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November 10, 2017

Written by:

Metamorphosis and Transformation

By: Danielle Zandbergen, Therapist

“If the fires that burn innately inside our youths are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, the youth will burn down the structures of the culture, just to feel the warmth.”

-Michael Meade

Before transitioning into the clinical team as a primary therapist, I began my journey at Pacific Quest as a program guide. I worked many weeks in the rite of passage portion of the program, Huli Ka’e, where our students step into a “threshold” experience and begin to “end their old story” and “begin stepping into the new story.” I’ve always viewed this phase similar to a metamorphosis or transformation that we often see in nature.

PQ_therapist

Danielle Zandbergen, MA

During one of my shifts in Huli Ka’e, I was working in the plant nursery with a student.While we were planting seeds together, we both noticed a cocoon on one of our growing papaya trees. We then began to bear witness to the cocoon cracking and opening up to a new life, as we watched the once known caterpillar morph into a beautiful monarch butterfly. As the student and I watched in awe, there was an intense emotion that welled up between us, to the point where we looked at one another silently and began to smile and cry at the sight of this rarely seen transformation. In so many ways, it was much like a student’s experience when participating in a rite of passage.

In grade school I remember learning about metamorphosis through the lens of a physical transformation many animals experience, where a caterpillar hatches from larva, then stuffs itself with leaves, grows plump and through a series of molts sheds its own skin. The caterpillar stops eating, hangs from a twig or leaf and spins a silky cocoon around itself and sometimes molts into a shiny chrysalis. It is then that the caterpillar experiences a radical transformation and eventually emerges as a butterfly. Tadpoles go through a similar transformation, where an egg mass is laid, cells grow into a tadpole, and the organism lives completely underwater, while a hormone in the tadpole’s thyroid gland initiates their metamorphosis.  Then the tadpole develops into a frog, and all the organs and physical features transform in order for it to live outside of the water and learns how to adapt to a completely new environment.

Metamorphosis in the natural world is very much like the transformation our students experience as they embark on their own Rite of Passage, and in the grand scheme of things, what many of us experience throughout our lifetime. At Pacific Quest, we set the stage for a meaningful and transformative rite of passage that many teenagers never fully experience in their lives. Often named “liminality,” the threshold experience is paramount to the rite of passage and in a lot of ways, a student’s experience at Pacific Quest is seen as a “liminal” or threshold event. Liminality may involve a significant challenge, ambiguous features and sometimes disorientation between the “old and the new.” This often looks like a pattern that is no longer serving the individual, thus inducing a need to “sever from” and begin a transition into something new in order to get those needs met, or adapt to a new way of living.

Our students often “stand at the threshold,” between the two worlds, in which we hold ceremony and ritual spaces to represent severance and incorporation. However, oftentimes a student needs to fully sever from certain behaviors, thought patterns or addictions in order to step into their new intention. Without this significant threshold experience, many teenagers and young adults seek various alternatives to mark this transition. Some resort to substances, buy lottery tickets or cigarettes, some engage in sexual activity, where some may engage in all of the above in order to feel as if they are stepping into their adulthood, but may not engage in the important ceremony and ritual that creates a meaningful experience for their transition.

Although at first glance it may seem that these are unhealthy manifestations of a mental health issue, and subsequently may lead to even more unhealthy choices, there is also an element to these behaviors and choices that represent a child’s search for that threshold; signifying meaning and purpose in their lives. Our society tends to hold a lot of weight (and responsibility) over “ages,” such as turning 16 and being able to drive legally, or 18 when one is expected to move out, get a job, and continue college. Although all of these represent a form of rite of passage, over time they have come to be an expectation that has negated the entire meaning behind ceremony, ritual and celebration that is so much a part of a rite of passage.

One of our goals as a program is to facilitate and provide this experience to our adolescents and young adults. One of my goals as a therapist, guide, role model and caregiver, is to help our students find meaning in their life and recognize that what they are worth is only as much as they value themselves and their experiences in life. It is all of our jobs to celebrate these important marks of transition and develop intentional and positive ceremony around reaching these important life stages so the legacy can continue on.

April 22, 2016

Written by:

In Celebration of Earth Day: Nurture through Nature

By: Danielle Zandbergen, MA
Therapist

In celebration of Earth Day, I thought it fitting to write about nature and how it has proven to be one of the most important aspects within the human condition. Nature has been shown to inherently support those struggling with anxiety, depression, PTSD, stress, low self-esteem, obesity, substance abuse and addiction, social insecurity, obsessive-compulsive behaviors (many of which can be technology or materialistic), physical-verbal-emotional violence, lack of empathy or compassion…the list goes on. A great amount of children and adults alike struggle with a variety of pathologies and nature continues to prove to be an essential, positive, and healthy intervention for many, if not all individuals. It is surprising that more therapeutic programs, treatment interventions, or even academic settings haven’t integrated the exploration of nature.

Let’s face it – humans have a damaged relationship with nature and while many areas of the world are running out of natural resources that are absolutely essential to our very livelihood (most particularly water and food sources), we continue to be blinded by material goods that do not provide the same amount of happiness, or sustenance, as nature does. The very medicines we typically use are derived from a variety of herbs, spices, roots, and leaves from many kinds of plants and flora. Lavender cannot only be used for its scent but can also be used as an antibacterial, antiseptic and analgesic substance for a variety of ailments such as acne or skin irritation, as well as a natural soothing herb to help alleviate stress, cough and cold symptoms. Basil, most commonly known for cooking, can also be used for headaches, stings and bites, ear infections and help with stress reduction. Lemon balm alleviates anxiety, insomnia, upset stomach, and even helps with cold sores. Rosemary is sometimes used to support memory and focus, and may even elevate one’s mood. If one looks closely, medicine can literally be found in our backyards!

PQ_therapist

Danielle Zandbergen, MA

When people engage in the outdoors, a natural sense of wonder and awe opens up a heightened awareness of connection. It rekindles a sense of belonging to the natural world that one cannot experience elsewhere. Some studies have shown that students who often feel fatigue, anxiety and stress have shown an overall sense of restoration both psychologically and physiologically after they take a walk in the woods or a nearby park. In contrast, walking through a crowded shopping mall or around tall buildings with little to no greenery has actually been shown to lower overall self-esteem and increase psychological stress.

Horticultural therapy has been shown to be extremely effective in stress management, treating alcohol and substance abuse, enhancing self-esteem, help elderly individuals with feelings of social isolation, and curtailing burnout experienced by healthcare providers. On top of the psychological support, horticultural therapy decreases one’s dependence on chemically treated food products and increases the inclination to grow fruits and vegetables in our very own garden. In a book titled, Ecotherapy: Healing with Nature in Mind, edited by Linda Buzzell and Craig Chalquist, quotes “If you want to enhance self-concept, self-esteem, and self-confidence, facilitate treatment of the mentally ill, or improve family relationships, employing nature is a potent therapeutic intervention. Nature-guided therapy is about putting these demonstrated benefits into therapeutic practice, in ways that will most enhance the achievement of the person’s therapeutic goal.”

So what are you waiting for? Are you feeling stressed, anxious or frustrated? Do you feel like you need a “reset” button? Are you having a hard time concentrating? Take a walk in a nearby park. Embark on an adventure on a weekend camping trip instead of going shopping for things you probably don’t need. Save some money and grow your own natural and organic food, and most of all, take advantage of the cheapest medicine out there…nature! Happy Earth Day!

“Nature holds the key to our aesthetic, intellectual, cognitive, and even spiritual satisfaction.”
– E.O. Wilson