2022 was a bad year for a lot of things, but podcasting wasn’t one of them. Building on some great releases in 2021, this year brought the best line-up I’ve seen yet. In this list, I’ve focused on psychology adjacent podcasts: great shows by non-psychologists which cover issues important to psychologists. Each explores the intersection between psychology and hot topics including social media, reality tv, drug addiction and crime.
Chameleon: Wild Boys investigates the story of Tom and Will Green, two teenage boys who emerged in the Canadian town of Vernon in 2003. Tom and Will said they were homeless and shared a strange story: they had escaped an off-the-grid upbringing in the woods, raised by their parents, Mary and Joseph. This podcast uncovers the truth behind Tom and Will’s escape to Vernon. Expertly told, this podcast draws out all the threads of their complex reality, exploring the intersections between psychology, family connections and society. Created by Campside Media, you can listen to Wild Boys here.
Can I tell you a secret? explores the impact of internet stalking, focusing on the perpetrator Matthew Hardy who is one of the most prolific cyber stalkers of all time. This podcast takes a nuanced and informative approach to tackling this difficult topic. First explored from the perspective of the victims, host Kirin Sale unpicks the devastating reality of being targeted by a cyber stalker. She then explores the potential causes of Matthew’s behaviour, eliciting a complex interplay between neurodiversity, mental health problems, social status and social media. Created by the Guardian, you can listen to Can I tell you a secret? here.
Edge of reality is possibly the best podcast I listened to all year. It charts the inception and growth of the reality tv genre, from its birth in the 1990s to the behemoth it is today. It faces concerning realities: the lack of pay for participants, the questionable aftercare and the unusual number of suicides by former participants. It also questions the role of mental health professionals in this exploitative industry, including psychologists. Where are we when all this is happening? There, apparently, enabling the behind-the-scenes mechanics and giving it a rubber stamp of credibility. This series takes a 360-degree perspective to its topic, interviewing former participants, tv producers and contributing experts. An Audible Original, you can listen to Edge of reality here.
The Opportunist: Chris Bathum investigates Chris Bathum, the CEO of the addiction treatment chain Community Recovery Los Angeles (CRLA). Bathum started CRLA when he spotted a lack of regulation surrounding the US drug and alcohol rehabilitation sector, and an opportunity to make money. He held no relevant qualifications or registrations but appointed himself head therapist and lead of his newly created mental health facility. Told from the perspectives of his employees and victims, The Opportunist journals Bathum’s abuses. It highlights the importance of adequate regulations in delivering healthy, functioning psychological support and the vulnerability of patients when this is absent. Created by Kastmedia, you can listen to The Opportunist: Chris Bathum here.
Bed of lies: Blood is the second season of the Bed of lies podcast. It covers the UK Haemophilia blood scandal which occurred in the 1970s and 1980s. Contaminated blood products were bought from the US and administered to UK patients, many of whom were children. It caused nearly 5,000 people with haemophilia to become infected with HIV and AIDs. This podcast is a deep dive into the lived experience of these people and their families. It unpacks what it means to live with government-enabled stigma, injustice and loss. For me, it is reminiscent of both the Thalidomide scandal and the US Oxycontin disaster. A fantastic piece of journalism, Bed of lies: Blood explores the intersections between health systems, politics, physical health and psychological wellbeing. A Telegraph podcast, you can listen to Bed of lies here.
What makes someone falsify that they have life-limiting illnesses and disabilities? Sympathy Pains tells the story of Sarah Delashmit, exploring this question through the eyes of the people she conned. For 20 years, Sarah used internet forums to join groups, make friends and create new personas. Invariably, these personas had heart-rending stories to tell. They had terminal cancer, abusive husbands and had lost children. Was it money that motivated Sarah, or a personal need for attention from others? Did she care how she impacted those she deceived, or was she unable to experience empathy? Sympathy Pains is a fascinating walk through the interplay between psychology, criminality and social media. Created by Neon Hum Media and iHeartRadio, you can listen to Sympathy Pains here.
The intersection between self-help and new religions has long fascinated me. There are numerous examples of high-control organisations which began by offering basic psychological support and advice. Scientology and NXIVM are both high profile examples of these. The Sunshine Place covers Synanon, an organisation which was initially founded in the 1950s to help people addicted to narcotics, or ‘dope fiends’ in Synanon lingo. The success of its drug rehab services didn’t satisfy CEO Chuck Dietrich, though. His vision was much larger, wider encompassing and far more sinister. The Sunshine Place charts Synanon’s gradual transition from a psychological treatment centre to a violent cult. From C13Originals, you can listen to the Sunshine Place here.
What makes someone die from Covid without even attending the local hospital? This is the springboard for We were three, a three-part mini series into the lives of one American family. Initially, We were three explores the impact of Covid conspiracies and the factors which can make people vulnerable to them. It highlights the role of the US health system, which is notoriously the most expensive and worst (by many outcome indicators) of all developed countries. Before long though, you realise that this is really a story of alcoholism, neglect and abuse. It explores the psychological impact of poverty, fractured relationships and instability on the psyche of a growing child. Hard to categorise or pin down, We were three is personal, touching and captivating. Created by The New York Times and Serial Productions, you can listen to We were three here.