Therapy is something that many people are either ashamed about or joke about. Yet the need to speak to someone about what is going on in your life is neither shameful or funny. For many people, therapy is something that helps them deal with the vagaries of life (including pandemics!), and may even be a matter of life or death.
In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed psychologist, speaker and host of the popular podcast Therapy for Black Girls. Early on, Dr. Joy recognized that it is a very noble thing to be a therapist. Now, between speaking around the world and hosting her podcast show, she helps her clients deal with major break-ups and finding a new identity after a relationship ends, all while making mental health topics more relevant and accessible for women of color and using pop culture to illustrate deep psychological concepts.
As Dr. Joy notes, many people are often afraid to go to therapy, but finding someone to speak to is incredibly important. Therapy should not be stigmatized, because we are all human, and we all need help—therapy is not just for “crazy” people. We all battle with mental health issues! Indeed, there is no “normal” brain, and we all have stuff we are dealing with—especially with the current crisis! If you have breath in your body, there is a very good chance you could benefit from therapy, because it is a place where you can be fully human, with all your cares and concerns, and where you won’t be judged for trying to process what it happening to you or around you.
Of course, many people may be confused as to what happens behind the therapy door, or they may fear that they will face racial or gender discrimination. Perhaps you had a bad therapy experience, or know someone who went to therapy and hated it. Maybe you feel that you shouldn’t need therapy because if you did then your faith is “weak”. But this is not the case.
It is so important that therapists let people know, insofar as possible, what therapy is and how it can help. Therapy is not just for “code red’ situations. Therapy is for everyday life—the good, the bad and the ugly. Dr. Joy loves using figures from pop culture on her podcast to help people understand this: if so and so came into her office after experiencing this situation, what would they say?
Moreover, therapists need to make sure that they are not creating a hostile environment for people from different backgrounds and socio-economic positions. Therapy needs to be both accessible and approachable.
We also need to recognize that if we need a therapist, or if we need a different therapist, that is perfectly okay. As human beings, we tend to internalize failure—if something doesn’t work, we blame ourselves. But it is important to remember that therapy is meant to help you—it is not about helping the therapist. Therapy is a unique relationship and experience; it is not like other health professions. You need to feel safe—you need feel like you can be authentic with your therapist. Thankfully, many therapists are marketing themselves more and more online and on social media. If you are looking for a therapist, do your research and look for someone in your area: look at their personality, their expertise, and try them out—most therapists do a free consultation.
What if you can’t afford a therapist, or access a local therapist? College counselling centers often offer free or low cost counseling options, and all therapists-in-training are supervised by a licensed therapist. There are also free or low-cost webinars and courses online, many great self-help books and podcasts, and options for online therapy, which is often more affordable, such as BetterHelp (to get 10% off BetterHelp counseling during your first month see: trybetterhelp.com/drleaf), and useful if you need someone to talk to while practicing social distancing!
But what happens if you are experiencing discrimination and racism in the workplace? How do you deal with micro-aggressions in your environment? Can therapy help? Inequalities and hostility, overt or hidden, can severely impact our mental health if we do not recognize and deal with them. When you are always aware of surroundings and wondering if you are safe, it can be exhausting, draining your mental energy. Over time, this can lead to anxiety and other types of mental distress. We cannot afford to sweep these disparities under the rug, especially if someone is a therapist. Toxic communication generates toxic energy, so we need to be aware of this, take action and find ways to give our mind and body a rest:
- Don’t question what is happening. If something happens regularly, don’t say “did that really happen?” or “am I being paranoid?”, which takes a lot of mental energy, and can leave you feeling drained, sad, angry, anxious and so on. Don’t suppress how you feel: acknowledge what is going on. If you feel comfortable, talk to a therapist about what you are going through.
- Keep notes and record what is happening, as you don’t know if or when the situation will escalate.
- Surround yourself with supportive, affirming people outside of work.
- Don’t personalize other people’s behavior. In most cases, it is not you, it is the other person—what they are thinking or going through, and their specific attitude and beliefs. Never make yourself smaller to make someone else feel better. You do not need to change who you are for anyone! If you find yourself in this situation, play detective: write it out, think why this person may be acting the way they are. Are they conscious of what they may feel towards you? Is it you or how they feel about a certain culture/race/gender/religion? It may also help to talk to a therapist about what you are experiencing.
- Take breaks when you can and avoid work gatherings if possible: remove yourself from the toxic environment as much as you can.
- Do as much as you can to make your workspace comfortable, whether this is a potted plant, picture frame or whatever brings you joy.
- Find allies. Find people at work who you can connect with, and talk about things other than the toxic work situation.
- Practice visualization.
- Use your headphones if you can: listen to music, podcasts or an audiobook to give your mind a break.
- Embrace joy. We have limited mental energy, and if we are constantly using this energy to deal with daily stressors and aggressions , we will feel exhausted, mentally and physically—we literally don’t give ourselves a rest. So, don’t feel guilty embracing moments of joy: we are complex beings, an experiencing joy does not mean that we are not aware of our environment or the structural inequalities many people face daily. In fact, joy and having fun is great for our mental and physical health, recharging our mental capacity and helping us think more clearly. When we allow ourselves to feel joy, we are better prepared to deal with the daily stress of being alive!
You also cannot suppress or ignore phobias. They need to be acknowledged and dealt with in a safe environment. Yes, there are always things we fear, but phobias impact your whole life, compelling you to rearrange your daily activities to avoid what you fear. With the help of a therapist, counselor or mental health professional, take small steps when dealing with a phobia: analyze your fear and what may be causing it, while finding strategies to cope in the moment.
It is also important to understand that rejection is a part of life. There will be times when you experience rejection, but if you fear it so much you don’t take risks, you can severely hinder your ability to move forward in life. There is often more than one road to take to get to where we want to be, so don’t let fear hinder you. Keep your options open. As Dr. Joy says, do it afraid!
For more information on therapy and mental health, listen to my podcast with Dr. Joy (episode #147), check out her website, publications, podcast, Twitter and Instagram. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
Podcast Time Stamps
2:11 Why Dr. Joy chose therapy over teaching
5:30 Why many people fear therapy
12:02 Why therapy is about helping you, not helping the therapist
14:21 We are all “crazy”
16:04 How to find the perfect therapist
20:05 What if you can’t afford a therapist?
21:31 Discrimination, racism and mental health
27:43, 33:45 Dealing with toxic environments
44:00 Toxic energy and what to do about it
49:00 Wellness trends to be careful of
If you would like to learn more about therapy and mental health, join me at my Mental Health Solutions Summit in Dallas, TX December 3-5, 2020! This conference is for everyone: teachers, CEOs, students, parents, doctors, life coaches...everyone! For more information and to register click here. Early bird special pricing end 4/30!
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