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Session 173: Repairing Our Relationship to Nature

The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a Licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible version of ourselves.

Last week we talked about some of the incredible benefits we experience from being connected to nature and you heard a little about how this connection has often been damaged in our community for lots of different reasons. Today we’ll be chatting about the ways the Black community has been disconnected from nature and the impact it has. For this conversation, I was joined by J. Phoenix Smith, MSW. She and I chatted about her practice of liberation ecotherapy, how she combines all of her experiences in working with clients, how the trauma to the land shows up in our experiences, and of course she shared some of her favorite resources if you want to dig in more.

Resources Mentioned

Visit our Amazon Store for all the books mentioned on the podcast!

Outdoor Afro

Phoenix’s recommended herbs to start your garden with:
  • Chamomile
  • Lemon Balm
  • Mint
  • Lavender
  • Rose
  • Mullein
Learn more about The Sorogrea Te Landtrust the Ohlone Native women Phoenix mentioned doing healing work in Oakland:

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Read Full Transcript

Session 173: Repairing Our Relationship to Nature

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for session 173 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. Last week, we talked about some of the incredible benefits we experience from being connected to nature and you heard a little about how this connection has often been damaged in our community, for lots of different reasons. Today, we'll be chatting more about that: the ways the black community has been disconnected from nature and the impact it has.

For this conversation, I was joined by J. Phoenix Smith, MSW, who is a certified ecotherapist, initiated elder in the Afro-Cuban Lucumi Oricha tradition and a public health leader in Oakland, California. She has been practicing and teaching ecotherapy since 2011 and has been featured in The Atlantic magazine and other publications. As a black queer ecofeminist, she weaves the study, knowledge and practice of indigenous technology of the Oricha, Western ecopsychology and ecotherapy, with over 25 years of work in public health and social work. She's the founder of EcoSoul where she consults with healthcare providers and nonprofits to teach and encourage the integration of nature-based practices for healing diverse communities.

Phoenix and I chatted about her practice of liberation ecotherapy, how she combines all of her experiences in working with clients, how the trauma to the land shows up in our experiences, and of course, she shares some of her favorite resources if you want to dig in more. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession. Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining us today, Phoenix.

Phoenix: Thank you. I am very happy and grateful to be here.

Dr. Joy: I am just so excited to dig into this topic with you. You identify yourself as a queer ecotherapist, spiritual teacher whose work is grounded in liberation ecotherapy as a form of healing that is rooted in intersectionality. I don't think I've ever read a more powerful identifying statement, so can you tell us exactly what all of that means?

Phoenix: Oh yes, thank you so much. What does that mean? Well, that means for me that I have been on a path of healing myself since I started going to psychotherapy when I was 22 years old. I'm 52 years old now and on my path, I have been blessed with several things. One, I've always had really great black therapists. Two, I've always used holistic healing as part of my healing, not just traditional Western psychotherapy, but I have used massage for somatic healing, Reiki, I'm an avid meditator and I've gone to several silent meditation retreats.

About 12 years ago, I was initiated in the Afro-Cuban Lucumi Oricha tradition, so I've been practicing and studying as an initiated priest and healer in a community for over a decade. And my professional career as a social worker, I got my master’s in social work at Howard University, I have worked in the field of public health for 25 years, so I've been an advocate in health and in public health and wellness for black people, queer people, communities of color, for a long, long time.

I've been able to bring my whole self to my work and learn a lot. What are some of the things that it takes to really liberate myself from my own traumas that I've experienced? And to bring healing, not just on the individual level, but on the policy level and community level for our communities.

Dr. Joy: Love it. Can you dive more into the liberation ecotherapy? What does that mean and what does that look like?

Phoenix: Ecotherapy, the term was coined by a pastoral counselor in the ‘90s named Howard Clinebell. He was a licensed therapist but he also focused on counseling people within the Christian Church. He started to notice how, when he would work with his communities, either individuals or couples, and he would integrate nature into their sessions–their sessions would be outside in nature, he would bring plants–that he noticed a different level of healing that they would have in the session. Also, he was very environmentally conscious and he wanted to include the fact that if the earth is traumatized and has been wounded, we are intimately connected to the earth. Our bodies are the earth, we live on the earth and with the earth, and our healing needs to be connected to that. So that's where ecotherapy comes from.

Ecopsychology, which is a form of psychology that looks at our psyche and how it's connected to nature, out here on the West coast in San Francisco in the 1990s, a group of psychologists got together and they created this branch of ecopsychology. However, for me, what I have found–I'm one of the few black ecotherapists in the country–is that a lot of the theory and practice of ecopsychology, although it's very rooted in connecting with nature and environmentalism, it was sorely lacking the intersectional lens of racial justice and social justice. And I think that was mainly because the people that were bringing forth this type of healing were of European ancestry.

And so for me, liberation is that if black people are not valued, if black people and indigenous people do not have social justice and healing and racial justice, then there's no way that we can ever get to a point of having environmental justice and healing with nature that the earth can be healed. It’s that our healing is intimately tied to the healing of the earth and as people of the earth, black people and indigenous people, we have strong ancestral connections to the land that have been severed, that have been traumatized. And that we must talk about this healing and frame it, not just around connecting to the earth so that we feel better or that we push forth environmentalism, but that healing of the people and nature and plants and the water, it's all connected for our liberation.

Because we're living in an age right now of extreme climate change. We can have all the therapy we want in the world, all the healing modalities: if we are not connecting that to the liberation of people and the liberation of the earth, then we're really just not going to get to a place of wholeness. So that's why I came up with the term liberation ecotherapy and that it should be rooted also in racial justice and social justice for people all over the world.

Dr. Joy: Okay, Phoenix, so you tell me if I'm off base with this. From what you're saying, it sounds like–and of course we know that we are connected to the earth–there is continuing spikes in racism, continuing increases in racial injustice and we also see that there continue to be all these natural disasters. And all of the ways in which it feels like every week there's a new phenomenon, we hear about like murder hornets and we know about what's happening with the ice cast and those kinds of things. Is it a fair connection to talk about the ways in which black indigenous people have been mistreated and that is showing up in nature?

Phoenix: It is fair to say that. And many leading ecopsychologists, psychologist ecotherapists, we speak of that all the time, that what happens to the earth is happening to our bodies. We can look at the issue of Flint; they still don't have clean water. For example, I live in Oakland and I want to acknowledge the native community whose land I live on. I live here on the land of the Ohlone people from Oakland and also the Coast Miwok people of the Bay area.

I think it's important to acknowledge the indigenous people whose land we live on now and I have to say I'm a transplant to California. I grew up in Texas–San Antonio, Texas–and then I went to graduate school in DC at Howard University and I've lived here for 20 years. But prior to that, I didn't really have a consciousness around indigenous people as far as really acknowledging them in my life, around whose land I lived on, nor did I really have a consciousness around environmentalism. I did not grow up camping or hiking or fishing or anything like that. This came to me later as an adult

And so I say that it's important to acknowledge whose land we're on because today in Oakland, the Ohlone people, the Miwok people, they also suffer from some of the greatest rates of health issues, chronic health issues, of poverty, of police violence, and this is directly connected to the genocide that took place and is still taking place in many cases to their communities all over North America. In addition to that, there is a beautiful community of native women in Oakland that are reclaiming the land here in Oakland and working with communities to get pieces of their land back for healing, for themselves and their community, and I'm very inspired by their work.

Ecotherapy is rooted in indigenous healing. This is nothing new. I want to acknowledge that indigenous communities have connected with nature for healing since the beginning of time. But Western psychologists, mainly European psychologists, have started to coin these terms ecopsychology and ecotherapy, fairly recently–late ‘80s, early ‘90s–to create a practice and to bring more awareness to how our mental and emotional and physical healing is directly connected to nature.

So yes, what we see what is happening to the water, to the plants, the same levels of trauma, are also happening to black people, to indigenous people, to poor people around the world. We need to begin to think about, not just politically, but our healing, of tying those together. And that when we connect more with nature, for me, it's not just about us feeling good, which is an important part of being able to find some peace and some healing. But also, when we're finding this peace and healing and connecting in nature, hopefully it is raising our own awareness around our environmental activism and what we can do to get more involved in making sure that we're advocating for the earth and for the waters where we live.

Dr. Joy: Got it. I'm curious to hear from you, Phoenix, if you think that that is a part of why so many of us have turned to plants right now? We know that we are living through one of the most traumatic, if not the most traumatic experience in many of our lives, and we see an abundance of people talking about plants. It feels like there is some connection in trying to kind of reconnect with nature in that way.

Phoenix: There's definitely a connection and I actually find with younger people in their ‘30s and ‘20s, that they're wide open for this kind of healing. All over social media, we have black girls with gardens. During the shelter in place time, the number of people that are buying garden equipment and plants has increased 50–60%, during shelter in place. Because now we're at home, we can't really go anywhere, what can we do, though? We could connect with nature. Plants in our home and being outside when we're wearing masks and socially distancing, is safer for our health than being indoors.

So now we have a huge consciousness-raising, of people really understanding more and wanting to connect more with plants. I also want to say that there's also scientific research that this is not just about we feel good, we know that this makes us feel good. Our parents, my great-aunt Ruby who is an ancestor now, was the person that took care of the garden in our family. The family all lived intergenerationally close together, and she was the person that took care of the garden. I have her story.

In addition, I learned about five years ago that my paternal grandfather, during Depression, he worked with… The federal government was hiring a lot of men to give them jobs during The Depression to help build national parks. My great-grandfather, Charles Smith, was one of those men that got a job helping to build national parks, so this is also part of my family history and my family lineage.

And also, science says that a couple of things happen. Stanford researchers did a study where they looked at people's experience with urban nature, where they're in a crowded city environment and they're walking, compared to nature. And they found that people experience less stress, their blood pressure went down. I mean, these are things that we know intuitively, but there's people that are doing a lot of research right now also to back up and show that nature is not just good for us because we live here on earth, but that it's really important for our health: for our mental health, for our spiritual health and our psychological health.

And so this is also rooted in science. There have been scientists in Australia that have done research that shows that plants have feelings and can communicate with us. Plants are not just sort of some thing that we take care with; they’re living beings that we can build relationship with. You can see it when you talk to your plants, you can see how the leaves may get brighter, but it also helps us develop a sense of *[Inaudible 0:16:38] ourselves. I also want to say people who have experienced trauma, many of us have experienced trauma, have found that sometimes it's very hard to connect relationally with humans. They're still living in the fight or flight mode or they get frozen from their trauma. That sometimes it's easier for them to relate to the natural world: to a particular place in nature, to specific plants.

And I want to bring in animals as well because animal healing is part of ecotherapy, animal-assisted therapy. We see some people that are in prison, they have worked with dogs and have been able to experience healing working with dogs. Equine therapy is where you work with horses and horses are very emotional animals and can really help people that have suffered intense trauma to learn how to trust again and to learn how to access their emotions and their feelings.

It has many, many benefits of connecting with nature and it's not just one thing. It's not just working with plants; it can also be working with animals, it could also be doing nature-based therapies and nature-based activities. There's a variety of ways that connecting with nature really helps our mental and spiritual health.

Dr. Joy: As you were talking, Phoenix, about working with dogs and working with horses, I am also reminded how many black people specifically often have traumatic experiences with dogs and how many of us even have access to horses. So it also feels like there is some history there of the things that would be healing for us, us not actually having access to.

Phoenix: Most definitely. Access is a huge issue. There was a study that came out recently that talked about how people of color, black and brown people, we have less access to greenspaces. We have less access to beautiful greenspaces. Our neighborhoods, we tend to live in neighborhoods that have higher levels of environmental toxins. The percentage of black and brown people that visit national parks is very low although there are many groups now that are working to bring more awareness to the black community around going to national parks. There's Outdoor Afro, there's Latino Outdoors, there's many groups that are really helping to open up that space, but still the percentage is very low. So access is a huge issue.

But what I say is nature is not just going to a national park. Nature is working with plants. If you have plants in your apartment, growing your own food, you can grow food in your own apartment. Nature is also connecting–if you have access–to animals for healing. Nature is also being outside, connecting with people, and looks many different ways, but access is a huge issue, which is why it's also a social justice issue. It's not so easy to say, “okay, just go outside in nature and you can experience healing.” If you don't have access to it, if you don't have a car, how is that going to work? There are communities that are working to increase the access for people of color to nature but I encourage people to start where they are.

And I also see ecotherapy as a practice that is best done in community. One of the things that we found is that we suffer so much isolation. Even more so now during shelter in place, we can't necessarily get together in person but gardens and gardening is an essential service right now. You can still go to gardens, you can still go to your urban garden right now. You might not be able to go to a restaurant, but during shelter in place, urban gardens are open and so you can still go spend some time there if you don't have your own garden or if you don’t want to start growing your own food. It's essential, just like it's an essential service, it's essential for us to find ways to connect with nature that's accessible to us.

Dr. Joy: Do you have other suggestions? We've already talked about people kind of buying plants and stuff like that and going to gardens. Are there other suggestions you have for how people can reclaim their connection to the land?

Phoenix: A couple of things. One, I think exploring your family history and your ancestors, we all have ancestors and living relatives, elders that had some connection to the land in some way. I think the stories are important. In ecotherapy, we use the term earth story where we ask people to talk about themselves in the context of their earth story. What relatives in your family grew food or had gardens? That's one way to just start to open up your own mind, body and spirit to your own history that lives within you around connecting to nature.

I would also recommend looking online for outdoor nature groups. There are so many more outdoor nature groups for black people, for black women, for Latino people, for queer people, that you can find online that are still doing hikes out in nature. They are socially distanced and people are wearing masks. I also suggest because we're inside a lot, on social media, on IG, there are so many black women plant groups. Connect with sisters, connect with the brothers online and you will get lots of suggestions on how to begin.

Also, I suggest connecting where you are and finding out where are there places near you that you haven't explored that perhaps you can go take a walk or sit by the river or sit by the water? Like really explore where you live and start looking at where are places that maybe you have never even thought about, that you could go and begin taking a walk every day. There are many different ways that are via the internet, socially, where you can connect with other people and get ideas, becoming more intimate with the place where you live and doing that research to find out where are those places where perhaps you can go fish or you could go hike or you can just sit in the park.

Dr. Joy: Phoenix, as you were talking, I am really pulled in by this idea of an earth story. That's not a term I've ever heard, but it sounds like it would be an incredibly powerful practice. I'm also thinking about like for our ancestors, so much of our history–at least here in the US–is people's connection to being on plantations and forming unwilfully the land. I'm curious what kind of role that plays in our earth story. Because that, I think, is a traumatic experience.

Phoenix: Oh, it's definitely a traumatic experience. It's the same thing for people of Latino descent. I'm in California and we still have Mexican farm workers right now. That's how we all are getting all our fruits and vegetables right now, is the Mexican farm workers that–in the middle of COVID–are still out there working the land.

Of course, I think it’s important for us to honor our ancestors and honor their sacrifices and the efforts they made in working the land. At the same time, they also found ways to survive through the land, so we need to make sure that when we're looking at ancestral healing and our ancestral stories, we talk a lot about the intergenerational trauma, the trauma that's passed down from generation to generation. Many of us who are black Americans of African descent had ancestors that were enslaved–I grew up in Texas–that were sharecroppers, that experienced a lot of trauma. That is an important part of our story.

However, I also want to say, that's not all of our story. That's not our full story. And that there are also, like my aunt Ruby who tended the garden so that my family could eat. There weren't any grocery stores for them to go to, there wasn't a Safeway or Kroger for them to go to: they grew the food that they needed. My mother who recently passed would tell me stories around how she would spend time in the garden and how she loved to climb trees as a little girl, so I think there's a balance there. It's not negating that there's that traumatic history.

Mind you, there still are incidences. Remember the brother in New York in Central Park was birding, was going to look at beautiful birds and the white woman calls the police on him. That's still happening today so I don't want to negate that it's not always safe for us, but I think it's important for us to remember that it's not just the wounds that we carry. We also carry the gifts of our ancestors and I think it's important for us to remember that so we don't just get stuck in the trauma of what happened to our ancestors on the land. I think that's very important.

Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for that, Phoenix. I appreciate you sharing that. And as you were talking, I'm also thinking, in our efforts to reconnect with nature, it also feels like there's this weird tension of commodification and capitalism. It feels like, yes, people are excited and wanting to reconnect, but is there a way to do that where we are not commodifying native rituals and really in some ways further increasing the imbalance between us and nature?

Phoenix: Oh, I'm so glad you asked that question. How I want to answer that is, one, my perspective on ecotherapy and how I practice is really rooted in social justice. I really stress that in that ecotherapy, connecting with nature, is not about buying more things to make us happy. It's actually trying to help us disconnect from that capitalist mindset and connecting with the natural world.

The reason why I mentioned the indigenous community on the lands where I live is to respect them and honor that many of these things that I'm talking about, native Americans, they have it rooted in their philosophy of life. We honor them by recognizing them. We don't want to encourage anyone to try to recreate native American rituals. I, myself am initiated in an African tradition, so I don't have to do that. I have my own rituals that I have been taught by my elders in Oricha tradition that connects me directly to my ancestors that I am responsible to and for because I'm part of a lineage. I have elders that teach me and I have students that I teach and so I don't have to recreate any rituals that are not connected to my ancestors.

We all have ancestors, whether we're of European descent, Asian descent, there's no need for us to recreate or try to take someone else's culture. If you explore your own ancestral lineage, you can find those things. I think it's very important to say that. I also want to say that ecotherapy does not take the place of traditional psychotherapy. It's something that can be practiced in compliment to traditional psychotherapy and it's low cost. It doesn't cost a lot of money to practice nature therapy. It's really to enhance our healing, our mind, body, spiritual healing. That is how I see and how I practice and how I teach ecotherapy.

Dr. Joy: Phoenix, can you talk more about how your Oricha spiritual traditions inform maybe your practice in working with clients?

Phoenix: Oh, sure, a couple of things. My environmental consciousness really started to grow when I started to practice the Oricha tradition because there's a power in naming something. For me, in the Oricha tradition, the river, freshwater, is known as the goddess Oshun. Oshun is a goddess that's associated with healing, that's associated with feminine power, that's associated literally with our blood. The rivers around the world are like the veins of the earth, so Oshun is associated with childbirth, with relationships, with community.

When I had a name for a river and the river wasn't just a river to me, it wasn't an inanimate thing, it had a life and a spirit, it gave me a whole different perspective on how I treated water. For me, my spiritual tradition has given me names for places in nature. The ocean is identified with the oricha Yemaya who's the oricha of family and of children and of childbirth and of many other things. The mountains are associated with the oricha Obatala, who's associated with good character and strength and having integrity in life.

My whole way of looking at the world and looking at how I am connected to nature changed when I began to practice the spiritual tradition. Because now for me, the river is Oshun. I love Oshun so I want to make sure that I don't throw trash in Oshun. I want to make sure that I'm aware of where even my fresh water comes from. I know it doesn't just come from the tap when I turn it on here in my house. I'm more aware of the sacredness of water and the sacredness of the earth because I am also part of that as well. That's one of the main ways that my spiritual tradition has enhanced my ability to connect with nature because it's part of who I am. There is no disconnect for me. I go and talk to the water, I sit by the water and I commune with the water and I find healing.

And in Christianity, we have so many spirituals–Wade in the Water–so it wasn't something that was too foreign for me. I was able to easily connect in with it once I had more of a framework and a context for what water really means and is in my life.

Dr. Joy: How do you share these kinds of things in practice with clients who might come to you? Are you introducing them to these concepts? Like what does that look like?

Phoenix: One thing about me is that I have a background in public health and I've worked in public health for 25 years so I come from that perspective when I teach and I do presentations or workshops. I teach a lot of therapists because a lot of therapists are interested in, okay, how does this work? “How can I do this?” I first come sort of with evidence-based research and there's a lot out there now, showing how deepening our connection to nature is good for our health in many different ways so I come from a public health perspective. And then when I talk about eco-spirituality, I will not only bring up native American spirituality, but I share… People know in my life, in my public health work, my ecotherapy work, that I'm also an initiated priest, so I share basic concepts of Oricha tradition.

We don't proselytize in Oricha tradition, it's not to get people to practice, but to just show people, hey, there's a framework here that black and people of color from all over the world have been practicing this tradition that is something that you can learn. Even if you don't want to practice the tradition, anybody can go to the river and pray to Oshun and it might help them have a deeper connection. But I really come from a public health perspective. That's where I start when I talk about ecotherapy and what ecotherapy is, so that people can have the basic framework of what this field is before I move into eco-spirituality and the Oricha.

Dr. Joy: So a lot of your work is more in terms of training therapists how to then do some of this work with their clients?

Phoenix: Right. I do a lot of training with therapists but also people that are not licensed therapists but people that work with youth. A lot of youth workers, coaches, people that may have already been doing some kind of nature work but they didn't call it ecotherapy, and so they're interested in how this can work for their practice and work with their community. When I work with individuals one-on-one, most of the time they come to me for spiritual healing. They come to me as they know that I’m an Oricha priest.

I also am part of a healing collective here in Oakland called the Healing Clinic Collective. For the past five or so years, we do these pop-up clinics in different parts of the East Bay where we offer holistic healing for free to the community. There'll be acupuncturists, massage therapists, *[inaudible 0:33:20] which are healers–indigenous healers that have trained in Latin American spirituality and native healing–and Oricha people like me. I'm also part of a collective where I offer spiritual healing through the Oricha tradition so when people come to me one-on-one, most of the time they come to me because they know that I'm an Oricha priest. When people ask me to do ecotherapy work, they know that I've been practicing and writing and teaching and training people for many years around ecotherapy and they're curious about how that work intersects with my public health work.

Dr. Joy: Phoenix, what kinds of things are you currently growing in your garden?

Phoenix: It's interesting you say that. I'm actually working with a local organization that I love and I want to put a plug out to them. They're here in Oakland called Planting Justice and they hire people that are coming out of incarceration, and they teach them permaculture and landscaping skills and they also build gardens for people. They're coming to my house in a few weeks–I just bought a house last year–and they are going to help me build my own garden.

Some of the things that I'm growing, some herbs I'm growing are herbs for respiratory wellness and healing, herbs like mint, herbs like mugwort. We’re in COVID so I want to be able to have herbs that I can make my own teas so people should think about that. We’re in a time of a pandemic where it's a respiratory illness; grow your own herbs so you can have herbs that can help with respiratory illnesses. And I'll send you an email with some of those herbs so people can know. Growing herbs is easy. You can do it in your kitchen window sill so that you can have herbs to strengthen your lungs.

I'm also planting some fruit trees, I'm growing kale, collards, sort of traditional vegetables of my ancestors. And because I'm in the Bay area, I'm very fortunate we can grow anything year-round, we have really this Mediterranean type of climate. So those are some of the things that I'm growing, but definitely herbs for respiratory wellness right now are very, very, very important for us.

Also, I live in a part of Oakland called East Oakland that has high rates of environmental toxins so, for me, it's important that I'm taking herbs and supplements to strengthen my lungs. Because even without COVID, the air is not good. This is a way for us as black people to take control of our own health. In addition to going to licensed therapists and doctors–if you have access to insurance–is to grow your own herbs for healing, respiratory herbs that are very easy to grow, to strength your lungs.

Dr. Joy: Do you have any books or websites that you can share for people who maybe want to do a little bit more research on some of the things you've talked about?

Phoenix: Sure, a couple of things or two. I'm on a mission to get more black ecotherapists. It should not just be me and two other people. This field is growing tremendously, oricha and health from 10 years ago to today, you will see so many articles where doctors are prescribing *[inaudible 0:36:25] prescriptions so it’s an opportunity for more black people to get involved in ecotherapy. But what that means though, Dr. Joy, is that there are not a lot of resources written by and for us so one of the things that I am doing is I'm creating a training program for people who want to become ecotherapists.

Right now, we don't have a standard of practice. Some people are licensed psychotherapists and they just add ecotherapy to their practice. Like you don't have to be a licensed psychotherapist but you do need some training, so I'm going to be creating an ecotherapy certification training where people will have some training so that they can become ecotherapists and create ecotherapy projects in their community, and I'll share that with you in the class notes.

A couple of books that I want to recommend. There's one book called The Healing Wisdom of Africa by Malidoma Somé who is a healer and a shaman and a priest from Burkina Faso in West Africa. It's one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, where he connects in how in his tribe, in his community, how healing is intimately connected to nature and using the different elements in nature. There's the seminal text on ecotherapy that was actually written by one of my mentors, called The Intro to Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind. There's a book by a Reverend that created a book on black environmental history, not necessarily on ecotherapy, but Diane Glave has great chapters on the history of black women and gardens that goes back many generations. That is just the most beautiful history that I've ever read. So that people know on the social media, we come from a long lineage of black women having gardens to feed our family. This is nothing new. We now have social media where we can get the word out, but in our culture, particularly black women, have been growing and developing unique gardening practices for generations. I think that's very important for people to know as well.

Dr. Joy: Those all sound very interesting. Thank you so much for sharing that. Where can people find you? How can people stay connected with you if they’d like to get in contact or stay connected on social media?

Phoenix: They can email me at my email address. I also have a Facebook page @EcoSoul: Ecotherapy for Health. One thing I have to say is that, personally, I am trying to disconnect from social media where I'm not on it all the time because one of the things we talk about in ecotherapy is the negative impact of too much screen time. And we know definitely how this impacts our children and it really impacts our self-esteem. It's a great tool to connect with people but I want you to get offline and get outside. Like for myself, specifically during this time of racial unrest and the pandemic, I've had to take… I call them social media sabbaticals, where at least one day a week, I'm not on any social media for my own mental health. So, you know, I don't have an Instagram or Twitter. One of my supporters will probably say, “I'll do your Instagram for you,” because I just don't want to spend that much time on social media. It’s too much for my mental health but there are other ways for people to get in touch with me.

Dr. Joy: Perfect. We of course will include all of those things in the show notes. Thank you so much for being with us today, Phoenix. I really appreciate it.

Phoenix: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you.


Dr. Joy: When we can, we like to close the show with our Press Pause moment. This is an opportunity for our community to press pause and engage in an activity that they might find restorative or reflective in some way. What's something you'd suggest to those who want to maybe start planting something of their own?

Phoenix: I ask people to start with what do you need? What are some of the things that you need? Do you have high blood pressure? Look for herbs that can help reduce high blood pressure. Do you have diabetes? Grow your own medicine and start a relationship with that particular plant. And it may seem foreign to someone. What do you mean start a relationship with a plant? I mean, just like you start a relationship with a person, a friendship, you talk to that person regularly, you nurture that relationship, right? You feed that relationship. You remember that person. It's the same concept. It's the same concept on building relationship with plants. And start with what you need for your body.

It's so empowering when you grow your own food. It's more empowering than money, I have to say, than cash to me. Vandana Shiva who's an internationally known teacher, philosopher, eco-healer in India, she says, “In nature, the currency is life.” It's not money; it's life. And so as we see right now, you could have money, but you can still get COVID and you can still die for COVID.

And we're seeing that being able to grow our own food, we are seeing places that don't have access to some types of food because our food chain has been disrupted by this pandemic. It’s going to become more and more important for us to start by building our relationship with the land by growing our own food. It's a very, very powerful thing. It also helps us to decolonize our mind. You know, we have heard so many stories where children don't know where food comes from. Where do they think corn comes from? Or how do they think we get chicken? It's really important for us to understand that it's not a grocery store where our food comes from.

Where I live, farm workers are out there in sweltering heat right now, picking grapes, picking herbs, picking fruits so that it can go to the grocery store, and they're not getting extra pay for working during the pandemic. It's really important for us to really open our minds to where our food comes from and start doing what we can by growing what our body needs right now where we are.

Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Phoenix was able to share her expertise with us today. To learn more about her work or to register for one of her upcoming workshops, be sure to visit the show notes at Don't forget to share your takeaways with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession and please text two sisters in your circle right now and encourage them to check out the episode as well.

If you're looking for a therapist in your area, be sure to check out our therapist directory at And if you want to continue digging into this topic and connect with some other sisters in your area, come on over and join us in the Yellow Couch Collective where we take a deeper dive into the topics from the podcast and just about everything else. You can join us at


Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Sisterhood heals
Order Now

Looking for the UK Edition?
Order here

Discover the transformative power of healing in community in Dr. Joy Harden Bradford’s debut book, Sisterhood Heals. Order your copy now!

Looking for the UK Edition? Order here