Podcast: Simple Psychology Explanations with Dr. Ali Mattu
Do you enjoy watching YouTube videos on psychology and mental health topics? But are you tired of wading through all the mindless fluff, meaningless new-age jargon, and overly pedantic lectures? There is a better option out there – The Psych Show, created by Dr. Ali Mattu.
It might seem frivolous, but YouTube videos aren’t going anywhere. They have become one of the most common ways we access information, and this is especially true for young people. Join us as Dr. Mattu tells us how a PhD psychologist became one of the first YouTubers, how he decides what type of content to feature each week, and what role on-line videos play in the future of psychology education.
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Guest information for ‘Dr. Ali Mattu Psychology’ Podcast Episode
Dr. Ali Mattu creates entertaining, empowering and educational mental health media. He’s a cognitive behavioral therapist who helps kids and adults with anxiety disorders. Through YouTube, Dr. Mattu teaches a global audience on how to use psychological science to achieve their goals.
Dr. Mattu is a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center in New York City.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Dr. Ali Mattu Psychology’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: Welcome to the Psych Central Podcast, where each episode features guest experts discussing psychology and mental health in everyday plain language. Here’s your host, Gabe Howard.
Gabe Howard: Hello, everyone, and welcome to this week’s episode of the Psych Central Podcast. Calling into the show today, we have Dr. Ali Mattu from the very popular YouTube channel, The Psych Show. Ali, welcome to the show.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Gabe, I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me.
Gabe Howard: I am very excited to have you because we have the same mission and that’s genuinely rare. Believe it or not, because…
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah. Oh, I believe it.
Gabe Howard: And when I say we have the same mission, we both really, really value correct and accurate information. We want people to have the facts when it comes to mental illness, mental health and psychology.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: But we know that it’s dry info.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, it can be.
Gabe Howard: It can be, and what I really like about your YouTube channel is that you’ve taken concepts like… What is schizophrenia? What is psychosis? What’s the difference between a psychologist and a psychiatrist? These are things that people are thinking about and you’ve put them into these little snippets with graphics and your shining face. And you answer all of these questions in a way that I really think that the general public responds to.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Mm hmm, mm hmm. I agree, that’s the case, yeah.
Gabe Howard: So let’s start at the very, very beginning. First, you’re a psychologist, correct?
Dr. Ali Mattu: That’s right. Yep, yep.
Gabe Howard: It is unusual for a learned man. You know, somebody with a PhD, I mean, you’re a doctor. You have a doctorate and you’re also a professor. So YouTube is not your day job.
Dr. Ali Mattu: No, it’s not. It’s not.
Gabe Howard: But you’re on YouTube and you’re explaining this to people. And that is incredibly rare. YouTube has a lot of people like Gabe Howard, a lot of people living with mental illness, talking about living with mental illness. People like me are well represented, but there’s not a lot of people like you. So what gave you the idea to do this?
Dr. Ali Mattu: It goes back… So the long version of the story is I’ve been toying with this kind of stuff for a very long time. If you want to go way back, I was a very socially anxious kid. I’ve lived with anxiety. I was probably selectively mute as a kid in certain situations. I didn’t speak, and I accidentally enrolled in public speaking in high school. And that class changed my life because it took me from a kid who believed that I was weird, I was strange, and no one else was like me, and it helped me to understand that these fears I have fitting in, everyone else has those too, to some degree. And so I took public speaking. I did speech and debate in high school, and I continued that in college, and I had an amazing introductory psychology class in community college. I was actually not a good student in high school, didn’t do that well and went to community college, which kind of opened up the whole world for me. And so I really loved that class. And one of the things that really motivated me about going on to getting a PhD is I wanted to teach other people as well. I wanted to do for others what Professor Goesling did for me at De Anza College. And so I did teach a lot in grad school. I taught a lot of introductory psychology. And then as I moved forward and started to do more clinical work, more being involved in the role I am now, I was moving farther and farther away from that original goal of teaching a wide variety of people and introducing them to psychology. So that’s one thing that happened. The other thing that happens that sets up this story: So it was late 2014, and I was working with a teenage patient of mine. She, in one of our sessions said, “Hey, I saw this YouTube video. It really helped me, really motivated me. I want to share it with you.” I said awesome. Amazing. Oh, my gosh. Let’s watch it together. I want to understand what it was about this that helped you. It is only three minutes long. We watched it, and it was another teenage girl talking to the camera and talking about her experience and what helped her with this issue and mental health. And I’m watching it, and I’m thinking, oh, my gosh, this is really not good advice. It’s like completely goes against the kind of stuff we’re working on. And I shared some version of that with her, with my patient. And I said, you know what? Give me a day. Let me find some quality content that’s speaking to the same issue, and I’ll email it to you. Now, I was looking that night. I could not find anything that really fit that criteria of something that was quality information and also something that she would sit down and watch. Now, I found a lot of one-hour, two-hour long videos by other psychologists that were these long lectures about that topic, but nothing that was really digestible, interesting, and relatable. So, I was venting about this to my wife. I’m like, what the heck should I do? And she said, well, you know, what you gotta do is you’ve got to make that video. And that is kind of how my channel was born.
Gabe Howard: I love this story, because it’s so close to how I ended up as a podcaster.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Really?
Gabe Howard: I mean, almost identically. I have this joke where I said, if you’re diagnosed with mental illness, you’re prescribed a blog. And because when I got started, everybody had a blog.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: But, you know, podcasts are harder.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, totally.
Gabe Howard: YouTube channels are harder. And having a quality podcast and YouTube channel is even more difficult. And I remarked this to Dr. John Grohol, the editor in chief of Psych Central. And he was like, you know, hey, let’s work together and start a podcast. The thing that we were so worried about was, like you said, that marriage of accurate information and is anybody going to listen to this?
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah. Yeah.
Gabe Howard: And this is really, really important, because when you were telling the story, the first thing I thought is… I completely understand why that that young woman who’s telling the story of living with mental illness is going to attract people because, man, that’s so brave. But I knew that you were going to say she had all the information wrong because how could she get it, right?
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, yeah, totally, totally. And there’s a lot of value there to people telling their stories. And at the same time, there’s a lot of difficulty getting access to quality information about mental health, about psychological science, about all these different types of things. And there I put a lot of blame on the field of psychology. It really bothers me how hard it is to access this kind of information. So for most people in the public, you’re going to get exposure to psychology maybe through an AP psychology course if it’s in your high school. But then again, a lot of high schools don’t have access to that. My high school didn’t.
Gabe Howard: Yeah, neither did mine.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, right. I don’t know that many people who had that in their high school and then the other thing is, OK, maybe in college you take an introductory psychology class, but a lot of people don’t. And that’s only if you go to college. So there’s very few pathways to formally learn about this while you compare that to something like biology, where people are making papier mâché cells in elementary school and you’re getting a lot of the foundations of that science so early on that it just kind of builds upon each other. So by the time you’re in high school, most people have had a lot of exposure to biology. But you compare that to psychology, and they haven’t and then you balance this out by how everyone thinks that they are their own naive psychologists. Like they have an understanding of why people do what they do and how emotions work and how thoughts work, because we just believe that we know ourselves. And so that creates a situation where a lot of people just don’t have this information. And people in my field, people who go through professional training, we don’t know at all how to share this information with people who aren’t other people in our field. Like we get very good at learning this information, learning the science, learning how to do the science or practice psychology. We get very good at that, but we don’t get any training on how do you actually talk about this in a way that people in the public will actually listen, find it interesting and be able to apply it.
Gabe Howard: So, let’s talk about that. You’re John Q. Public, you’re a lay person, you’re on the Internet, and you’re searching for information. Can you share some tips with people so that they can understand the difference between a personal story, which again, I completely agree has a lot of value. It just… it has value as a personal story and a Dr. Ali Mattu video that that has a factual basis and everything in between. How can a lay person know that what they’re watching is reliable information?
Dr. Ali Mattu: That is such a good question, and it’s a really tough question. I think that, Gabe, you’re here highlighting probably one of the biggest challenges of just 2019. How do you evaluate all the information that’s coming at us and the information that we seek out? And how do you determine if it’s accurate or not? That’s a pretty big challenge. So one of the challenges of YouTube is there is a difference between making content that is compelling, hooks you in, keeps you watching, takes you on emotional roller coaster ride, is memorable, is shareable. There is a big difference between that and content that is accurate. There are some people who are very good at doing both of those things. But I think most people who I’ve discovered are very good at either the art of it, or might know a lot about the information and are trying to share the information. So one of the things to look up when you’re watching YouTube videos is trying to understand who is the person or the people behind the video. That’s always really important. Do they have training or knowledge or any experience in the area that they’re talking about? Sometimes that doesn’t matter. I found a lot of YouTube videos that have helped me solve a problem and that person might not have been an expert. I had a problem with my toilet a few months ago.
Gabe Howard: That’s the exact example that I was thinking of. I just watched a YouTube video to fix my toilet.
Dr. Ali Mattu: I love those videos where people are like, Hey, you know, I’ve been having this problem and maybe you’re having it, too. Here’s how I fixed it. I hope it helps you. Like that is such a big percentage of all YouTube videos, the other half just being like cute cat videos. But so sometimes it doesn’t matter too much if they’re a professional or expert or not. But I think in the mental health world, it very much does. What’s the background from which they’re speaking? Now, I have blind spots as a professional. Like I am very much coming at this from someone who has formerly gone through this training that comes with certain biases. Now, I’ve I’ve lived with anxiety, social anxiety in particular, so I can speak to that experience. But there’s a lot of things that I can’t speak to. I’ve never had an eating disorder. I have not lived with bipolar depression. I will never know 100 percent what it’s like to feel those things. So, of course, I have my own biases. I have my own things that I bring to the video. But I can talk to you about some of the science behind these things. I can talk to you about treatments related to these things. So try to evaluate who’s behind your video. And there are some YouTube channels out there where it’s very hard to know who is behind this video. And you gotta take those with a grain of salt. You have to be careful about those videos that you consume. YouTube as a platform is very good at recommending content that you might like. It’s not very good at recommending content that might be accurate. Those things are very separate in the algorithm. YouTube really wants to recommend stuff that’s going to keep you watching more content. It doesn’t really factor in how accurate is it. It’s really just factoring in Does it keep you watching? So that’s number one- is to know that production values different from accuracy and try to figure out who’s behind the video. And I think, in general, that is good advice for podcasts and blogs and websites, as well as… Who are the people behind it? What is the experience like for those individuals? I know here on Psych Central, there is a quality control check with all the content that is going through the organization. Similar for me and everything I put out. It has my name by it and there’s been times I’ve made mistakes, and then I correct those mistakes. But if you’re not sure who’s behind it, that’s a big red flag.
Gabe Howard: We’ll be right back after this word from our sponsor.
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Gabe Howard: We’re back speaking with Dr. Ali Mattu. You know, it’s interesting that you said sometimes that you make mistakes. I like that example because it really is a “buyer beware.” It’s smart to keep an open mind just because somebody has all of the degrees in the world and you like them and you love them and they’re perfect and they get it right 99 percent of the time, it doesn’t mean that they’re not incorrect once. And the reason that they could be incorrect could be because science evolved, thinking changes.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Absolutely. Absolutely
Gabe Howard: So it’s not even that they were wrong. It’s that research showed something different a year later or whatever the case may be. And I think it’s very valuable that people keep that in mind, because so often somebody watches a video. They’re like, no, no, no. I got the answer that I wanted, and that’s all I want to hear. And if the only reason you like the answer is because it’s the answer that you wanted, that’s a big red flag. Seek out multiple sources.
Dr. Ali Mattu: That’s great. Yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Gabe Howard: Even in your toilet example, I believe your exact words were, “Hey, I had this problem with my toilet. Maybe you had this problem with your toilet. Here is what I did. Maybe it’ll work for you.”
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yes. Yes.
Gabe Howard: So, yeah.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah. Yeah. That was exactly the video, and my toilet was fixed. This solution could work, but I couldn’t reach the thing that I needed to reach because of the way the toilet was installed. I still ended up calling a plumber to fix it, but I think that example is actually a good parallel for mental health because mental health, psychology, people are complicated, complex, and what might work for one person in one situation might not work for someone else. And another thing that I’ve found in my life and in my patients lives is something that works for you now, might not work for you three years from now. And you’re right. The science evolves. A great example of that from my channel is I made a video a few years ago about my own bee phobia. And it’s a video that shows how exposure therapy for anxiety works with my bee phobia. And you see me actually facing my fear of bees in that video. Now, that video is… it’s done pretty well. And a lot of people when I go to anxiety conferences, some people are like, Hey, it’s that bee guy from the video.
Gabe Howard: I love it.
Dr. Ali Mattu: People really like showing that video as an example of exposure. But what’s happened since I released that video is I’ve learned a lot more about newer approaches to exposure therapy. And one of the things that I realized is, hey, in this previous video, I think I over emphasize something that now a lot of people are saying is not really important for that treatment. And I think I neglected to include something, or really emphasize something, that is a big part of it. A lot of exposure therapy is built on this idea of habituation, that the longer you stay in a situation, the less your body’s responding to it and you kind of get used to it. Well, a lot of newer research has shown that habituation might not happen for everyone, and it might not be the important thing. The big, important thing might be changes in your memory related to this fear. So it’s not that my body got used to the bees that’s important. It’s that I learned that these bees, that I thought were going to come and attack me, through the exposure, I learned that the bees really were minding their own business and they couldn’t care less that I was there. That’s the thing that changed. So what I did is I made a follow-up video where I talk about that, and I then try this newer approach related to another fear I have. You’ve got to be open-minded there. And another challenge here. Gabe, I’m sure you run into this challenge. I’m sure you’re going to be running this challenge as we’re recording this. It’s hard to really get into all the details in a short amount of time that’s digestible for people. So podcasts, whether it’s half an hour, an hour, a YouTube video, 5, 10 minutes, it’s hard to be comprehensive and get at everything in that short amount of time.
Gabe Howard: And I’m really glad that you brought that up, because the reality is, in order to understand these things very, very well. You do need the two-hour lecture.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Right.
Gabe Howard: And actually you need the two-hour lecture twice a week for like eight years.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, right.
Gabe Howard: And then you have a PhD, or a PsyD, or an M.D. You have all of these degrees. And even then you need continuing education credits for your licensure and then everything changes. For example, if I was diagnosed all the way back in 1950, I wouldn’t have bipolar disorder. I would have manic depressive disorder. It just changes and changes and changes and changes as new information becomes available. So that kind of leads me to my second question. One of the things that you said early on is that doctors and providers and therapists, they have trouble explaining this in ways that, you know, lay people can understand. But of course, they are our providers.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Right.
Gabe Howard: I know that a lot of patients feel that, Hey, I don’t understand what you’re doing to me, and I don’t know how to get this information, and you’re not explaining it to me well. Where is the intersection there? Because clearly the answer is not to fire all the psychiatric providers, but patients are confused. And as you found, there is that disconnect.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I think one of the problems there is it is very hard to remember what it was like to not know something. So we can’t remember what it was like to look up into the sky and not know that the moon is the moon. You can’t remember being a kid and looking up and being like… What is that? Like is that like a big piece of cheese? Like what is that thing up in there? We just know it’s the moon. We know it’s this thing that orbits us. We take that knowledge for granted. And a very similar thing plays out for any professional mental health provider. It’s very hard to remember what it was like to not know what a manic episode is or what anxiety is like or how people experience depression. I think about this a lot when I’m working with family members and talking to a family and trying to help them understand their loved one’s diagnosis. For many people, the idea of depression is just so alien. Like they have a very difficult time trying to understand what that’s like. And so I’ll sometimes do analogies like, you know, it’s not that they’re lazy, they’re not lazy, it’s not laziness that’s keeping them in bed or making it hard for them to do all this work that they’re supposed to be doing. You know, depression is more like carrying this massive weight. It’s almost like walking around with a backpack full of boulders inside. They can go through the motions, but it’s so much harder, so much more difficult. It’s so exhausting. And that might help. Or someone’s having a hard time understanding what a panic attack is like, and I’ll have them hyperventilate for a minute. And I’ll say this experience that you’re having right now, it’s hard to catch your breath, or your vision, it’s a little bit blurry. It’s really hard for you to focus on my conversation. What’s this like for you? And they’ll say, oh, this this is horrible. This sucks. And I’ll say, now, imagine if you experienced this out of nowhere. And they might say, well, that would be so scary. And I’ll say, that’s what a panic attack is like. But a lot of therapists, we have a hard time remembering what it was like to not know these things. And so that can make it very difficult for us to explain these things. To walk someone through a diagnosis, to walk them through what a treatment is like. It’s the curse of knowledge. And I think we all experience it in whatever thing we really know, whether it’s Pokemon or psychotherapy. It’s really hard to remember what it was like to not know this stuff.
Gabe Howard: You’ve made a ton of videos and you’ve been doing this for a little over four years now. Where have you made the most impact? What do people watch most often and maybe even comment on?
Dr. Ali Mattu: So when I started making The Psych Show, I wanted to very much have it be that experience I had in my introductory psychology class where it was not just mental health, but there was social psychology, there was cognitive psychology, there was sensation, perception, neurobiology, all that sort of stuff, the whole gamut of what psychology is. And as time has moved on, life has become more complicated. I’ve had less time available to make content, so I have to be much more precise in my surgical precision of what topics I’m covering. And then also… Who’s my audience? And how do I make content that is really resonating with the audience that The Psych Show has attracted? And so looking at my data, one of the things that became very clear to me is the content that was most popular was mental health content, and the content that was really leading people to share more and comment more, it was all the mental health content. Which is great because that content’s easier for me to make because that is my area of expertise is in the mental health world. So I’ve transitioned from making much more broad content to much more specific mental health content. It’s a collection of videos. I have a video where I made my wife watch Star Wars for the first time and then we record our reactions, and I talk about the psychology in the whole experience, which is kind of a very different video.
Gabe Howard: As a content creator, it is always important to eventually force family members to help against their will.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yes.
Gabe Howard: That that’s almost a requirement.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Absolutely. My wife and I have a deal, which is once a year she will participate on the channel. And then for the rest of the year, I don’t bug her. And it’s been great. My favorite videos that I’ve made more recently… it’s a series called “Real Therapists, Fake Therapy,” where I am playing the part of a therapist myself. And then I’m also playing the part of the patient. And I am showing what a therapy session will look like. And so I really let my audience’s reactions direct the kind of content I make. As long as it’s still interesting and fun for me to make, and it’s resonating with my community, that’s a direction I go.
Gabe Howard: This has been overwhelmingly positive. People are getting information that they need, they’re getting education that they need. And even if they disagree with you, they’re disagreeing with you accurately, factually. They’re seeing it differently, but they’re seeing it correctly.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, I would agree with that, and overall I would say it’s been largely a positive experience hopefully for people who watch and also a positive experience for me.
Gabe Howard: That is fantastic. You know, I love what you’re doing for a variety of reasons. I love it as a fellow content creator. I love it because I live with bipolar disorder. And I remember when I was diagnosed all the way back in 2004, and my family, they knew nothing. And they wanted to know a lot because they just wanted to know a lot. And, you know, YouTube didn’t exist back then. At least I don’t think it did. Did YouTube exist back in 2004? See, you’re now a YouTube expert. See?
Dr. Ali Mattu: 2005 is when it first came out.
Gabe Howard: I’m pretty sure that Rachel Star was there on day one. I think we can…
Dr. Ali Mattu: I think so.
Gabe Howard: I think we can all agree with that.
Dr. Ali Mattu: That’s true. She’s an original YouTuber.
Gabe Howard: She is very, very cool. And for those who don’t know, we’re talking about Rachel Star, the host of “Inside Schizophrenia.” Also available on the Psych Central Podcast Network. You can go over at PsychCentral.com/IS and check that out. And the first episode also features Dr. Ali Mattu.
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Gabe Howard: So, if you just haven’t had enough, they can find you in so many places. Now, off of Psych Central, where can people find you? What are all of your web addresses?
Dr. Ali Mattu: Yeah, so definitely at YouTube.com/ThePsychShow will get you to my YouTube channel and I’m also pretty active on Twitter @AliMattu. A L I M A T T U will get you to me on Twitter and Instagram @AliMattu as well. And then on Facebook, The Psych Show has a presence over there, too. So you can definitely “like” The Psych Show on Facebook.
Gabe Howard: And do you have a website?
Dr. Ali Mattu: Oh, yeah. Yeah. If you go to AliMattu.com, that’s where you’ll find more about my day job and you’ll find more about other stuff I’m doing on the Internet. On A&E, on Wednesdays, you can catch me on The Employables. So we air at 10:00. It’s a show that celebrates neurodiversity. Every episode of the show follows one individual on the autism spectrum and one individual who’s experiencing tics and Tourette’s and follows their journey as they meet with different experts to help them find a job. And I’m one of the experts on the series. So check that out Wednesdays on A&E.
Gabe Howard: Well, that is incredibly cool. We appreciate you so much, thank you. And thank you so much, everybody, for tuning in. We really appreciate it. Do you want to interact with the show on Facebook, suggest topics, comment on the show and be the first to get updates? You can join our Facebook group at PsychCentral.com/fbshow. And don’t forget to review our show on whatever podcast player you found us on. And do me a favor, tell a friend. And remember, you can get one week of free, convenient, affordable, private online counseling anytime, anywhere, simply by visiting BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral. We will see everybody next week.
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Central Podcast, T. (2019). Podcast: Simple Psychology Explanations with Dr. Ali Mattu. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-simple-psychology-explanations-with-dr-ali-mattu/