Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Family and Alumni Services Director
Family involvement is critical to a child’s resilience and overall success. At Pacific Quest, family is heavily incorporated into the therapeutic process from the start through extensive communication, writing assignments and a parallel curriculum which compliments each child’s therapeutic plan. Therapists introduce concepts related to child development and healthy communication, allowing parents to gain tangible skills and greater understanding of their child’s strengths and weaknesses. Parents also begin to personally reflect on the core qualities they bring to relationships and parenting. Families who choose Pacific Quest are often drawn to the program for just this reason – because they value family and recognize that their child’s success and sustainable growth is further enhanced by the strength of a healthy family.
Reflective exercises such as journaling and mindfulness practices are a valuable way for parents to deepen self-awareness and create a healthier space to support their child. It is important to recognize and identify limiting self beliefs, maladaptive behavioral patterns, negative repetitive thoughts, and emerging feelings as families engage in the process of change. Too often, we (as a society) assign judgement to feelings or behaviors, leading to guilt and shame. Rather than taking this approach, it is essential to explore feelings without judgement and to create a sense of emotional safety where parent and child can try new skills, reflect on what works, identify continued areas of focus and learn more effective ways to communicate.
At Pacific Quest we encourage parents to join with their child by participating in the 2-Day Family Program in Hawaii. This therapeutically intensive workshop focuses on increasing self awareness, recognizing familial patterns, and encouraging healthy family communication. The program includes experientially based tasks, one-on-one sessions with the child’s Primary Therapist, group sessions, parent-only sessions, therapist and staff presentations on a variety of useful parenting topics and opportunities for families to work together to strengthen relationships. The Family Program allows parents to deepen and improve relationships with their child and gain a small window into all that the child has learned during their time at Pacific Quest. The beautiful gardens at PQ provide a perfect setting and safe container for families to step out of comfort zones, become vulnerable, and take emotional risks, with the guidance and support of our highly experienced clinical team.
In addition to Horticultural Therapy, a key component of Pacific Quest’s model is a Rites of Passage program. Families are invited to identify self-imposed “barriers” which may have prevented them in the past from being the best version of themselves. What is it that they would like to sever from at this point in their lives, thus allowing them to be the person they truly want to be. Students (and their families) are at a threshold between their “old stories” and their “new stories.”
The work a family engages in individually and at the Family Program allows them to practice shedding aspects of the “old story” and allow core qualities to emerge so that a “new story” may be created.
In reconnecting with Pacific Quest alumni families, the challenging work of examining oneself as a parent still looms fresh. Many will reveal a metaphor, which they connected with while at the Family Program: Just as the weeds will continue to grow and the garden bed needs ongoing maintenance, so does oneself as a parent, and as a person.