). We think this is discrimination, and it's just plain wrong.

We have decided to play our part in addressing this inequality by offering counselling on a sliding scale, starting at $50/hour. To find out what you would be asked to pay based on your income, check out the Rates page at

If you need help, we will not turn you away. If we are not a good fit for you, we will help you to find someone who is. If you cannot afford our minimum charge, we will help you to find other resources that you can afford, such as Citizen's Counselling Centre,

We offer everyone the exact same high standard of professional counselling, no matter what they pay.

We are not offering counselling on a sliding-scale because we are in any way inferior to the many other counsellors in town. Just check out what people have been writing about us, on the Testimonials page of our website. Most of those reviews came from satisfied clients who paid the full rate.

It is not our intention to under-cut the other RCCs in town. For this reason, we will not extend our reduced rates to anyone who could afford counselling at the regular price. Proof of income will be required. We are not trying to grab a bigger slice of the available counselling pie by driving the price down. We want to make the pie itself bigger, by reaching people who might not otherwise find help.

Part of our mandate is to promote counselling. We will proactively inspire dialogue on the subject, educate people about what counselling actually is, dispel the many myths that keep people from seeking help, and remove the stigma that still, in the 21st century, makes people reluctant to access the very resource they need. If something is wrong with our bodies or cars we do not hesitate to seek help. If something is wrong with our lives, we soldier on, allowing the problem to get bigger and bigger until some crisis forces us to seek help. Why? Because of some seriously out-dated and ignorant cultural notions based on pride, shame, embarrassment and insecurity. We did not generate these destructive fallacies, we inherited them. But they continue to hurt us all, and specifically when we are at our most vulnerable. It is time to let the healing begin.

In the long term, we also intend to address another perceived flaw in the system. In most trades or professions, you get some education, then you apprentice with a company or mentor who teaches you valuable and practical skills, finds you work, offers you feedback and supervision, and pays you an appropriate wage. As skills and experience increase, you make more money and assume more responsibility, until you are ready to be a mentor yourself. In counselling, this system does not operate. There are very few jobs, so many novices are forced to compete in private practice with seasoned veterans, receiving no guidance or supervision. Counsellors and clients alike suffer because of this system.

Our long term vision is to make the counselling pie bigger by serving that large portion of society that would benefit from counselling but cannot afford it, then to funnel that increased demand into a mentoring program that will support, guide and offer supervision to new RCCs who are struggling to make ends meet. We perceive a great unmet need for counselling, and a glut of counsellors who cannot find clients. It is time to help the supply meet the demand, to everyone's benefit.

Who cares? We do!