I love podcasts. I discovered them in 2019, when there was over 800,000 to choose from. Since then, the number has increased even more and is estimated to stand at around 2 million. Navigating this enormous catalogue to find the best is an ongoing challenge. Here, I select my top 8 podcasts for psychologists, psychology students and psychology enthusiasts from 2021. Strictly speaking, they’re not all psychology podcasts, but they do all address issues in psychology and healthcare which any psychologist (professional or aspiring) will find interesting.
Sweet Bobby tells the story of Kirat Assi, a local radio presenter and successful marketer who became the victim of a decade-long catfishing operation which eventually ruled her life, behaviour and relationships. This investigative podcast explores the nature of the catfishing operation and the motives of the catfisher through in-depth interviews with Kirat herself and psychology experts, including Dr Chris Hand and Dr Lucy Foulkes. It asks difficult questions about coercive control and abusive relationships, highlighting how easy it is to become the victim of catfishing. By Tortoise Media, more information about Sweet Bobby can be found here.
On the surface, Hooked tells the story of a successful American bank robber – possibly the most successful of all time. Tony Hathaway robbed 30 banks in the space of a year before he was caught in 2014. However, drawing on three years’ worth of interview material, Hooked is much more than this. Before he was a bank robber, Tony Hathaway was a heroin addict. Before that, he was dependent on Oxycontin, the pharmaceutical version of heroin which was marketed as safe and non-addictive; and before that, he was a successful engineer for Boeing and a father of two. Hooked walks us through Tony’s journey, diving into the psychological nature of addiction and addressing the US opioid epidemic which has killed half a million Americans. For me, the story was reminiscent of the Thalidomide catastrophe – a devastating crisis inflicted on innocent populations for which the responsible pharmaceutical company has never been properly held accountable. It has many twists and turns, but ultimately ends happily. As Tony reflects in the final episode, “Looking back on it, it’s just insane… to think, what were you thinking?” For psychologists and psychology enthusiasts, Hooked is a fascinating and thoughtful exploration of what it means to be trapped in the vicious cycle of addiction. Hooked is by Campside Media and you can find more information about the show here.
Going strong since 2007, BBC Radio 4’s All in the Mind is presented by Claudia Hammond and covers a wide range of psychological and mental health topics, including investigating whether supplements can improve mental health, whether pollution harms mental health and whether working in the office can boost well-being. Each episode includes interviews top psychologists, science journalists and mental health experts about recent research studies and popular psychological books. It’s also worth mentioning that my colleague at the University of Leeds, Professor Daryl O’Connor, is a regular highlight on the show. Always engaging and interesting, All in the Mind is one of my top podcasts for psychologists and psychology enthusiasts. For more information, see here.
In this podcast series, Clinical Psychologist David B Feldman talks straight to microphone, mixing personal anecdotes with research evidence to discuss psychological perspectives on topical issues. Episodes focus on varied subjects including politics and voting, the Covid-19 pandemic and recent film releases. He also uses these snippet-style podcasts to provide brief introductions to psychological topics such as gratitude, grieving and mindfulness. If you have a short attention span like me, this engaging podcast is a great way to build general knowledge on a wide range of psychological issues. Psychology in 10 Minutes is available on Soundcloud, Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
This podcast tells the story of Miriam Rivera, the transgender TV star who featured in ‘There’s something about Miriam’, the 2004 reality show where a group of UK heterosexual cis-gender men competed for Miriam’s affections over the course of 2 weeks. The twist of the show was that the men had not been informed that Miriam was transgender until the competition had finished and the winner had been announced. The fall-out was devastating; the men launched a lawsuit against the production company and Miriam was attacked by the UK press. This podcast raises questions about the involvement of psychologists in the preparations for the show. An unnamed “TV psychologist” was deeply involved through all preparations for the show, helping with casting and reassuring the directors that specific selected male contestants were ‘good to go’. However, this “psychologist” could have held any set of qualifications, as the title ‘psychologist’ is not protected in the UK and can be used by literally anyone. Would a properly trained, qualified and registered psychologist have allowed themselves to be involved in such an ethically, morally and emotionally questionable tv show? Would they have made different decisions? Should psychologists be involved with such shows at all, or be speaking out against them? Harsh Reality: the Story of Miriam Rivera is food for thought on all these questions. By Wondery, you can find out more information about the show here.
Now in its second series and currently presented by Sally Tilt and Dr Kerensa Hocken, the Forensic Psychology Podcast is “a chance to hear the real voice of real forensic psychologists”. Aimed at both Forensic Psychologists and those interested in the field, each episode interviews a different guest, either an expert in the topic of the show or a person with lived experience of forensic services. Topics are handled in a considered and sensitive way, giving the show and intelligent and informed feel. Recent highlights include interviews with David S Prescott on responding to trauma and Erwin James on becoming rehabilitated following incarceration. Episodes come with excellent show notes and relevant links and references, making the series a useful resource. The show is also interactive, and listeners are encouraged to email or tweet the presenters with questions for them and their upcoming guests, which they will select to answer during the show. Funded by the UK Ministry of Justice, you can find out more about the show here and tweet them @podcastforensic.
I highly recommended Dr Death Season 1 in my 2019 podcast round-up; Season 3, Miracle Man, is equally shocking. It tells the story of thoracic surgeon Paolo Macchiarini, who held a visiting researcher position at Sweden’s prestigious Karolinska Institutet (KI), which is associated with the Nobel Prizes. Macchiarini claimed he was conducting ground-breaking research and that he was able to use plastic “scaffolds” (moulds), doused with stem cells, to help people re-grow new tracheas. This was intended to be an improvement on traditional organ transplants for people with failing tracheas, and Macchiarini performed this operation on 20 patients altogether. Without giving spoilers, all I can say is that Macchiarini was not being honest, and his incredible capacity for deception was reflected in his personal life. Miracle Man is a hair-raising, roller-coaster of a story which benefits from input both from his professional colleagues and his former fiancée, Benita Alexander. For psychologists, it raises questions about patient safety, research ethics and whistle-blowing – forcing us to confront that difficult question, would we be brave enough to act, if we were concerned about the practice of a colleague? By Wondery, you can find out more information about Dr Death, Season 3: Miracle Man here.
Consumed by Desire is a 3-part BBC Radio 4 series hosted by psychotherapist Philippa Perry which covers the role of desire in culture, popular media, addiction and relationships. Perry interviews experts and artists to gain a sense of the key issues, including psychoanalyst, Adam Phillips, journalist and author Ask Sarkar and artist Michael Landy, who destroyed all his belongings in a renunciation of consumerism in 2001. Through the narrative, Perry suggests that we need to recognise the interdependency between ourselves as people better, to improve our mental health. “In a commodity bound culture… we find too many substitute gratifications [for relationships]” Adam Phillips explains, “be needy”. As well as being one of my top podcasts for psychologists, this series will appeal to anyone interested in the interplay between mental wellbeing, culture and society. Two episodes of this well-crafted, well-produced series are currently available (see here), with the final episode airing on January 4, 2022.