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How Dr. Joy Harden Bradford is Illuminating the Healing Power of Sisterhood

Bintou Diarra, A.B | Medical Anthropology, Brown University | October 2, 2023

The notion of self-healing is growing increasingly popular—both in therapeutic circles and on social media. The term is nestled within self-help Instagram posts, informational content about shadow work and inner wounds, and discussions about trauma recovery. And yet, a closer look at the healing of those within the most vulnerable members of society unveils a paradox—there is no, or very limited, ‘self-healing’ without community. Licensed clinical psychologist and Therapy for Black Girls founder Dr. Joy Harden Bradford illuminates this reality in Sisterhood Heals: The Transformative Power of Healing in Community, where she hones in on the sacred connection underlying the spiritual, emotional, and oftentimes physical, recovery of Black women. 

In Bradford’s own words, she spotlights the “cadence and rhythm” underpinning Black female camaraderie and community. It is the captivating nature of this rhythm that led her to create Therapy for Black Girls, an organization dedicated to making mental health relevant and accessible to Black women. She opens the book with an anecdote about the Black Girls Rock! Awards on BET, a televised event dedicated to uplifting named Black women leaders. To Bradford, the energy was both familiar and infectious—even with the barrier of a TV screen. Black women from all walks of life—education, philanthropy, and entertainment—came together for the sole purpose of uplifting each other. It was then that she knew she wanted to replicate this within the mental health space. 

Sisterhood Heals is the culmination of the transformative work that emerged from Dr. Joy’s desire to support and celebrate Black women. It explores the centrality of joy within Black women’s individual and collective healing experiences, and the potential of relational dynamics to positively contribute to the journey. It is an offering, but it honors the elephant in the room to double as a call to action. It calls on Black women to draw attention to the things that often make establishing sisterhood difficult and navigate the challenges associated, so that they can reap the benefits of companionship as they navigate a world that may not always be kind to them.

Aptly titled What Shapes Our Connections, the first chapter delves into attachment styles, attachment anxiety, and attachment avoidance; the childhood conditioning that makes establishing relationships easy or difficult; and tips and tricks for managing situations associated with divergent attachment styles. The chapter is fitting for anyone—those who securely attach and want to deepen their relationships with those who do not, and those who display avoidant and anxious attachment styles. 

Bradford includes a list of considerations for those who look to improve their attachment styles, and establish and deepen connections overall. At the core of her work to heighten Black women’s awareness about attachment is the understanding of the beauty of corrective emotional experiences, which often happen in community with others. The corrective emotional experiences that accompany companionship are especially important for Black women, who often find themselves maneuvering spaces where they are not adequately held, or seen. Bradford’s “four Ss” of sisterhood—being seen, allowed to soften, supported, and self-aware—enables Black women, in her own words, to “take their bras off” after long days of shrinking, suppression, and in some cases, combat.

In the second chapter, Bradford highlights the beauty of community by centering her field of expertise—therapy. Drawing from an experience with a client she calls Kay, Bradford speaks to the core of what makes group therapy so effective—universality, and of course, a sense of community. While sisterhood is not necessarily therapy, it can be therapeutic for Black women in that it provides a sense of understanding, on both the mundane and the complex. Titled The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts, the second chapter delves into the curative benefits of sisterhood by acknowledging the sacred connections that emerge between people with a shared understanding of the world and life, despite their differences. 

In the second block of the book, Bradford shifts to a dialogue about the role of accompaniment in enhancing the livelihoods of Black women. Rather than aim to rid each other’s lives of problems, the sacred connection between Black women acknowledges the importance of being there for each other through life’s problems—not as passive bystanders, but active witnesses. This section closes with a chapter titled Sisters Over Systems, which is both a realization and an assertion. While Black women may bond over shared experiences, they come together to form connections that unveil that they are more than the disadvantages imposed on them. 

The lack of avoidance surrounding life’s difficulties, including those that emerge in companionship, only heightens the sanctity of Black female relationships. The latter half of the book touches on these difficulties, with tips and suggestions on how to harness their potential to beautify relational engagements, and life in general.

In many ways, Sisterhood Heals is a full-circle moment, and an actualization of a childhood dream. It achieves what the striking, inspiring, example of the Black Girls Rock! Awards showcased for viewers like Dr. Joy Harden Bradford years ago, and now stands as an extension of her transformative work to support the livelihoods of Black women everywhere.

Learn more and purchase the book here.

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