Valencia Agnew, Ph.D., DBTC, is a firm believer in showing up and doing the best she can. Though she acknowledges that means not always getting things right on the first try, she's not one to give anything less than her all.
"When you put your heart into something and refuse to settle, it creates ripples," explained Dr. Agnew, Owner of Adolescent & Family Behavioral Health Services. "Why be mediocre when I believe there are gifts within all of us that can make us agents of change?"
Those ripples of change are among the many reasons why Dr. Agnew was recently named Woman of Year at the Fifth Annual West Michigan Woman Brilliance Awards.
Dr. Agnew's skills, qualifications and experiences are vast, having practiced for over 20 years in Michigan, diagnosing and treating mental illness, and performing psychological evaluations. She's known as a therapist who offers hope to many of the more difficult cases in the Grand Rapids area and is an expert in borderline personality disorder, self-injury and trauma, in addition to previously sitting on the Michigan Licensing Board of Psychology.
Through her practice's two wildly successful West Michigan locations, Dr. Agnew and her team help adolescents, adults, families and couples in need make powerful, positive changes in their lives. Established nine years ago, the practice grew faster than Dr. Agnew could have anticipated. However, that success didn't come without its own set of challenges earlier in Dr. Agnew's life.
"My sister passed away during my doctorate education and my heart was crushed," she said.
In addition to managing her grief, Dr. Agnew had a one-year-old son to care for. Her mother stepped in to help, but after one month, had a stroke and also passed a year later.
"My mom had always been my number one supporter, especially when things got hard. She was my best friend," said Dr. Agnew. Over the years while growing up, she recalled seeing her single mother constantly working hard. "She barbecued on the porch even in the winter so she could sell dinners at the barbershop and cleaned houses so she could pay for me to go to private school. She was my role model."
Though Dr. Agnew never set out to be a role model herself (except to her children, nieces and nephews), she now realizes she is one, and is proud of the work she does locally to help uplift other women, especially women of color. Whether she's mentoring within or outside her own practice, meeting with Grand Rapids NAMI leaders, partnering with the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative, presenting with GROW and other local organizations, sponsoring local fundraisers, appearing in media interviews or otherwise, Dr. Agnew is happy to lend her time and expertise.
Driven by her strong spirituality, Dr. Agnew also reaches women in the community through her Women of Purpose church group, which takes action (oftentimes privately) to help those who are struggling.
"We are better when we are lifting each other up," Dr. Agnew shared. "Today may be my turn to encourage you. When you are better, you go and strengthen your sister. And at some point, I will need you to strengthen me."
When other practice owners in the field reach out to Dr. Agnew for insight on recruiting and other concerns, she doesn't see it as an opportunity to be tight-lipped and secretive about what has worked for her.
"I love not being intimidated by each other, but rather lifting each other," she explained. "There are plenty of people hurting in the world. My competition is not with you, it is with me. Am I doing my best?"
For Dr. Agnew, her work is all about helping others find their own unique potential.
"I love seeing change; it's an honor and privilege to be a part of someone's journey," she said. "Creating positive change means helping some find their voices. They end up being the ones who can speak up and lead the charge against domestic violence, or stand up in a crowd and share how therapy saved their life, or go before the government and help change laws."
As much as Dr. Agnew doesn't like the growing pains associated with leadership and owning her own business, she recognizes that challenges are opportunities for improvement.
"I am thankful for the growth, the lessons and the people who keep helping me be the best version of myself," she said, noting that being recognized as Woman of the Year will help strengthen her mission to influence and help more people in the community who need it.
"This award means I'll get to use my voice to help decrease the stigma surrounding mental health and educate and encourage other women, because they see you and see something that's achievable," Dr. Agnew explained. "It's an honor to be able to reach a broader audience and let them know they are enough and that they matter ... that there are people who care and there are services available for them."
The honor is one Dr. Agnew says wouldn't have been possible without her family and team.
"This was not a one-woman act," Dr. Agnew stressed, noting how proud she is of her children and how appreciative she is of her supportive and patient husband. "I'm so thankful for the support system I have. The things I do and have done are largely because I have a phenomenal team working with me! I couldn't be prouder."
Dr. Agnew wants women to know: We have something big to bring to the table.
"It may not look the same as what someone else brings ... you may do it differently, but show up anyway," Dr. Agnew said. "When I look at the list of award finalists and think of all the amazing women I know, I find myself incredibly honored to be a recipient of this award and to be amongst so many brilliant women who shine brightly and who have paved the way for me.
"This award means that I get to shine and pave the way for someone else."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Oct/Nov 2021 issue of West Michigan Woman.