It doesn't matter who you are: Sometimes you need a small voice of reason around to look at things objectively. But sometimes, your average therapist just isn't good enough, and you need someone specific who just "gets" you. For the geeky among us, we have a local option that won't cost you a dime with the Geek Therapist
podcast. The trio of hosts takes time every couple weeks to go over nerddom from a psychological point of view, while also taking questions from people who are looking for a fellow nerd to give them some advice. Today we chat with all three hosts about the show and the work they've done over the past couple years. (All photos provided courtesy of Geek Therapist.
Aaron Burton, Katie Burton & Jocelyn Christensen
Gavin: First thing, tell us a little bit about yourselves.
I started working in the mental health field shortly after Katie and I got married. I worked with a large mental health provider in Salt Lake County for nine years while completing my undergraduate degree and graduate degree. The last three years with the organization, I worked as a clinical mental health counselor before choosing to work with a public defender's office as a social services coordinator. I no longer work as a therapist, but I wanted to still give something back to the geek community.
My family is not native to Utah, but I mostly am. I’m from a military family, so after my father left the air force, we ended up in Utah and stayed. Although not as nerdy as some, I do have some parts of my life that I hardcore dork out about. I’ve dealt with mental illness my entire life, starting with my parents and then myself. Combined with some difficult abuse by a friend growing up, I found myself drawn to a world
outside of my own. That’s where I ended up finding myself in love with fantasy and sci-fi. I gravitated to anything that could take me away from my daily struggles. On a professional level, I have a Masters degree in Mental Health Counseling. During my pursuit to get my degree, I did an internship at a day treatment program for substance abuse located in the Salt Lake County Jail. It was during this internship that I solidified my decision that I really didn’t want to be a therapist. I love working with people, but my lack of ability to control my facial expressions hindered my ability to be taken seriously. After graduating I found a job working for a company that is basically the middle man between treatment facilities and insurance. I worked for several years as a Care Advocate, so I would humanize the patients to insurance companies to ensure the insurance pays for the client’s treatment. I gradually moved up in
the company and am now the Senior Operations Manager for the authorizations department. Basically, I make sure all the cogs and whistles in my department are running smoothly.
I was born in Ogden, grew up mostly in Layton. I graduated from Weber State with my nursing degree a million years ago (1999 for real though). I have two kids, one dog, and one cat. My favorite hangout is Watchtower Cafe. I am 90 percent coffee and could always drink another cup.
How did each of you find your way into geek culture growing up?
I was born in 1977, so Star Wars
was always a fixture in my life along with The Hobbit
and Lord of the Rings
. I was roped into my best friend’s brother’s AD&D
group when I was 8. Basically, I was indoctrinated to be a geek to my core. In high school, I focused on illustration in order to become a comic book artist. I even worked doing some minor freelance storyboard animation under my high school art teacher. I read tons of Marvel Comics during that period of the '90s as well.
From a young age I was indoctrinated into geek culture. My mother is a diehard Star Trek
fan, and she taught my brother and I
how to play D&D
from the moment we were able to count dice. As I grew up and we moved to another city (from Sunset to Salt Lake City) I found myself falling into a love of books. I started out young on Greek mythology and Shakespeare, and then graduated to most classic geek books such as Lord of the Rings
and the Ravenloft
books. Fun fact, I have the honor of saying that I’ve seen every Shakespearean play performed live on stage.
I didn't. Really I wasn't a geek until I met and married my wife, Kaya, and even then the conversion took several years. I would tease her about going to Star Trek
conventions growing up and how she would play D&D
. I still feel like I don't belong in the geek world a lot of the time, but the guys at my local comic shop are starting to recognize me, so maybe I am starting to be seen as a geek now?
What are your current favorite things to watch/read/play right now?
Right now, I am obsessed with The Expanse
on SyFy along with the books that the series is based on. Preacher
was my favorite show to come out of 2016. I found myself marathon gaming through Mass Effect: Andromeda
as well as Horizon: Zero Dawn
. I love the immersive RPG games where I can spend hours playing and feel like I get my money’s worth. I also have been running a D&D
game for the past year and a half.
My tastes have always evolved as I grew up. And to be honest, I did tend to blend my interests into my partner's interests (see co-dependency). I am currently addicted to Guardians of the Galaxy
and am ready to explode with excitement over the new one coming to the big screen. I’m caught up in a video game called Stardew Valley
, where all you do is play a simple farmer. It’s a very basic game, but there’s something nice about a slow-paced game. I am trying to get into the new Mass Effect: Andromeda
. I thoroughly enjoyed the last Mass Effect
trilogy and played it several times through, but this one doesn’t seem to be grasping me as much as the last. Right now I’m also into a series of novels called The Dark Carpathian
novels by Christine Feehan. They’re generic smut and I love them. Don’t judge me.
I'm a huge fan of Doctor Who
, the MCU as a whole, most comic book movies. I'm currently reading mostly comic books (because they are quick). My pull at my local shop is currently: Daredevil
, Jessica Jones
(see a trend?), Squirrel Girl
, The Wicked and the Divine
. Although that one is about finished, bless Kate Leth! Honestly, I don't video game really; I do like an occasional round of a fighting game such as Street Fighter
. I will play about any board/ tabletop game, except Werewolf
because I am physically incapable of lying for some reason.
When did each of you meet up and eventually become friends?
Katie and I went to high school together. I was two years ahead of her and we had one painfully failed date during those years. We stayed friends for the following eight years before she finally convinced me to take a chance on her. While we’ve had some difficulties, we’ve been married almost 13 years now. Jocelyn started as a listener of the podcast. We started with Taylor Hunsaker who was an incredible co-host, but between her work on The Left Show
and her personal life, it was difficult for her to record regularly. I had recently become friends with her and her wife through Twitter. So when we asked for people to send in an audition to take over the co-hosting duties, Jocelyn’s wife, Kaya, convinced her to take a chance and send in a submission. Knowing she was a registered nurse excited us and made it an easy choice to pick her. Jocelyn is like a sister to me now and we are incredibly lucky to have her on the podcast. I consider her an equal partner and couldn’t ever imagine continuing the podcast without her.
[Jocelyn] and I work really well together and play off each other. She also joins me in ganging up on Aaron when he’s being an ass, so that’s helpful.
Heavens, that is a big blur. I know I met Aaron through Twitter and eventually at one of the SLC Comic Con events. Katie and I met when I showed up at their house to record for the first time, I think. Just hanging out and getting to know them has been fun.
What was the catalyst that gave you the idea for a geeky psychology podcast?
I had been a co-host of a struggling podcast called Geekhead Radio
. Taylor Hunsaker had been a co-host of that show as well when I came onto the Defenestrate Media network. I had been invited to be on a panel at the second Salt Lake Comic Con that focused on the positive psychology of fandom. While answering audience questions, I realized how much I took for granted people’s understanding of depression and anxiety. I had run substance abuse, domestic violence and trauma therapy groups using geek references when I had been an active therapist, and realized how perfect these references were for helping people understand difficult psychological concepts. I spoke to my producer, J.M. Bell, and shot him the concept of Geek Therapist
. I had been losing my passion for Geekhead
and when I presented the idea, Jeff was excited to add the show to the line-up. After alternating between Geekhead Radio
and Geek Therapist
for a few episodes, I decided to end the first show and focus solely on Geek Therapist
always wanted to be a part of Aaron’s podcast. He actually had another one for some time but I wasn’t invited. It was more of a generic gaming podcast so it was hard for me to really get involved in. I did join once or twice when they were doing their bad movie reviews, and I fell in love with it. Aaron had mentioned maybe starting a podcast that he was more passionate about and that didn’t have much out there already. I told him I was game. And thus, Geek Therapist
What was it like getting all the gear together that you needed for a recording?
The original lineup of Geekhead Radio
had my two co-hosts in Colorado and Texas. Katie allowed me to fork over money for a mixing board and a decent microphone after a few months of that show. I’ve added mics
to the board, but honestly, the equipment is mostly five years old. Bell keeps harassing me to get better equipment.
He already had most of the gear from the prior podcast, but at that time the soundboard I think was a gift for his birthday or something similar. Gradually we started accumulating more equipment and we seem to have a good system with us now.
Did you do any test episodes prior or just dive straight into making the show as-is?
We dove right into Geek Therapist
since I had already been podcasting for about three years, but our first episodes were rough. We made jokes about the title (Geek The Rapist) for about three episodes before I really thought how insensitive the jokes could be. We made it a point afterward to avoid mocking anything that could either trigger or demean those who listened to the show. Politicians are a different story. We’re fairly progressive liberals and we take serious issue with anything that tries to stigmatize vulnerable populations or takes away equal rights.
Hah! No, there were absolutely no test episodes. We probably should have because those first few episodes are really horrible. I kind of wish we could take them off and pretend that Episode Five was our first.
Jocelyn, how was it for you joining the show later on?
I was a listener of Aaron's previous podcast (mostly because of Taylor Hunsaker) and enjoyed listening to them. When Aaron started Geek Therapist
I kept listening because mental health has always intrigued me. When they announced that they needed another host to help offset Taylor Hunsaker's schedule, I decided to give it a try.
What were the early responses like to the show when you started offering help and answering questions?
We started with quite a bit of listener interaction, but most of it came from fans of Geekhead Radio
who were excited at the show concept. J.M. Bell told us early on that this show had a far higher number of downloads than Geekhead Radio
, which was amazing. I had hoped the show would interest people, but not to the level it had. I get personal emails, direct messages and tweets from people who tell us that a certain topic really helped them or got them thinking about an issue they had ignored in the past. I can be fairly bombastic at times and I worry I do more harm than good, but hearing from listeners has been amazing.
The responses we got early in the show were surprising to me. Being trained in therapy, and also having experienced mental health issues through my entire life has given me insight into the brain that apparently not a lot of other people had. I was shocked to hear so many people saying that they had depression or anxiety or co-dependency and had no clue until they listened to our description of it. It’s almost upsetting in a way, to know that there are so many people out there who suffer on a daily basis, but they have no idea what’s going on with them.
What made you choose to do more local community events rather than bigger news as a whole?
In the early days of GHR
, we tried to keep things on a more national level. We opted for Geek Therapist
to mostly be local since it gave us more of an emotional connection to what we talked about. But we have out of state and out of the country listeners. If anything, we try to help people understand the weirdness that is Utah.
Honestly, I had no choice in the matter. We were picked up by the DefenMedia network through Aarons efforts and we went off from there. I never expected us to get very large. I figured if we could just reach a few people, that would make our time worthwhile.
What kind of challenge is it wrapping the geek topics in without it being forced?
It’s a challenge some days. We did record weekly, but that was taking a toll on us emotionally. After Jocelyn’s wife died in January, we decided to move to bi-monthly recordings. I feel that helps us not feel we have to come up with an original topic under a time crunch. It may have affected our download numbers, but the three of us feel far more relaxed and enjoy recording more.
Honestly there are times where we have to force topics. We ask the listeners if they’ll send us suggestions, mostly because we want to make sure that our listeners are hearing things they want to know about. But sometimes when there’s no suggestion we just brainstorm and figure something out that has some relation to current events or things going on in our lives. Once we get the show going, our natural rapport with each other seems to drive the conversations, and the podcast is over before we even realize it.
I don't find that it to be hard most of the time. There is almost always a geek tie in we can find for most topics. Some of my favorite episodes have been doing a psychological analysis of our favorite media. Especially the Daredevil
How did you get involved with DefenMedia and how has it been working with them on the show?
I was introduced to J.M. through Melissa Merlot. We had gone to high school together, and she had been the one who let me know of the Comic Con panel that started this all. Since she was part of the Left Show and I was trying to make Geekhead Radio
more local, I had her introduce me to Jeff. Jeff has been incredible with helping edit the shows and cleaning up the audio. We don’t have identical approaches to how we host our shows, but we try to support each other. GT
wouldn’t exist without Jeff, and I am eternally grateful for his trust and friendship.
The show has been going for over two years now. What are your thoughts on the help you've given people so far?
If one episode helped someone take control of their life or kept them from ending their life, that’s enough for me. Subscribers are an afterthought for me. I hope the show can help someone feel better about their own struggles and get the help they need.
People who go to school to be therapists or nurses aren’t in it for selfish reasons. They generally want to help people in direct ways. Since I chose not to go into therapy I did feel like my degree was going to waste and I wasn’t helping as much as I wanted to. So when I hear from our listeners about how we have made them stop and think, or how they’ve changed how they interact with others based on what we have to say, it warms my heart. I love people, despite having anxiety, and I just want people to be happy with who they are. And the first step to being happy with who you are and understanding your limitations and your brain. That’s where we hop in to help.
Heavens, I hope we have helped someone. Even if it's only one that makes it worth it. I love to get the feedback from people when we did a topic they enjoyed or hadn't thought about before we talked about it. I love it when listeners suggest a topic too!
Where do you hope to take the show as it continues to grow?
We’ll keep doing the show as long as people are interested and time allows. I just want to help people live better lives and understand themselves using the geeky media they love.
I’m honestly not putting any hopes on the podcast. I want to stay in the here and now, and just be happy with what it is now. If it grows, and we get a bigger audience, that’s great. That’s just all that much more that wouldn’t be getting help otherwise. If we go national, that would be intense but I’ll stay on the rollercoaster as far as it takes me. Plus, it helps to love who you work with.
All the way to the bank! Really I wasn't sure they would even want me on so to still be recording over a year later is amazing to me!
What can we expect from all of you and Geek Therapist over the rest of the year?
Me running my mouth, Katie and Jocelyn putting me in my place and us helping people survive the next four years.
I’m hoping you can expect lots more exciting topics. We kind of go wherever the winds take us when it comes to topics so it could be anything. Mostly I just hope you can expect to laugh and enjoy at least one hour of your day.
Continued episodes unless they stop letting me into their house. I'm sure I'll keep threatening to kick Aaron in the shin. Although I haven't the last few episodes, either he's behaving or I'm getting soft. Hopefully more interaction with listeners. I've made some good friends who listen to the podcast, and although life is busy and we don't get together often, there are events that happen and we can meet up sometimes.