The Sociology & Psychology of Cults with Dr. Janja Lalich

Note: This episode contains some discussion of cults and sexual abuse.

For our first episode of season 2 we are extremely happy and honored to have Dr. Janja Lalich who is a leading world authority in cults and extremist groups. Dr. Lalich is a former Fulbright scholar, Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University, Chico, and author of multiple articles and the books in the topic including “Take Back Your Life: Recovering from Cults and Abusive Relationships” and “Bounded Choice: True Believers and Charismatic Cults.” She has been featured in multiple national and international journalistic outlets including NPR, Meet the Press and the BBC to talk about prominent cults including Heaven’s Gate and recently the NXIVM cult. We spoke with Dr. Lalich about her own experience in a political cult earlier in her life and how it influenced her later research.  We could have spent all day speaking with Dr. Lalich about her insights and research about why people stay in cults, parallels between cults and abusive relationships, and differentiating extremist religious and political factions from cults. We concluded with some excellent advice for family and loved ones who may find themselves in a cult. We are very happy to bring you this episode and hope you enjoy listening to it as much as we did recording it. 


New York Times article about the NXIVM cult

Dr. Janja Lalich’s website & resources

Season 1 over, Season 2 Upcoming!

Hi Psychodrama listeners! First, we hope that you and your loved ones are doing well through these first days of November which continue to be challenging and have definitely been filled with more than our fair share of well, drama!  We also would like to thank you all for your continued listening and support.  It has been great fun and very rewarding to put together this podcast for you and as we have mentioned, it is an integral part of our self-care during this intense 2020 and we could not do it without you, our listeners. 

As we have completed season 1 we are hard at work planning Season 2 (Part Deux: “The Seasoning”).  We already have at least 3 episodes planned so be on the lookout for more interesting interviews and stories about the intersection between psychology and societal issues and controversies including Sex Cults! Why some White academics are faking their ethnic identities! And, the decriminalization and legalization of drugs as part of criminal justice reform.  So, be on the lookout for those a week after Thanksgiving!  Thanks, and talk soon! 

Katie and Leo

Cobra Kai & Some Psychology Too

After having the past few weeks marked by very grave serious national news that added to our already maxed-out pandemic related stress, forest fires in the Western United States, the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Trump’s taxes being released, a chaotic presidential debate, the death of prominent psychologist Dr. Scott Lilienfeld, and then Trump predictably contracting COVID – we decided to do a fairly lighthearted show this time around.  

We talk about Cobra Kai and examine its characters from a psychological perspective. There are a bunch of spoilers but surely you all have binged on it already so there is nothing to spoil. And if you have not seen Cobra Kai, go watch it; it is great. And still listen to this episode because psychological science shows that “Story Spoilers Don’t Spoil Stories”and in fact it may actually improve them.

We had a blast making this episode as we discussed all the rumbles we were involved in as teenagers as well as Bananarama, both the band and the pancakes. This past summer was a cruel, cruel, summer indeed, enjoy this respite before November because it looks like 2020 is showing NO MERCY!”

More about Dr. Scott Lilienfeld and his contributions to psychology:

Remembering Dr. Lilienfeld

50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology

Psychological Treatments that Cause Harm

The Dodo Bird verdict: Status in 2014

College Mental Health & Controversy During the Pandemic with Dr. Helen Hsu

We were thrilled to have expert guest, Dr. Helen Hsu, join us for an episode about the important topic of college mental health! We discussed controversy surrounding college re-opening plans and enforcement of physical distancing policies–including what we think we would do if we were college students in 2020. Dr. Hsu shared her observations about how mental health concerns among students have changed both across generations and pre- vs. post-pandemic. She also shared what she thinks is driving those changes. We talked about coping strategies during the pandemic including anti-all-or-nothing-thinking, taking nonjudgmental attitudes towards ourselves, safe socializing, creating a sense of purpose, and learning radical acceptance. We enjoyed making this episode and hope you enjoy listening to it! Thanks so much!


You can follow Dr. Helen Hsu on Twitter and Instagram.

Read her moving article for McSweeney’s here: Pixels of Empathy.

Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers Video

Radical Acceptance Video 1

Radical Acceptance Video 2

Mental Health among Black Men & Culturally Competent Therapy with Dr. Bedford Palmer

We were very lucky to have Dr. Bedford Palmer join us this week for a fascinating discussion! First, we talked about a mental wellness virtual town hall featuring Barack Obama, John Lewis, and activists from My Brother’s Keeper. Then, we talked about obstacles faced by Black men seeking therapy–including a need for more culturally competent therapists and misperceptions about disinterest in therapy. Dr. Palmer explained what strength-based, culturally competent therapy means and the upsides and downsides of training barbers as paraprofessionals to address gaps in mental health care. We concluded by discussing the inspiration for Dr. Palmer’s beautiful children’s book, “Daddy Why Am I Brown?” We really enjoyed making this episode and hope you enjoy listening! Check out episode 11 for the first part of our discussion with Dr. Palmer.


Dr. Palmer’s website

Dr. Palmer’s Children’s Book: “Daddy Why Am I Brown?”

Follow Dr. Palmer on Instagram and Twitter

Dr. Palmer’s podcast, Naming It

Follow Psychodrama on Instagram and Twitter.

If you like our show, please rate and review us on Apple. Thank you!

Psychology, A Racism Pandemic, & Kanye West with Dr. Bedford Palmer

We were very lucky to have Dr. Bedford Palmer join us this week for a fascinating discussion! First, we chatted about Dr. Palmer’s pathway to his Ph.D. and becoming a licensed psychologist and professor. Then, we talked about living in what the American Psychological Association president labeled a racism pandemic. We concluded by asking about Dr. Palmer’s thoughts on Kanye West’s music, mental health, and political aspirations. We really enjoyed making this episode and hope you enjoy listening! Check out episode 12 for the second part of our discussion with Dr. Palmer.


Dr. Palmer’s website

Dr. Palmer’s Children’s Book: “Daddy Why Am I Brown?”

Follow Dr. Palmer on Instagram and Twitter

Dr. Palmer’s podcast, Naming It

Follow Psychodrama on Instagram and Twitter.

If you like our show, please rate and review us on Apple. Thank you!

Should Psychologists Diagnose Donald Trump? with Dr. Josh Miller

Note: All opinions expressed on this podcast are our own and do not reflect the views of our employers.

With the release of “Too Much and Never Enough” by Mary L. Trump (a clinical psychologist and Trump’s niece), the debate about diagnosing Donald Trump was thrust into the limelight again. We were very excited to have Dr. Josh Miller, an authority on narcissism and psychopathy and co-author of an article examining the ethics of the Goldwater rule, on this episode to share his expertise. We talked about what motivated Dr. Miller and his coauthors to write the article, whether Trump indeed meets criteria for narcissistic (or other) personality disorders, and about his work examining narcissistic and psychopathic traits in U.S. presidents. We had a great time chatting with Dr. Miller, considering whether these traits are becoming permanent fixtures of the modern political landscape, and fretting about whether we’ll get much pushback for this episode.

PRESIDENTIAL NARCISSISM BONUS: Check out this awesome cartoonification of the actual recording of a call between President Lyndon B. Johnson (who had several grandiose narcissist traits) to the Haggar clothing company to order pants. Enjoy!

This is the CBC article featuring Dr. Miller that we mentioned in the episode.

The opening clip is from this Fox News interview with Trump by Chris Wallace.

Our music is by Frankum.

You can follow us on Twitter and Instagram! Thanks for listening!

Black Lives Matter, Policing Reform, Psychology, and Activism with Dr. Apryl Alexander

Given the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement, we were very lucky and excited to have Dr. Apryl Alexander, Associate Professor at the University of Denver and activist with Black Lives Matter, Chapter 5280 join us as an expert guest. We had a very stimulating conversation with Dr. Alexander about her path in forensic psychology, her involvement in Black Lives Matter activism, and social justice policy-making. We delved on the varied meanings of “defund the police,” her approach to discussing these issues with her students, and the need for a sustained, multi-mission approach to justice similar to the one pursued by BLM5280. As a bonus, we also discussed Joe Biden discussing police reform with Trevor Noah, Dave Chappelle’s 8:46 special, and considered the role of celebrities in social activism. As extra, extra, bonus, we finished the episode with Dr. Alexander telling us about an integral part of her self-care and activism team: Her adorable schnorky pup, Jax!  We hope you enjoy and learn from the episode as much as we did.

Episode 8: Famous People Fat-Shaming – From Pelosi to Trump & Jillian Michaels to Lizzo

In May, Nancy Pelosi referred to Donald Trump as “morbidly obese” on CNN and this led to a viral tweet celebrating her insult. Back in January, physical trainer Jillian Michaels said that Lizzo’s music should be celebrated, but not her body weight, which led to a backlash from some of her fans. Is fat-shaming okay when we don’t like the target? Or does it contribute to weight bias and discrimination? We take a look at the psychological research and talk about some pop culture representations of overweight characters. Tune in for that or just to hear Katie struggle to pronounce “hydroxychloroquine,” “pseudonymous,” and “anathematized” and Leo’s timely references to weight-based comedy on the Johnny Carson Show!

Mental Health Resources Mentioned in the Episode

APA Condemns Police Brutality, Calls for Dialogue to Ease Civil Unrest

The Unapologetic Guide to Black Mental Health by Dr. Rheeda Walker

The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation COVID-19 Free Virtual Therapy Support

Tweets, Articles, & Websites Mentioned in the Episode

Tweets from Joyce Carol Oates and Alice from Queens

‘I think she’s a waste of time’: Trump dismisses Nancy Pelosi calling him ‘morbidly obese’

Joint International Consensus Statement for Ending Stigma of Obesity

Everything You Know About Obesity Is Wrong

There’s No Excuse for Fat-Shaming Donald Trump

This American Life: Tell Me I’m Fat

Academy for Eating Disorders: Collaborative Letter to Michelle Obama Protesting Appearance on the Biggest Loser

Health at Every Size

Episode 2: More Than A Joke: Does Prejudicial Humor Lead to Prejudicial Behavior? With Dr. Tom Ford

What celeb trainer Jillian Michaels got wrong about Lizzo and body positivity

What Fullness Is

Self-care has to be rooted in self-preservation, not just mimosas and spa days by Lizzo

When Self-Care Goes Too Far with Dr. Joel Minden

Self-care is a bit of a buzzword these days. At its best, it encourages people to have balance in their lives and to tend to their health needs. However, the self-care movement seems to have been picked up as a way to market things to people, placing greater importance on indulging themselves with products or experiences. And for some, the idea that prioritizing self-care will improve mental health can backfire, because they believe their persistent emotional distress is due to an inability to commit to activities or products rather than other factors (e.g. difficulty accessing mental health treatment).

We invited Dr. Joel Minden on the show because we think that the approach in his book, Show Your Anxiety Who’s Boss, is an excellent way to think about self-care. Joel acknowledges the value of self-care activities to promote health and manage stress, but he argues that self-care is not the answer for every concern. He makes the case for flexibly responding to emotional and practical challenges with realistic and useful thinking, solution-focused action, and responding to difficult emotions with greater acceptance and warmth. 

For anxiety, specifically, he talks about the risk of acting impulsively on anxiety and avoidance urges, and how this approach can make anxiety even more difficult to manage in the long run. Instead, he encourages responses to anxiety that prioritize long-term values, so that you can direct your attention to living with meaning and purpose. Joel’s approach involves relating to anxiety objectively, as an inevitable part of life, rather than something to get rid of. As much as self-care has its place, it’s important to consider opportunities for change and acceptance to help you respond to life’s challenges and the difficult thoughts and feelings that go with them, with strategies that boost personal control and life satisfaction. 

More about our guest:

Joel Minden, PhD, is a licensed clinical psychologist, director of the Chico Center for Cognitive Behavior Therapy, diplomate of The Academy of Cognitive and Behavioral Therapies, and adjunct professor at California State University, Chico. He is also the author of the self-help book, Show Your Anxiety Who’s Boss and the Psychology Today blog, CBT and Me.