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October 28, 2018

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The Perfection Pressure Cooker

This month Genell Howell, LMHC, CSAC, SEP discusses about a common trait we see with our internalizing students.


The Perfection Pressure Cooker


Many of us strive to be better at our jobs, school or in our home life. We look for ways to improve and succeed. Perfectionists are also looking for success, however, they impose unrealistic standards upon themselves.  People with perfectionistic tendencies are consistently striving for the best; constantly trying to reach something bigger and better.  They are often the adolescent with a 4.3 grade point average, homecoming king or queen mixed with being a star lacrosse player or lead performer.


Perfection is often accompanied with debilitating anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. Goals become black and white and even great accomplishments seem inadequate. Clients who fit this criteria usually present with rigid thought patterns and an “all or nothing” attitude. Pressure builds as they internalize the intense need to succeed and the acute fear of failure.  Emotions are pushed down further and further, until eventually, the pressure cooker explodes, and the person collapses. The collapse differs from person to person. In some people we see increased incidents of isolating and school/ extracurricular refusal, even in a sport or activity that at one time gave them joy. In others, the level of internalized rigidity is embodied to such extent that it may cause significant physical and somatic complaints, resulting in a myriad of doctor visits chasing a phantom pain.


Drawing on the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) at Pacific Quest, students experiencing perfectionistic traits learn to utilize self regulation. They begin to employ healthy regulatory coping skills, releasing emotions they have spent years suppressing. They learn that balance is essential. Through learning about vulnerability and shame reduction, they begin to understand that it is okay to have faults and imperfections. Throughout this process students use somatic techniques and art-based Jungian depth methods to access and honor deeper emotions while beginning to break the perfectionist cycle.


Interrupting and rewiring the family system is critical. While students enrolled in Pacific Quest are busy tapping into imperfections, the parents step away from the intensity of expectation, supporting their child’s growth and healing. A family systems approach redefines success and expectations, creating healthy growth for the future.


Written by Genell Howell, LMHC, CSAC, SEP

January 13, 2018

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Why is Group Therapy Important?

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

June 21, 2016

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Summer Solstice: Celebrating Transitions

By: Genell Howell, MA, CSAC
Primary Therapist

Yesterday was the Summer Solstice, which is the longest day of the year and marks a change of season into the summer months. It is the very moment when, essentially, the sun stands still at its northernmost point as seen from Earth. This year the full moon pairs with the solstice in an event that hasn’t occurred for over 70 years. The summer solstice also represents the transformation of seasons. The shifting seasons are very much connected to the land and the ability to harvest and farm in order to sustain ourselves. At Pacific Quest, we are all farmers and all therefore connected to the land. The seasons are essential to our vitality and dictate how and when we grow specific food and when to harvest.

Genell Howell, MA, CSAC

Genell Howell, MA, CSAC

I spent the day with clients, basking in the sun and in the garden. As a Somatic Experiencing (SE) practitioner, I pay close attention to our natural surroundings. Together we observed feeling the sun on our skin, hearing the rustling of the banana trees and cane grass, and feeling the dirt running through our fingers. I noticed a theme that came out of the sessions that I had yesterday with a unifying theme of transforming self deprecation into self love. What a better day to combat this negative and limiting belief than on a day that is aligned in our planets to call forth deep and lasting change and transformation.

The solstice is such a magnificent, powerful time; engage it with presence and gratitude and reap the rewards, and the theme from the students of cultivating greater self love was aptly timed with this transition period and the power of the day itself. Just as summer is a very important season for farming and farmers, with planting seeds for the future, I think that’s what the clients were doing yesterday too: beginning to cultivate their seeds and plan for their future.