As a mental health counselor and advocate, Dr. Monica P. Band, MA ’13, is on a mission to destigmatize mental health care and spread the message that “self-care is collective care.”
Where did you grow up and how has your background influenced you today?
I grew up in Manassas, Virginia, during the 90s. As a biracial Chinese American, I often felt different and somewhat of an outsider from my peers. Living in a predominantly white rural environment, I did not have many people in my immediate community or social network who looked like me. Furthermore, a lack of minority (or Asian) representation in the media only exacerbated my feelings of isolation. This impacted my mental health. These early experiences influenced my advocacy work on how to increase the engagement and interest of BIPOC communities to become mental health professionals. These experiences also influenced my desire to help educate the public on mental health topics to destigmatize mental health conversations.
I was bullied and harassed for my race, gender, and sexuality when I was younger. Over time, those experiences influenced my need to understand people by finding solutions to resolve conflict healthily, empathize with different perspectives, and have critical discussions around cultural differences. My parents instilled a value of public service in my brother and me, which undoubtedly contributed to my interests in mental health. I continue to grow and understand my cultural identities through education, therapy, and deep process work. I currently engage in training, mentorship, and scholarship to provide culturally competent and responsive care. As a practitioner, I am interested in the mechanics and skills necessary to accomplish our values of diversity, equity, and inclusion within mental health.
Did you receive a scholarship at GW? If yes, how did your scholarship help you succeed?
I received a scholarship through the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) Grant through the Rehabilitation Counseling program within GW's Graduate School of Education and Human Development (GSEHD). I thank Dr. Scott Beveridge from GW's Rehabilitation Counseling program for this incredible opportunity. I would not have been able to afford to attend GW without this grant. This funding enabled me to access high-quality education and a community of professional and peer support that continues to serve me in my career.
Tell us about what you are doing now and why it matters to you.
What matters to me is finding ways to educate communities on all topics related to mental health, specifically BIPOC communities and Asian American Pacific Islander communities. It is important to remember that many believe being vulnerable or asking for help is weak or selfish. Others have a legitimate and healthy distrust of mental health professionals. Therefore, starting with public education on mental health is essential. My specific message is: "Self-Care is Collective Care." Which is a mantra I created to remind people that mental health is a legitimate form of self-care that has benefits for everyone around you.
On a day-to-day basis, I work at my private practice, Mindful Healing Counseling Services, LLC. I help people heal from complex traumas and identity-related issues using EMDR and mindfulness-based somatic techniques. I provide clinical supervision and mentorship to new professionals. I hold two servant leadership roles through the American Counseling Association: Vice President of AAPI Concerns through the Association for Multicultural Counseling and Development and a member of the Inaugural Anti-Racism Commission. This fall, I will teach Group Counseling at George Mason University and facilitate clinical training for a wonderful non-profit called Hopebound. I am working on a textbook chapter on LGBTQIA+ issues in mental health. I commonly contribute to public media articles on how legislative issues impact mental health. This August, I am very excited to join the team of contributors and subject matter mental health experts for the AAKOMA Project, focused on BIPOC youth mental health. Finally, I am preparing to work with Psychotherapy Networker and their Symposium to provide training to therapists working with AAPI communities—a topic near to my heart.
What accomplishment are you most proud of personally or professionally and why?
Professionally, my first notable accomplishment was completing my doctoral degree in Counselor Education and Supervision. While many of my peers were buying houses, getting married, having children, moving to different cities, and traveling, I was in school. It was hard not to battle the feeling of envy or an experience of being left behind when comparing myself to these traditional personal milestones. I reminded myself that I was on a different path with a different timeline. I am proud that I surrounded myself with people who are loving, supportive, and understanding of my choices. My support network made all the difference in my abilities and confidence to see my goals through.
My second professional accomplishment is opening my private practice, Mindful Healing Counseling Services, LLC. This decision was tough because I was leaving a secure Assistant Professor position where I enjoyed supporting students. In the end, a part of me wanted to create something of my own with a particular vision and mission on how to integrate social justice within mental health practice. I am proud that I did not take the safe path and figured out how to start a small business during the beginning of the pandemic and lockdown.
Simply put, I am proud of doing the best I can and being satisfied with that. Rather than strive for perfection or give power to a self–critical voice, I am working to be kind and patient with myself.
Was there a standout course, professor, or organization from your time as a student that inspired your career path?
My Group Counseling experience, specifically with Dr. Sam Steen, was a course and professor to remember! Dr. Steen encouraged and supported me to think critically about my racial identity formation and my position in a group (which serves as a microcosm for a large community and society). In a full circle moment, Dr. Steen and I are colleagues. His mentorship informed how I taught my Group Counseling course as an Assistant Professor at Marymount University. Currently, I am collaborating with him on teaching a class at George Mason University. I serve with him on the Inaugural Anti-Racism Commission for the American Counseling Association. It is a great feeling to experience how these relationships grow over time.
Is there anything else you'd like to share with the GW community?
Yes, I would like to share a gentle challenge for the reader to introspect on how often they ask for help, how vulnerable they are, and how supported or safe they feel. It's a perfect moment to take inventory of these critical emotional needs because if you are not receiving the type of help or support you need: ask. If you don't think you can ask for help–dedicate some time to understanding why that is. If you haven't tried therapy–do it. Know that you don't need to be in an immediate crisis to go. Instead, people go to enhance their life, help with career decisions, gain clarity and insight, heal from old wounds, etc. Finally, next time you ask a friend how they are doing, ask how they feel—how they really feel. Creating sustainable change around vulnerability and mental health starts with you. Self-Care is Collective Care.