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March 24, 2017

Written by:

Learning Differences at PQ

By Brian Konik, Ph.D. and Kristen McFee, MA, LPCC

I am always inspired and impressed when I watch a student complete his or her legacy garden project: they are beaming with pride, smiling, wiping sweat off their soil-covered faces. And I know how many steps it took them to get here. Managing their schedule to find extra time with all of their other obligations. Days are full of academic work, therapy, yoga, groups, gardening, cooking, cleaning and yet they learn to develop a schedule and make time to create something special. The goal is to find inspiration and work hard to produce something that others who follow will benefit from. To give back to the land and the Ohana (family). I have seen beautifully constructed lava rock walls, medicinal herb gardens, and bamboo furniture pieces, all created by students. Such accomplishments would be great for any student but they are uniquely important for those who have struggled with a lifetime of frustration dealing with learning differences often coupled with executive functioning deficits.

Pacific Quest’s horticultural therapy focus provides a unique environment for students who struggle with a combination of cognitive and emotional/behavioral issues. Pacific Quest utilizes a strength-based, “multiple intelligence” approach to learning. This approach is rewarding for students who may not have achieved acknowledgement for their strengths and abilities in traditional settings. The garden setting especially promotes growth in students’ executive functioning skills like organization, planning, abstract reasoning, memory, and attention.

Gardening provides a soothing environment where the nervous system can become regulated, offering opportunities to “access” cognitive-behavioral interventions. By placing the student in the role of the project manager and creative problem solver in the garden, each is forced to simultaneously engage in visual-spatial organization skills and interpersonal communication. This combination of skills can be particularly challenging for students who struggle with executive functioning deficits.

Many students find that their executive functioning deficits not only impact academics, but just as importantly affect their social relationships. Effort is taken to encourage social relationships, learn and practice social pragmatics and for students to have an integral role in a supportive peer group. A series of therapeutic horticultural experiences are offered with the intention of accessing the biological processes of the garden in order to increase interaction with the non-linear aspect of nature, increasing mental flexibility.Learning Differences at PQ - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Therapists help the family reach an understanding of how learning differences contribute to the the stress response of the student, help the family avoid negative attributions to the student, and create understanding and acceptance within the family system. The family works toward balancing emphasis on both struggles and strengths, as it can be easy to lose sight of the strengths in face of struggles.

It is a unique experience to be apart of how this integrative approach is helpful in understanding and treating those with learning differences and executive functioning deficits. It is rewarding to see students empowered through their success in the garden. I am grateful to be a part of the growth process of so many students who work hard to learn and grow every day, taking one more step to overcome their challenges.

April 29, 2016

Written by:

Treating Anxiety: Overcoming the Fear of Fear Itself

By: Brian Konik, Ph.D.
Primary Therapist

As I look forward to working with a new group of students this summer at Pacific Quest, I am reminded of what a unique opportunity the gardens provide when designing individualized interventions. I feel very fortunate that, after spending over 20 or so years researching and designing interventions for individuals struggling with anxiety disorders, I have found an environment that facilitates a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach. I rely heavily on the principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) when designing exposure-based intervention. The students at Pacific Quest are immersed in an environment that integrates daily access to meditation, yoga, horticultural therapy, and mindfulness exercises to provide a perfect complement to a CBT and ABA approach.

PQ therapist Brian Konik

Dr. Brian Konik

I often say to parents and students that although problematic anxiety is one of the most prevalent, researched, and reliably treated psychological phenomena, it is also alarmingly underreported and treatment is not regularly pursued. Why is that? We find that those dealing with significant anxiety often avoid the experiences and/or settings that cause the anxiety and they ultimately fall into a pattern of avoidance behavior that stifles their development. Eventually parents and loved ones find themselves in a position where they have to insist on treatment. The PQ setting is unique because we are able to manipulate environmental variables to engage in exposure-based interventions with our students and to subsequently reinforce an evidence-based approach to therapy.  

Our ability to individualize the student experience provides me the opportunity to weave evidence-based practices for anxiety into the overall program. Students who struggle to thrive at home or at school are being challenged in the Pacific Quest gardens to face their fears head-on and to break the cycle of being anxious about being anxious — worrying about worrying — panicking that they may panic. Watching students who experience generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, panic attacks, social anxiety, Tourette Syndrome, selective mutism, body dysmorphic disorder,  and specific phobias overcome their challenges and begin to thrive in the PQ model is an incredibly rewarding experience for me as a Clinical Psychologist. I can’t wait to join another group of students on their journeys to overcome anxiety in whatever form it appears to them!