June 27th, 2022

Dr. Thema Bryant Bridges Trauma Healing and the Church

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Incoming American Psychological Association president Dr. Thema Bryant’s “psychology for the people” approach is already helping break Christian stigmas around therapy.

Thema Bryant’s calling to psychology started when she picked up her family’s home telephone as a pastor’s kid growing up in Baltimore.

Her father, Bishop John R. Bryant, led Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church—one of the biggest congregations in the city and the oldest in Maryland.

“People would often call our home in moments of crisis,” said Bryant. “When people are in a moment of crisis, it often doesn’t matter who answers the phone, they kind of get started with whatever the issue is, and I was always drawn to bearing witness and to being willing to hear and listen and to encourage from very early on.”

Bryant went from being a curious and compassionate pastor’s daughter to a clinical psychologist specializing in trauma. Last year, she was named president-elect of the American Psychological Association (APA) and will begin her term in 2023.

Although she will be the fourth Black woman to hold the position, Bryant believes her background sets her apart and offers critical insight into the mental health needs brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly among the Black community. A recent profile of Bryant in The Washington Post was titled “Meet the psychologist drawing from the Black church to reshape mental health care.”

Bryant grew up in a faithful family; her mother was also a minister, and her older brother became a pastor. As an ordained elder in the AME church, she is unapologetic about grafting her approach to psychology in her faith.

“I believe there are many different callings,” said Bryant, a psychology professor at Pepperdine University and director of the school’s Culture and Trauma Research Laboratory. “I …

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