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Session 304: On the Couch with Paige Alexander of Hulu’s Unprisoned

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.

If you’re all caught up on Hulu’s new hit, Unprisoned, then this is the episode for you. Starring Kerry Washington as Paige Alexander and Delroy Lindo as her father Edwin, Unprisoned is a funny and realistic look at what happens when Edwin is released from prison and moves in with Paige and her son Finn. We haven’t had one of these in a while but Paige’s character was the perfect one for another on the couch episode! Joining me today to chat about what might happen if Paige came to her office for therapy is Dr. Lexx Brown-James. Dr. Lexx is a Licensed Marriage and Family therapist and an AASECT Certified Sexuality Educator and Supervisor.

Dr. Lexx and I chatted about some of the issues she’d explore with Paige in therapy, how attachment styles impact our relationships, what reparenting and inner child work looks like in therapy, and how Paige’s career as a therapist might impact how she showed up as a client. This episode does include spoilers so if you haven’t watched, please hit pause until you’ve had a chance to finish the episodes.

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Check out Dr. Lexx discussing Women, Agency, and Pleasure (WAP) on Session 168 of the podcast.

Check out Dr. Lexx dispeling the myth that relationships have to be hard work on Session 164 of the podcast.

Listen to Dr. Lexx discuss getting rid of sexual shame on Session 55 of the podcast.

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Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke

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Session 304: On the Couch with Paige Alexander of Hulu's UnPrisoned

Dr. Joy: Hey y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 304 of the Therapy for Black Girls Podcast. We'll get into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.


Dr. Joy: If you're all caught up on Hulu's new hit UnPrisoned, then this is the episode for you. Starring Kerry Washington as Paige Alexander and Delroy Lindo as her father Edwin, UnPrisoned is a funny and realistic look at what happens when Edwin is released from prison and moves in with Paige and her son, Finn. We haven't had one of these in a while, but Paige's character was the perfect one for another On the Couch episode. Joining me today to chat about what might happen if Paige came into her office for therapy is Dr. Lexx Brown-James. If you've missed Dr. Lexx here on the podcast before, she's an Amazon bestselling author of These are My Eyes, This is My Nose, This is My Vulva, These are My Toes, and is a licensed marriage and family therapist, an AASECT certified sexuality educator and supervisor.

Dr. Lexx and I chatted about some of the issues she'd explore with Paige in therapy, how attachment styles impact our relationships, what reparenting and inner child work looks like in therapy, and how Paige's career as a therapist might impact how she showed up as a client. This episode does include spoilers, so if you haven't watched, please hit pause until you've had a chance to finish the episodes. 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: Thanks so much for joining me again today, Dr. Lexx.

Dr. Lexx: Thanks for having me here.

Dr. Joy: Always a pleasure. So we both have finished watching the first season of UnPrisoned on Hulu. We're not sure if we're getting a season two, but keeping our fingers crossed. Dr. Lexx, I wanna first hear from you, what was your overall impression of the show?

Dr. Lexx: I was going in with high hopes. I love all of the actors that are in the show, and then we rarely get to see a marriage and family therapist on camera. It's usually a social worker or clinician or a psychologist, so I was just hoping that they’d do us justice. Like, please just do us justice, especially as myself being a licensed marriage and family therapist. And overall, I thought it was so beautifully done. In therapy regard, in regards to some of the healing that took place in all of the systematic parts of family that we saw, that is the bee’s knees of family therapy right there.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, definitely some heavy hitters connected to this project, right? Yvette Lee Bowser is an executive producer on the show. We know Kerry Washington was also an EP as well as the lead actress, and Terry Lewis and Jimmy Jam did the music, which was beautiful. So you could clearly hear that there was a lot of care put into the music and the soundtrack so I also really enjoyed it. I wasn't quite sure what I was getting into, but like you, really, really appreciated what I saw on camera.

We have not had an On the Couch episode in a while, and so I would love for us to kind of frame our conversation with the idea that Paige perhaps comes to you for therapy. Paige is the character played by Kerry Washington. We see lots of different great conversations I think come up related to her father, who has been incarcerated and is recently released and comes to stay with her. And they don't quite say how old her son is. I feel like he's like 15, 16-ish, Finn. So he stays with them and then, you know, all the drama that ensues after that. So if Paige came to you as a client, Dr. Lexx, where do you think you might start with her?

Dr. Lexx: Oh my gosh. If Paige came to me as a client, first of all, Paige would tell me where she wanted to start because she would've already had everything figured out and would've tried to just use me as a sounding board, as somebody who could like echo back or mirror back. And for folks who don't know, therapists who see other therapists, sometimes there's just expectation that you already have all of the knowledge and so you can work these things out yourselves. That's not true. You do need somebody to walk with you.

So with Paige, I'd start pretty much where all family therapists start with. In the genogram. I wanna map out her family. I wanna look at any diagnosis that she thinks other family members should have. We see that she has some struggles with both her parental units. We don't really learn much about like grandparents. And then I wanna talk about her son and her relationship with her son and what that looks like for her. And then all of these romantic partnerships and the fact that she's a part of an affair as well, and how those are affecting all of the systems that she is really valuing the most.

Dr. Joy: I love that, Dr. Lexx and I wanna stay with this idea of a therapist in therapy for a second. Because I do think we see that, so that is the one thing I think that really could have taken this show to the next level for me, was to see her in therapy or maybe even supervision. Because it is very clear that she has all this self-awareness. Like in addition to seeing clients in her practice, it looks like she also does a lot on social media. So she would do what looks to be like an IG live or a TikTok live, sharing information about stuff like attachment theory and all of this stuff. And you can also see the stuff going on in her personal life does impact what's happening with her clients. Like her clients will often say something that it feels like strikes a chord with something going on in her personal life.
And so can you say a little bit more about therapists in therapy? Some of the barriers that I think sometimes come up. You already talked about sometimes feeling like therapists will just want a sounding board, but what else do you see or notice when therapists are actually in therapy for themselves?

Dr. Lexx: Absolutely. They were her friends or cohort mates, so as therapists, we have friends that are also therapists. We have other people, we have supervisors. When we're like, ooh, this case is hard, or my own stuff is being triggered, ethically, we are bound to figure that stuff out so we don't do harm to our clients. And that part of her life just wasn't filmed here. We didn't see her going to her friends and her colleagues with the stuff that was a mess for her. Especially when she turned over that brilliant TED talk, like Paige got hit with waves of stuff that was not easy. And so therapists in therapy, I always say that if I'm going to therapy, you have to be a better therapist than me because I need to know that I'm not just gonna walk all over you, I'm not gonna know the next intervention that you're gonna use. Because if that was the case, maybe I could apply it. I need somebody to see my blind sides. And we didn't see a lot of that with Paige when she definitely had some blind spots and they got poked. They got poked quite a bit throughout all of the season.

Dr. Joy: Okay, so if we're getting started with your genogram, I think the place that it feels most natural and most impactful to start is in the relationship with her father, because that is the center of the show. So again, her father, it seems has had bouts of being incarcerated. It looks like, I think the latest stint was like 16 or 17 years he had been incarcerated. So what kinds of things would you want to be looking at or questioning her or helping her to process related to her relationship with her dad?

Dr. Lexx: I would look at the relationship actually between her parents first. Because we got that one like really odd throwaway about her mom at that party and the level of abandonment from there. And then we also had a father who also she felt like was abandoning her by going back and forth to prison. And so in looking at that relationship, I would wonder, what has made you feel secure?
What has made you want this relationship? Because we see dad keeps coming back and trying to be there and wanting to do things differently, and if anybody actually has a more secure attachment out of anybody, I think it was dad. I think Edwin did have like “I'm wanted, I'm valuable, I wanna be connected. I'm not anxious about it, I just need to be consistent.” Whereas she is like, “I'm really nervous about you being here. I'm really nervous that you're going to go away again. I can't trust that you're going to be here.”

And we see that trickle out through both to Finn and her relationship with her son, who has now become more dismissive and is like, all right, well if we're attached, if we're not, I'm cool either way. Because, I don't know, my mom is so anxious about being close. And then also with her romantic relationships, she's never sure if she's ever gonna be abandoned. So I would've started there. When she first started feeling that abandonment, specifically from her father, because I think her mother automatically abandoned her very early on and this was the one person she was trying to grasp onto until she got with her foster mom.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, you're right, Dr. Lexx, and I wonder why we didn't hear more about the birth mom. I know that was not designed to be like the center of the show, but it did feel very like, oh, we just randomly hear why birth mom is not in her life, but there's no more around it. So staying with this idea of the mother figures or the women who have kind of had a part in raising her, we hear very early on Paige talk about being left with Nadine, who it sounds like was Edwin's long-term, on and off again girlfriend who helped to raise Paige for much of her life. But then also Mrs. Nelson, who is her foster mom, who she talks about really loving and feeling very supported by. But we clearly see there is a very like tense, tenuous relationship with Nadine. And even though she describes a loving relationship with the foster mom, she hasn't talked to her in some time, and I don't know that we ever got any clarity around why she hadn't talked with her. What did you make of that, in the relationship with those women in her life?

Dr. Lexx: Oh my gosh. So Nadine seemed very much about self and then I am taking care of this other child. I do think she loved Paige through and through. And I think also Nadine had a really hard time, the man she loved is gone, she's left with a kid that she's trying to raise. And Nadine, I don't know what anybody else, didn't seem like the, yes, I wake up today and I wanna be a mom type. She's like, I wanna live my life and I have this kid who I will have living my life with me, versus centering her life around that child. Which isn't right or wrong, it's just not, I don't think what Paige needed. Paige was looking for a more maternal, somebody who was gonna be at home and making chicken soup and dumplings. Somebody who was going to be a bit softer. So she wanted a bit of a softer landing place, which she got with Mrs. Nelson. But I was also surprised because Mrs. Nelson was also very critical and I think that added to her anxiety. There was expectations. And because Paige felt like somebody who was “less than” because she was abandoned so much or because she came from Nadine who didn't have traditional values, then she's like, oh no, what do I do? I need to make sure that I'm good enough. And that is a rhetoric that has lived throughout the narrative of her life. I need to be good enough, how do I prove that I'm good enough? And I think it all started to stem from “who really wants me?”

Dr. Joy: Very good points there, Dr. Lexx. Can you say more about where you saw that not good enough rhetoric pop up for her throughout the show?

Dr. Lexx: Oh, where do we begin? In the beginning, we saw that when she was talking to her followers and she's really like beholden to the social media following and she just wants to show up for them and be good enough for them and have all the right things to say. We see it with her son and she's like, oh, how do I keep engaging with you? And I think a lot of parents of teenagers feel that way. They're like, what did I do wrong all of a sudden? Or, how come I'm not good enough for you now? When that kid is really developing into their own sense of self outside of family at that time. And so that rejection feels personal. We see it with her lover who is married to somebody else and not recognizing that she's really the side chick. And you're the side chick, what demands are you making of this person? And being strung along for quite a while and trying to be okay with it.

So we see her trying to be good enough in so many realms. And then she's like, am I good enough for my dad? Is my dad actually gonna be proud of me? Am I good enough for him to stay out of jail? And she's trying to prove herself, like look at all of the things I can do. When they bought the house and she kept getting turned down for houses and she finally got one, it's like, look what I can do for us. I can do it all. See, I'm good enough. And so that constant trying to prove herself in every way, shape and form. I think even the sex scene, oh my gosh, with the new boo. And she's like questioning him during the sex scene. Like, is this good? You're good? We're having a good time? This is great, right? And I'm like, not anymore. So as a sex therapist, I'm like, oh, there's so much there. All of it's pouring out. But it was consistent throughout the show.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and you know, one of the other things we have not talked about, Dr. Lexx, but we definitely have to, was the beautiful way I think that they weaved in this inner child kind of monologue. First of all, the actors are adorable. The young people actors were so, so cute and so, so good. But I really appreciated this idea that, you know, we're always kind of trying to take care of the little person we once were. And we don't always see it illustrated in the way that I think we did here. So when you said that about like the good enough piece and like am I good enough for my dad to stay? I really resonated with this idea that Little Paige, how that was really how she was feeling and how children often don't have language or the understanding to make sense of like why is dad leaving again? And they often turn that on themselves. What else would you say about the way we saw this kind of inner child dialogue really weave throughout the story?

Dr. Lexx: I wept at this inner child dialogue, and I think it was something specifically just about blackness. When I think of other therapy folks, and therapy was basically founded by white people for white people. And all of the founders, except for like Minuchin are white. And I think Minuchin was like white presenting. That being said, we would be talking about inner child or speaking to ancestors and people would think we were schizophrenic, and here we see a purposeful use of that inner child. And so I think the biggest moment was when Paige found Baby Edwin under the bed and it represented a little black boy. And, you know, being from Georgia, being a little black girl who also used to live in Texas, and I am a twin and my twin is a darker-skinned black boy who was not always safe. And when we learn more about that story, we understand why he's under the bed. Because he's not safe. And the fact that she's like, I see you and I will help keep you safe, I get goosebumps now talking about it.

So yes, I think we're all walking around with these little people that have been hurt. And you know, the adage goes, you get stuck at the age that you got hurt the most at, and we see that in adults. We see people acting out like, ooh, is this mature 42-year-old Dr. Joy right now, or is this eight-year-old Dr. Joy? Is this eight-year-old Lexx that got hurt? And we see that. So that healing that happened and those check-ins, those internal check-ins. Like, hold on, some piece of me. And we actually call it like a wounded child in a couple of therapy modalities. When we're saying, hey, your introductions are acting up. Your wounded children are acting up and everybody else comes around them to try and protect them. Our managers come around to try and protect them. Our extreme behaviors, which we call firefighters, come to try and help protect them too, because these wounded little people are acting up. And so to see that represented so poignantly in film, I thought it was chef's kiss perfection because everybody has that piece of themselves that still is wounded and needs to be tended to.

Dr. Joy: I would imagine that somebody like Paige would be ripe for doing some of this wounded child work in therapy. Can you say more about what that looks like? Like how do you help a client identify this part of themselves and what would that look like maybe with Paige?

Dr. Lexx: Oh my gosh. So with Paige, I'd want to think about some of the core pieces that people are born with. People are born compassionate and caring and creative and charismatic, and life stomps that out of us. If you ask 17 adults right now to draw you a picture of a horse, 16 of them are gonna be like, well, I can't draw very well, and they're gonna apologize for it. If you ask 17 kindergartners to draw you a picture of a horse, they're gonna draw you a picture of a horse. It's gonna look like a dog, cat, and rabbit in between, but they gonna draw you a picture of this horse. And so something gets lost along the way. And I'd wanna explore that with Paige of when she started dropping this confidence in herself, when she stopped believing in her creativity. And wonder, how does she get that back?

And so I think the pandemic taught us, we start to reparent ourselves in different ways. We've seen a return to nostalgia. So what do you do to heal your inner child? Well, like I got to go swing on the swings in the playground because my neighborhood was never safe enough to do that. We didn't even have swings, it was just chains cuz people kept stealing them. Or I enrolled in an art class or I finally got to do a something or other. And yeah, I really thought this was cool as a kid and I still find it kind of cool. And so we give them permission to start to explore the things that they had to put down or things that were forced from them. And so with Paige, I'd wanna do that with her, especially when she was talking about her house and building what her house looked like. I like the paneling and I like this and, wait, but I like this too. So something that would challenge her not to be in control, but to be able to just enjoy the experience is something I'd want her to get involved in, to gauge her anxiety through it. And so she could be more comfortable by not being in control.

Dr. Joy: Can you say more about reparenting, Dr. Lexx? I feel like that is one of those terms that it feels like has entered the popular lexicon now, and I don't know that people always know what that means. What does that look like to reparent ourselves?

Dr. Lexx: I do think it's one of those terms that's just entered our lexicon. But that being said, play on my name, right? Reparenting is this idea that there were gaps in your parenting. Our parents did the best that they could with what they had, and I think it was TD Jakes who said, your parent was given 60, but you needed 80, but all your parent could give was 60. They were giving you all that they had, and it still might not have been enough. And so there were gaps in how we were raised. There were gaps in things that we understood. And trying to reframe how we grew up is part of reparenting yourself. It's part of healing that inner child who was hurt, who felt abandoned or not good enough or made to be too much, as that Facebook fad went around - for all the people who had talked too much on their report cards. Maybe that's your gift now. If Dr. Joy had talked too much, and now Dr. Joy has an award-winning podcast. So that's part of reparenting. It's healing and knowing that these are gifts and not deficits. And realizing how you can use those gifts if you want to.

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


Dr. Joy: You really called out in the beginning, like as a part of your genogram work with Paige, you would want to look at her relationships with romantic partners. And how she has found herself as a mistress, though I don't know that, like you said, she didn't identify that way. Like I don't think she put that together. So talk a little bit about like what we saw in terms of her relationships and what kinds of questions came up for you and what you would want to explore with Paige, related to her relationships.

Dr. Lexx: I screamed at the screen. I was screaming, I'm like, you don't see this your daddy? You don't see this? Because Nadine was never wifed up that we know about. But Nadine has been open for sex, Nadine is holding Edwin down, Nadine got Edwin's fur coat from when that's full length, right? So I'm like, uh, are we not seeing the stability that she's so craving, she's still not getting romantically? There is sex, and we know that it wasn't necessarily the greatest of sex because she had sex with him later on and was like, oh yeah, no, I'm good. So it wasn't even the pin that could get her back in. Despite the fact this man is all here making love to you, and she's just like, no, I'm good. So we know that wasn't what it was keeping. But it's the same emotional pull and push away of like, do you want me, okay, you're showing that you want me, okay, I can wait. Do you want me again? And so she's doing the same thing that she did with her Dad - if you really want me, you'll stay out of jail. If you really want me, you'll be here. Okay, I'll wait for you. Okay, I waited for you, you're showing me that you want me.

And she did the same thing romantically. And I'm not saying, it's not super Freudian. We're not going like everybody's gonna date their father and have Oedipus Complex and Electra complex. What we're talking about is just the fact that those same systems and patterns that she saw are the same patterns that she's repeating because she didn't really know too much different. We didn't hear a lot about their relationship so we don't really know what she saw in that relationship. But we do know that what she saw with her dad was this yo-yoing back and forth. And that's exactly what her lover was doing with her. Because when she got with Mal who was steady, that felt threatening, that felt too much. And even though that was “what she was supposed to want,” it wasn't enough for her at that moment. Because as she started to heal, she realized that she wasn't ready for that either.

Dr. Joy: Yeah, and I think that this goes back to earlier conversation around how she was so self-aware as a therapist, but didn't always connect to how things were playing out in her own life. The show opens up with her doing this Instagram live about repetition compulsion, which means we kind of constantly find ourselves in the same pattern trying to work through typically some thing that didn't work out as a child. And so in her instance, it is this relationship with her father. But we never saw any insight into her connecting her relationship with Bill, I believe, the guy who was married. We never see her connect to the fact that her relationship with Bill in a lot of ways mirrors the relationship that Nadine had with Edwin.

I do wanna stay here about Mal because I instantly knew that they were gonna try to put them together. Like even from the first scene, you can tell that there's chemistry between them on screen. And so he does, I think in a lot of ways, on paper look like somebody who would be really stable and who could help her develop maybe more secure attachment, but we do see that this is not really what she's into. Now, what do you think happened here? Was it the kind of thing where it is like when you're so used to chaos, steadiness feels uncomfortable? Or do you think there was something else happening in the relationship with her and Mal?

Dr. Lexx: Mal is securely attached, which means Mal wants connection and doesn't have a lot of anxiety about being connected or being left. So it's the idea, the big word, differentiation is what we use. If you wanna look it up, it's Bowen Differentiation. The fun thing about differentiation is you attract somebody that is similarly at your level. So we already know Mal has some poor boundaries because Mal is dating his parolee’s daughter. Like, no, Dr. Joy and I can never date one of our client's daughters or your kids. That's not appropriate for us. Not appropriate for him either. But what we see with Paige is that she's doing a healing journey of herself. And so she's coming from that anxious attachment with Bill, but she's not on Mal's level yet. She hasn't healed enough for relinquishing her anxiety around connection. Cuz she has somebody saying I want you, I wanna be here for you. And by all intents and purposes, that's what she's supposed to want, right? That's what we're all told we're supposed to want, especially as black women. You're supposed to want a good black man with a good job who wants you back. And for her right then, that's not what she needed and she's finally realizing that. And I think that's where we came to the end is, in the culmination of all of these men in her life, whether it's Finn, her father, Bill - is that she could be enough on her own. And so that rejection of Mal had to happen in order for her to realize like, wait, I am good enough just on my own two feet.

Dr. Joy: I love that. And he had a good government job, so you’re definitely not supposed to let anybody go who had a nice, secure job. You mentioned earlier that we didn't really see her friends, but we do see Esti. And I wasn't all the way sure of who Esti was. It sounds like she was her realtor maybe lawyer, but maybe also foster sister and best friend. Is that your understanding of who she was?

Dr. Lexx: I got foster sister and like best friend growing up, who like she kind of got ripped from and had to really work to establish that relationship.

Dr. Joy: Got it, okay. I think something else that likely Paige would need to work on is the development of connection with friends. Because at the same party we see that she's hosting, and I don't even know how close she was to this colleague down the hall, but she ends up hosting the gender reveal party. And at this party, we see people ask like, oh, how did you and Mal meet? And then she's put in this weird predicament of having to say who he is, which then reveals all this stuff about her father. But it does feel like there's difficulty with boundaries around what do you share with people and in what was is she working to connect with other people? What kinds of things would you work with her on around like, how do you meet new people, and what parts of your story are okay to share and when?

Dr. Lexx: She ain't wanna throw that party. We know she ain't wanna throw it. Like that woman was looking at her like, can you help me? She got guilted into trying to help, that's what that was. And that was her work colleague. Because she owns her own practice, and again, as we know, owning your own practice can be kind of lonely. But she seems to be in an office space in a place with other therapists. So that being said, I think that the oversharing and boundaries, I wanna slow Paige down in general. Just slow down. And instead of her treating everything like an audition where people accept and like her, I'd like to put the power back to her. I’m like you are choosing people to be in your life. I think she's had a haphazard kind of people dropping in or her being dropped on people and her having to try and attach to those people rather than her ever having the ability to choose.
You get to choose who's in your life.

And I think people mix up boundaries. Boundaries aren't you controlling somebody else's behavior; boundaries are what you are going to do when somebody else's behavior persists. And that's where I think she gets a little bit misconstrued and turned around because she wants to be wanted. And when she wants to be wanted, she wants to be the brightest and the best and the smartest and the prettiest and all of those things all wrapped in one, because that's what we're told people want. And yet she suffers for it. She suffers with anxiety, she suffers thinking that are these real relationships? Are these relationships of sustenance? Cuz I don't see a lot where she gets a lot back from other people. There is her foster sister, there is her dad. There's Finn somewhat, but Finn gets put in this kind of parental role or friend role more than child role. So she has to learn, one, you are actually in control here. You get to choose who's in your life. And then two, how is it being reciprocated? Are you the only one doing for people or are also people doing for you? Because that's a real quick way to get used up. When there's no reciprocity, with you giving out all of your caregiving knowledge, charisma and not getting anything back.

Dr. Joy: I love that you started with slowing her down, cuz as I'm thinking back about watching the show, I realized like it felt very hurried. Not in a way that I felt like the pacing was off, but like she felt like she was just going. There was always some fire, I think, to put out. And so I think the slowing down would really allow her to be more connected to the affect part, like the emotion feeling piece. Which I think is also something that happens when therapists go to therapy - there's like this intellectualization of things and like, oh, this is how I'm thinking. And like a very cognitive kind of space, as opposed to like, how does this feel? Like where do I feel this anxiety in my body? So I think a slowing down of her really would be helpful. But I'm also aware as we're talking, that it feels like there's a lot for her to kind of work through. Like the relationship that she's had with dad, and mom being gone, I feel like has left her very unanchored, ungrounded. In that there are a lot of skills that you have difficulty developing when that parental foundation is not really firm. But I think we both work from a strengths perspective and would not want her coming in feeling like there's nothing that I do well. So in what kinds of ways would you also work to kind of highlight the strengths that we saw for Paige so that she would have enough of a foundation to do some of this work that we know she would need to?

Dr. Lexx: I'll tell you that I identified most with the TED Talk moment. So that part where she's about to go do this really big thing and gets just catastrophic news that has rocked her world. And she goes out and she has this talk prepared, and my favorite part, she just sits on the stool. She sits on the stool and she's like, you know what, let me be completely 100% honest and talk to you about this. I was so proud in that moment because she wasn't performing, she wasn't just giving tidbits. It was a real processing. And so with her strengths, I think that's one of her strengths, that she can not only take in information, but she can process it and make it digestible so other folks can understand it.
And we all know that everybody doesn't go to therapy. Some people treat social media as therapy, some people don't have access, some people are scared, and she's able to really give people a platform of understanding. I also think she is so caring. So even when her and her son are in disagreement, she's like, wait, no, I see you. And she can acknowledge her faults there. And same with her father. And she's like, hey, I messed up here. Here goes this food that I never, ever, ever eat and will touch, but I wanted to make it for you to let you know that you're special. And I think she's really good at that, of letting people know that they're actually special to her. Despite the fact that she doesn't really always feel that special to others.

Dr. Joy: Thank you for that, Dr. Lexx. Let's talk a little bit more about how you might want to support her in her relationship with Finn, with her child. What kinds of things do you think would be important to talk with her about there?

Dr. Lexx: Finn is hard, right? One, because we don't ever see Finn's father figure, we don't know what that relationship is like. We know Finn seems to be somewhat of an introvert. I call myself the coolest nerd you'll ever meet and so Finn also seems to be on that kind of like anime nerdy category with the card game that he plays and purposely loses when he's playing with somebody else. So there's some confidence building, the fact that Finn isn't necessarily driving around the city yet and has some trepidations and fears. And so looking at that relationship, I would wanna look at that control. Because her anxious attachment has made him wanna detach. We don't see him with a whole lot of friends. Edwin's like, what's going on? Let me help out here, son. Like this is cool. And he starts to build a friendship with his grandfather, but his mom tends to be just over controlling. The fact that he can come home and skip school, and she's kind of unbeknownst to it. But I'm sure he's getting good grades, I'm sure he's not really struggling because he is really smart. And I don't see her facilitating enough of that “here's how you can be independent in the ways that I think will suit you over life.” It's more about, hey, you're still my favorite son, I'm still your favorite mom, right? Okay, and I love you so much, and you love me so much. And so there's a level of childishness in their relationship that I think Finn is starting to grow out of and needs some more support in like going towards adulthood.

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


Dr. Joy: I forgot to mention this, Dr. Lexx, but that moment with her TED talk felt like a very black girl moment of being put in this huge professional opportunity in which I think a lot of us find ourselves, and then like you getting this bad news and then having to struggle between, okay, how do I put my cape on and still go show up and do this thing? But her instead choosing to just be very authentic in that moment and say like, okay, I'm struggling here and let me just be real with you. And I feel like if it had not been that bad, she never would've made that choice. If she had more time to prepare, I think we know what she would've done, which is typically what we do. Like let me just grin and bear it for this next 25 minutes and then I can deal with the fire.

Dr. Lexx: Absolutely, absolutely. That news rocked her to her core because it's the thing she was most afraid of. Her dad is now abandoning her again. And she don't know the details and that's why she wanted to punish him for it too. She was like, I'm not going to get him, he can sit and rot. Nope. And meanwhile, the son is like I need help. And again, she raised him so he's this great, independent, fierce, and also supremely ethical. He's like, oh, this is right, this is wrong, let's talk about it, let's figure it out. What my mom is doing is wrong. And that's raising a strong kid with their own sense of self. But yes, she was like, ugh, I'm flailing right now, and let me tell you all that I'm flailing and letting you see that I have flaws and I have hardships, and here's how I might be able to walk through them. But that was her worst fear come true cuz now her dad has left her again.

Dr. Joy: Right. I do wanna go back to, we talked a little bit about the inner child dialogue that we saw. Which I really appreciated them including, like this kind of childhood moment for Edwin. Because before he had gone back to his hometown, we had not known a lot about what was his backstory and how did he become the person that he was? And I think that even though it was like a small thread, I do think that there is an interesting conversation and an important one to be had around racism and how it impacts our mental health. The racism that happens and the way our mental health is impacted then intersects with the justice system, or injustice system in a lot of ways. And so I think that we can probably draw a line from this early childhood experience of a racist experience with his incarceration. Is there more that you wanted to say about that, or kinds of things that you would maybe help Paige process related to her dad's background and how that led to who he became?

Dr. Lexx: Absolutely. One, I'm gonna go ahead and own it. I was so angry at Paige for not going full Karen on that man in the records department. I said, girl, if you don't go use all of 'em degrees and big words on these country people… Like where's all of that? I need all of that in your throat to come out and protect your daddy. But also shed a tear because seeing Edwin so frustrated at trying to do right, just represented millions of black folks, millions of poor folks, millions of uneducated folks across the country, because as the US, we have one of the highest incarceration rates in the entire world. And saying like, hey, I just need to get this thing so I can get a license and now you're telling me I can't because all of these laws that are put in place and these systems prevent help, which is so backward. So I did shed a tear. And also I have family members who have been incarcerated, and trying to see them being able to put their lives back together again with all of these constraints. It's no wonder why it feels almost impossible, because it is almost impossible. Especially in the deep South, especially with people who are still in control and power. And I felt for Finn when the white man talked about them being moon crickets. Now, look, I have literally been chased by the KKK, I have never been called a moon cricket. So that's an old, old phrase that Edwin talked about. And Finn's like, what? And even we see Finn with an identity crisis, like he thinks I'm white. Hold on, what? He thinks I'm white.

But seeing Edwin trying to get his life together. And we also didn't talk about whatever the loss was that Edwin experienced with his mama. His mama was dragged out of the house and taken by the police, the people who were supposed to protect and serve. And wasn't brought back till the next day, but had a limp and then they moved. There was so much unspoken right there. There was so much unsaid, and that's where the series moved really fast for me too. I was like, so we just dropping down, and okay? And this is really deep, really fast and really scary. And you wanna figure out why Edwin has a problem with police officers and doesn't feel safe with them, or the system that they represent? When you consider what they did to his mama and he completely blanked it out. He's like, nope, I don't remember too much. We know it was trauma. So I think that's so important to highlight with Paige. Paige, you know, she's just now learning this about her dad and she's just now learning all of these different aspects of himself. So who knows what else she doesn't know and what else she's operating on a deficit from?

Dr. Joy: Right, absolutely. I appreciate you adding that context. And you're right, that happened in, what, like maybe episode six and then there were only like two more to go, so we didn't get a lot of exploration there. But the series, this season at least, wraps up with Edwin has been released. So it looks like Mal has made a call to get him released because it was kind of like a bogus charge in the beginning anyway. So he has been released and it looks as if Paige and Finn… Well definitely Finn, want him to come back and live at the house but he is feeling like some trepidation around like I've messed up again. So we hear even his self talk of I gotta do this myself, and I can't believe I disappointed you again, and we see him being very critical of himself. And in the end, we see his old running partners. Uncle Fox and the other guy pick him up and say, hey, do you need a lift, kind of thing. So we leave on a bit of a cliff hanger of, okay, what's going to happen? What did you make of how the series ended and how would you talk with Paige about where she finds herself with her father now.

Dr. Lexx: Oh my gosh, it was a cliffhanger. My heart was in my chest, like okay, what decisions are we making? What are we doing? Because we already know he brought the car back and that was a decision where he felt destitute again. And I would say that Edwin wrestles with the same issues that Paige does around control. And Edwin, most of his life, other people have been controlling what he can do, what he can eat, where he can go, where he can sleep, especially being in prison for so long.
And then on the outside, those systems feel like they're controlling him because he oftentimes feels powerless. And so he's trying to do as much as he can to accrue power, very similar to Paige. So at the end, I'm hoping that Edwin wanting to be on his own, he's starting to learn that he's in power. That he has the power to make these decisions and choices. And we hear him say that. When Finn was like it was my fault, I asked you to drive, he was like, no, Finn, I should have told you no. I should have owned that decision. That's the responsibility that Paige has been looking for him to take for so long. “I made this decision to leave you”. He was like I left you with Nadine, that was good enough. And then he realized that wasn't good enough cuz it wasn't me. And then he's showing how much he values them. He doesn't want Finn and Paige to get in trouble, but more than that, he doesn't want them to be disappointed in him. And so he's starting to realize, wait, it's not just me fending by myself alone out here, which is how he's always kind of felt. He realizes I have people that I am accountable for and accountable to, including myself. And I need to know I can be accountable to myself before I can be accountable to other people. And that, okay, there's a lot to extrapolate from the ending, but that's what I'm going with cuz I'm gonna keep hope that that's what this means.

Dr. Joy: I love that, Dr. Lexx. We are gonna keep hope alive. And something you just said made me think about his struggle for wanting to be independent and to be in control of his own destiny and his own life, which is why I think we saw him struggle with keeping the traditional job at the thrift store, and then we know it didn't work out at the restaurant, but I was not clear and it felt like there was some illusion to, do you think what happened with his ice cream truck was that the guys he was playing poker with or those guys that were in his circle were the ones that ended up stealing his ice cream truck? Did you get that same sense?

Dr. Lexx: I thought so, but I didn't want to. I told you I be trying to do rainbows and puppy dog tails, okay? But I thought, so cuz I'm like who would jack a old ice cream fridge? And it was just another thing in this system that “kept a man down.” So I was hoping it wasn't them. And I know they want him back and the life does that. The life pulls you right back. They want people who work and move, Edwin was really good at that, he's an old head, he has connections, he knows how to get around. But yes, I had that sense too because they don't seem to be supportive of his journey to be straight and narrow.

Dr. Joy: Which is interesting, right? They know he's on parole and having to be in a place where things are stable. And we see the whole reason he ends up staying with Paige is cuz they're outside playing and there's a gun on the table. And so, you know, you're right. That it is important to kind of then think about like, okay, who is in your circle and do they really want the best for you or do they want you to just join them cuz that's where they're also at in life?

Dr. Lexx: Exactly. And again, I'm gonna bring this back to echoing Paige. Who is in your life that is trying to lift you up? That is trying to provide stability for you too, cuz you're providing it for everybody else. And so Edwin and Paige are walking these very parallel paths next to one another while still trying to connect, and they missed each other a couple of times but those moments of connection were just so great that they were like, wow, this is what it could be. If we keep at it, this is what it could be. And I think that is amazing and, one, on film, absolutely brilliant. Again, chef's kiss. But then also what hope does that give to folks? How many of us don't know our biological fathers or how many of us haven't been able to connect with folks, and how many of us are still trying to steadily heal so we can connect?

Dr. Joy: Yeah, a lot of layers there and I think a lot of things for us to kind of help examine in our own lives. Were there any themes or things that we didn't talk about that you felt especially important to talk about or highlight for people today?

Dr. Lexx: If your therapist shares that much of themselves with you in therapy sessions, side eye them. Because Paige was doing a lot of oversharing and I'm not sure it was always to the benefit of her client. Now, we all share a little bit as therapists and I think your therapist needs to be a whole human. They can't just be this amorphous *[inaudible 0:45:24] that walks around. Like your therapist farts, your therapist snores, they're whole humans, okay? We're whole humans. And the question is what are they sharing? Is it beneficial for you?

Dr. Joy: Well, and you even heard her client, cuz we only saw her work with one client throughout the series. You heard her client say like, I follow you on Instagram and I often feel like what you share there is more helpful than what I get in here. Which to me was like a huge red flag, like oh my gosh, what's happening. And so to your point, it could be that in session she was getting a little bit too much of Paige's stuff. Which is also why I think if we had seen her in supervision or working with her own therapist, it could have added a nice layer of additional depth to the show.

Dr. Lexx: Baby, the things I do for social engagement, I'm doing better than my job? Okay, all right. Yes. I think we would've seen that, but also the patient didn’t have a conduit. In therapy, you know, Dr. Joy, it goes both ways. We emotionally match with a person so they don't feel alone. So we have to go there in the depths of ourselves, like I have to feel the despair that I felt to mirror the despair that you felt. It's not the same situation, but despair is despair. And we know that Paige was feeling overwhelmed with feelings and so they were pouring out somewhere because they didn't have anywhere else to go. So check your therapist, make sure. Side eye them if you need to. Ask them who was that for, so you can keep them accountable. But definitely check in and make sure, if you're not feeling it, go to Therapy for Black Girls and see if there's another therapist that might fit you a little bit better.

Dr. Joy: Great points there, Dr. Lexx. Let us know where we can continue to find you and support you. What is your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?

Dr. Lexx: Thanks. You can always find me at, that's my website. You can subscribe to newsletters. I do not spam mailboxes and inboxes, nor do I sell your information. It is just for me as a way to connect with my insiders. You can also join my channel on Instagram and across all social media, I am @LexxSexDoc.

Dr. Joy: And you can also check out Dr. Lexx on the multiple occasions she’s shared with us here on the podcast. We'll be sure to include all of those in the show notes so that you can check out her website as well as the other times she has so generously shared with us. So thank you for joining me again, Dr. Lexx.

Dr. Lexx: Thank you for having me. I missed you.

Dr. Joy: Indeed. Thank you for being back. I am so glad Dr. Lexx was able to join us again for this episode. To learn more about her work or to check out her previous appearances here on the podcast, visit the show notes at And don't forget to text two of your girls right now to encourage 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
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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