"Therapy" is a weighty word, even though it only has seven letters. As ingrained as it is in our cultural lexicon, it is still seen by many as dirty, unnecessary, and even shameful. Admittedly, I have never been to a therapist's office and have always wondered what sitting in a session would actually feel like. Fortunately, other fearless and confident women like my fellow I AM & CO scribe Jayne Claire have summarized their experiences. In a piece entitled "Anxiety, Therapy, The Stigma, and Me," she wrote:
"Therapy, I have learned, is an amazing addition to my self-love routine. And it isn't just for people who are grieving or who are facing a giant life change.Therapycan be a regular part of life for anyone, at any time. Once I got past the stigma that counseling was only for fighting couples or grieving loss, I felt the freedom to get the help I needed. There is magic in creating a safe space for yourself to unwind,and...everysession doesn't have to be extremely dark or heavy. It's actually better if it isn't, I have found. This way, it feels more routine and normal and supplements a lifestyle of positive mental health."
As much as theself-care movementhas thrived in recent years (with therapy holding a significant stake in this movement), the art of finding a therapist, determining how often to see him or her, and choosing what facets of one's life are worthy of sharing, are all tasks I still find myself struggling to complete. And if therapy is such a positive thing, why is it still so stigmatized across communities? Why are so many people confused as to where and how to access it? And why does it feel so particularly difficult for women of color? Enter "Therapy for Black Girls."
The majority of images we see surrounding therapy, and mental health in general, do not feature Black women. Growing up, my entire concept of the field came from shrinks and psychiatrists I saw in mainstream media. They were always older, they were always gentle, they were always wearing corduroy, and they were always White. For most of my life, this did not bother me. Why would I go out and seek something that I hardly saw myself represented in? How would I know that a culture steeped in Black women's mental care even existed? It was not until I ventured on my own mental health journey that I noticed this depletion, and I was inspired to do something about it.
A quick Google search of "Therapy for Black Girls" instantly populated information about Dr. Joy Harden Bradford'suber-popularpodcast of the same name. For those who do not already know, Dr. Bradford is a gift to thisworld—point, blank, and period.
With her platform she is not only streaming necessary information about mental health to her thousands upon thousands of listeners, but also amplifying the work of her guests (Black female professionals in the same or similar fields), making intellectual conversations about mental health easily accessible to all kinds of people, and affirming Black women's right to have a voice in this ever-growing movement.
Dr. Bradford is a University of Georgia degree-backed clinical psychologist. Still, in every episode of the podcast, she makes sure to note that her message should not be used as a full-on replacement for seeing a licensed mental health worker. Her show is simply there to support, encourage, uplift, and inspire more Black women. Of course, anyone of any racial or ethnic background can listen to the show, but Bradford's priority is plain and straightforward—" Therapy for Black Girls" is for us.
Episodes of "Therapy for Black Girls" cover a range of topics including romantic relationships, post-traumatic healing, making friends as an adult, and staying on the arduouspath towardone's dreams. By the end of each podcast, I am left feeling blissfully full. Many of the more specific topics do not even relate to what is going on in my life, but I still find these episodes intriguing. In these moments, I get to use her show like a classroom, and I walk away with a set of lessons I can go on to use in situations with friends, family members, or even future relationships.
Another unique aspect of the "Therapy for Black Girls" platform that Dr. Bradford was adamant about curating is a network calledThe Therapy for Black Girls Therapist Directory.
"I created the directory because I continued to see the same conversation around Black women looking for a therapist come up again andagain...Blackwomen typically prefer to have other Black women as therapists as there tends to be a level of 'feeling seen and known' that exists between Black women." -Dr. Joy Harden Bradford. This database has Black women's mental health in its DNA, and that is nothing short of revolutionary!
While all of this sounds great and even simple, there are still pervasive barriers that prevent Black women from seeking therapy. The practice fallsvictimto a few problematic modes of thought. One is that therapy is only forcrazypeople who are "too weak" to assess and attack personal issues on their own. Another is that therapy is only for narcissistic, self-indulgent people who want to hear themselves talk. Finally, since so many women "gain their value and worth by how much they can 'do' for everyone, especially their partners, they have lost the art of just being." -AnitaStoudmire, the founder of Better Love Movement.
All of these are harmful ways of thinking, but they have been so heavily embedded in our culture that they are hard to combat against—particularly if you are a Black woman. Black women do not get the luxury of acting out in public very often. In fact, our strength andselflessnesshave been paraded as our primary characteristics for centuries across movie theaters, television screens, magazines, and stages. Images of Black women as givers or maids or forceful matriarchs are the most common ones we have, thus making it more difficult for Black women to actuallyadmitto their own struggles.
Dr. Erika Evans, a licensed marriage and family therapist, calls this the superwoman trope: "Many Black women have had to resolve that they need help to sort out whatever is plaguing them in their lives and that reaching out for this support isn't a sign of weakness but a testament to their strength of character."
Fortunately, there is a whole new wave of specialists, including Dr. Bradford, who are prioritizingBlack women's' mental health. Of course, there is always a need for more voices in the ether (not only therapy for black girls, but therapy for brown, Latinx, Native, Asian,trans, and girls across a spectrum of marginalized communities), but it is essential to highlight and amplify the women who are already doing this work right now.
Other popular podcasts that carry the "Therapy for Black Girls" mindset are "H.E.R Space" hosted by media maven Terri Lomax and psychologist Dr. Dominique Broussard, "Black Girls in Om" hosted by wellness influencers Lauren Ash andDeunIvory, and "Black Girls Heal" hosted by licensed counselorShenaTubbs. Thanks to the work of these and many other formidable women, "Therapy for Black Girls" is more than just a powerful message; it is an unwavering movement.
Everyhuman beingon this planet has the potential to benefit from therapy. We all face trials and tribulations and can benefit from processing them with the help of a licensed professional. Because of this, it is disheartening to think about how many Black women have denied themselves this practice in efforts to maintain a reputation of strength or "put togetherness." We should all have a right to healing and to elevating ourselves physically, intellectually, spiritually, and mentally.
To this day, none of the Black women in my family have ever initiated a conversation with me about therapy. Of course, my mother, aunties, grandmothers, cousins, etc. care for me and inquire about my body, my happiness, my education, and my personal life, but they never go a step further to ask about my mental health. For this, I will never blame them.
Mental wellness has simply never been emphasized as a priority. Dr.TriphiMargaret Wallet is a licensed psychologist andauthorwho recognizes these generational pitfalls all too well. Her advice?
"We must do a more effective job in teaching our girls that it's quiteOKto be both strong and vulnerable (human).Effective self-careis what responsible people do if they want to create an existence that feels good to them in body, mind, and spirit."
Fortunately, thanks to advances in the mental health sphere, this balance of strength and vulnerability no longer seems impossible to achieve. Black women like myself have a growing arsenal of information on mental health and therapy. And rather than look to media or magazines to learn more about this topic, my own daughters, granddaughters, and hopefully great-granddaughters will learn how to care for their mental health directly from me.