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Session 298: Church Hurt with Dr. Thema Bryant

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 versions of ourselves.

For many, the church represents healing, faith, and community. But what happens when our church communities have been responsible for our harm instead of our healing? To discuss this complex and sensitive topic, this week we’re joined by Dr. Thema Bryant a Licensed Psychologist, Ordained Minister, and the 2023 president of the American Psychological Association. In our conversation, we discussed why it is important for faith communities and psychological communities to align, how religious institutions can create more ethical standards to protect members from abuse, and how to navigate feelings of anger toward God after surviving abuse in the church.


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Session 298: Church Hurt with Dr. Thema Bryant

Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 298 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: When Beyoncé Giselle Knowles-Carter declared, “Let it go, girl. Let it out, girl. Twirl that thing like you came up out the South, girl,” church girls whipped their hips across the eastern and western hemispheres. With the homage to the Clark sisters embedded in the beats, many felt sanctified and seen, all within the same breath. For many of us, it was a call for healing. But what happens when our church communities have been responsible for our harm and not our healing? To discuss this complex and sensitive topic, today I'm joined by Dr. Thema Bryant, a licensed psychologist, ordained minister, and the 2023 president of the American Psychological Association. She's an ordained elder at First AME Church in South Los Angeles, where she directs the mental health ministry, and she's also the host of the Homecoming Podcast, a mental health podcast to facilitate your journey home to your authentic self.

In our conversation, we discuss why it's important for faith communities and psychological communities to align, how religious institutions can create more ethical standards to protect members from abuse, and how to navigate feelings of anger towards God after surviving abuse in the church. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in-depth about the episode. You can join us at Here's our conversation.

Dr. Joy: It is such a pleasure to have you join us, Dr. Thema, thank you for joining us.

Dr. Thema: Thank you for having me. I'm excited for the conversation.

Dr. Joy: So many things to talk about, but one of the things that our community really has a lot of energy around (rightfully so, I think, given black women) is church hurt. And I know you have talked about this extensively with former guests on the podcast, the sisters from the Truth’s Table podcast, shout out to them. And so I'm thrilled to have you talk with us today about it. Can you start by just saying what is church hurt or church abuse?

Dr. Thema: Church hurt or abuse is when we are emotionally and spiritually, sometimes physically, sexually, financially mistreated, under the guise of it being a spiritual mandate or within the confines of the church. Unfortunately, many people have experienced it as a result of the church being an institution and an institution is run by human beings, and human beings who have at times misused their power, their authority, their opportunities as it relates to people's vulnerabilities.

Dr. Joy: How might people recognize whether they have been a victim of church hurt? Because I think sometimes it's hard to tell, so how would someone know?

Dr. Thema: Ultimately, if we think about church and relationship with God intentionally being based in love. Like what are the principles that this space is supposed to embody, and then how does it feel when you are in that place? How are you treated? And how do you feel when you leave? It's not that there will never be disagreement – church is like any other place where you have a group of people – but you can think about times in your life where I might have thought differently or had a different perspective, but I didn't feel demeaned or disrespected or devalued. That I felt safe to be myself. So when we are constantly feeling anxious, when we end up leaving feeling worse than when we came, when we feel silenced and that we are unacceptable. When statements are made that are derogatory, that are humiliating, that are abusive by those in power or those who are in the majority. When we feel like our connection to God is being mediated and determined by human beings who are pronouncing over us judgment, condemnation, rejection – then we can understand that to be a form of church hurt.

When you feel that you are being manipulated, there can be verbal abuse in terms of the name-calling. Sometimes there can be financial control or some people who aren't allowed to go places or do things until they run it by their pastor, so you're not being empowered to live your lives. It's one thing if you seek out pastoral counseling for support or for guidance. Or it's motivated by you, that you have trust in this individual and you're interested in hearing their perspective. Versus when you are told you cannot decide or do anything with your life without their instruction – that's not an empowering or a liberating ministry. People have also misused their power and authority as it relates to a sexual abuse and sexual harassment within the house of God. And so you want to perpetually ask yourself the question, does this feel like love? Because when you can think about if you had a teacher or a friend or a parent, whoever said something to you that may have been hard to hear, but you were clear they loved you, it feels different. And so are people operating from a place of compassion or does it feel more like a clique, a club, isolating, demoralizing? This is not an edifying house, an edifying place; it's more obligation and duty, but no fulfillment.

Dr. Joy: Dr. Thema, you have said a lot and I am trying to figure out how to ask this question. The first thing that came up for me is I think for a lot of people who maybe have had abusive relationships, maybe with parents, with partners, it may be difficult to discern “is this actually healthy?” And so what kind of suggestions or guidance might you be able to provide for people who may be struggling, kind of being able to tell, is this okay or is it not?

Dr. Thema: We want to think about this phrase: If it is humiliating, it's not healing. If it's humiliating, it's not healing. Someone who is trying to help me even to be better or to grow or to empower me, in their presence, I don't feel like they are glorying in my embarrassment. They're not celebrating and holding their power over me. They may have power because I respect them and they're insightful, and they have some wisdom, but in the presence… You think about wise counsel, wise, loving counsel. When I'm in the presence of wisdom that is based in love, it actually sparks and inspires my growth. Versus if I'm in the presence of people who, in order to feel good about themselves, they have to insult me or others. And it might not start with you, so you won't even pay attention to how are they treating others? Who is it that people are collectively laughing at and laughing about? Who gets diminished on the microphone in the pulpit? And so what does it appear is the emotional maturity of the people who are in charge? If they are teasing, bullying, if primarily I feel they're just angry all the time, then this is not likely good ground for my spiritual growth.

Dr. Joy: The other thing that I thought about when you were talking was, I think culturally, for lots of different reasons, there can be like this tough love narrative that you sometimes also see kind of perpetuated from the pulpit. So how do we begin to kind of divorce ourselves from this feeling of, okay, to get people to change, to get them to be better, it has to be a shaming. I'm always tough and rough on you.

Dr. Thema: It is for us to be honest and reflect on ourselves: who are the people that you, at different stages of your life, became clear you needed to sensor around? There are people who I feel free and if something comes to my mind, I'm gonna say it. That I am my authentic self in their presence. And then you think about the people who, you know, I'm not going to tell them too much, I'm not gonna share my business, I'm not gonna engage in them on a deeper level. And so what has happened often is that people's treatment of us, as opposed to encouraging us to be transformed, what it usually encourages is secret-keeping. You think about, for example, teenagers who “weren't allowed to date” and then they were out here dating somehow or sneaking and putting other clothes in your backpack and changing when you get to school. So it's not that people were transformed, it was that they learn to live in secrecy. So being harsh and mean spirited with people is not a requirement for truth telling. And many people have equated the two, that I'm just going to tell it like it is. Is my purpose in this moment to tear you down or to build you up? And if you pay attention, you'll notice that some people are stroking their ego by pointing out how flawed you are, and that's not healthy.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, that happens in church spaces but also just in other spaces of our lives. And I think that's such a beautiful thing to check in with yourself about like, where have I learned to censor and who in my life do I feel like I can't really be my authentic self? Because I think you can tell, right. Like when you ask the question, immediately in my mind I'm thinking, oh yep, that’s what hurt looks like. So when we're honest with ourselves, I think we can have answers to those questions.

Dr. Thema: And it doesn't feel like hazing. Some ministries feel like you're on line, and I say this as a soror, but it's like getting into God is not jumping through man made hoops of worthiness. That God has declared I am worthy, that I am enough, that I am sacred, that I am loved, and people have come along to create additional barriers to make themselves feel greater or more powerful than others. And I invite us even to think about who churches often bully or put down or demonize, and what often goes unchecked. And they're claiming it's all under the gospel. The easy example is if a girl gets pregnant and she is talked about and demoted and the boy or man who got her pregnant retains their position. I think around sexuality, that people can dedicate a bunch of sermons to talking about sexuality and have never once preached against molestation, have never once preached against intimate partner abuse, have never once preached against racism. So it's very selective “righteousness,” that when you take down the layers, you can see that it is very much out of people's own human brokenness.

Dr. Joy: If we have community members who are listening to what you're saying and they realize, oh, this may be my situation. We know that it can often be very difficult for people to leave church communities because for a lot of us, that is kind of where we've grown, maybe family has grown up in the church community. So what might it look like to be able to get ourselves out of these situations?

Dr. Thema: One consideration for people who are very invested in a place, maybe you've been there a long time or maybe there are some things you enjoy about it, is to see is this the kind of space and timing where there is the possibility of transformation and growth? And a part of what you can look at is are they receptive to feedback? Some people are leading or pastoring or doing ministry the way they saw it, and they have never seen or known or been exposed to another way. Do you have the kind of relationship with people where you can make suggestions? If you're taking your child to a Sunday school class and something feels really off, is the Sunday school teacher someone who you feel like you could have a real conversation with? And do they hear you? And do you see any growth or progress or attempts to shift as it relates to that? Now, if it feels like that's a whole lot of labor or the people are not open to change, or maybe they're open to change if the right person told them but they don't put you in that position (they're not willing to hear it from you), then to say, okay, I am ready to begin to think about making my shift.

And I would encourage everyone who is listening to not overgeneralize. I think sometimes people get hurt in church and say I'm done with the whole thing. Where it's like with an AA meeting – you can go to one in New York and one in LA, one downtown, one uptown, and it's different because the people are different. And so to not deny yourself any community because of some communities that were toxic. It may be that you want to take like a season for a break. Because some people, it was so distressing, devastating, overwhelming, that some people are like I'm just gonna go online for a while or I'm just gonna read the Bible for myself and do my own prayers. But I would just encourage not making that a forever statement. Like if you have an unhealthy relationship and then say I'm never dating again. Well, you probably need to pause, you need to timeout because it was hurtful and you got your heart broken, but we don't want to say never, necessarily.

And then going into new spaces, you have some new things to look for based on your experience. Some things you didn't know were red flags, just because you had never made the connection, but now that you have seen it up close, there will be things you hear from the microphone or there'll be some dynamics that you can notice in a place. And to be willing to visit and explore. Does this feel like home? Does it feel like, yes, people here are imperfect but on a foundational level, it feels like a loving environment or people who are trying to be loving. And to know not every place is a match for every person. So it can help to get recommendations from people, but then you will have to feel it out for yourself. And looking for the full picture. I think sometimes when we have been wounded, we go in only looking for signs of danger and never looking for signs of hope or possibility. And they're likely both present, so we want to see what is the overarching feeling of this place.

And it's going to be important, just as I was mentioning not overgeneralizing to every place, to also not let my experience with broken people contaminate my idea of who God is to me. That sometimes we have said “I am done with God” because of the things that “people of God” have done but they were acting out of their own stuff, out of their own issues, and weren't actually reflecting God. There's a powerful poem by a Native American poet called Letter to God. And he says: Dear God, I'd never heard of you before. I heard of Mother Earth and I heard of Father Sky, but I never heard of you. I was willing to give you a chance until I met your representatives, my lord. Oh, it’s painful, it’s painful.

Dr. Joy: It really is.

Dr. Thema: And so some of these “representatives” don't really represent God. They represent themselves and their own unhealed wounds. And so to rediscover or discover for the first time “who actually is God to you” that it’s not poisoned by the shortcomings of people.

Dr. Joy: That's so beautiful, Dr. Thema. Staying with that thought, I wonder if there are things that future ministers, current ministers, institutions of faith, can be doing a better job of or reconsidering, in terms of how to create ethical and safe spaces for people so that we minimize the likelihood that people are hurt and abused by being in church spaces.

Dr. Thema: One is checks and balances and some level of accountability. When you have people who don't have to answer to anyone, that creates an atmosphere that is very dangerous. When you have leadership that can't take feedback, we have this thing often in church culture where they're quick… I say “we” collectively, that we are quick to call people haters. And that is so problematic because it means no one can ever disagree with you. That they're either haters or they're against God, this whole “touch not my anointed,” and don't talk about the man of God. We have all of these silencing rules, then it creates a breeding ground for abusive behavior. And so I would say for those who are in ministry or in school or training to become ministers, to never allow yourself to get to that place, one, where you believe your thoughts are always one and the same with God. So no one can tell me anything because I am God's person and everybody else is not. I'm the only one who can hear from God.

And then to be open to not going into defensiveness. Not only defending ourselves, but often we are so defensive of people who are gifted. And I want you to know, someone can be gifted and anointed and still do harmful things. So sometimes when people have come forward and have said that this leader hurt me, then because the person is a great preacher, people don't believe them. So they say, no, not that person. That person is in the oil. That person is, you know, truly a ways of God. And what I hope we have learned from various fields is that talent and intelligence do not make us immune to doing harmful actions. And so to remain open, to listen, to remain humble, instead of a lot of the arrogance that gets promoted. And to be willing to check each other, not from a place of you're trying to destroy someone, but we know that when anyone under the name of God is being harmed, it’s destructive to the person and it's destructive to the faith, and destructive to the community. And ultimately, it ends up destroying the person who was allowed to get away with it.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Dr. Thema after the break.


Dr. Joy: You're in such a unique position, Dr. Thema, of being trained as both a psychologist and an ordained minister. And I know our training for psychology, there's lots of conversations around really being cognizant of the power that we have in working with people who are typically very vulnerable. Is there a similar kind of conversation as a part of training to become a minister? What is that training like?

Dr. Thema: It varies by denomination. And I will say, because of legal actions, there has been much more of a push to hold people accountable and hold churches accountable. I will say when I was going through seminary, the majority of the conversation you can think about, typically male-centered, was this whole languaging around “men, be careful because there are women members who will try to seduce you.” And that was like the whole frame. And I'm waiting for the “part two” to stop preying on these women who come in with vulnerability, who come in hurting, who come in revering you because you're the only man they know who takes prayer seriously and they have been taught that that is what is to be desired and to be wanted in someone. There was no conversation about that. It was more “be careful because people are going to want to set you up.” And so it's like, who was teaching that message? Who was receiving that message? And what is being silenced in that space?

Now I know a lot more churches require training around sexual harassment, around child abuse. Where now in a lot of churches, if you're going to do youth ministry, they require some kind of background check, whereas before it was like anybody who volunteered could take the kids anywhere. Anybody who was in a position of power could mistreat, abuse. And let me say the abusive behavior, because I think often people hear the sexual piece and believe that's rare or extreme, but I want to say, one, it’s not rare. Two, there are less extreme versions of people misusing their power. Knowing that if pastor asks you for it, that you're going to do it. Whether that is taking advantage of people's time, taking advantage of people's resources, asking them to do things that are harmful to their own health and well being because they have to 24/7 be on call to be of service. And so it's not good modeling of ministry, nor good care. People overworking their volunteers with no appreciation and with no concern for their humanity or their family life, all of that is problematic. So we want to model, even from the pulpit, a self care. We want to model from the pulpit that relationship, friendship, family, respect, consent, are all important.

Dr. Joy: What does it look like on the survivor’s side? For those who may be surviving or realizing, okay, this is something that has happened to me, and trying to put the pieces of their lives back together, we know unfortunately, in a lot of cases of abuse, there's a lot of self-blame. Like I did something to find myself in this position. So what kinds of things would you say to people who maybe have been the victims of church hurt or abuse?

Dr. Thema: I will say, especially in our community, it’s the community I know best, a lot of the self-blame came from messages of victim blaming within our community. And so we want to be really careful about how we think about and talk about people who have been abused in these ways. Because there are two different extremes that I hear. One is the idea that people are just “stupid.” That, oh, either you're weak or you're dumb, or like I would never have let them do that and da, da, da, da. A real lack of compassion and a lack of sensitivity which again is not healing, it's not liberating. And the other extreme is when people are just not believed. The term my grandmother used to use was church hopping. You just go from church to church. There’s nothing wrong with that church, you just keep church hopping. Or they'll say, here's a big one, you just don't want to submit. This language, especially when we think about like abuse and mistreatment. People should be able to talk to you any kind of way, do any kind of thing, and if you're really a child of God, you will just submit and be loyal.

So we want to really unpack that and look at what is the messaging there? It really mirrors when people tell you to stay in abusive relationships. Let them stay and just pray to God. And so literally, she whom the son sets free is free indeed. And God is very intentional about teaching that perfect love drives out fear. If I am living in fear of what is going to be said next or what is going to be done in this place, that's not love. And so for people who are in those churches now or have recently left, it's going to be important to give yourself compassion and to find compassionate community. People who will get it and people with whom you can be honest, who are not going to be defensive or blaming or shaming. That might be a therapist, it may also be friends or family members. But as with other forms of trauma, I like to say share a piece of it and see how they react to that, because some people we can't trust with the fullness of our story.

Dr. Joy: The other thing I think that we see related to church hurt is people feeling very angry, and rightfully so. Angry at the church, maybe angry at the pastor, but also angry at God a lot, which you kind of alluded to. Can you talk about how to really work through those kinds of feelings? Because I feel like people get really stuck in that kind of place and then feel maybe a little shameful or guilty that they're even having those feelings. Can you talk about that?

Dr. Thema: Yes, a great question. The first part is that I like to say it's healthy to be outraged about outrageous things. And some outrageous things have happened in the name of God or in the name of church, in the name of ministry. And that is outrageous. So if you are outraged about how you were handled or treated or how you saw other people handled or treated, that is a healthy response. And yet, as you were naming, some people get stuck there. So if time is passing but you see no shifting in your emotional life, if the way you talk about it now sounds like it happened last week but it was really seven years ago, then you're stuck. If it has now overshadowed everything else that you can't even recall anything, whether your experience there or at other places that kept you. Like, there were some reasons why you were there, there were some reasons why you sought it out to begin with. And as I heal and grow, I'm able to get a more complete picture which allows me to also have grace for myself. What did I gain in that space and what did I lose in that space? So that we can have some perspective taking.

And in terms of the anger and the outrage, there is something called constructive anger versus destructive anger. Constructive anger can motivate me to try to either prevent this from happening to someone else or to create new spaces. Some people who have come out of those harmful places have started their own ministries, have said we're gonna have a Bible study at my house and none of that kind of behavior is going to be acceptable. Or I want to support ministries that are doing that kind of work. Or I want to raise awareness, like you were asking in the beginning, what are the warning signs? And so I am using my outrage to try to create something better.

Versus a destructive anger, it leaves me in a place where I feel perpetually stuck, overwhelmed, distraught. Meanwhile, the people who did it have moved on with their lives, are doing what they're doing, and my life is at a standstill, and my faith formation and my spirituality also feel stuck and poisoned. I have disconnected actually from God. And so it will be important for me to seek out spiritual practices that are nourishing for me. And that may be some old things that you used to do that you lost sight of, or maybe some new things that you've never tried before. And so connecting with God and nature. That when I'm going out hiking and I feel the presence of God, and it's not so heavy for me because I don't have to deal with all the different personalities. Or I want to go back to the old hymns that I used to hear my grandmother playing. When I play those, I feel God. Some of us in our activism and in our service – what I really appreciated about it was the things we used to do for community, so if I could get involved with that, I could feel like I'm reconnected or re-tapped in. So refresh your spirituality so that the anger is not the only emotion present.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for that, Dr. Thema. You rightfully named this as a trauma, which I don't think has always been the case in the field. Like I don't think that always we would have labeled this as a trauma, but I'm glad to see that we are at the place where we are now. So what kinds of things do you think that therapists and other mental health professionals really need to know to be able to support people who are survivors of church hurt and abuse?

Dr. Thema: One is even asking the question. In most of our intakes, not only do we not ask about church hurt, we just don't ask about people's faith at all, and it's really remarkable given that we ask all kinds of things about people's business. We want to know all your relationship history, we want to know what substances you use, we want to know your work history, we want to know your dating life, we want to know your health status, we want to know all of these things. And research shows that the general public endorses higher spirituality and religiosity than mental health professionals on average. So then you largely have people who don't consider faith to be central providing services for people for whom it is central. A central part of their identity, a central part of their meaning making, a central part of their values or coping. And so to work with someone for months or even years and have no idea about their spirituality or religion, you don't actually know this person. You know their symptoms that you asked about, but that's it. And so I would say even before we get to the harmful experiences, asking even in the intake process, about people's faith or spirituality. What nourishes them spiritually, even if they're not a part of an organized religion. And kind of what that journey has been, meaning, is the way they practice or don't practice now, has that been throughout their life? Or what changed over time? And what brought about those changes? Because some people will say, I used to be religious but now I'm spiritual. Well, that's a flag. There's a story there. Whenever “I used to do something and I have shifted,” there's a reason.

And so it will also be important, I'll say for mental health professionals, to check themselves because we often fall on one or two extremes. There are religious mental health professionals who only see it as wonderful and good and a great resource and can get defensive or non believing when people are sharing their pain about those places. And so then we're not really hearing the pain, we're too busy defending the institution. Or on the other side, we have people who have totally rejected church and any other religion and believe that it's only a place of control, fear and shame. And so if someone shares they had a hurtful experience, we’re quick to jump on the bandwagon of, yes, that's why you need to leave all those places alone, and those places are this and are that. And so as a mental health professional, ethically, it's important for me to hold both truths. That church and other religious sites have been places of healing and harm, that they have been places that have advocated for liberation, and places that advocated for bondage. And that different people have different experiences, and sometimes the same person can have different experiences at different stages of their life. And so it's not for me to interpret or to dictate people's experiences. It's for me to create a safe environment where you can share your story and get to the root of what is true for you and what will ultimately nourish you and heal you.

Dr. Joy: More from my conversation with Dr. Thema after the break.


Dr. Joy: I've been really encouraged to see more mental health ministries in churches. Can you talk a little bit about why it's important for spirituality and like psychologists and other therapists and mental health professionals to be in alignment? To have some of that kind of “operating in the similar spaces.”

Dr. Thema: That’s right. It's so important and I'm grateful to be able to lead our mental health ministry at First AME Church in Los Angeles. And it pushes back against the false choice that people need to either have faith or go to therapy. So there's your common saying and T-shirts and mugs, that you can pray and go to therapy. You can love Jesus and love your therapy. So us working in collaboration and communication is for the betterment of the community. Both faith leaders and mental health professionals should never make people feel like they can only have one, that you can either have your church family or you can have your therapist. No, we need the collective.

And what I like to say for pastors is the importance of becoming comfortable making referrals. I've been through seminary, and there was one semester (as you would say) on pastoral counseling, and the majority of that semester was spent on bereavement and grief. Which is important, and every pastor will have to do funerals and help people with grief, but there was no conversation or lecture on bipolar disorder, on addiction, on suicidality, on abusive relationships. And so then to say that this untrained person and uninformed person, because they love God, is now in a position to take care of all of your mental health needs, it's not fair. It's not fair to the members and it's also not fair to that minister who is not prepared.

And so there's nothing shameful about making a referral while you will still provide the pastoral support, to also encourage people to get help from professionals who are trained to address the issues. And I will say for mental health professionals, to really respect what a community of faith can give as most of us provide sessions for one hour, once a week or every other week. If you're a part of an active faith community, often those are people who can be with you throughout the week, multiple times a week, may stay on the phone for you for hours, may meet up with you, may come to your hospital room, come to your wedding. You know, it's a community. And so to assume that me meeting with you once a week or every other week is going to take the place of that is ignorant. So we work better together.

Dr. Joy: There has been a beautiful thread, even in this conversation (which I'm not surprised about, given who you are, Dr. Thema) of reconnecting with yourself. Reconnecting with yourself, reconnecting with God. And your entire platform, you have a book and a podcast called Homecoming, which I think is very fitting. Can you talk with us a little bit about the book? And why that title?

Dr. Thema: The full title is Homecoming: Overcome Fear and Trauma to Reclaim Your Whole, Authentic Self. And the reality is that fear and trauma, including church hurt, disconnect us from ourselves. They cause us to forget who we are, we can feel devalued. And it makes sense. We often, if you're mistreated, you start to question or doubt yourself. It can cause you to feel insecure, you can lose sight of your own voice and then you're just wondering what other people think or other people want from you. And so we can start performing or pretending or trying to present in a certain way. And so to heal is to come back to truth. To tell myself the truth, to live in truth, and that is when I'm most empowered. Whenever I'm having to pretend or be fake, I am outside of myself and I am outside of my power and my purpose. And so the invitation is always there for us to reconnect to the truth of who we are.

And I like to say for those who grew up with childhood trauma, you can come home to yourself, even if that's for the first time. Maybe you've never felt at home within yourself. You've always felt anxious or stressed or insecure or doubting, or you have numbed yourself. Numbed yourself with substances, numbed yourself with spiritualizing things that are not spiritual, numbed yourself with gossip, numbed yourself on these phones that are addictive. And so I want to come home to the truth of who I am. One of the first homeworks I give in the book is to think about a practice or an activity that when you do it, you feel like you. And maybe you haven't done it in a while because you've been busy or for whatever reason, and to make a commitment this week to reviving that activity. Like for me, it's dancing. I love to dance, I love it. When I'm dancing, I feel mind, body, heart spirit is all connected. Culturally connected, my spirituality connected, and yet sometimes I don't dance. So then I have to like go back to that and that brings me back to myself.

Dr. Joy: So definitely go out and grab a copy of Homecoming for more exercises like this and just beautiful words around how to reconnect with yourself is really important. So where can we stay connected with you, Dr. Thema? What is your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?

Dr. Thema: My website is I’m @DrThema on Twitter. @drthema on TikTok as of this year, trying new things, I'm out there. And then on Instagram, it's Dr.Thema, but it has a period on Instagram. And then the podcast is on YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, and iTunes.

Dr. Joy: And then we can find information about the book on your website?

Dr. Thema: Yes, absolutely. The book is available at all major bookstores and I'm so blessed that they allowed me to do an audible version. And so I know some folks are like, we don't want to read the 200 pages – so okay, you can listen.

Dr. Joy: We'll be sure to include all of that in our show notes. Thank you so much, Dr. Thema, for sharing with us.

Dr. Thema: Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed it.

Dr. Joy: I'm so glad Dr. Thema was able to join us for this episode. To learn more about the work she's doing or to do more research on this topic, be sure to visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls right now to tell them to check out the episode. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y’all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.


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