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November 28, 2018

Written by Mark Storey, MA, Primary Therapist

Central to working as a wilderness therapist is how to help to increase a student’s self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their own ability to achieve a goal. Based on their personal belief system, students will perform in certain ways. Increased self-efficacy can influence the level of goal challenge a student will set for themselves, as well as the amount of resilience they demonstrate in accomplishing their goals. Students with higher self-efficacy are more likely to take on difficult challenges, and demonstrate persistence in following through with those challenges. Reciprocally, lower self-efficacy will lower the aspirations with which an individual sets their goals. New experiences are framed as ‘threats’ instead of exciting challenges, and students will demonstrate reduced effort toward tasks if not shying away from them completely.

Below are four factors that influence self-efficacy and the way these factors are addressed at Pacific Quest.

1. Performance Accomplishment/Personal Mastery Experiences
Through scaffolded exercises with trained staff, students grow their ability to master challenges. These experiences come not only in the garden, but in other physical tasks of personal responsibility such as cooking and self-care, as well as through soft skills in intrapersonal and relational work. The final phase of Pacific Quest requires our students to demonstrate their mastery through mentorship. This process not only solidifies the skills they have gained, but increases the likelihood that they will take on difficult tasks after Pacific Quest.

2. Vicarious Experiences
Accomplishment is contagious, and it grows right in front of you! Our students live in a garden that physically represents the growth and achievement of the work of themselves and their peers, many of whom came before them. As our students see their peers working they can’t help but notice their beautiful and delicious product in the gardens, as well as the emotional growth in the group. When other students of a similar age with similar distress perform meaningful work on their issues, they directly influence each other’s belief about how they can handle their own distress.

3. Verbal Persuasion
Through emotional safety, students offer each other care and support. As we work to reduce student anxiety their responses shift from reactive to responsive, becoming flexible in their ability to respond to each other. Small supportive communities offer insight and hope to students looking to alter the direction their life has taken them. By rooting for each other, they make a practice of kindness, which increases positive outcomes for the whole community.

4. Physiological states
A student’s physiological state can influence their ability to accomplish a task. Our wellness department works with each student to try to determine which natural supplements will work best to reduce anxiety, increase restful sleep, improve digestion, support substance abuse detoxification, and take on other symptoms of distress. During Integrated Psychiatric appointments our naturopathic doctor works with an on site psychiatrist to determine the most helpful combination of natural and pharmaceutical intervention. PQ students also eat a low sugar free anti-inflammatory diet, some of which they grow themselves. All of this combined with yoga, meditation, and daily exercise helps to keep our students well regulated.