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January 13, 2018

By:  Genell Howell, Primary Therapist

Every week, therapists at Pacific Quest lead two group therapy sessions with students in the field.  Why is this form of therapy important?  This setting allows for greater accessibility of students to share some of the issues that they’ve been holding on to as well as develop greater trust within the group.  In addition, it helps students develop a psychoeducational understanding of some of the areas they struggled with at home.

Genell Howell, MA, CSAC

I recently led a session with an adolescent Kuleana group, where we began to examine the concept of our life narrative through art therapy depicting peaks and valleys.  In this group, we used pastels and paper and drew mountains to signify the wonderful aspects of our lives, and valleys or gulches depicted the more difficult times. Students were given creative reign and interpretation to create as many canyons, rigid cliffs and elated peaks within their artistic depictions. We discussed how the peaks represented the high points of their life and the valleys the more challenging times.  Once students created their masterpieces we processed the experience of creating our images, as well as interpreted what they signified to us.

By creating a narrative that allows students to reflect on their life story they build greater emotional resiliency, introspection, and rational detachment. Instead of staying stuck in limiting beliefs such as “it will always be this way” or “it will never get better” students reflected on the ebb and flow of life as well as ways to modulate the highs and lows through healthy coping strategies.  Some of the initial coping strategies that we discussed was what worked to pull one through the harder times in their lives prior to attending Pacific Quest, and what they were using now that they were in the program. Some of the new strategies included working in the garden, incorporating mindfulness, and learning how to play the ukulele.

Due to the forming aspect of the group we were able to incorporate some of Dr.Brené Brown’s psychoeducational research on shame resiliency.  According to Dr. Brown, “shame is the intensely painful feeling or experience of believing that we are flawed and therefore unworthy of acceptance and belonging.”  Dr. Brown’s shame resiliency theory bases the ability to gain connection by practicing authenticity within healthy prosocial communities. In the art of developing shame resiliency there is greater movement towards compassion and self empathy and movement away from fear, blame and disconnection.   Students were able to define how they often hide their emotions and life experiences due to the shame of feeling different or the fear of rejection.

In addition, we discussed the importance of being in a prosocial community where one can feel heard, authentic, and have a sense of belonging, which is a vital component to the healing process. The seed of vulnerability was planted as an area of growth as they continue to form a positive peer group throughout their stay, which is a vital part of the program.

See Dr. Brené Brown’s Ted Talk here:

The Power of Vulnerability