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February 1, 2017

Written by:

The Kaleidoscope of Adolescent Grief

By: Tom Jameson, Therapist, & Maureen Sullivan, Therapist

Last week, Pacific Quest (PQ) presented a breakout session at the National Association for Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP) Conference. Tom Jameson and Maureen Sullivan, both PQ therapists, teamed up to showcase the unique ways in which PQ addresses grief and loss in the context of our lush garden setting. These two seasoned PQ clinicians engaged with their audience in their presentation entitled “The Kaleidoscope of Adolescent Grief: Exploring multifaceted grief experiences in teens.” This is a topic of universal relevance as the human experience includes grieving at various times throughout the lifespan. Maureen says, “As clinicians, we are called upon to walk the journey of grief alongside our students, engage in relationship and give permission to grieve.”

Grief and Loss - PQ Presents "The Kaleidoscope of Adolescent Grief" at NATSAP

Participant during session

“A fundamental premise to our collaborative presentation was that the grief experience takes many forms, colors and shifts over time: much like the kaleidoscope,” says Tom. “Additionally, grief is differentiated from bereavement in that bereavement refers to the process of recovery after the loss of a loved one while grief refers to any loss.” Tom and Maureen carefully described ways in which adolescents can be in an active grief process due to the loss of innocence, friends, or even movement to a new school or community among other losses. The concept of disenfranchised grief was discussed as being a grief process that is marginalized, overlooked and, often misunderstood. Therefore, the grief process is often overlooked as a clinically relevant issue. Maureen noted, “Naming the grief and giving students an outlet to express grief openly allows for the healing process to begin. If we are open, patient and willing, the grief experience can be a beautiful and healing journey.”

They described how the setting of Pacific Quest affords students a unique opportunity to move through a grief process with the gardens as a living metaphor. In nature, there is constant loss and re-birth, and even the act of composting allows students to experience the cycle of transformation of organic waste into fertile soil. Tom and Maureen described interventions with students using the gardens, rites of passage, ceremony as well as art and sandplay therapy.

Grief and Loss - PQ Presents "The Kaleidoscope of Adolescent Grief" at NATSAP

Tom Jameson & Maureen Sullivan presenting

Attendees of this presentation expressed that they appreciated the open, participatory presentation style as well as an appreciation for the dynamic and creative interventions PQ uses in addressing grief and loss in this population. Several participants were moved to share their own grief experiences as well as ask questions clarifying the PQ treatment approaches. More specifically, the two cases presented by Tom and Maureen generated a great deal of rich dialogue.

Lastly, each attendee was provided a mandala (very similar to the view inside a kaleidoscope) to “color” the different types of grief that were discussed during the presentation as they experienced them throughout their own lives. All in all, this was a wonderful combination of head, heart and passion for the difficult yet beautiful experience of supporting adolescents through the grief process.

December 21, 2015

Written by:

The Power of Gratitude

By Maureen Riley, MPH, MA

maureen_riley_450x566Thanksgiving has passed and the holiday season is upon us. However, for students in a therapeutic wilderness program like Pacific Quest, gratitude is always in season. Feelings of gratitude for one’s family members, life opportunities and material possessions, emerge quickly for students who are away from home for an extended period in a wilderness setting. Many of us can relate to the proverb “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  For students in a therapeutic wilderness program, being away from home, family and many modern conveniences we all take for granted can actually be part of an intensely transformative experience.

The absence of life’s luxuries that many teens take for granted can be shocking at first.  Many adolescents report using their cell phones, Netflix and video games as coping mechanisms to relieve stress and anxiety.  All too often, parents and other loved ones report being shut out of their child’s world that seems to get smaller and smaller as he/she escapes into a world beyond their parent’s grasp.

In the early stages of the wilderness experience, students are commonly pondering several questions. These include:

  • How can I survive without my family and friends?
  • How can I survive without electronics?
  • How can I survive without my phone?
  • How can I survive without my comfort foods?
  • How can I survive without my clothes, jewelry, and make up?

Commonly, newly arrived students at Pacific Quest report needing these things as they cannot remember a time when they did not rely heavily on these things to abate stress and anxiety. Throughout a young person’s treatment at Pacific Quest, a gentle shift gradually takes place.  The void created by a separation from these ordinary life conveniences and comforts is filled with time connecting to nature, peers, and tapping in to their own inner experience and emotions.

At the beginning of treatment, the silence can be deafening.  Ironically, most of us have grown accustomed to our senses being constantly bombarded by the stimulation of sights and sounds of the modern world.  Paradoxically, many of our teens view this bombardment of their senses as a comfort they have come to rely on.  As students gradually settle into the sights and sounds of the garden, the need for extraneous stimulation gradually fades.

A natural by-product of this process is that many students come to the realization that they took much for granted before their experience in a wilderness setting.  Often times, adolescents who have shut out their parents and other loved ones come to the realization that they took their families and the things provided to them for granted.  In many teens, this fosters feelings of entitlement.  Additionally, the line between “needs and wants” becomes blurred.

The emotion of gratitude is born from the realization and subsequent expression of appreciation for what one has. This is the antidote to the consumer-driven emphasis on the desire to accumulate more things.  At Pacific Quest, students experience an intentional process that emphasizes delineation between needs and wants.  This process, for many, leads to a natural cultivation of gratitude for the people and things in their lives.

Gratitude is a concept that has received a great deal of attention as the trend towards positive psychology has become mainstream.  Credible research on the connections between gratitude, happiness and well-being tell us that gratefulness can be cultivated and grown.  A deliberate and intentional practice of looking for things to be grateful for can result in increased feelings of gratitude that lead to elevated feelings of optimism and well-being.  At Pacific Quest, the growth of gratitude co-occurs in the same way that the gardens are cultivated and cared for.  The results are a bounty of appreciation for people and things once taken for granted.

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