In 2014, after years of working with women in individual and group settings, licensed clinical psychologist Joy Harden Bradford started the blog, Therapy for Black Girls. She wanted to create an environment that made mental health topics more relevant and accessible to Black women, and she wanted it to have a celebratory energy.
TBG now includes a podcast, a directory of culturally competent therapists for Black women and girls, and a community of more than 700,000 Black women around the world.
Next month, Bradford releases her first book, “Sisterhood Heals,” (Ballantine Books, $28), a guide to help Black women develop and sustain meaningful, lasting relationships with each other. In advance of the June 27 book release, Bradford spoke with Unapologetically ATL about how far we’ve come and how far we must go in managing mental health concerns of the Black community.
Q: As founder of Therapy for Black Girls, what have you observed as the most pressing mental health concerns of Black women at the present?
A: I think that many Black women struggled with depression and anxiety before the pandemic and it feels like this has become even more of a concern now. Additionally, I think that many Black women are grieving the loss of loved ones and the life they had before the pandemic and are feeling bone-level exhausted with the weight of world concerns, family concerns, racism, and sexism.
Q: Your forthcoming book “Sisterhood Heals” focuses on healing in community. Why is community an important part of healing and mental health support?
A: Community is important in healing because it reminds us we are not alone in any feeling we experience or situation we may be struggling with. Knowing that others feel similarly helps us to release any shame we may be feeling. Life is hard, but things are easier when we can help each other carry the load.
Credit: Image provided by Ballantine Books
Credit: Image provided by Ballantine Books
Q: You’ve noted the foundations of psychology are based on the norms of white, cisgender men. What impact has that had on the mental health of Black people over the years? How are those norms changing?
A: The fact that the theories that govern much of the field did not include anyone besides white, cisgender men means that much is missed in our interpretations and ability to apply these theories to other groups. This has impacted the Black community because normal, adaptive behaviors have been pathologized because the lens used to view the behavior was not wide enough. This has also impacted us in terms of there not being a wide variety of research available to determine what kinds of treatment are most effective for us.
Q: Recent data from professional organizations indicates that 2% of psychiatrists and 4% of psychologists are Black. What are the benefits of Black people having a therapist who looks like them? What are the challenges?
A: Having a therapist who looks like you can sometimes make it easier to share difficult information. There are certain cultural touchpoints that may not need to be explained because of a shared background. This can make developing rapport with a therapist easier. One of the challenges of having a therapist who looks like you may come from the therapist over-identifying with a client and not being able to maintain objectivity. Additionally, because there are so few practitioners who are Black, this often means having to wait for services as many have full caseloads.
Q: A recurring theme in the Black community is strength and resilience. How does this work for or against us from a mental health perspective?
A: Strength and resilience are helpful coping strategies to help bounce back from the curveballs that life throws everyone. In the Black community, many of us have been socialized to over rely on strength and resilience in ways that are harmful because it strips us of our humanity. It is ok to say ouch when something hurts us, yet many of us have been taught to always appear strong and not to let others know when we are struggling.
Q: In a recent poll of Unapologetically ATL readers, the majority, 73%, said taking a walk in nature or in the neighborhood had the greatest impact on their mental health — more than journaling, healthy eating or limiting screen time. Why is the mind/body connection an important component of managing mental health?
A: Physical activity, like taking a walk, produces endorphins [the feel-good chemicals] in our bodies which tends to improve our mood. Additionally, being engaged with nature helps us to feel grounded. It helps us in being connected to the present moment and reminds us that we are a part of something larger which can also have a positive impact on our mood.
Q: When we asked readers about access to mental health services, 59% said they have access to in-person or virtual counseling and therapy services in their community but only 12% said they have access to support groups in their community. How might we explain the lack of access to support groups in Black communities and how do we address it?
A: There are a lack of group programs nationwide. I think we still have work to do in decreasing the stigma related to things like group therapy. Even though resources for individual therapy are scarce, there are even fewer resources for group therapy. One of the reasons I started The Holding Space Foundation was to address this concern and to be able to offer group support to Black women across the country.
Q: What are some misconceptions about group therapy or community healing?
A: One of the most common misconceptions about group therapy is that your information will not remain confidential. There is a considerable amount of time spent in the pre-screening process talking with clients about the importance of confidentiality and protecting everyone’s privacy. A second misconception is that there won’t be enough time for everyone to get their needs met because the therapist is tending to more than one client at a time. In group therapy, the therapist is there to facilitate but much of the work actually happens between members.
Q: What practical advice can you offer to Black people who may be hesitant to embrace mental health support?
A: It’s normal to be a little distrustful about talking with a stranger about private concerns. But it’s also OK for you to get support for the areas you may be struggling with. I’d also say that the process of finding the right therapist for you can be a bit of trial and error. It’s OK to talk with multiple therapists before you find the one that’s right for you. And if you start working with a therapist and then decide that it’s not a fit after all. It’s ok to let them know and to work on finding someone else who may be a better fit for you and the work you need to do.
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