Plant the seeds and watch them grow. Licensed psychologist Dr. Joy Harden Bradford – host of the wildly popular and ever-necessary Therapy For Black Girls podcast, probably would have never imagined just how much her "seeds" would flourish.
However, after chatting with her about her career growth since launching the platform in April 2017, and getting to know her on a personal level, I will say this: Her desire to continue to find a way to get mental health information to Black women in a way they can relate – is always guiding her next steps.
The Louisiana native always knew she wanted to work in the psychology field – but was unsure of what her specialty would be. It wasn't until her doctorate studies in Counseling Psychology at The University of Georgia did Dr. Joy realize she had found her sweet spot. "My PhD program groomed me for what I'm doing now. All of my work was centered on Black women and Black graduate students."
She then went on to work at the Counseling center at Georgia Southern University and later transitioned into full-time private practice work. Her specialty became helping women recover from breakups with her passion for holding space for Black women to become the best possible version of themselves at the core of her work.
Podcasting was a growing interest, but wasn't a skill she had perfected. "I always listened to a ton of podcasts. It always felt like something I would likely do, but I didn't know how. I had already been blogging on the Therapy For Black Girls website but it felt like I could do something different with the podcast."
So, she put in the work: Conducted research, took courses on launching a podcast, and got her community excited. Note: Having a husband with a production background was an added bonus.
Now over 85 episodes, a 19,000+ member Facebook group, and 2.5 million downloads later with features on major outlets such as Forbes, Women's Health, The Oprah Magazine, The Washington Post, and Essence – Therapy For Black Girls reaches women globally covering topics such as entrepreneurship, breakups, pregnancy and fertility, self-sabotage, social media, colorism, body image and more. "I never imagined that it would pick up steam so quickly. I figured I'd have to do a lot more marketing and figure out how to grow it."
The need for Therapy For Black Girls is real. Dr. Joy contributes most of her growth to word of mouth recommendations, having a solid college student listenership, and consistent community social media sharing. Viral retweets about the Therapy For Black Girls therapist directory by celebrity fans such as Solange also helped. (That one retweet crashed the Therapy For Black Girls website for a week!)
Behind the couch, Dr. Joy notes that her personal ability to "trust her intuition" served as a foundation for her practice's success and is something she brings to her show. She's in-tune with her audience and even incorporates popular culture into her show themes.
"When we talk about mental health, there's a tendency to only talk about depression and anxiety. There are a lot of other things that go into our mental health. I wanted to expand the conversation and help Black women get connected to resources that can help them if they felt like they needed help...the emails that I get from people who listen talk about how they learn something new and how an episode touched them… and how they are going to reach out to a therapist because of me [touch me]. I thought eventually it would get to that place, but to be what it has been now has been amazing."
The speed of growth was something to which Dr. Joy had to adjust. She added a virtual assistant and social media manager to her team. More opportunities came, such as guesting at popular podcast live shows (The Friend Zone and Gettin' Grown).
"Building the Therapy For Black Girls brand was my intention from the beginning. I've always been the face of the brand, but now there feels like a need to create a separate brand outside of Therapy For Black Girls because not all of my press opportunities have been solely about Black women in therapy. They have been about my expertise as a psychologist and how I can have conversations about pop culture and other things. The Dr. Joy brand is now an emerging brand."
The thing about nursing any seed though is that when you put in the work, you will have interested spectators. Then what?
"Put the work out there, and be consistent. It will take you a long way."
In December 2018, Dr. Joy was invited to be co-host alongside Angela Simmons on MTV's Teen Mom: Young + Pregnant reunion special – her first TV hosting gig. This came about after responding to a pitch from a MTV talent producer. Though she sent in her media clips and didn't hear back for six months, she gladly accepted the job and got to work (a common theme of her story) on prepping. She credits her legal team for helping to navigate the specifics during such a tight time crunch.
"Even though it can be exciting and the temptation may be to not pay attention to contracts, there were things that they thought about in the contract negotiation, such as my compensation and my rights, that I would have never thought about. It's always good to have conversations with people that do this on a more frequent basis than you do."
When you're building the dream and looking for more opportunities to broaden your impact, the most important thing you can do is continue to do the work. "You can have a publicist and look bright and shiny but if you're not credible and you can't talk to the kinds of things that they want you to talk about, it won't really matter," Dr. Joy reminds us. "Now I know that there are talent departments [whose sole job is] to look for people like me to do this kind of thing. Put the work out there, and be consistent. It will take you a long way."
However, growing both the Dr. Joy and Therapy For Black Girls brands isn't exempt from challenges. Managing schedules – all while being a wife and mother to two young boys, all while balancing her personal commitments and self-care routines can be tough.
"During the Teen Mom prep, there were also a lot of schedule changes. That was the weekend of my college homecoming and sorority reunion, so I completely rearranged my schedule. It's a lot, given that I also have two small children. Being able to be flexible with your schedule helps because I don't know that you always have a lot of time to prepare and get ready for these kinds of opportunities."
Setting clear boundaries (a topic often discussed on the show) with listeners has also been important as the platform's popularity rises. Hence, the ever-present disclaimer that opens each show: "And while I hope you love listening to and learning form the podcast, it is not meant to be a substitute for a licensed mental health professional."
Moral of the story? When there's a need, there's always room to find a way to fill it. Find the void. Identify your platform of choice and execute. The best part about creating your own path is the ability to define success for yourself. "Therapy For Black Girls is helping women take their mental health more seriously. That's all I ever set out to do."
Dr. Joy BTS with Angela Simmons for MTV's Teen Mom Reunion Special
"Therapy For Black Girls is helping women take their mental health more seriously. That's all I ever set out to do."
It's also inspiring the future generation of mental health professionals and culture changers.
"Someone in my Instagram comments commented how cool it was to see me [hosting Teen Mom] because she had grown up watching Dr. Drew do this and often thought, 'Could I be doing something that he's doing?' To see me doing it, opens up options for people who don't know or think that this is something you can do with the degree. [Me stepping into opportunities like this] also helps more therapists expand their ideas about what we can do with our degrees. Sometimes we only think we can see clients in our office or within an agency. Seeing Black female therapists on TV is very sparse. You typically don't see diversity in terms of who is represented on these shows. It's important that these companies are being more active in trying to find people from diverse backgrounds."
If you're trying to find the courage to take risks and pursue your own dreams, Dr. Joy suggests staying away from overconsumption of social media, scheduling, investing in coaching, and cultivating a strong support system.
The Therapy For Black Girls empire continues to grow. In late 2018, Dr. Joy launched the Yellow Couch Collective - a space for Black women "to gather, support, encourage, and learn from one another."
This is only the beginning – and Dr. Joy – calmly, but with a joyous excitement – knows it.
"It's always been my goal to have an advice column in a [major Black woman's publication]. A part of these expanding opportunities, I've always thought about, but not necessarily TV. I would absolutely do TV hosting again! It's still too new to me to go too far in imagining what this could be become. I'm open to what's next for sure."
We'll be here rooting for you.
Photos via Dr. Joy Harden Bradford.