Episode 55: Creating Healthy Spaces for Black Women

In this episode of The Family Couch, we talk with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford about how to create healthy spaces for black women and girls.

We start off by discussing how Bradford’s program, Therapy for Black Girls, came into existence in September 2014.  She was inspired by an awards show and wondered how she could make therapy look as cool as the show. Bradford discusses what it means for her to create a space for black women to feel comfortable.  People feel welcome, her artwork is black-centric, and she wants people to feel like they can be themselves and not feel like they need to “have it all together.” A large part of Therapy for Black Girls is a therapist directory, where Bradford has a directory of recommended therapists.  It is her experience that black women typically want a black woman therapist.

We talk about how we can reset the image that black women need to be strong and have it all together.  Bradford says it reminds her of hearing friends say they are getting a housekeeper but they are cleaning up a little before the housekeeper comes.  She likens this to when people go to therapy and let them know just a little but not just how awful they feel. Women need to understand they will not be judged.  Bradford feels that some signs of mental illness may be missed because of the image of black women having it all together. Sometimes a person will be very successful and distracting themselves from other symptoms going on because they are so busy in other areas of life.

We next discuss that there is a stigma around mental health treatment among black people, and we explore ways to help people get around this idea.  Bradford mentions her podcast and the range of topics she discusses there. She feels that this allows people to identify the things they’re struggling with and realize they may need to see a therapist to discuss these things.  Bradford has created podcast episodes where she discusses black woman television characters. She looks at the characters and identifies the types of things they could potentially struggle with and want to visit a therapist to discuss.  These have been popular episodes because people can relate to them.

Bradford feels that if there are therapists that want to create a space for black women to feel comfortable, they need to do their own work and make sure that you are setting up a space that allows people to come in with any kinds of challenges they are working through.  With the political climate as it is, it would potentially be difficult for a black woman to come see a therapist that is not another black woman and feel honest about how they feel about what is going on in the world. You need to make sure that your literature also communicates that you are a safe space.  If a potential client is looking through your website and all of the stock photos do not look like them, that would communicate that it is not a space for them.

Bradford discusses what micro-aggression means in terms of therapy.  She explains that this would be a subtle thing that would raise someone’s hairs.  She gives the example of being a black woman shopping and having someone follow you around the store while you are shopping and not following anyone else.  It could be said that the person is just doing their job, but it feels like the black woman is being targeted because the store person feels that the woman may steal something.  In the mental health world, that may mean that the therapist makes a comment about how often a black woman changes her hair. It’s a subtle observation that could communicate to a black woman that this space is not safe for her.

We discuss what Bradford means when she says a therapist should “do their own work” when they are meeting with someone that is not of their cultural identity.  Bradford provides that there are syllabi available and specialized trainings available. You have to be intentional about seeking out these kinds of training opportunities to hold safe spaces for other cultures.

We wrap things up by talking about what advice Bradford would give to families who have young black girls in a world that does not always see them or honor them.  Bradford recommends being intentional about creating experiences for your children. There are many different organizations for black families. Some fraternities and sororities will have a junior league version so that you can get involved as a child.  There are also different organizations related to YMCA’s and YWCA’s. You have to make sure your black children are interacting with other black children so they have affirming experiences. For non-black parents, they need to be careful of what kinds of language and messages they may be communicating to their children about black children–even if you are not talking directly to your children.  They are always listening.



Dr. Joy Bradford is a psychologist in Atlanta, GA, who specializes in helping women recover from breakups.  Her larger platform is called Therapy for Black Girls, which includes both young girls and grown women. This is about making mental health relevant and accessible for black women.



WEBSITE: https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com/

PODCAST: https://www.therapyforblackgirls.com/podcast/

TWITTER: https://twitter.com/therapy4bgirls

FACEBOOK: https://www.facebook.com/therapyforblackgirls/

FACEBOOK GROUP: https://www.facebook.com/groups/808875152620942/

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