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July 14, 2016

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Pacific Quest Directors Present at NMT Symposium

By: Travis Slagle, MA
Horticultural Therapy Director/ Therapist

The world of mental health and neuroscience is built on a foundation of relationships. Whether it be the relationships among billions of neural pathways, or the relationships we contend with in our daily lives; human nature thrives on relationship and connection. We each learn to navigate the hopes and fears embedded in our families and communities, and the power that our relationships have to change our neurobiology. As a clinician with a passion for the restorative benefits of wilderness therapy and outdoor treatment, I have dedicated my career to utilizing nature as a “co-therapist.” At the recent International Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) Symposium in Banff Alberta, Canada, I had the opportunity to take my passion one step further by presenting with Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director and Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Lorraine Freedle on the relationship between nature and neural integration. The symposium was attended by 700 delegates from 14 countries and featured keynote speaker Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy and author of the best selling books Born for Love and The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog.

L to R: Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Dr. Bruce Perry, Travis Slagle, Agata Freedle

L to R: Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Dr. Bruce Perry, Travis Slagle, Agata Freedle

During our research presentation, “Regulation to Resonance: The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) in Nature-Based Treatment,” participants were introduced to Pacific Quest’s integrative clinical practice, which supports a neurodevelopmental approach to program design and implementation. Case studies and outcome data of Pacific Quest alumni post-treatment illustrated the efficacy of PQ’s NMT-informed and nature-based treatment approach. Building on the teachings of C.G. Jung and Dr. Dan Siegel’s theoretical framework of interpersonal neurobiology, the concept of “resonance” was defined as a dynamic state of attuned, embodied connection to self, others and the natural world.

Immersed in a fast-paced lifestyle, driven by technology and convenience, struggling teens and young adults often come to treatment overwhelmed by the demands of everyday life; they express feeling disconnected, addicted to distraction, and developmentally “stuck.” At Pacific Quest, we are proud to offer a truly holistic treatment approach that reminds us of our most fundamental need for deep and meaningful connection, and a reciprocal relationship with the natural world.

March 14, 2016

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Successful Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ

IMG_20160224_140032128Horticultural Therapy is one of the cornerstones of Pacific Quest’s integrative, holistic approach. Recently, over sixty Pacific Quest employees participated in an all day training in horticultural therapy. Therapists and direct care staff worked side-by-side utilizing creative interventions, combining evidence-based practices with mind-body techniques.

Horticulture Therapy Training

One of the main goals of this training was to have interactive and engaging lessons role-modeled for the program guides and to let them experience the numerous possibilities of teaching in the garden. In addition, this was an ideal opportunity to train program guides in both the hard skills of working on the land and the soft skills of utilizing the garden as a therapeutic tool. Program guides had the opportunity to analyze and brainstorm how to teach our curriculum and to unite the different aspects of the program with the garden.

The first half of the training focused on experiential activities that were based on the Five Pillars of Health (i.e. nutrition, sleep, movement, breathing, and the mind-body connection) and the ways in which these key elements of the program are brought to life in the garden. The second half focused on utilizing narrative education and concepts of rites of passage to teach about soil. Guides learned how research in horticultural therapy indicates that simple garden activities are compatible with evidence-based practices used to treat a myriad of clinical issues ranging from anxiety and depression, to trauma and stress related disorders.

Words from our Horticulture Therapy Director

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle M.A., commented, “For the adolescents and young adults that we work with, the simple task of growing a garden becomes a parallel process of the growth in oneself. Whether we are treating the emotional wounds of childhood, or the injured leaves of a common houseplant; the key factors of empathy, relatedness, and unconditional positive regard are still the same. Nature teaches us that everything that lives is biologically designed to grow and adapt. The same is true for the families and young people with whom we work. By actively experimenting with the process of growth and adaptation in nature, we become more aware of who we are and what we want to be.”

 

July 17, 2015

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PQ to Present at Wilderness Therapy Symposium

The “Dirty Work” of Transformation: Horticultural Therapy & Rites of Passage
Presentation to be held Saturday, August 29 in Park City, Utah at the OBH Wilderness Therapy Symposium

cabbagePQ’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle and Adolescent Field Manager, Clementine Wilson invite you to join them as they present: The “Dirty Work” of Transformation: Horticultural Therapy & Rites of Passage. This experiential presentation will be held Saturday morning, August 29 at the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council’s annual Wilderness Symposium in Park City, Utah.

Travis states, “Our goal is to create lasting change for clients in treatment, and we can do this with a nature-informed approach using horticulture and rites of passage as a primary therapeutic activity and life-affirming experience. The ultimate goal isn’t how our clients do in treatment, it’s what they do when they leave. When we plant a seed, we set an intention for the future, and when we care for the seed, we practice a fundamental skill of putting our intentions into action; to identify new ways of caring for ourselves, our families and our communities.”

Clementine adds, “This workshop begs the question of how did the ancient nomad discover sacred agriculture and why does this matter to you?” At PQ, rites of passage are broadly defined as an intentional transition from one stage of life to another. This model of youth initiation has been practiced in nearly every culture across human history. However, before the advent of self-development, the purpose of rites of passage was to go beyond the self, to improve society and cultivate authenticity for the sake of our families and communities.”

During this workshop, participants will be asked to imagine the future of wilderness therapy, to look beyond the celebration of a peak experience and discover ways in which horticulture and rites of passage share a common goal. Participants will leave with practical skills that can be applied from rooftop to mountaintop, family backyard to residential treatment; inspiring effective approaches to transformative change.

June 30, 2015

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The World’s Oldest Therapist

IMAG0159

Travis Slagle, M.A.
Horticultural Therapy Director, Pacific Quest

National Geographic recently published the article Gardens: The World’s Oldest Therapist, which describes the scientific inquiry behind nature informed treatment, and how the oldest therapists of the world are poised to become the newest ally in outdoor therapy. No matter how much the urban shuffle distracts us, the idea of “nature as healer” remains an unbreakable truth. The reason for this is that we are not born a blank slate, because the slate itself was designed by nature. Our brain is the product of evolutionary biology; an intergenerational constellation of neural pathways that are pruned and shaped like the branches of an ancient and mysterious tree. At Pacific Quest, the therapeutic work we do is more than creating metaphors about the scenery. We learn to work with nature as if it were a co-therapist.

Recently, PQ clinicians and program supervisors joined me in facilitating a six hour training in horticultural therapy. Over 100 employees attended this experiential retreat at the southernmost organic farm in the US. Therapists and direct care staff worked side-by-side utilizing creative interventions, combining evidence-based practices with mind-body techniques to soothe the senses and regulate the nervous system. Experiential activities were based on neurosequential theory; experimenting with bilateral movement while weeding and planting, tapping a gourd to replicate the resting heart rate, using mindfulness and sensory integration techniques while flipping the compost, weaving banana leaves, and exploring active meditation. The possibilities for creative interventions in the garden are truly endless!

IMAG0228At Pacific Quest, we are passionate about working in a garden because we believe in the power that it has to regulate the nervous system. The rhythmic patterns, repetition, and somatosensory experience of digging, planting, harvesting, smelling, and tasting what a diverse garden has to offer is healing in itself. Research in horticultural therapy indicates that simple garden activities are compatible with evidence-based practices used to treat a myriad of clinical issues ranging from anxiety and depression, to trauma and stress related disorders. By integrating horticulture with the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), Pacific Quest seeks to honor the wisdom of the world’s oldest therapists with the most current research in neurodevelopment.

IMAG0258For the adolescents and young adults that we work with, the simple task of growing a garden becomes a parallel process of the growth in oneself. Whether we are treating the emotional wounds of childhood, or the injured leaves of a common houseplant; the key factors of empathy, relatedness, and unconditional positive regard are still the same. Nature teaches us that everything that lives is biologically designed to grow and adapt. The same is true for the families and young people with whom we work. By actively experimenting with the process of growth and adaptation in nature, we become more aware of who we are and what we want to be. This is what PQ is all about; believing in the world’s oldest therapist, and re-learning the wisdom of the past in order to create a more sustainable future, one person and one garden at a time.

May 10, 2014

Written by:

Changing the World One Life at a Time

By Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director

bananatransplantChanging the world is not an easy business, and for mental health providers, changing a life can be just as complicated. Many people enter the field of outdoor therapy because they want to change lives. For students at Pacific Quest, the most basic therapeutic task is to literally practice new ways of caring about life. We are digging, planting, composting, harvesting, and sharing abundance in a rhythmic pattern not just because it’s cool to grow your own food, but also because it fits within a sequential model of neuropsychology. We believe learning to grow food is a relevant and transferable therapeutic activity for a generation of young people that are faced with a daunting need to create a more sustainable future not just for themselves but for their families and communities.

A young person who recently graduated from the adolescent program wrote the following note (below) in a group journal.  This note offers an example of what Horticultural Therapy at Pacific Quest is all about.  It serves as a reminder that while we continue to remain in the business of changing lives, our clients are the ones that might just change the world, and perhaps there is no better outcome than that.

 

May 13, 2013

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The Land Dance: Farming as Initiation

By Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director

The following article was published in ‘Circles on the Mountain’ Rites of Passage in a Rapidly Changing World, Issue #17, 2013.  This is an annual publication of the Wilderness Guides Council.

Imagine what the world would be like if wilderness guides of the future became organic farmers. What if the people entrusted to witness life’s most significant transitions traded in the more esoteric theories of rites-of-passage for a simple shovel and pitch fork?  For many people, the lure of the underworld and the solace of the wilderness is a palpable force.  Yet, despite the best efforts of shamans, mystics, and visionaries of the modern era, the practice of wilderness initiation has become increasingly inaccessible to many of the estimated ten billion people alive today, all of whom face diminishing resources and the intrinsic need to feed themselves and their families.  Here is the crossroads where farming and rites-of-passage meet, raising the question what if rites-of-passage guides were responsible for restoring the nature-centered rituals of planting, harvesting, and cultivating the soil?  Could this be the key to overcome the struggle of integration and the inherent loneliness of a return from a wilderness experience?

As we all know, the purpose of going to the backcountry for ceremony and initiation has never been to stay there.  In fact, going beyond wilderness, the growing edge of rites-of-passage isn’t to delve deeper into social isolation, but instead to relearn the skills and collective wisdom of incorporation.  The future needs “incorporation guides” to lead us from the mountaintops and deserts of the wilderness to the urban gardens, biodynamic farms, and permaculture communities that are thriving in cities, country-sides, and backyards all over the world.  Here, we can really put into practice the work and struggle of incorporation.  Farming is a fundamental skill that allows individuals to provide tangible and universal gifts for a growing population and increasingly diverse society.  Thus, there is no better time to bring back the enduring and once sacred pursuit of nurturing the food that sustains our communities and heals the Earth.

When we do this, the seeds we plant in council will no longer be symbolic.  Rather than sitting and observing nature from a distance, the time has come to lean into the sun each morning with a watering can, to kneel on the earth while pulling out weeds and thinning beets, to feel the life teeming beneath the surface as we sift through the soil to make space for new roots.  The life of a farmer is a reminder of the importance of Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programworking with nature as opposed to conquering, traversing, or simply getting through it.  A farmer’s work is a humble and thankless job that gives our society the luxury of idle time.  Yet, with all the comforts of modern society, have we not spent enough time over-processing the anxiety and uncertainty of change in our lives, and still come back to the same questions?  The farmer knows the work that’s needed to integrate the wisdom of nature through consistent and meditative action; leading society on a path of integration that measures the gravity of our ideals with the heroic task of feeding our neighbor.

The process of growing healthy food and building a more sustainable community was once the central activity of human civilization, and the foundation of a reciprocal relationship with nature that has sustained people on Earth for thousands of years.  Nurturing the food we eat offers the most basic life lesson and cornerstone of sustainability, teaching us that what we give directly impacts what we can take.  The wisdom of sustainable farming provides a powerful example of incorporation, revealing the magnitude of one’s intentions through the practical and tangible results of their actions.  With this in mind, it’s time for wilderness guides to begin offering medicine walks in urban gardens, and re-introduce the concepts of severance, threshold, and incorporation through the simple life cycle of a plant.

Going back in time, almost ten thousand years ago, nomadic people decided to put their energy towards cultivating the land versus traversing it, and in the process initiated the dawn of human civilization.  What caused people to make such a dramatic shift in their relationship with the Earth is debatable, but likely attributed to a combination of both internal and external conflicts.  The questions our ancient ancestors asked themselves thousands of years ago could be strikingly similar to the most pressing questions being asked today.  Questions like, how can we spend more time with our family and less time hunting (the modern hunt being for a paycheck)?  Are we tired of wandering around and feel the need for community?  How will we ensure our children will have a better life than our own, and how can we live sustainably with the glaring reality of more people and increasingly scarce resources? These are the questions that have come full circle, leading wilderness guides and agriculturalists to an important moment in human history.  Like all indigenous ways of knowing, the role of the land and a farmer’s relationship to it were inseparable from spiritual practices leading to powerful ceremonies that honored growing seasons and the relationship between plants and the phases of the moon.  Just as the nomad evolved into an agriculturalist, the questions that led to a new era of human experience have now returned to the forefront of modern society.  Thus, wilderness guides and farmers alike must recognize the need to answer these questions in a way that restores balance and integrity between people and their relationship with themselves and the mysteries of the Earth.

The world has always been rapidly changing, like the rise and fall of the ocean, or the shifting of the constellations that only recently became mottled by the automated turn of satellites.  In an information age that has spun out into an era of crippling anxiety and distraction, what matters more than an isolated wilderness experience is an initiatory process with the potential to transform society; an activity that universally connects us to our most primal need and ancient practice of providing not just for Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programourselves but for the needs of others.  It’s said that change is the only constant in the world, and life and death walk side by side.  With cities that are now exceeding twenty million people living within a few square miles, we are confronting the possibility that some of the changes we face are no longer a part of nature, but instead are manifested by a loss of relationship with it, and perhaps a desperate attempt to hold onto nature as it slips away.  Herein lies a great moment of transition, requiring more than “threshold guides” and farmers doing their work in separate places where their paths often never meet.  It’s time to let go of rugged individualism and renegade attitudes that no longer serve our community, and acknowledge that the nomadic lifestyle and fervor of wilderness survival is not the model for a sustainable future.  The purpose of rites-of-passage has always been to serve a community not the ego, and what better way to humble ourselves and restore our communities than working side by side creating ritual and ceremony through the timeless action of planting seeds and honoring the struggle of growth in a garden.

To be a wilderness guide and a farmer at this time in history is to know what it feels like to beat a drum in the darkness, and to bare witness to a sacred wound that seems to never stop bleeding.  Farming is a good reminder that learning from nature is not a one-way street; it requires giving back, a return to community with something to offer, integrating through action a sense of purpose and necessity within society.  For wilderness guides and sustainable farmers willing to share the responsibility of initiation, and help usher the world into a more hopeful future, a primordial land dance awaits us!

 

February 7, 2013

Written by:

A New Perspective in Wilderness & Horticultural Therapy

This article, written by Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director, was recently published in the AHTA News Magaizine, a quarterly publication of the American Horticultural Therapy Association.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramIn the classic Hawaiian gardener’s book, Tropical Organic Gardening: Hawaiian Style author Richard Stevens famously wrote, “The art of gardening and the art of living come together in the organic garden.” For parents with a teenager in crisis, the concept of sending a child away to live and work in a therapeutic gardening program with the hope of discovering their own “art of living” might sound like wishful thinking. Indeed, the notion that gardening could save a child’s life is a bold statement and not without critics. However, this is the same skepticism that wilderness and adventure therapy programs have faced for decades, and yet these types of nature-based therapy programs continue to dominate the outdoor behavioral health care industry with estimated revenues of over $200 million per year in the United States (OBHIC Technical Report #26, 2000). Organized in 1997, the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Industry Council (OBHIC) describes itself as “a community of leading outdoor behavioral healthcare programs working to advance the field through best practices, effective treatment, and evidence-based research.” OBHIC consists primarily of outdoor wilderness treatment programs with many of the organizations seeking new ways to broaden their approach to nature-based therapy, becoming more clinically sophisticated, and reaching an increasingly diverse client population. This is where horticultural therapy has the potential to be a game changer in the outdoor behavioral healthcare industry.

The evolution of wilderness therapy and horticultural therapy (HT) share a similar story of learning about one’s self from nature. Most wilderness therapy programs rely on indigenous skills, not just for survival but for creating meaning, often through the archetypes of nomadic people. Whereas the nomad and survivalist learn by confronting nature as an adversary, the sustainable farmer learns by working with nature as a teacher.

Digging in the soil and planting seeds that bear fruit for future generations was once a sacred responsibility that brought families and communities together for a common purpose. By utilizing the indigenous knowledge and archetypes of the sustainable gardener and ancient agriculturalist, horticultural therapy practitioners have the potential to play a key role in providing a more holistic and nurturing approach to traditional wilderness therapy. Furthermore, deepening the awareness of the plant- person relationship can lead to more powerful therapeutic benefits. Thus, HT and wilderness therapy practitioners stand to improve the quality of care, increase the crossover of ideas in nature-based therapies, and inevitably reach more clients in need of innovative treatment.

There is growing evidence that suggests outdoor therapy programs that incorporate therapeutic horticulture activities for struggling teens can meet the same treatment outcomes as a traditional hiking program without the risk. Mental health practitioners working with struggling teens often witness the dilemma described by David Whyte, who said, “We are the only species that can refuse our own flowering.” Horticultural therapists are uniquely positioned to impart the skills and insight to understand why young people refuse their own potential.    Bringing innovation and fresh perspective to traditional outdoor treatment, horticultural therapy practitioners can make a significant impact on the future of outdoor therapy, allowing clients to experience the wildness of nature and the mysteries of life through the patchwork of relationships and interconnections in a garden.

Resources
Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Research Cooperative- University of New Hampshire http://www.obhrc.org/index

National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs http://natsap.org/

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/02/17/147050691/can-gardening-help-troubled-minds-heal

Outdoor Behavior Healthcare Industry Council http://obhic.com/about.html

Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Commission (2000). Technical Report #26. Retrieved November 25, 2012 from http://www.cnr.uidaho.edu/wrc/Pdf/OBHPublication.pdf

November 13, 2012

Written by:

The Growing Edge of Wilderness Therapy

By Travis Slagle, Horticulture Therapy Director

Imagine what the world would be like if wilderness therapists of the future became organic farmers.  What if the people entrusted to witness life’s most significant transitions traded in the more esoteric theories of eco-psychology and wilderness survival for a simple shovel and pitch fork?  For many people, the lure of getting away from your life to find yourself in the solace of the wilderness is a palpable force.  Yet, the practice of wilderness therapy and the modern vision quest experience have become increasingly inaccessible to many of the estimated eight billion people living on Earth today, all of whom face diminishing resources and the intrinsic need to provide for themselves and their families.  Here is the crossroads where organic farming, rites-of-passage, and wilderness therapy meet, raising the question; what if wilderness therapy guides were responsible for restoring the nature-centered rituals of planting, harvesting, and digging in the soil?  Could this be the key to overcome the difficulty of transition and the inherent loneliness of a return from a wilderness experience?

As we all know, the purpose of going to the wilderness for a life changing experience has never been to stay there.  In fact, the growing edge of wilderness therapy isn’t to delve deeper into social isolation, but instead to relearn the skills and collective wisdom of helping young people find a meaningful place in society.  The future needs outdoor therapy guides to lead struggling teens from the mountaintops and deserts of the wilderness to the urban gardens, farmers markets, biodynamic farms, and permaculture communities that are thriving in cities, country-sides, and backyards all over the world.  Growing the food you eat allows individuals to put into practice the work and struggle of applying new skills and insight into action. There is no better time to bring back the enduring and once sacred pursuit of nurturing the food that sustains our communities and heals the Earth, and in the process being reminded of the most fundamental qualities of humanity.

When we do this, the seeds that are planted in wilderness therapy will no longer be symbolic.  Rather than observing nature from a distance, or battling through the backcountry, the time has come to lean into the sun each morning with a watering can, to kneel on the earth while pulling out weeds and thinning beets, to feel the life teeming beneath thePacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program surface as we sift through the soil to make space for new roots.  The life of an organic farmer is a reminder of the importance of working with nature as opposed to conquering, traversing, or simply getting through it.  A farmer’s work is a humble and thankless job that gives society the luxury of idle time.  Yet, with all the comforts of modern living, younger generations are facing an exploding rate of anxiety, depression, and learning disorders.  The farmer knows the work that’s needed to integrate the wisdom of nature through hard work and meditative action; leading society on a path that measures the gravity of our ideals with the heroic task of growing the food we eat and sharing abundance with a neighbor.

The process of growing healthy food and building a more sustainable community was once the central activity of human civilization, and the foundation of a reciprocal relationship with nature that has sustained people on Earth for thousands of years.  Going back in time, almost ten thousand years ago, nomadic people decided to put their energy towards cultivating the land versus traversing it, and in the process initiated the dawn of human civilization.  The questions our ancient ancestors asked themselves thousands of years ago could be strikingly similar to the most pressing questions being asked today.  Questions like, how can we spend more time with our family and less time hunting (the modern hunt being for a paycheck)?  Are we tired of wandering around in the wilderness and feel the need for a lasting community?  How will we ensure our children will have a better life than our own, and how can we live more sustainably with the glaring reality of increasing population and diminishing resources?  These are the questions that have come full circle, leading to an important moment in human history, not just in terms of an individual’s mental health, but in health of our families, schools, and communities.

Like all indigenous ways of knowing, the role of the land and a person’s relationship to it provided a powerful lesson, revealing our interconnectedness through the complicated patchwork of natural systems that sustain all of life.  Just as the nomad evolved into an agriculturalist, the questions that led to a new era of human experience have now returned to the forefront of modern society.  Thus, wilderness therapists and farmers alike must recognize the need to answer these questions in a way that restores balance and integrity between people and their relationship with themselves and the mysteries of the Earth.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy ProgramIn an information-age that has spun out into an era of crippling anxiety and distraction, what matters more than an isolated wilderness experience is an initiatory process with the potential to not only help struggling teens, but to transform society.  Nurturing the food we eat offers the most basic life lesson and cornerstone of sustainability, teaching us that what we give directly impacts what we can take.  What better way to humble ourselves and restore our communities than by working side by side planting food for future generations, and honoring the ongoing struggle of growth in a garden?  Growing your own food is an activity that universally connects us to our most primal need and ancient practice of providing not just for ourselves but for the needs of others.  With cities that are now exceeding twenty million people living within a few square miles, we are confronting the possibility that many of the changes we face are no longer a part of nature, but instead are manifested by a loss of relationship with it, and perhaps a desperate attempt to hold onto nature as it slips away.  Herein lies a great moment of transition, requiring more than wilderness therapists and organic farmers doing their work in separate places where their paths often never meet.  It’s time to let go of rugged individualism and renegade attitudes that no longer serve our community, and acknowledge that the nomadic lifestyle and fervor of wilderness survival is not the model for a sustainable future.   Sustainable farming and organic gardening is a good reminder that learning from nature is not a one-way street; it requires giving back, a return to community with something to offer, integrating through action a sense of purpose and necessity within society.  For wilderness therapy guides and organic gardeners willing to share the responsibility of caring for the next generation, and help usher the world into a more hopeful future, a primordial land dance awaits us!

October 13, 2012

Written by:

Why Gardening?

By Travis Slagle, Horticulture Therapy Director

In the past three weeks I had the opportunity to attend the annual conference for the American Horticultural Therapy Association, and co-present with Hilary Moses at the Wilderness Therapy Symposium sponsored by the Outdoor Behavioral Health Care Industry Council.  Both organizations are dedicated to developing research and professional development for outdoor therapy practitioners and advocate for the restorative benefits of nature-based therapies.  Wilderness therapy maybe more familiar to the general public, but there is far more research available showing the physiological and psychological benefits of horticultural therapy.  This is partly due to the fact that horticultural therapy is being utilized in more clinical settings, across a broader population, and with a larger variety of human service programs including veterans’ hospitals, hospice centers, correctional facilities, cancer treatment centers, and psychiatric hospitals.

For those interested in research, one study conducted in 2011 and published in the Journal of Health Psychology suggests that the simple act of gardening can dramatically reduce symptoms of chronic stress and anxiety.  Gardens are inherently restorative and community centered, and they provide a hands-on opportunity to explore the nature of growth and adaptation both internally and externally, as well as seeing the tangible results of hard work and responsibility.  Another article published in Youth Today, provides evidence that gardening programs in youth correctional Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programfacilities are correlated to drastic reductions in recidivism rates.  In some cases, recidivism rates among offenders who participated in horticultural therapy programs were reduced from the national average of 42% to below 10%.  Above all, what is most impressive is the versatility and impact a therapeutic garden can have as a model for higher standards of care and innovation within the outdoor therapy industry as a whole.   All of this is a sign of a growing trend in wilderness and outdoor therapy programs to promote treatment activities that are not only personally transformative and connected to nature, but are also relevant throughout the ups and downs of modern society.

Horticultural therapy may never match the chest pounding experience of braving a winter storm, building a primitive fire, or spreading out in a forest during a lightning drill in the backcountry.  However, there is growing evidence that suggests gardening can achieve the same outcomes without the risk.  Just as our distant ancestors gradually evolved from the nomadic lifestyle of hunting and gathering to the dawn of civilization through agriculture, each way of life builds on the wisdom of the past.  In many ways, the evolution of horticultural therapy and wilderness therapy share a similar story; providing a mirror that reflects the timeless effort of creating meaning by working with nature to learn about our own nature.

May 14, 2012

Written by:

“Aloha Aina”- To Love the Land

By Travis Slagle, Horticulture Therapy Director

Pacific Quest Wilderness TherapyTo love the land is the oldest and most essential way of life in Hawaii.  The people who care deeply for the land know what it means to be “pono” (to have integrity); they respect the ancestors by continuing their work, by planting the seeds, cultivating the “kalo” (taro), and restoring the rock walls that once supported the most sustainable agricultural society in the history of human civilization.  For young people and families who come to Pacific Quest seeking personal growth, learning to love the land and learning to love yourself go hand in hand.  In fact, the expression “Aloha Aina” implies that the love for the land and the love for life are one and the same.  Students at Pacific Quest are immersed in the land, they learn first hand that love takes consistent work, and love requires “kuleana” (responsibility).  For those who love the land, these individuals don’t just wait to be given responsibility, they seek out responsibility as an expression of self-worth and gratitude.

The values that sustain the Hawaiian culture and the story of the “aina” provide an important anchor for the PQ experience.  Unlike any other outdoor therapeuticPacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Program program, Pacific Quest students have an opportunity to create a reciprocal relationship with nature by cultivating the food they eat, and learning first-hand the importance of “Malama Pono” (to care deeply).  This kind of care goes beyond self-gratification, and contradicts the rugged individualism that permeates western society.  Essentially, anyone who seeks to practice “Aloha Aina” learns the simplest and most critical aspect of sustainability, which is to give before taking.

Rather than hiking and surviving in a traditional wilderness program, students at PQ interact in a community that internalizes the concepts of sustainability by applying them to the process of emotional and psychosocial development. This is the cornerstone of the  Sustainable Growth™ treatment model, offering young people the skills and unconditional support to express a profound sense of care in a way that not only builds confidence, but also sustains a healthier more purposeful way of life.