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The Founder Of Therapy For Black Girls Gives Us A Beginner's Guide To Therapy

With the rise in mental health awareness, now more than ever, Black girls are exploring therapy as a wellness outlet.

Wellness

With the rise in mental health awareness, now more than ever, Black girls are exploring therapy as a wellness outlet. Once a very taboo topic (and still is, depending on who you're talking to), therapy and mental health have really become a topic of discussion in our community, and for good reason, too. I have personally experienced the transformative power of therapy and the power of having someone to talk to about everything from bad breakups to childhood moments, self-care practices, and more.

For some reason, we still hold on to this idea that seeking therapy is a substitution for staying positive or having a strong foundation in a Higher being, when honestly, that's just not true.

Trust me, I get it – stepping out of your comfort zone and looking for someone to talk to who you've never met is extremely daunting, especially if you're the first person in your family or friends to try it. Who tells a stranger their business? What do you even talk about with the therapist? When I first started therapy, there were many days I just sat and made what felt like surface-level conversation, until one day my guard came down and the real work began. And truly, if you can push yourself to just try it, you'll greatly see a difference in the short- and long-term.

Dr. Joy Bradford

To understand more about therapy and the perks of pushing yourself out of comfort to explore it, I spoke with Dr. Joy Bradford, an Atlanta-based psychologist prominently known as the founder of Therapy For Black Girls, an online resource and podcast that explores various topics that promote therapy and self-care.

"Some of the common reasons people come to therapy are changes in mood that significantly interfere with their lives, major transitions or losses, and assistance with having healthier relationships," Dr. Joy said. "Therapy can be helpful in these instances because you can speak with an objective party about your concerns and have a space to talk through solutions that may be helpful and patterns you may be enacting that are resulting in you feeling a certain way."

Read on as Dr. Joy walks us through the ins and outs about therapy, its cost, who to go to, and how to start:

On Who Should Consider Therapy:

"I think everyone could likely benefit from therapy at some point in their lives. I think therapy should be an obvious choice if you're noticing changes that significantly impact your typical activities of daily living (i.e. your ability to go to or function at school/work or your ability to take care of things like hygiene, dress, etc.). But I also think that therapy can be helpful in instances where you realize your relationships aren't reciprocal, or if you realize you overextend yourself in the interest of making others happy, or if you realize that you can't follow through with plans regardless of repeated efforts to do so, or if you find yourself actively avoiding places or people because you're worried about what people will say or what will happen when you get there."

On The Negative Stigma Attached To Therapy:

"I think historically it has not been ok for women of color to show any signs of weakness, especially Black women who are supposed to be Teflon and devoid of emotion. I think the strong religious and faith presence in many communities of color have resulted in people thinking that prayer was enough or that indicating you had a mental health concern somehow signified a weakened faith relationship. Additionally, I think there has rightfully been a real mistrust for medical professionals in our communities which makes people less likely to seek out help even when they feel they might need it."

On Common Misconceptions About Therapists:

"Some common misconceptions about therapists are that they are just 'paid friends,' that therapy won't help because it's just talking, and that if you try one therapist and it doesn't work, that means therapy just isn't for you. The truth is, that you may need to try a couple of different therapists before you find one that's really a good fit for you."

On The Importance Of Black Female Therapists:

"I don't personally think that it's a requirement for women of color to have a therapist that is another woman or person of color. But my experience has been that Black women tend to want to work with another woman of color. So, if that feels important to you and increases the likelihood that you will make an appointment to see someone who can help, then you should absolutely seek that out. This was the major reason I decided to create the therapist directory because I continued hearing Black women say they had difficulty finding other Black women and women of color to work with."

On What To Consider Pre-Therapy:

"I think it's important to consider what your priorities will be in participating in therapy. If cost is a major concern and you definitely want to use your insurance, you should start by calling your insurance company or getting on their website and getting a list of therapists who are covered by your plan. After that, you want to look for people who have specialities in the area you're struggling with. You also want to consider whether similarities in things like race/ethnicity, gender presentation, sexual orientation, or faith background are important. As I mentioned earlier, if any of these areas feel super important to you in having a good fit, you should seek that out."

On The Cost of Therapy:

"Most therapists offer a free 10-15 [minute] consultation to let you ask any questions you have and to get a better feel for who they are and how they work. Be prepared for this consultation with any questions you have. If cost is a concern, I suggest looking into local colleges and universities that may have training clinics where you can get therapy at significantly lower prices because the therapists are in training. I'd also suggest look into any support or therapy groups that may be in your area. These may be free or less expensive than individual therapy."

On What To Expect During Therapy:

"You should expect to feel nervous and weird about sharing some very private info with someone who is virtually a stranger. That's normal. It doesn't mean that therapy won't work. Take notes as you call therapists and browse their webpages. Think about how you feel as you listen to them or read more about them. Do they seem like someone you could eventually be comfortable with."

Find a therapist near you via the Therapy For Black Girls directory here. And follow Dr. Joy on Twitter and Instagram.

Featured image courtesy of Dr. Joy Bradford

Last year, Meagan Good experienced two major transformations in her life. She returned to the small screen starring in the Amazon Prime series Harlem, which has been renewed for a second season and she announced her divorce from her longtime partner DeVon Franklin.

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Mental health awareness is at an all-time high with many of us seeking self-improvement and healing with the support of therapists. Tucked away in cozy offices, or in the comfort of our own homes, millions of women receive the tools needed to navigate our emotions, relate to those around us, or simply exist in a judgment-free space.

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You may not know her by Elisabeth Ovesen – writer and host of the love, sex and relationships advice podcast Asking for a Friend. But you definitely know her other alter ego, Karrine Steffans, the New York Times best-selling author who lit up the literary and entertainment world when she released what she called a “tell some” memoir, Confessions of a Video Vixen.

Her 2005 barn-burning book gave an inside look at the seemingly glamorous world of being a video vixen in the ‘90s and early 2000s, and exposed the industry’s culture of abuse, intimidation, and misogyny years before the Me Too Movement hit the mainstream. Her follow-up books, The Vixen Diaries (2007) and The Vixen Manual: How To Find, Seduce And Keep The Man You Want (2009) all topped the New York Times best-seller list. After a long social media break, she's back. xoNecole caught up with Ovesen about the impact of her groundbreaking book, what life is like for her now, and why she was never “before her time”– everyone else was just late to the revolution.

xoNecole: Tell me about your new podcast Asking for a Friend with Elisabeth Ovesen and how that came about.

Elisabeth Ovesen: I have a friend who is over [at Blavity] and he just asked me if I wanted to do something with him. And that's just kinda how it happened. It wasn't like some big master plan. Somebody over there was like, “Hey, we need content. We want to do this podcast. Can you do it?” And I was like, “Sure.” And that's that. That was around the holidays and so we started working on it.

xoNecole: Your life and work seem incredibly different from when you first broke out on the scene. Can you talk a bit about the change in your career and how your life is now?

EO: Not that different. I mean my life is very different, of course, but my work isn't really that different. My life is different, of course, because I'm 43. My career started when I was in my 20s, so we're looking at almost 20 years since the beginning of my career. So, naturally life has changed a lot since then.

I don’t think my career has changed a whole lot – not as far as my writing is concerned, and my stream of consciousness with my writing, and my concerns and the subject matter hasn’t changed much. I've always written about interpersonal relationships, sexual shame, male ego fragility, respectability politics – things like that. I always put myself in the center of that to make those points, which I think were greatly missed when I first started writing. I think that society has changed quite a bit. People are more aware. People tell me a lot that I have always been “before my time.” I was writing about things before other people were talking about that; I was concerned about things before my generation seemed to be concerned about things. I wasn't “before my time.” I think it just seems that way to people who are late to the revolution, you know what I mean?

I retired from publishing in 2015, which was always the plan to do 10 years and retire. I was retired from my pen name and just from the business in general in 2015, I could focus on my business, my education and other things, my family. I came back to writing in 2020 over at Medium. The same friend that got me into the podcast, actually as the vice president of content over at Medium and was like, “Hey, we need some content.” I guess I’m his go-to content creator.

xoNecole: Can you expound on why you went back to your birth name versus your stage name?

EO: No, it was nothing to expound upon. I mean, writers have pen names. That’s like asking Diddy, why did he go by Sean? I didn't go back. I've always used that. Nobody was paying attention. I've never not been myself. Karrine Steffans wrote a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience. She was invented for the urban audience, particularly. She was never meant to live more than 10 years. I have other pen names as well. I write under several names. So, the other ones are just nobody's business right now. Different pen names write different things. And Elisabeth isn’t my real name either. So you'll never know who I really am and you’ll never know what my real name is, because part of being a writer is, for me at least, keeping some sort of anonymity. Anything I do in entertainment is going to amass quite a bit because who I am as a person in my private life isn't the same a lot of times as who I am publicly.

xoNecole: I want to go back to when you published Confessions of a Video Vixen. We are now in this time where people are reevaluating how the media mistreated women in the spotlight in the 2000s, namely women like Britney Spears. So I’d be interested to hear how you feel about that period of your life and how you were treated by the media?

EO: What I said earlier. I think that much of society has evolved quite a bit. When you look back at that time, it was actually shocking how old-fashioned the thinking still was. How women were still treated and how they're still treated now. I mean, it hasn't changed completely. I think that especially for the audience, I think it was shocking for them to see a woman – a woman of color – not be sexually ashamed.

I hate being like other people. I don't want to do what anyone else is doing. I can't conform. I will not conform. I think in 2005 when Confessions was published, that attitude, especially about sex, was very upsetting. Number one, it was upsetting to the men, especially within urban and hip-hop culture, which is built on misogyny and thrives off of it to this day. And the women who protect these men, I think, you know, addressing a demographic that is rooted in trauma that is rooted in sexual shame, trauma, slavery of all kinds, including slavery of the mind – I think it triggered a lot of people to see a Black woman be free in this way.

I think it said a lot about the people who were upset by it. And then there were some in “crossover media,” a lot of white folks were upset too, not gonna lie. But to see it from Black women – Tyra Banks was really upset [when she interviewed me about Confessions in 2005]. Oprah wasn't mad [when she interviewed me]. As long as Oprah wasn’t mad, I was good. I didn't care what anybody else had to say. Oprah was amazing. So, watching Black women defend men, and Black women who had a platform, defend the sexual blackmailing of men: “If you don't do this with me, you won't get this job”; “If you don't do this in my trailer, you're going to have to leave the set”– these are things that I dealt with.

I just happened to be the kind of woman who, because I was a single mother raising my child all by myself and never got any help at all – which I still don't. Like, I'm 24 in college – not a cheap college either – one of the best colleges in the country, and I'm still taking care of him all by myself as a 21-year-old, 20-year-old, young, single mother with no family and no support – I wasn’t about to say no to something that could help me feed my son for a month or two or three.

xoNecole: We are in this post-Me Too climate where women in Hollywood have come forward to talk about the powerful men who have abused them. In the music industry in particular, it seems nearly impossible for any substantive change or movement to take place within music. It's only now after three decades of allegations that R. Kelly has finally been convicted and other men like Russell Simmons continue to roam free despite the multiple allegations against him. Why do you think it's hard for the music industry to face its reckoning?

EO: That's not the music industry, that's urban music. That’s just Black folks who make music and nobody cares about that. That's the thing; nobody cares...Nobody cares. It's not the music industry. It's just an "urban" thing. And when I say "urban," I say that in quotations. Literally, it’s a Black thing, where nobody gives a shit what Black people do to Black people. And Russell didn't go on unchecked, he just had enough money to keep it quiet. But you know, anytime you're dealing with Black women being disrespected, especially by Black men, nobody gives a shit.

And Black people don't police themselves so it doesn't matter. Why should anybody care? And Black women don't care. They'll buy an R. Kelly album right now. They’ll stream that shit right now. They don’t care. So, nobody cares. Nobody cares. And if you're not going to police yourself, then nobody's ever going to care.

xoNecole: Do you have any regrets about anything you wrote or perhaps something you may have omitted?

EO: Absolutely not. No. There's nothing that I wish I would've gone back and said to myself, no. I don’t think at 20-something years old, I'm supposed to understand every little thing. I don't think the 20-something-year-old woman is supposed to understand the world and know exactly what she's doing. I think that one of my biggest regrets, which isn't my regret, but a regret, is that I didn't have better parents. Because a 20-something only knows what she knows based on what she’s seen and what she’s been taught and what she’s told. I had shitty parents and a horrible family. Just terrible. These people had no business having children. None of them. And a lot of our families are like that. And we may pass down those familial curses.

*This interview has been edited and condensed

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Feature image courtesy of Elisabeth Ovesen

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