Telehealth “verzuz” Radical Telehealing: Reimagining Digital Social Media as Virtual Healing Spaces for Black Women

Project Introduction and Background

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated existing racial disparities in mental health, as well as, in service access and utilization. While intersectional analyses are limited, it is evident that Black women are more likely to face multiple threats and traumas resulting from the pandemic. The rapid expansion of telehealth services during this pandemic has generally transplanted care models, grounded in White supremacy, from physical to virtual spaces. Within these systems of care, Black women are more likely to experience secondary victimization and retraumatization when seeking mental health treatment. The conception of “telehealth”, as well as Western healthcare models, needs to be reimagined to better reflect the unique care needs of Black women.

Grounded in intersectionality and radical healing frameworks, we looked to Black women to help us reimagine and broaden the technologies included under the “telehealth” umbrella. We examined two popular virtual engagements centered around Black audiences and created during the COVID-19 pandemic: DJ D-Nice’s “Club Quarantine” and the VERZUZ online series. Through the qualitative thematic analysis of 2000 public Instagram comments responding to these events, we explored how social media applications might be employed to address key barriers in access and utilization to equitable mental health care for Black people. Further, our work aimed to describe the clinical qualities and mental health benefits of social media applications (ie. Instagram) for supporting culturally-congruent care models for Black people.

Project Conclusions and Implications

The present study explores the virtual healing practices of Black people during the dueling pandemics (COVID-19 and racial injustice) and the ways in which social media was leveraged to support these practices. We contend that the manner in which social media was employed during this time to create communal spaces that center healing, self-care, and well-being indicate the utility of these applications in designing and supporting culturally-congruent care models for Black people. Our analysis reveals that in response to two key social media engagements targeting Black audiences, attendees reflect that these virtual venues have the ability to address barriers and support facilitators to mental health access and utilization for Black people.

There are four prominent themes drawn from our analysis that suggest social media applications might be a mechanism to address key gaps in mental health service access and utilization: 1) Timeliness of the Virtual Event, 2), Accessibility of the Virtual Space, 3) Necessity of the Virtual Space, and 4) Expression of Gratitude and Appreciation. Additionally, several prominent themes demonstrate the unique ways social media applications might be leveraged to more intentionally create culturally-congruent (ie. radical healing) care models for Black people. These include: 1) Emotional and Spiritual Impact, 2) Ancestral and Culturally-Grounded Healing Practices, 3) Safety and Reflection, and 4) Community and Collectivism.

Considering these findings, we propose that the intentional integration of radical healing frameworks with existing social media, and potentially other emergent technological applications, affords researchers, clinicians and technologists a unique opportunity to transform the ways we conceptualize and deliver evidence-based, culturally-congruent mental health treatment to Black communities.

Team Members

Chelsea Allen

Chelsea Allen is a doctoral student at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. She currently works with Dr. Courtney Cogburn examining the role of racism and race-related stress in the production of health inequities. Additionally, this work studies the effect of immersive virtual reality experiences on psychological processes, such as empathy/social perspective taking, racial bias and decision making. Previous to attending Columbia, she practiced as a clinical therapist working with children and families. Chelsea’s scholarship is interested in examining they ways self-identified Black women leverage emerging technologies (ie. social media and virtual reality) in service of healing, wellness, and self-care.

Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn

Dr. Courtney D. Cogburn is an associate professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and faculty of the Columbia Population Research Center and Data Science Institute where she co-chairs the Computational Social Science Working Group. She employs a transdisciplinary approach to improve the characterization and measurement of racism, and in examining the role of racism in the production of racial inequities in health. Dr. Cogburn’s work also explores media as a social stressor that contributes to racial inequities in health. She also works at the intersection of emerging technology and social justice. She is the lead creator of 1000 Cut Journey, an immersive virtual reality experience of racism that premiered at the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival, and is also the co-founder of the Justice Equity and Technology Studio at Columbia. Dr. Cogburn is a member of the American Medical Association’s External Equity & Innovation Advisory Group, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health Equity Collective, and also serves as the Chief Equity Officer and Knowledge Transfer Director of the Learning the Earth with Artificial Intelligence and Physics (LEAP), an NSF Science and Technology Center (STC). Dr. Cogburn completed postdoctoral training at Harvard University in the RWJF Health & Society Scholar Program and at the Institute for Social Research at the University of Michigan. She received her Ph.D. in Education and Psychology and an MSW from the University of Michigan and completed her BA in Psychology at the University of Virginia.

Dr. Jalana Harris

Dr. Jalana Harris is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Certified Hypnotherapist, Certified Life Coach, and Consultant based in NYC. She operates a private practice in NYC, providing therapy and coaching to individuals, couples, and families. Jalana completed her Doctor of Philosophy in Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, where she also received her MSW and was a distinguished Turner Fellow. She has an extensive history in social development and community organizing. She is a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer having served in the Dominican Republic where she worked with small business owners, government, and local non-governmental organizations providing training and facilitation on strategic planning, leadership, and program development. Her research and practice focus on cultural scripts, intersectionality, and intergenerational trauma and healing.

Dr. Zuleka R. Henderson

Dr. Zuleka R. Henderson is the Founding Director of the Center for Black WellBEing (CBW), a new branch of The Healing Collective, where she is reimagining mental health service delivery and clinical training for Black people. She was previously an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Bowie State University and a lecturer at the Columbia University School of Social Work, where her research and scholarship focused on the intersections of ancestral healing practices, trauma, and pathways to wellness. Dr. Henderson translated insights from her research, practice, and personal experiences to developing CBW, a healing-centered, culturally rooted, collective practice that works with organizations and individuals to create the conditions for wellness to come alive for all Black people. Dr. Henderson has also collaborated with scholars across disciplines to develop teaching approaches that can reduce research and statistics anxiety among social work students. She has also worked with colleagues to examine the implications of historical trauma theory for culturally relevant pedagogy within social work research curricula. Her scholarship and academic work is complemented by her commitment to community. She served on the leadership team of a Rites of Passage program for young girls from New York City and has volunteered to present workshops about trauma, healing, and creative self-expression for adolescents in Washington, DC. Dr. Henderson received her Ph.D. in Social Work from Howard University, her Master’s Degree in Social Work from Fordham University, and her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Sociology from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut.

Errica Williams

Errica Williams is a psychotherapist in private practice and perpetual student of human behavior. Her corporate experience spans over 20 years in business, healthcare administration, and mental health/behavioral managed care. She holds a master of Public Health degree (MPH) from the University of Alabama at Birmingham, in addition to a master of science in Social Work (MSSW), from Columbia University in the city of New York. Errica’s work in research and academia is geared toward psychological wellbeing and education, with a focus on Black liberation, healing and joy. She also collaborates with community organizations to reduce health disparities in the Black community, especially decreasing the stigma toward mental health therapy and counseling. In all her pursuits, Errica’s passion lies in centering and serving the Black family, particularly Black women, mothers and couples. She currently serves as Associate Psychotherapist and Marriage and Family Program Coordinator for Inspire Counseling, LLC.

Rachel Chang

Rachel Chang is a pre-medical student at Columbia University, pursuing a degree in Ethnicity and Race Studies and Public Health. She is passionate about closing racial disparities in health care and access. She grew up in Southern California where she is still actively fighting for educational equity with Justice in the Classroom. In collaboration with peers, she creates and teaches intersectional health curricula in New York City high schools. She currently works with Dean Lisa Rosen-Metsch researching physician and health care provider attitudes towards often stigmatized communities, such as people who use drugs. Rachel has also studied and presented with Dean Marlyn Delva on an interdisciplinary and multi-modal education program about COVID-19, structural racism, and social justice.