Dr. Joy Is Helping Black Women Heal From Heartbreak and Trauma

Joy Harden Bradford

Photo by Carol Lee Rose

Relationships, love, and dating can be hard. However, ongoing racial trauma and complex interpersonal dynamics that exist within Black culture can make dating even more of a challenge.

But when Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed therapist and advocate for Black women’s mental health, created Therapy for Black Girls in 2014, people listened and began to open up. It turns out that people had been waiting for a platform where they could have eye-opening and unfiltered conversations about relationships. 

In our efforts to recognize some of the most impactful players in the mental health and wellness space, we selected Dr. Joy Harden Bradford to be a part of the Verywell Mind 25 roster because of her unwavering commitment to helping Black women build the healthy relationships they desire.

Meet Dr. Joy Harden Bradford

Dr. Joy wears many hats. She’s a psychologist, speaker, media personality, soon-to-be debut author, and the founder and host of “Therapy for Black Girls,” an award-winning podcast and online resource.

As an individual with a personal and professional dedication to helping Black women navigate relationships and heal from heartbreak, Dr. Joy combines the two to jumpstart conversations about relationship issues within the Black community. 

Why Dr. Joy Became a Therapist

The journey to becoming a therapist is different for everyone—and often deeply personal. And, based on our interview with her, we quickly noticed Dr. Joy's warm and welcoming presence, and it became easy to see why she’s so extraordinary at what she does.

Dr. Joy learned that therapy was what she wanted to do because she liked knowing that she could “make a difference in someone’s life.”

Therapy Was a Calling

We asked Dr. Joy to take us back to the beginning of her career: What made her realize that therapy was her passion?

“I had an opportunity to take a psychology class in high school … and I fell in love with the subject matter and knew I wanted to major in that once I got to college," starts Dr. Joy. While noting that she initially believed she’d go on to teach psychology, she soon realized that academia was not for her after doing some student teaching. 

But, after getting the opportunity to shadow a therapist in New Orleans, she learned that therapy was what she wanted to do because she liked knowing that she could “make a difference in someone’s life.” 

The Therapy for Black Girls Directory Connects Black People to Black Therapists

Therapeutic rapport is a significant factor in determining the success of treatment. In other words, the relationship that someone has with their therapist can make all the difference. And, for people of color, finding a therapist who not only understands their mental health needs but also understands how their culture plays a role in how they perceive mental health can be difficult. 

Not Enough Therapists of Color

What makes it so difficult for people to find a Black therapist is that, in the United States, the majority of therapists are White. According to the American Psychological Association, 83% of mental health professionals are White and the remaining 17% are of color.

Dr. Joy sheds light on the value of Black clients seeing therapists of color. “I think that’s why it was important to create the therapist’s directory; because there is so much stigma related to us going to therapy in the first place. One of the things I found is that it’s a little bit easier to talk to a complete stranger if you feel that there are some shared experiences. You know that there are things this therapist will just get.”

For instance, not having to explain why you sleep on satin pillowcases or why your hair looks different every week leaves time for addressing what truly matters—you. With an immediate cultural connection, you simply feel safer.

Dr. Joy Aims to Repair Broken Hearts

Dr. Joy’s practice focuses on providing relationship therapy. “I work with clients very relationally, there’s a lot of things that you don’t know about yourself until you’re in a relationship with someone,” says Dr. Joy.

Considering her experience helping college students deal with their relationships, she felt that going on to specialize in relationship therapy felt like a natural transition. 

Using Pop Culture to Help People Heal

Dr. Joy (whose Twitter tagline is “You can find me at the intersection of psychology and pop culture”) is known for referencing trending movies and series to jumpstart conversations about relationship issues.

In her podcast, for instance, Dr. Joy has covered everything from Issa’s painful breakup with Lawrence as a result of her infidelity in HBO’s “Insecure” and Carlton and Will’s complex dynamic in Peacock’s “Bel-Air.” Considering the slice-of-life nature of these shows, many people can relate to these characters’ dating and relationship experiences. 

People Respond to Pop Culture References

People may cheat for different reasons. And many of us may say that we have a love-hate relationship with at least one (or all) of our family members. So, while her listeners may be drawn in by the pop culture references, they stay for the conversations that are often difficult (and sometimes triggering) but necessary. 

Dr. Joy says that even though they had some difficult conversations, “We mostly saw avoidance between Issa and Lawrence.” And, this aspect of their relationship was very unhealthy

Healthy Representations of Black Love on TV

Regarding healthy representations of Black love in media and film, Dr. Joy cites the beloved couple Beth and Randall (played by Susan Kelechi Watson and Sterling K. Brown, respectively) from the drama series “This Is Us” on NBC as a depiction of what a mostly healthy relationship looks like.

While acknowledging that Beth and Randall did not have a perfect relationship, the show highlighted the couple's "ability to talk through difficult situations.”

Since so many people watch and adore these shows, discussing on-screen characters helps people segue into conversations about sensitive subjects with a bit more ease—both in and out of the therapist's office.

Moving Away From ‘The Superwoman Schema’

A far-too-frequent role that Black women willingly and reluctantly take on is that of the superwoman.

Dr. Joy Harden Bradford

It’s a good thing for us to recognize that we’ve been running ourselves into the ground and not really taking good care of ourselves in the interest of taking care of so many other people.

— Dr. Joy Harden Bradford

Black women are taught to be resilient, self-sacrificial, and independent. Taking care of their own needs and mental health is typically last on their to-do lists—if it even appears on the list at all. 

Dr. Cheryl Woods-Giscombe was the first to put a name to this concept—the Superwoman Schema (SWS).

The Superwoman Schema

SWS is a conceptual framework that describes the numerous roles Black women are expected to take on (e.g., wife, mother, nurturer, and breadwinner).

Black Women Are Reluctant to Seek Mental Health Help

In Dr. Woods-Giscombe's work, she notes that Black women report higher rates of anxiety and depression than their White counterparts but are less likely to seek help. Both a lack of access to quality mental healthcare services and mistrust of the healthcare system play a role in Black women’s hesitancy to seek help. 

When asked about her thoughts on SWS and the number of Black social media influencers advocating for Black women to prioritize their self-care needs, Dr. Joy says, “It’s a good thing for us to recognize that we’ve been running ourselves into the ground and not really taking good care of ourselves in the interest of taking care of so many other people.” 

Black women are taught to be resilient, self-sacrificial, and independent. Taking care of their own needs and mental health is typically last on their to-do lists—if it even appears on the list at all. 

Even though Dr. Joy is pleased that Black women are learning how to prioritize their own needs, she does have concerns that people are going too far by simply cutting off everyone and only focusing on themselves.

She says this behavior is unhealthy because “we do need community.” Dr. Joy said it’s important for Black women to find a good balance. So instead of “giving from your main cup, give from the overflow.”

Fun Facts About Dr. Joy

  • What does Dr. Joy do for self-care?: Aside from taking a lot of naps, Dr. Joy loves to hula hoop. 
  • Does Dr. Joy see a therapist?: “Absolutely, every Tuesday at 2:15!” 
  • The piece of mental advice Dr. Joy wishes she learned sooner: Recognizing how much sleep impacts her mental health
  • Her hope for the Black community: "I’d like to see more group therapy and that’s a personal aim of mine. We’re a communal kind of people, so group therapy naturally lends itself to really being able to support one another."
  • On how it feels to be recognized for her work: “We have made an incredible impact [with the] work that we do at Therapy for Black Girls. So, it always feels nice to have other people recognize that. Recognition like this allows more people to find out about it, which is the best part. I’m very excited about it.” 

What's Next for Dr. Joy?

Considering Dr. Joy's support for group healing, she's written a book about how sisterhood can help Black women heal from trauma and heartbreak.

Her debut book, "Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community," will be released on June 27, 2023.

3 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Totura CMW, Fields SA, Karver MS. The Role of the Therapeutic Relationship in Psychopharmacological Treatment Outcomes: A Meta-analytic Review. Psychiatr Serv. 2018;69(1):41-47. doi:10.1176/appi.ps.201700114

  2. United States Census Bureau. American Psychological Association Uses ACS Data to Identify Need for Mental Health Services, Education, and Training.

  3. Woods-Giscombe C, Robinson MN, Carthon D, Devane-Johnson S, Corbie-Smith G. Superwoman Schema, Stigma, Spirituality, and Culturally Sensitive Providers: Factors Influencing African American Women's Use of Mental Health ServicesJ Best Pract Health Prof Divers. 2016;9(1):1124-1144.

By Ayana Underwood
Ayana is the Assistant Editor at Verywell Mind, where she aims to publish mental health content that is both engaging and of high quality.