By Je’Don Holloway Talley
For the Birmingham Times
Counseling and helping others are not new for Dana “Lady Woo” Woodruff, activist and 95.7 JAMZ radio personality. Her mom is a social worker, and her father is a pastor.
“It seemed that my family was always helping and caring for others, and I was part of it,” she said.
The 33-year-old Woodruff is ready to take her skills to the next level: she is in her last semester at the University of Montevallo and will finish in May with a master’s degree in Education in Counseling (Marriage and Family Therapy). While completing her studies, Woodruff stays true to her family calling to uplift others, particularly in the black community, through “Vital,” a radio show she has hosted for more than a decade; it airs every Sunday at 9 p.m. on 95.7 JAMZ.
“I had to get the credentials to accompany my calling because counseling and psychotherapy are not advice giving,” she said. “Knowing theory and evidence-based techniques are beneficial to those who you help, and education ensures ethical work and training in multiple areas of counseling and therapy.
“I [will] bring the same relativity to the counseling field that I bring through the airwaves. Making conversation comfortable is Vital.”
Woodruff has said Vital is an “edutainment” show that allows her to have open, honest conversations on the airwaves with friends about any and every thing.
“We discuss politics, relationships, religion, health and wellness—everything. Every week, we introduce someone new or link the listening audience to resources and opportunities,” she said in a 2017 interview.
Woodruff, who grew up in Ensley and Huffman, said she looks forward to a more formal role with therapy and counseling sessions.
“The key is meeting people where they are and just starting the conversation,” said Woodruff. “People are so fixed on the idea that therapy is a couch and a whole lot of crying and telling all their secrets, when actually there is liberation and empowerment through sitting, standing, or doing whatever you are comfortable doing with your time in therapy.”
In addition to furthering her education and hosting her radio show, Woodruff is building her brand, which includes Vital, as well as her companies See Her Empowered (S.H.E.) and Essence Productions.
Woodruff wants to see weekly therapy sessions become a regular activity in the black community, paired with shopping trips and weekend grooming routines, such as hair appointments and Sunday worship service. Therapy is beneficial because it allows freedom and a nonjudgmental release of thoughts, feelings, and emotions, she said.
“Post-traumatic stress disorder [PTSD], depression, anxiety, addiction, substance abuse, internal family relationships, and emotional and behavioral disorders all can be helped and even healed through therapy,” she said.
Although counseling in the African-American community has been a less-than-popular option in the past, Woodruff said more people are becoming aware.
“Most still don’t value the power of ‘unpacking,’” she said. “I’ll keep at it until it’s not just a trend but a way of life.”
People are often encouraged to pray about their problems, but Woodruff acknowledges that after the altar call is over and the doors of the church are closed, people are still hurting and carrying heavy baggage. Asked if she feels professional counseling can or should be combined with spiritual counseling from a pastor, she said, “Absolutely!”
“Pastors should be able to assist in the therapeutic process [with members of their congregations]. If they are not trained in that area, they should know when and where to refer.”
Woodruff said she hopes to restore families through addressing and processing past trauma in individuals and groups.
“I feel that a lot of people fear therapy because they don’t know or see anyone they can relate to. I hear people say that nobody understands,” she said. “Helping people activate their solutions is rewarding for them and for society, and being able to be a part of that restoration is amazingly fulfilling.”
Family a Priority
Even with her busy schedule, Woodruff, who is mother to 10-year-old Carmen Sumone, is clear that her daughter is a priority.
“[One day], you’ll look around and you’ll be old—and so will your children,” Woodruff said in an interview with local blogger, editor, and author Chandra Sparks Splond. “You won’t have anything to show for your time but receipts from bills that you’ve paid with that money from your career. Enjoy your life and enjoy your family. I am able to include my daughter in most everything I do, because I want her to experience things and be exposed to whatever is appropriate while I’m around to explain and possibly spark interest.”
Woodruff said it’s important to impart lessons to our children.
“I don’t want her to make many mistakes, but I want her to know that she is responsible for the life she leads and that those experiences, good and bad, will make her who she is and will become. I don’t want her looking back with regrets and wasted dreams.”