Illustrations by Aleea Rae Campbell; Photo courtesy of Dr. Joy Harden Bradford
This Black History Month, HelloGiggles' In the Making is honoring the Black women working to make 2021 a better world—from an iconic actress who's made massive strides for Black representation on-screen to a therapist whose organization works to promote the mental health of Black women everywhere. These women are true examples of history in the making, and we're honored to share their incredible stories.
In 2014, clinical psychologist Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, then also working as a college counselor, was watching the BET awards show Black Girls Rock when she had the idea that would later evolve into the community she now helms. The annual ceremony honors Black women in different fields from entertainment to medicine, and as Dr. Bradford watched the event, she says she could tell it was bubbling with palpable, inspirational energy.
"I don't remember ever seeing an awards show where it was just women celebrating one another," she tells HelloGiggles over the phone. "It just made me think, 'Is there a way that I can capture the same energy around mental health?' What would that look like?"
The result looks like Therapy for Black Girls, a virtual community founded by Dr.Bradford that centers around resources that support and facilitate Black women's mental wellness. The organization features a successful, eponymous weekly podcast with more than 12 million listeners, as well as a directory of Black therapists who connect specifically with Black women, a population often stigmatized in local and national communities. As the community's leader, Dr. Bradford says she is in "constant conversation" with its thousands of members via both social media and the subscription-based Yellow Couch Collective, described as "A cozy corner of the internet for Black women to BE."
"Nothing that happens with Therapy for Black Girls is accidental," Dr. Bradford says. "We are always talking to our community. We're constantly asking them, 'What kinds of things are challenging for you? What do you want to hear about? What questions do you need answered?'"
Last summer, as racial unrest from the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd sparked weeks of global protests and the COVID-19 pandemic tore through America, Dr. Bradford discovered that her community's needs were evolving. Although racism has always been deeply unhealthy for Black women and has long presented issues that therapists like her address, she found that the effects of such widespread intensity were affecting the way women were showing up in the Therapy for Black Girls world.
"Much of our content has transitioned to taking care of yourself in the midst of a pandemic," Dr. Bradford says of the ways the organization has since changed. "Some people still feel comfortable traveling for pleasure and those kinds of things and other people don't. So how are people navigating those kinds of conversations?"
"We are still talking about how people are navigating [racial injustice] that in the workspace," she continues. "What happens if your manager doesn't say anything about it, or if they do but they're not taking it seriously? Much of that we were already doing on the podcast, but it definitely has ramped up since the summer."
During the pandemic, many Black women have been in the precarious position of having to juggle parenting and work, alongside racism, financial woes, and health concerns. As the months go by, the national conversation is continuing to progress from recognizing the issues that Black women grapple with, to acknowledging that these struggles are unfair, to providing safe spaces for Black women to find some release for their multiple stressors.
"Historically, and culturally, it has not been okay for us to share how we're struggling," says Dr. Bradford. "In a lot of ways that has been used against us, so there's all this pressure to remain quiet, even when you're really, really struggling."
"A lot of our content is aimed at telling people, it's okay. We're human."
And while finding a therapist can be a complicated task for anyone, Dr. Bradford notes that working with a counselor who "gets it" can be particularly important for Black women. Not only do many of us want to talk to someone who looks like us, feeling understood is essential to our healing, safety, and the act of resistance that is Black joy. The Therapy for Black Girls directory is an invaluable resource at a time when approximately 41% of Black people say they are struggling with either anxiety or depression, and there are shockingly few Black psychologists available.
"Just based on our interactions with other people in this country, we know we are sometimes treated unfairly," says Dr. Bradford. ""My hope is that Black women begin to prioritize themselves more."
As far as future plans, Dr. Harden Bradford says she plans to lean further into podcasting and also continue to grow the directory of therapists available on Therapy for Black Girls. As so many of the organization's members can attest, her work has had an undeniable impact on the Black community, making therapy both accessible and acceptable at a time when preserving mental wellness is more crucial than ever.