“Lesson Study with Mathematics and Science Preservice Teachers: Finding the Form” (Routledge, 2023) is a new overview of the fundamentals of lesson study edited by School of Education Dean Kelly Chandler-Olcott, Professor Sharon Dotger and Jen Heckathorn G’22, director for…
The Power of Holistic Healing and Wellness With Therapist and Entrepreneur Rachel Johnson ’17, G’19 on the ‘’Cuse Conversations’ Podcast
In her work as a therapist, Rachel Johnson ’17, G’19 knew she was making a difference in the lives of her patients.
But she also realized her work wasn’t impacting an often overlooked segment of the population when it comes to mental wellness and holistic health: Black people. A big reason for that? Traditional mental health and wellness services were not always easily (or affordably) available to those seeking help.
Wanting to make a difference in her adopted home of Syracuse, Johnson founded Half Hood Half Holistic out of a desire to help Black people work on their mental, physical and spiritual well-being. The wellness business curates and centers Black individuals, families and couples, allowing them space to heal and work on treating their holistic, or whole, person.
“The overall goal of Half Hood Half Holistic is to create what we call accessible healing, services that are either low- or no-cost and are relevant to our community and accessible in different ways and on different platforms. Really, this was born out of the fact that in my work with Black and brown folks as a therapist, therapy itself didn’t seem very accessible. It didn’t feel very relevant and in my own practice, I wasn’t serving the community that I felt so close to. I wanted to create something that was very much relevant to that community, while also being culturally sensitive and accessible. Half Hood Half Holistic has been the culmination of that dream and that vision, and it definitely keeps me busy,” Johnson says.
Johnson, a native of Buffalo, New York, earned bachelor’s degrees in child and family studies and social work and master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy and social work from the Falk College, attended Syracuse University on a full-ride scholarship, thanks to a program called Say Yes to Education.
The author of the “Self Love Workbook for Black Women,” Johnson discusses what holistic health means to her, what healing looks like for Black people and why it’s important to debunk the stigmas and stereotypes associated with seeking mental health services. She also shares how she helps make holistic healing accessible for all who seek it and the important role holistic healing plays in helping communities heal from racial harm.
Note: This conversation was edited for brevity and clarity.
Check out episode 121 of the “’Cuse Conversations” podcast featuring Rachel Johnson ’17, G’19. A transcript [PDF] is also available.
01At the time Half Hood Half Holistic launched, what was the need for those types of mental health and mental wellness services here in Central New York?
The biggest need was around connection and feeling connected to the community. One of the things that we talk about, if people want to go to an event, people in this community will say something like “Who all is going to be there?” It’s an attempt to check for safety and comfort while figuring out, “Do I really want to be in this space?” We like to say we create spaces where you don’t have to ask, “Who all is going to be there?” because it’s supposed to be a space where these are your people. That sense of connectedness alone is really healing. And feeling connected to services and to providers that get you, that are your kind of people, that alone, in Central New York, I feel is a missed purpose. We have a lot of services and resources, but not that are centered on connectedness.
02Is there a negative stereotype and stigma around mental health and mental wellness among members of the Black community?
Absolutely. There are stigmas across populations, and the United States has a lot of work to do around supporting mental health and mental wellness. When we start to talk about a specialized population, such as Black folks, there’s a lot of historical context influencing or reinforcing those stigmas, particularly around mental health and even physical health. When you think about different sectors or sections of populations that have been traditionally traumatized in this country, it does make it very difficult for people to even conceptualize mental health, and even to conceptualize or be comfortable with the phrase “mental health” can be a long journey for some. We have such a fragmented system that is not always culturally competent, fair, accessible or cost-friendly, which makes it even more laborsome for a specialized population to be able to recognize that they need help and seek and gain access to that care. It is about normalizing those conversations about seeking help.
03How do we normalize going to see a therapist to work on your mental health and wellness as much as we normalize going to see a medical doctor for a physical ailment?
Everyone has mental health just like everyone has physical health. There’s a spectrum. People need the ability to understand that we all have mental health, and we all have to do things to maintain our mental health. If we’re not maintaining our mental health, then it may be poor mental health. Then there are subsets of the populations that have diagnoses, just like some people have diabetes, which means they have to manage their physical health in a different way. So it’s the same thing for mental health support. And the other thing I like to tell people is, sometimes we’re not so comfortable with our emotions and they’re controlling us. We want to be in the driver’s seat, right? We want to make sure we’re the ones in full control of our body, our thoughts and our emotions. That’s the goal.
04How did you become so passionate about this line of work?
I’ve always known that I wanted to support people of color, and what I learned very quickly, because of the history and context around Black people and people of color, particularly in the United States, it would be so important to create healing pathways that were more than just for therapy rooms. I learned very quickly that if you’re going to be working with people of color, we have to engage our bodies. We have to talk about what we’re eating, we have to talk about who we’re connected to. There’s so much healing that needs to happen, and this community deserves this non-traditional approach. That led me to this passion. After I graduated from Syracuse University, I became a doula and worked on maternal health support, and became an herbalist. I did a lot of public health efforts in the community and did some non-profit leadership work, too. I was always furthering my understanding of how the work I like to do as I created this holistic platform.
05There have been so many examples that we've seen lately of racial injustice towards members of our Black community. What role do you think holistic healing can play in trying to help our country and our communities deal with and heal from these wounds?
There will be no healing if it is not holistic. Holistic healing and racial healing very much go hand-in-hand. Part of that is because, in order to get to holistic healing, you have to recognize there is a whole person. The basis of holistic healing recognizes that you are more than just one thing or one kind of person. That is where racial trauma starts to happen because as a country and as individuals we have not recognized Black folks to be human or to be more than one thing. Holistic healing would consider we are more than just our trauma, we are more than what we’re portrayed to be and we’re more than the things that are happening to us. We are humans and we have a range of emotions, a range of reactions and a range of needs. Holistic healing would have to encompass not just present-day us—but the historical marginalization and traumatization of Black folks would need to be included in the conversation, and what that then means for future generations. Without the framework of holistic healing, racial healing will not be able to be achieved.