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Exploring Life & Business with Vaelupe Ma’aele of Pasifika Rooted Therapy

Today we’d like to introduce you to Vaelupe Ma’aele.

Hi Vaelupe, so excited to have you with us today. What can you tell us about your story?
When I first decided to become a therapist on my way to grad school in 2014, I had never imagined starting and own my own practice. When I began my mental health journey as a part of grad school requirements, I was so nervous because I sort of knew that I wouldn’t find someone like me to help me navigate this process. I so deeply wanted to sit with another Pacific Islander just to ease into the vulnerable space that exists in therapy, but I wasn’t able to ever find this. Fast forward to now, much of my professional experience has been in serving the underserved including youth who have experienced a multitude of trauma, disruption in attachment and systemic oppression.

I began practicing in a private practice setting as soon as I became licensed in 2019. I was a part of a group practice part-time as I continued to work in community mental health for about two years and slowly started to learn the ropes of owning a mental health practice. A mentor of mine asked me about what mental health looked like in my community and if I had ever thought about being what I needed back when I was in grad school. I was completely lost simply because I truly had no idea and the answer was no, I had never thought about it. I had never even pondered on the thought about other Pacific Islanders exploring mental health services, let alone providing them because after all this wasn’t a thing for me growing up. I hadn’t ever been privy to conversations about mental health and utilizing therapy in my culture up until I decided to become a therapist myself. This conversation is what initially sparked my curiosity on the business side but it was a very specific conversation I had with my mother that truly opened my eyes to the need of my people to have a space, visibility and access to therapy.

At the peak of the pandemic, I started to reach out to platforms that served Pacific Islanders and integrated conversations about mental health. I wanted to be a part of meaningful and plentiful conversations about all things mental health and as a therapist, I had the intention to also build my research about the needs of my people. Through reaching out to a non-profit agency in Washington, I was given an opportunity to facilitate a dialogue on boundaries. Although this was my first time speaking about a mental health topic to other Pasifika people so many of them spoke into the deficit that we as people face when it comes to our mental health needs and access to services. I began to notice certain themes in relation to the lack of conversation, visibility in the field and the importance of mental health and emotional well-being in our cultures. You see therapy isn’t very well received for many people in Pacific Islander homes, many of our older generations never had an access point of support so the option of therapy truly wasn’t an option. I was so inspired to use my professional capacity to finally serve my community. It was after so much validation from the participants of this dialogue and my family that I knew it was time I started my own practice.

I took a workshop to learn the fundamentals to start my practice and so the process began. As I started to brainstorm a name that fit and inclusively captured the many beautiful cultures of the Pacific, I knew exactly what was inspiring me. It was the opportunity to provide space for another layer of healing for Pasifika (Pacific Islander people, indigenous peoples of the Pacific Islands · Pacific islands, including Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia), and to begin providing something I myself couldn’t find. I felt my passion evolve as soon as I started to talk about more about it and began writing down names. On March 29th of this year, I launched my practice, Pasifika Rooted Therapy, with the mission of bridging the influences of Pacific culture and one’s emotional well-being. My greatest intention is to reclaim the process of healing and resiliency through connections made in therapy. I now have a caseload that is diversified across the board with many Pacific Islanders who have never been in therapy before connecting with me. I have been able to consistently have conversations on many platforms like magazines, podcasts and Instagram Live to utilize my voice and work to attack the stigma that heavily exists in the Pacific Islander community.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
Absolutely not, if it was I think I would’ve doubted this process ten times more. As a Samoan American and a third-generation millennial speaking about mental health and the barriers that exist in many Pacific cultures, I felt as though I was truly inventing the wheel. I didn’t have anyone around me who has done or is doing what I’m doing, so finding support/thought partners was hard. One of the biggest struggles I faced was trying to find a way to reach my people. Many of us Islanders are known not to follow through with typical access points of referrals to therapy like your primary doctor, community mental health agencies, and the educational system. I had to find a way to connect outside of the normal communities we all typically know, like church or word of mouth. Navigating how to put myself out there on social media as a business, professional and a new voice about something that is never really highlighted was also very intimidating. I worried about how I would secure a flow of referrals, I doubted that people who reach out simply because of the stigma. I questioned my personal experience in relation to those who are not Polynesian like Melanesian and Micronesian people. I wasn’t sure how I would be perceived as someone who is blatantly marketing themselves as Pasifika Rooted meaning all about Pacific Islanders with the integration of love, respect, loyalty and tradition.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
Pasifika Rooted Therapy was created with the mission of bridging the influences of Pacific culture and one’s emotional well-being. Our greatest intention is to reclaim the process of healing and resiliency through connections made in therapy. By offering an array of mental health services such as individual, couples, group and family therapy, we cultivate an evolution of growth by the people and for the people of the Pacific.

I believe some of our greatest strengths are rooted in the actual journey of life. Through our individual experiences and through the experiences amongst a collective, there seems to always be growth. My goal is to simply guide and collaborate with each person to identify the best roadmap for their individual life. My areas of expertise include working with diverse populations, including people of color and historically marginalized genders and sexualities, to explore the complex intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and mental health. I have specialization in addressing mental health concerns that arise for Pasifika people raised within the Pacific culture. With much emphasis on stepping into self-exploration, I support and empower my clients in creating space for life-long growth and change.

I am most proud of being a brand that is specifically and intentionally set out to speak to Pacific Islanders. We are often times under-represented in research related to mental health data simply because we are very limited in visibility, access and utilization of support. My practice and my brand is rooted in breaking through inter-generational patterns that heavily exist and limit my people from seeking support with their emotional well-being.

Are there any important lessons you’ve learned that you can share with us?
The most important lesson that I have learned is that you do not need to have all of the answers or lived experience to speak to the needs of those around you. Experience is lived not taught, the magic of passion is derived in me not in my degrees, experience or license. People are looking for someone who looks like them, who can relate to their upbringing in order to feel safe and to establish trust. What I considered at one point as “going against the grain” has shifted into somewhat of a “saving grace” that had been needed for so long in my community. The conversations about mental health and emotional well-being was once known to be taboo for many like me, which can be scary to speak towards. However, I realize that my doubt and worry was my overprotective friend not an enemy. This allowed me to seek the support and validation from a community I never knew I had until I put myself out there. My greatest resource as a Pacific Islander has been the support of others like me.

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