University of Illinois

2020 Impact Report
College of Education

Inside the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective

by Ashley Lawrence

Helen Neville Educational Psychology and African American Studies professor Helen A. Neville is the founder of the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective, a group of psychology scholars and practitioners who work at the intersections of social justice, culture, ethnicity, race, and healing. The Collective publishes a blog series for Psychology Today that speaks to timely topics, looking to share frameworks for radical healing and hope for individuals and communities dealing with racial, cultural, and ethnic traumas.

How did the Collective come to be, as it now exists?

While I was on a Fulbright (grant) doing research in Tanzania, I had an opportunity to reflect on the profound impact that living in a racially oppressive society has on one’s overall wellbeing—psychological, physical, mental. Because in Tanzania, while other social issues may exist, racism and racial oppression is not an issue.

Simultaneously, I was running for the position of president of Division 45 (Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race) within the American Psychological Association (APA). As president, I wanted to focus on the idea of racial healing. My emphasis was asking: what can Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) do to promote healing within ourselves and within our communities?

When I became president of Division 45, I chose promoting healing through social justice as my theme for the year. Next, I recruited some fabulous people to join me—the “Dream Team”—to flesh this out. This group eventually became the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective: UI Educational Psychology alumni Dr. Jioni Lewis and Dr. Bryana French; Dr. Hector Adames and Dr. Nayeli Chavez of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology; Dr. Della Mosley from the University of Florida; and Dr. Grace Chen, a practitioner in the San Francisco Bay Area.

The Collective came together and said, ‘let’s think through and develop a model for healing identity-based wounds.’ The team wrote a journal article published in The Counseling Psychologist, proposing a Psychological Framework of Radical Healing in communities of color. The framework is influenced by other psychologists and educational researchers, especially the previous work of Lillian Comas-Diaz and Shawn Ginwright (author of the book Black Youth Rising). Later in 2019, the Collective wrote a second article on the concept of Radical Hope in Revolting Times, which was published in Social and Personality Psychology Compass.

We started blogging to more broadly disseminate information about the Psychology of Radical Healing, and potentially help more people find healing.

When did the blog series at the Psychology Today website begin, and what has the reaction and reception been so far, overall?

Our first Psychology Today blog entry was in March of 2019. We’ve received lots of incredible feedback so far. Each of us shares the blog through social media, and people have responded quite well and said it’s helpful in terms of both individual and community healing. And that this idea of justice is an essential component to the healing process. To date, we have seven blog entries on the website.

The Collective’s initial blog entries generally explored radical healing and radical self-care. Other blog entries have addressed specific communities, including LGBTQ+ BIPOC, immigrants, and Arab, Middle Eastern-North African (MENA) communities, too. We invited UI graduate student Amir Maghsoodi to serve as lead author on the latter blog entry. Since the pandemic hit, we’ve had more specific blog entries. One is this notion of radical healing at this particular time of COVID-19. Another entry, right after Breonna Taylor was killed and before a lot of attention was drawn to her story, was “#SayOurNames: Radical healing for Black women and gender expansive folx.” Healing for black women in this moment, when they’re both being killed and affected and impacted by health inequities, is very important.

Our group is a true collective and we write as a collective. What will happen is one person will say, ‘I have an idea I want to write about’ and they’ll write about it, then they’ll work with one or two others in our group to add to it, then share the whole blog entry with the entire team. We all provide feedback and go through the editorial process together. We do have differences of opinion, and we often have to talk through these differences.

Why is the Psychology of Radical Healing Collective meaningful to you?

BIPOC need a space to unpack some of the racial trauma that they have experienced in the context of the United States. I think that is meaningful, that healing in and of itself, and creates opportunities for us to create connection. And it’s meaningful for me as a psychologist and a black studies scholar to blend my two main disciplines—my training allows me to focus on community and other systems. What’s exciting to me is the ability to focus on the importance of us intervening at the community level to promote healing.