Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s got Netflix binge stories.
Don’t be surprised to see her at a season finale watch party for your favorite reality show either – she’s into ‘unscripted’ television. She unapologetically walks in her power with a crown of natural curls so glorious the culture demands her wash-day routine ASAP.
And like most of the planet, Dr. Joy is also of the opinion that Beyoncé’ is incomparable. With Who Run the World as her personal theme song, she’s definitely allowed to touch the audio controls in the ride.
But it’s more than her relatable attributes that’ll make giving her space in your personal life easy.
As a licensed Psychologist, official Break Up Coach, and all-around mental health expert, Dr. Joy is firmly poised to become our girl for life.
Therapy for Black Girls, the online space she’s created to support the mental wellness of Black women and girls, is on a mission to de-stigmatize therapy and make dialogue about mental health accessible and, most of all, approachable.
Along with a widely popular blog and features in the likes of Essence, Ebony, and on OWN, Dr. Joy also hosts the Therapy for Black Girls podcast, a maverick weekly conversation between her and other experts where some of our favorite fictional characters receive well-being support and guidance.
Yes, Love & Basketball’s Monica, Scandal’s Olivia, and Insecure’s Molly all have sessions on the couch.
These unique, well-aimed therapeutic relationships are certainly redefining our definition of mental health and fostering a new appreciation for its wellness.
Now, more than ever, Black women need healing environments – atmospheres that foster repair and rejuvenation.
It’s a longing I’m all too familiar with. Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s work is a help I’m grateful we all have access to. Today, I’m thankful, but I didn’t always feel that way.
I’ve always considered therapy too rich for my blood. Expensive in the sense of time, not dollars. The commitment to self-ish-ness it requires deemed it costly enough to ignore. Ignoring me came easy. I mean, generations of women have taught us how to do that quite well.
Instead of therapeutic counseling couches, we sit on church pews and porch stoops – bar stools and salon chairs – SUV back rows and casino stools – lovers’ laps and the laps of lovers who belong to others.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Trying to avoid the conflict between truth and denial will always start a war within. But what if we stopped trying to outrun it?[/perfectpullquote]
And when our soul’s aches become unbearable and waves of the blues wash over us, we often find ourselves in the bottom of wine glasses, Doritos bags, and 9-to-5s taking up precious space in our off-the-clock lives. Hunkered down under bed linens; remote in one hand, tears in another.
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford believes we each have the potential to be “marvelous, fierce, and incredible creatures.” She is one of our greatest supporters, proving her devotion by creating safe spaces for Black women to navigate the murky waters of emotional distress and other stressors that compromise our mental health.
Incredibly comfortable spaces that won’t feel foreign no matter what you already believe about therapy.
I recently had an opportunity to discuss Dr. Joy’s work, the art of demystifying therapy, and her hopes for Black girls everywhere.
I’ll start with the first question, which I love asking. Who is Dr. Joy?
DR. JOY: That’s a very big question. Central to my identity is being a wife and a mom. I’m also from Louisiana, which is a big part of who I am and helps to shape my worldview. I’m a psychologist, which is also really important to me.
Do you think the term “mental health” has been diluted? Do Black women understand what mental health refers to?
DR. JOY: I think we have an idea but it’s [still] kind of misunderstood. Often when people think about mental health they think about anxiety, depression, schizophrenia and bipolar [disorder]. The bigger name diagnoses that you might hear.
But in my mind, mental health is so much more than that; it’s also related to: how well are you taking care of yourself? What are you doing to make sure you have balance in your life? What does your support system look like… are you setting good boundaries in your relationships?
We don’t often pay attention to all those little things that are also considered mental health.
The Therapist Directory you created is one of the most valued tools our community has ever been provided. Why did you create it?
DR. JOY: I spend a lot of time on social media when I can, and I just kept seeing women say, “I’m looking for a Black woman therapist” or “Anybody know a good therapist?” and I was like… well clearly… we need some kind of directory.
Just like we say Girl who did your braids, those are cute, can I get her name? I want people to be able to recommend their therapist in the same way.
The Directory started initially [with] people nominating their therapists, but other therapists saw that and [wanted to be] a part of that too. My mission is to have at least a couple [therapists] in every state, so that people can get connected to the care that they need.
We’re taught that Black women are indestructible and beyond strong in every single way. Why do we need therapy?
DR. JOY: I am a personal believer that everybody needs therapy, because therapy is not just for a crisis situation. Therapy is [there] to help you talk through why do I always end up in relationships that don’t go anywhere or how could I be parenting more effectively? All of those questions we struggle with. Talking to a therapist can be really helpful for those kinds of things.
But particularly related to this whole “strong Black woman thing”, I think that a lot of times [it is] why Black women miss what’s going on with them. We’ve never really been given the space to be vulnerable, sad and depressed.
I did a whole podcast episode about the fact that Black women often don’t know they’re depressed, because the symptoms don’t always look in Black women like they look in in other people.
We have not typically had the luxury to be laying [at] home, crying in bed. That typically is not okay; so even if you are feeling miserable that’s not something you’re going to do.
Because people are still functioning, they often don’t realize whoa if I slowed down and stopped moving so much, [I’d realize] I really haven’t been feeling well for the past two years. Because we’re always moving and have never really been given the space to be vulnerable and to pay attention to our emotions, we often miss some of the things that are going on with us.
Do you think stigma related to mental health has a lot to do with avoiding big topics or avoiding the pains and the pressures?
DR. JOY: In some ways it does. A lot of us use work and other things as coping strategies to not have to deal with the “other” stuff.
We’re throwing ourselves into all [of] these other things and then are not sure what these feelings or symptoms that we’re having [are], or what that’s really reflective of.
What I love about your Therapy for Black Girls articles and podcast is not only do you provide therapeutic guidance and insight and unconditional care, I love what it feels like. When did you realize you could no longer outrun your calling to become a therapist?
DR. JOY: I don’t know that I ever tried to outrun it. It has always felt very natural to me, I feel like I was the friend. A lot of therapists have the same story… the friend in the group that people would go to for advice. I always knew I would do something in the helping profession, so it has always felt very natural; and working with Black women is what I love.
There is such power just inherent in who we are.
I really truly identify with the whole idea of Black girl magic. There is something really magical about us.
How did the concept of counseling influential yet fictional, Black female characters like Olivia Pope and Molly from Insecure develop?
DR. JOY: My whole mission for Therapy for Black Girls is to make mental health topics relevant to people. When we only think about mental health as not having panic attacks and being depressed, we miss all [of these] other layers of what you can be doing to live your optimal life.
I think just having more Black women characters on TV [provides a] rich opportunity to have discussions about… all of this is going well in her life but if she were in therapy what else could be going well? What area is she missing?
I think most classically about Olivia Pope who has all this stuff going on and is a [powerful] woman, but virtually has no healthy relationships in her entire life. A lot of us can identify with these characters.
A lot of people don’t go to therapy because they just don’t understand it. They don’t understand how talking could help you solve problems. Therapists often feel weird to people, because it’s like who is this person I’m telling all of this stuff to, and they don’t tell me anything about themselves?
My goal with the podcast episodes is to help people understand what happens when the door closes, and that therapists are real people.
I wanted to demystify the whole process.
Do you have a listener reaction that really was profound?
DR. JOY: I don’t even know if I can pick just one cause I feel like y’all constantly have me in tears. My favorites are always when people say Dr. Joy read me, or read my life and snatched my edges.
It’s all I ever would have hoped for that people let me into that space, and I can gently challenge them to be a better version of themselves.
What is your hope for every Black woman?
DR. JOY: I really want every Black woman to be able to own [her] own voice. There is nobody else who has that except you, and often times that gets silenced by overbearing parents, or haters in the group, or people who are super critical. It often gets drowned out.
When you put layers and layers of other stuff on top of it, your voice becomes a faint whisper. I really want Black girls to be able to get in touch with that. We need your uniqueness.
Beautiful. What’s one thing someone can do today to discover their Purpose?
DR. JOY: I really think sitting in silence is important, because a lot of times like I’ve already mentioned, we’re doing so much that we’re not quiet. Sometimes we don’t want to be quiet because we’re afraid of what’s going to come up, right?
DR. JOY: If you can really sit and be with yourself, you will begin to notice the negative self-talk. Building quiet time and reflection time [into your schedule] is really important so you can get in touch with whatever feels most true in your core.
Not what mom wants you to be and what big mama has always dreamed for you. All of those things are great, but that’s not necessarily what the world needs. The world needs whatever is most true to you.
What’s the next big project you have your eyes set on?
DR. JOY: I [recently] announced a Grad Student Grind group that I’m going to be running. That group is open now for people to participate in if they would like to.
NOBI DeLON: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you for the work you’ve done, that you’re doing and you’ll continue to do.
DR. JOY: Thank you.
Misery is easy. We know how to do that. But therapy is an act of love and healing that requires vulnerability. We tend to regard this openness as a sign of weakness. But it isn’t. Vulnerability is, in fact, courage on steroids.
There is no shame in falling apart. It’s about putting yourself back together.
Reconstructing a better you and knowing that you never have to be what you were. And it’s important to ask for help.
Through Therapy for Black Girls, Dr. Joy Harden Bradford shows us that therapy creates an environment where discovering and reheating the warmest, most beautiful, and strongest parts of you is supported and nurtured.
Strengthening or restoring our mental health is work we must do.
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