Black women and the effects of stigma, race and the pandemic: ‘There aren’t enough therapists to meet the need’

·4 min read
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is the founder of Therapy for Black Girls (Photo: Dr. Joy Harden Bradford)
Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is the founder of Therapy for Black Girls (Photo courtesy of Dr. Joy Harden Bradford)

In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month 2021, Yahoo Life is profiling some of the many professionals who are focused on serving some of the country’s most marginalized populations — and on changing the field of mental health while they’re at it. Read all the interviews here.

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford

Licensed psychologist and founder of Therapy for Black Girls, an online community aimed at eliminating mental health stigma, providing resources and finding ways to discuss mental health that are relatable and accessible. 

Tell us about your organization and what makes it unique in the mental health space.

Our mission at Therapy for Black Girls is to sustain and grow an engaged community centered on the mental health needs of Black women and girls. We perform this mission by creating resources, content and experiences designed to present information in a way that feels relevant and accessible. The community includes a therapist directory, a weekly podcast, and an app for Black women to connect with and support one another. I think what makes us unique is that we are solely focused on Black women and girls and the particular ways that our mental health is impacted.

What prompted you personally to enter this field?

I took a psychology class in high school and fell in love with the field then. I am a naturally curious person, and psychology felt like a great opportunity to dig deeper into how we behave as humans and what drives our thoughts and feelings.

What's your approach to therapy?

To create a space with my clients that feels affirming and validating so that there is also room for conversations about how things can be different. I strongly believe that wherever you go, there you are. And so it’s likely that any challenges that someone may be concerned with outside of therapy will eventually make its way into the therapy office and will provide an opportunity for us to talk about what’s happened and how this might be impacting them outside of the office. 

For example, if a part of what brings someone to therapy is that they have difficulties saying no, it’s likely that at some point they will have trouble saying no to something I ask of them. This would then give us a chance to talk about what made it difficult, where this behavior comes from, and how they might take steps in other areas of their lives to say no more often.

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What's some of the specific baggage that comes with being a Black woman in America today?

Some of the specific issues include difficulties setting boundaries, as we are often socialized to be everything for everyone, which can lead to increased stress and a host of other concerns. Additionally, as Black people, the mental health impact of racism and things like police brutality cannot be understated. These experiences can lead to symptoms like chronic fatigue, anxiety, depression and hopelessness.

[In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests], I have seen an uptick in requests to become a client in my practice this year — even though I haven’t been able to take on any new clients for the past three years. I have also heard from many members of our therapist directory that their practices are full. I am encouraged that so many more people are reaching out for support, but saddened, because I know that there aren’t enough therapists to meet the need and there are still so many barriers to access.

How do you work with your clients to unpack intersectional traumas?

By affirming their concerns and allowing space for them to bring any and all of their concerns to our sessions. I also help them to recognize where their personal power lies, especially when so many traumatic experiences can leave us feeling powerless.

How do you take care of your own mental health?

I have a standing appointment with my therapist on Tuesdays, and that has been critical in helping me take care of my mental health, especially this year. It has also helped to stay connected with family and friends through group chats and Zoom dates. I also enjoy playing outside in the yard with my family on nice sunny days. Something else that has been helpful for me is setting firm boundaries on my time for things like meetings and speaking engagements.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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