Speaking of Psychology – Giving Away Psychology in the Digital Age with Ali Mattu, PhD (SOP72)

Speaking of Psychology – Giving Away Psychology in the Digital Age with Ali Mattu, PhD (SOP72)


Hello and welcome to Speaking of Psychology,
a podcast produced by the American Psychological Association. I’m your host, Kaitlin Luna. I’m joined by Dr. Ali Mattu, a clinical psychologist
at the Columbia University Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. He’s also the host of a YouTube series called
The Psych Show, where he’s been explaining psychological concepts and giving advice to
his more than 15,000 subscribers for more than three years now. Welcome, Dr. Mattu. Thanks for having me. Okay so you have your PhD. You have a great job. You�re a psychologist. So, what, what brought you to wanting to do
these videos online? What made you want to start your channel? I was sitting with a patient of mine back
in 2014 and they said �Ali, can I share with you this video that’s been really helpful
for me? Its, its kind of changed my life. Its really helped me to understand things
in any way.� And I said �Yeah sure, let’s watch it.�
It was a YouTube video. It was some YouTuber, I think a teenager,
that was sharing their advice and it was like completely wrong. It was like completely wrong advice. It was not what any psychologist would say. And so, I told her I said — I told my patient
give me a moment. Let me find something that’s like more effective,
more true to the science and I couldn’t find anything. And that put me down a path of trying to find,
trying to find out where all the psychologists, YouTubers were and couldn’t really find any. And then I decided I have to do something
about that. I have to change have to change that. So, why do you think people need psychology
brought to them and in a way like a YouTube channel as opposed to going to see a psychologist
in an office? Well, psychology is so relevant to everything. There aren’t really any areas of life where
human behavior, mental process, emotions, all of these things are not applicable and
so as a result of that people are having conversations about psychology all the time, in every medium
and if we aren’t apart of those conversations, if the field of psychology of experts in psychology
aren’t a part of those conversations, they happen regardless, without us. And so, what that means is we, we can’t share
our knowledge, our experience with the public — the public’s going to have these conversations
and who knows if they’re based in real science or not. So, there was a former APA president who gave
a speech about giving psychology away about 50 years ago and in that speech, we talked
about how there will never be enough psychologists to meet the demands of the world. And we can’t be in every place and every time
and do everything that’s needed of us. So, we have to do is give psychology away
to other people so that they can use it in their organizations, with their families,
with their friends, so that they can become their own psychologists. And that idea has really resonated with me
and that’s one of the reasons why I started my channel is just to try to give all this
information away on a platform where there weren’t really other psychologists doing that. So, communicating psychology to a non-scientific
audience is something you’ve been doing for a long time now. Can you explain how you’ve been kind of prepping
for this moment? Yeah, so we got to go way back. I wasn’t really a good student growing up. I was really into science fiction. I liked riding my bike. I liked climbing trees and that was about
it. So, I kind of barely passed high school. I got rejected from every college I applied
to and I ended up going to community college and just by chance the first class I enrolled
in was introductory psychology and I sat in the back of the classroom with a hoodie on
— not that far away from here. I grew up in the Bay Area and went to community
college out there in Cupertino, California and it was an introductory psychology class
and that first lecture blew me away. It was all about the myths we have about psychology
and what’s true and what’s not and everything I believed about the brain, about human behavior
was wrong and this class kind of opened my eyes to it. And the more I took the class, the more I
realized that all those ideas, those science fiction stories that I was fascinated by,
it was because they raised these big questions about who we are and here’s a science that
has answers to those questions. Now why are people good? What are the forces that might lead people
to do bad things? How can we grow as a species? How can we help each other? So, I ended up becoming a psychologist, to
make a long story short. After I finished my degree and my training,
I wanted to weave those things together — psychology and science fiction, so I started a blog where
I talked about all of that stuff. And for me, its always been thinking about
that middle school kid who’s bad at school, thought he was dumb, was depressed and trying
to create content that’s going to reach out to kids like me or kids like who I was and
help them discover, understand psychology — maybe use it to improve their life in some
way. Because I always wonder what would have happened
had I discovered psychology when I was in middle school. Would it put my path in a different or would
it have put my life down a different path? So, I’ve been trying to create content that
I would have wanted when I was younger and that might have helped me discover, use, love
psychology. So, I started that blog and through that writing
I discovered I was a really bad writer for the public. Psychology grad school teaches us very well,
in regards to thinking like a psychologist and communicating with other psychologists. Psychology doesn’t really do a good job of
teaching us how to communicate with non-psychologists, those of you who’ve gotten involved in teaching,
you probably realized that in your first class. Like my, I love teaching, but my first class
I’ll never forget the student eval that said �This man should never be allowed to teach
another psychology class ever again.� I remember verbatim, it’s like ingrained in
my mind � it�s that I wasn’t a good teacher and I said when I started that blog, I realized
I really struggled to communicate psychology with a non-psychology audience. I used a lot of jargon. My articles are probably about three times
the length they should be because I felt like that’s what we do in psychology — we write,
like, thousands of words and that’s what makes a good article. I also buried the lede. So, the most important, most relevant part
of my writing came like six, seven paragraphs in because that’s what you do when you write
an intro section for a paper — like your hypothesis, that big question you have, the
thing you’re investigating, it’s like at the end of your intro section. Journalists, they flip it. It’s the very first, most important part of
the whole thing that you’re writing, is that first sentence. So, I got a lot of feedback from a lot of
people. A friend of mine is a writer and he took me
aside and said, �Can we, can we talk about your writing because it’s really bad?�
So, he taught me a lot about how to, how to write for a non-psychology audience and then
after that I started a podcast with a good friend of mine. And that podcast taught me how to build an
audience and then I had that patient who shared that YouTube video with me and I was like
okay I need to bring this stuff together. Maybe I’ll experiment with a YouTube channel. So, how did you go from those ideas and so
from the blog to the podcast of the video? How did you get from that idea to making it
happen? I mean, is that involved equipment, ideas,
coming up with a kind of a storyboard of swords? I even looked up videos on YouTube. I said, �How do you start a YouTube channel?�
and I watched those videos and then I looked at videos. �What camera should I get if I’m starting
a YouTube channel?� And I watched those videos. �How do I light a YouTube video?� And
I looked, I learned about like a three-light setup. it was a lot of trial and error and one of
the other things I learned over time is YouTube is very different than TV or film production. As long as you have content that is connecting
with an audience and it’s giving away something of value to them — either you teaching them
something or you’re providing them with entertainment or you’re creating content that’s validating
to a shared experience, that will find an audience. It doesn’t have to be perfectly lit. You don’t have to have perfect audio because
the origins of YouTube are just people making videos in their bedroom. They don’t have to be perfect. So, I learned on YouTube and I also learned
that it’s a work in progress. My favorite thing to do on anyone’s YouTube
channel is click on �videos� and then click �sort by oldest� first and it shows
you their first few videos and they’re always horrible — like go to your favorite YouTube
channel, like a channel has millions of subscribers — watch their first few videos and it’s unrecognizable
compared to where they are now. So, the beauty of YouTube is you can see the
growth of people — how they’ve learned, how they’ve changed their content, how they figured
out who they are and what they want to communicate. So, I just learned by trying. That’s not to say it was like a perfect launch. I had a panic attack, like a legit — I treat
anxiety. I know what a panic attack is. I had a panic attack my first video that I
was filming. I set up everything. It took about three hours to figure out how
to set up lights, how to set up a camera, all of that sort of stuff and then I started
to press, I press the record button and it turned on and then like the camera turned
off and the battery died. Apparently, I had left the camera on for like
three hours and the battery was dead and I started, I started sweating and shaking and
my heart was racing and then I eventually just like started crying. I’m like, what have I gotten myself into? So, I never made that mistake again though. Like you’ve learned, you try, you make mistakes,
you learn, you get feedback, you grow, you improve, you get better. And on your show, you give advice to people
who might be experiencing anxiety, depression and dealing with phobias. So, how do you balance the desire and the
need to give advice people with some ethical considerations in the field? Yeah, so in addition to learning how to launch
a YouTube channel, the other thing I was very conscious of learning was how to do this ethically. And I consulted with some folks. I read through the ethics code and there is
a paragraph about media presentations as a psychologist and the gist of that is when
you are acting in a professional role as a psychologist with the media, you’re really
accountable for what you say. So, you want to make sure that what you’re
saying is based on your competencies, what you know is resonates with what we know in
research and the science and that it’s not introducing any new relationship conflict. So, there aren’t like dual relationships that
are being established, all of that sort of stuff. So, the way I digested that was every video
I make, I need to know what I’m talking about. So, anxiety, that’s what I treat. I talk a lot about anxiety. I treat a lot of depression, but I’m not,
I don’t, I haven’t made a video on eating disorders because I really don’t understand
that stuff that well and there’s a lot of topics that I stay away from because I don’t
really, I can’t speak to them easily and maybe I’ll have to do a lot of research to get up
to speed on that and it’s just not, it’s not going to make for a good video. So, I try really hard to make sure it’s everything
I create is based on what I know and then in terms of dual relationships, I don’t really
promote my channel with the patients I see. Sometimes, I’m working with someone and they’re
dealing with an issue that is covered by a video I’ve made, so sometimes I do share that
video with them, but I also tell them you’re under no obligation to follow, like or subscribe
or comment to any video I create. And so, I try to keep that distinction there. So that’s, that’s kind of what I do — make
sure I know what I’m talking about and make sure it doesn’t get in the way of the work
I do with any of my patients or my students that I teach or any of the other professional
stuff that I do. And so now that you have three years of content,
what is your most memorable episode that you’ve done? Well, there’s a lot. There’s a few that come to mind. So, about six months into starting my YouTube
channel, I was really unhappy with my views and that’s one of the things I hate about
YouTube is there’s so much analytical data. I can know exactly which videos are retaining
viewers. YouTube gives me a graph of every video and
I know when people are clicking out, when a video isn’t resonating with them. I know how the video�s doing compared to
like past videos I’ve made and like, if you’re anyone who has like any sense of impostor
syndrome, which is probably everyone in this exhibit hall because that’s what grad school
does — it breeds this impostor syndrome. You can find other YouTube channels that have
more views and more counts and all that sort of stuff that are like doing better than you. So, six months in, I felt like I was such
a failure and I wanted to do something big that would attract a huge audience. And so, Star Wars Day was coming out May 4
as in �may the fourth be with you,� and so I wanted to do a Star Wars episode. This is also before the new Star Wars movies
came out. So, there’s more attention that was coming. So, I bought a green screen. I live in New York City and no taxi cab would
take me home with this 9-foot long green screen that I brought. So, I just lugged it into the subway in rush
hour and so like there was no room on the subway — everyone was trying to crowd around
my green screen — went home. I created this Princess Leah wig using string
I got my friend who also had a YouTube channel to come over. She dressed up as Han Solo. I dressed up as Princess Leah. It was like the most expensive video I’ve
ever done. And it was really hard and it made this whole
video about Han Solo and the psychology of happiness and all of that took a lot of time
to edit because I have to figure out how to make a green screen and then like no one watched
it. Like no one watched it. It’s one of my worst performing videos I’ve
ever made. And so, with that it’s memorable because it
taught me an important lesson — it’s not about production value. It’s not about the gimmicks. It’s not about the costumes or the props or
any of that sort of stuff. That’s what all, everything I was chasing
after. But, it’s about creating content that helps
people. No one was searching for content related to
Han Solo and the psychology of happiness. But, there’s a ton of people that are searching
for content like how do I overcome my phobia and I made a video that is about me overcoming
my bee phobia by me doing exposure therapy on myself with bees and that video has been
a video that people approached me about all the time and they’re like I’ve used this video
in a class or I’m a therapist and I showed this video to a patient to help them understand
what we’re going to be doing. There’s someone who messaged me on YouTube
and they’re like, I have a bee phobia and I looked up how to overcome your phobia and
I had no idea there’s a video out there about overcome my exact phobia and this has been
so helpful. So, not creating content that’s about production
value, but creating content that helps people. Those are the two videos that helped me to
learn that lesson that I think are the most memorable. My least successful and probably one of my
most successful videos. And how does social media play a role in this? I know someone consider YouTube as social
media but like it’s a big part of your brand if you will. Can you talk about how you use that channel
as to way to promote your videos? Yeah, well I think every platform has its
strengths. So, YouTube is really good at helping people
to discover visual-based content that answers questions and also YouTube channels are great
at creating a sense of community around a cause. But, YouTube isn’t necessarily the best platform
for immediate conversations or conversations around an event like this. So, that’s something that Twitter is much
better at. So, I use Twitter to try to make sure that
psychology is being represented in the big issues that are being discussed today. And so, some people find me on Twitter and
they might look up my other content and find The Psych Show or they might not and it gets
back to that idea of giving psychology away and being on platforms and making sure that
psychology is represented on those platforms. And so, I mean this is kind of my call to
action part of the video. If this was a YouTube video and a good we’re
getting close to the end, this would be my call to action, where I would say in addition
to clicking on the like below and subscribing and sharing with your friends, what I say
to you all is like we need your voices out there on these different platforms because
there’s a very specific niche that I know and I can speak to and there’s my life experience
and there’s my interests and I can, I can speak to those things. And that’s going to resonate with a certain
group of people. But, I can’t speak to everything. There’s a lot of stuff out there, just like
looking through the program book, I was like I don’t know anything about any of this stuff
and there are so many other people out there who know so much about psychology that need
to give it away. And there’s people who have life experiences
and stories that people need to hear and we need to give that stuff away, because there’s
never going to be enough of us. So, that’s my call to action is getting people
to find a platform that resonates with them, that matches where they are right now in their
careers and think about the stuff that you know really well, that you talk about every
single day, that you have a ton of examples for and share that with an audience that you
never see. I think that’s the magic of what we can do
with these different platforms is we can scale up the work that we do. Like in a week I see what, between 20 and
30 patients. I have a few grad students that I work with,
a postdoc and consult with the other clinics — not other clinics � but, the other clinicians
at Columbia and stuff like that. That’s a very small, narrow impact but if
you take the stuff that you know so well and find a way to share it online with an audience
you never reach, well now you can reach thousands, thousands and thousands of people. So, that’s what, that’s what I try to do with
different social media platforms and that’s what I hope all of you will consider doing
as well. So, what advice do you have for a first-timer
who is like wants to share what they know with the world? How do they get it started? Figure out what it is that you know so well
and comes so easily to you that you always talk about with colleagues, with patients,
with friends and then try to find media that match, that best matches that. A YouTube is not good for everything. YouTube is great for simple messages that
are visual or emotional in some way. YouTube’s not great for having a complicated
discussion about the replication crisis in psychology. Like, maybe it is. Maybe you’re someone who knows that really
well and you can simply talk to it. I’m not. That’s something that I think is better suited
for maybe like a podcast, where it’s a discussion between two colleagues. So, podcasts and audio, they’re great for
discussions and debates and dialogue and then the written form is a medium that I think
is the best for really complicated ideas. It’s also the easiest one to break into. So, for anyone who’s looking to just get started,
I would say think about where can you learn to write really well because even though I
make videos, all of my videos start with a script and everything I learned about writing
a script comes back to what I learned about writing many years ago on my blog. So, there’s, there’s this book �The Science
Writers Handbook� and that book is fantastic for learning how to write and how to communicate
science with the public. That would be one I’d pick up. And to either find a blog that you might be
able to do a guest post at. That’s a great way to get started. People are always looking for contributions
or starting your own blog — it’s kind of like free and easy to do. So, I would say find your message, find the
right medium and then get good at it and get feedback from other people. I and when I mean feedback I mean people who
probably aren’t psychologists. I consider my wife to be the executive producer
of my life and so I always pitch her ideas for content that I want to create and she’s
not a psychologist. And if she gives it the thumb down, I don’t
make that content. But, if she likes it then I’m like I’m on
to something here because if she likes it, if she’s interested in it, she represents
an audience that I want to get in touch with, so get feedback from people who aren�t in
psychology. I think it’s really great that you’re, you’re
saying that it’s not everyone has to take the avenue I’m doing YouTube. Like if someone’s not comfortable on camera,
they don’t want to you know buy the technology and learn how to use it, there are other ways
to share what they know with the world. I think that’s really powerful that you share
that. Yeah, and there’s some stories that I want
to share that YouTube is not the best medium for that. Again, anything that’s a really complicated
discussion, I haven’t had much success doing that on YouTube. So, there’s sometimes where I get ideas and
I’m like okay this is actually a much better as a podcast. Let me see what would be the best way to get
this out to the public. So, yeah thinking about what you want and
what’s the best match for that given where you are too in the skills that you’ve learned
as a psychology communicator. So, I’m not sure if it you — do you still
do podcasts as well? Not on my own. I don’t have my own podcast anymore. It kind of slowly died after about 75 episodes. But, I do sometimes appear on other podcasts. So, where do you see The Psych Show going
in the future? What are your big plans for it? Keep making videos is one. I’m a new dad and I’ve been, I’ve got a one-year-old
at home. She’s amazing. I love her, but she also likes to wake up
really early in the morning and then I am very sleepy at night and I used to make most
of my content late at night and I don’t have that time anymore. So, part of my struggle right now is trying
to figure out how do I continue with the day job as well as keeping the YouTube channel
alive. So, that’s something I’m trying to figure
out is how do I more efficiently, faster in a more sustainable way create videos? So, that’s one thing I’m trying to figure
out. So, hopefully you will just keep seeing videos. But, the thing that I really, the thing I’m
struggling with, that I want to take my channel into the futures creating more of a sense
of community. So, 90 percent of my viewers come from people
who search for content. They find my video, they watch it and then
they never come back again. And that’s great for helping people solve
a problem that they might have. But again, I think about that middle school
kid. I think about me in middle school and to search
for a question related to psychology you still kind of need to know about psychology. So, what I’m trying to figure out is how do
I create more of a sense of community where people come and they, they stay because the
content is in some way resonating with them and they’re interacting with other people
who are also on the channel. So, I want to create more of a sense of community
that celebrates psychology. So, I’m trying to figure out how to best do
that. The other thing that’s on my wish list that
I hope in the next two years I get to do is I want to make a short film. So, I want to make like a two, three minute
video — I’m not going to give away my idea in case someone else like it does it, but
it’s in a topic related to mental health and I want to show people what it’s like to have
this thing and it’s a thing that I treat and it’s also a thing that I’ve experienced and
I’ve received treatment for in the past. So, it’s something I really want to talk about
and I want to show because you can read a description, but I want to bring it to life
— what it’s like to live and breathe with this thing. But, that’s a short film and then it’s going
to take time and it’s going to take people and it’s going to take resources. So, one day I’ll have that. Sounds wonderful. I can’t do can’t wait to see what happens
with The Psych Show and maybe more other psych brands. We’ll see. Thank you so much for joining us. Thanks for having me. Speaking of Psychology is part of the APA
podcast network, which includes other great podcasts like APA Journals Dialogue about
the latest and most exciting psychological research and Progress Notes about the practice
of psychology. You can find our podcasts on iTunes, Stitcher
or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also visit Speaking of Psychology
or to view more episodes and to find resources on the topics we discuss. I’m Kaitlin Luna for the American Psychological
Association.

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