Rachel Johnson. Photo by Laura Román López

Holistic Health for Mental Health 

Rachel Johnson found healing through a holistic approach. Now, she wants her community to have access to the same services.

By Sarah Merke

Rachel Johnson’s inner circle expected her to go to college. Johnson, though, wanted a choice, and the thought of college or nothing did not sit well with her. 

During her senior year of high school, she entered her “rebel” stage and told loved ones that she wouldn’t go to college. She would find success by other means, she told them. But behind the scenes, Johnson submitted applications as she knew college was important. She focused on schools she secretly hoped to attend, including Spelman College in Atlanta. 

But a seemingly random intervention would instead lead her to a university closer to her hometown of Buffalo. It was the last day for high school students to submit their Common Application when a girl in Johnson’s graduating class grabbed Johnson’s laptop, added Syracuse University to the list of colleges and hit submit on Johnson’s behalf. 

The girl had only applied to Syracuse University herself. It was her dream school. In fear of being by herself she enlisted Johnson as the person who would be coming along with her. Johnson didn’t think much of it. Then, both girls got accepted. 

“College was the only pathway that I had been prepared for and I wanted to make sure it was the pathway meant for me,” she said. “In the back of my mind, I knew I would do good in college but I just felt like no one had ever given me any education on additional opportunities and other pathways. It was just assumed that I was gonna go to college, and I didn’t like anybody making assumptions about me.”

The one thing Johnson was sure of was that she wanted to have a career helping others, and at one point she was considering careers as a dietitian or pastor. Her first visit to both the city of Syracuse and Syracuse University would take place shortly after her acceptance. While touring the campus, the social work department and the child and family studies program stood out to Johnson. 

Johnson started at Syracuse University in 2013 on a full-ride scholarship aided by Buffalo’s Say Yes to Education chapter. She received both her bachelor’s degree in social work and child and family studies as well as her dual master’s degree in social work and marriage family therapy from Syracuse University. Although it’s a natural step to obtain a master’s degree for social workers who wish to be licensed, Johnson also wanted to ensure that she had her options following graduation. 

“I chose to do both, because I really could not have seen the way that I looked at the world without both,” she said. “Social work is centered around advocacy, policy, history and systems and there is like a big piece of me that is very much a social worker. Marriage, family and therapy is a very honed clinical approach to working with couples, families and individuals. And I knew I wanted to be a good therapist, but I didn’t want to have to choose which one I was going to be, the advocate or a good therapist.”

Rachel Johnson moderates a discussion between Fayetteville-Manlius and Nottingham high school students. Photo by Laura Román López.

While pursuing her degrees, Johnson knew she wanted to serve the Black community in her work, but she began to notice and question why she could count on her hands the number of Black people she served in her academic jobs and internships. She began to study intergenerational and community-based traumas, which led her to look at healing through a holistic framework.

Johnson’s early understandings of communal-based health and holistic health aligned the path to where she is today as the owner of Half Hood Half Holistic, her wellness business that highlights and focuses on providing mind, body and spirit support to the Black community. Through this work, Johnson collaborates with community leaders such as Tiffany Lloyd, the director of women’s health and empowerment at the Allen family foundation. 

“Rachel is probably 15 years younger than me, but every time I sit with her, every time I hear her do a presentation, there’s something new that I learn,” Lloyd said. “She’s just so graceful in the way that she approaches the work.”

Half Hood Half Holistic was launched in April 2021 but has been a thought and passion that has shown up in many of Johnson’s personal and work spaces. 

​​”When I created the vision for this business, I knew I wanted it to be an extension of me,” she said. “I wanted it to feel like a community and I wanted it to really be not only just holistic, but also a space where you can show up as you are and feel represented. So it just really encompassed all of those aspects, and if you put all those ingredients together you get Half Hood Half Holistic.”

Although Johnson is a licensed therapist in New York, she practices as a life coach, an approach she finds more accessible and culturally relevant to the community she serves. Her life-coach approach is modeled in her understanding of the stigma around mental health in the Black community and the expenses of therapy and insurance that can steer folks away. For this very reason, alongside the services she offers like mental health support, couples and family support, Johnson offers a “Pay What You Can Consultation.” 

“I just believe that generally people are willing to invest in their mental health,” she said. “But if they have to compete with the lights on in their house, the food on their table or their transportation then their mental health may not become their most pressing priority but that doesn’t mean it’s not a priority to people.”

One Syracuse resident who took advantage of the flexible pricing praised Johnson for also making house calls, which made it easier for him to open up.

“There’s the saying ‘meet people where they’re at,’” he said. “That’s exactly what Rachel did with me from the very first day.”

We often prioritize our trauma and our pain in this community, but we also need to try to prioritize community joy, liberation and celebration.

Rachel Johnson

Johnson’s non-traditional approach in tackling issues regarding mental health, therapy and more has been the contributing factor to why so many folks trust Half Hood Half Holistic. Non-traditional practices were introduced to her in the very beginning stages of her career as she dabbled in holistic health through various titles such as a certified doula, a herbalist and maternal health coordinator. 

“Non-traditional programming brings people out, our slogan is come for the vibes and stay for the healing,” she said. “Once you get people into your space, you can engage and start to have conversations. When you do this, you won’t have a problem meeting your numbers or meeting your deliverables but oftentimes we work from our numbers first and programming second.” 

Johnson also hosts “Self-Love Sundays” every third Sunday of the month. This event came to be in response to Johnson’s book “Self-Love Workbook for Black Women: Empowering Exercises to Build Self-Compassion and Nurture Your True Self” that was released in 2022. Johnson had no thoughts of writing a book at the time; she believes the book found her.

“I was unsure in the beginning, but after hearing it out some more, I trusted my gut and decided to pursue the book,” she said. “I like to highlight that this book is a representation and really the story of all of the Black women that I have touched, supported or have been in my circle” 

After receiving an overwhelming response from Black women all over the world, she knew she wanted to dedicate a space to the conversations she was having with readers. “Self-Love Sundays” is a space for Black women to have conversations centered on self- growth and love. The next event will take place on April 21, 2024 on Zoom.

Social wellness events that Half Hood Half Holistic has hosted in the past have been a bougie tea party,- a networking event for Black women- ratchet karaoke and trap yoga. This past July in celebration of the “Barbie” film’s release Johnson and her team hosted a Black Barbie brunch. Half Hood Half Holistic also hosts “Tribe Check In’s” that take place the first Sunday of every month. These free one hour check-ins are a space for healing and connecting with other tribe members. 

Through her business, Johnson is working to change the paradigm of how we think about mental health and the ways in which mental health services are being accessed to the Black community. 

“We often prioritize our trauma and our pain in this community, but we also need to try to prioritize community joy, liberation, and celebration, and that is what Half Hood Half Holistic does,” she said. “It is a space where you can join a community, we call it our tribe, to work through that pain and that trauma but to do it in a space where you can center joy. We want to mobilize around liberation that is accessible and feels like a community.”

Check Also

The Brown Brothers Team Up to Form Construction Firm

By Greta Stuckey Early in his life, Tyson Brown recognized his passion for working with …