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May 15, 2018

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Oprah puts Dr. Bruce Perry and NMT in the Spotlight

By:  Kristen McFee, MA, LPCC

Kristen McFee, MA, LPCC

As Dr. Bruce Perry sat down to an interview with Oprah on 60 Minutes, we watched in anticipation as April marked two years of Pacific Quest being Site Certified in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics© (NMT).  As Founder and Senior Fellow of the Child Trauma Academy (CTA). Bruce Perry, MD, PhD has expertise in child and adolescent psychiatry, neurodevelopment and traumatology.  Dr. Perry is highly respected internationally and has done extensive neurobiological research on the effects of trauma in young people.  He has led the Pacific Quest team into certification and maintenance of the NMT.

The Neurosequential Model© integrates neurodevelopment, developmental psychology, traumatology, sociology and other disciplines to understand individuals and the family.  Pacific Quest uses this model to inform program design and individualize interventions. Initially, the focus of treatment is developing regulatory capacities to support neurodevelopment and to optimize learning.  Next, students strengthen relational health and problem solving abilities.

Our trained clinicians use the NMT assessment process to collect developmental history, assess current functioning and inform clinical decision making.  This approach guides treatment through a selection of interventions and program design.

To support brain development Pacific Quest utilizes a “bottom up” approach following Dr. Perry’s sequence of engagement:  “Regulate, Relate and Reason.” This is the process of moving from the bottom of our brain (brainstem) up to the top (cortex).  The sequence is very important. When a person is regulated or feeling emotionally and physically settled, they are more able to relate or feel connected.  When a person is connected, they are more able to reason and engage in higher level executive functioning, which is critical for problem solving, prediction, perspective taking, etc.

At Pacific Quest, the garden lends itself to many opportunities to regulate. Regulation involves patterned, rhythmic, repetitive activity.  This includes digging, weeding, breaking apart lava rock to make room for new gardens, building rock walls and clearing land. Regulation also includes daily exercise, expressive therapies such as art, quiet breathing meditations or cooking, chopping and stirring in the kitchen.  Our integrative team works hard to build rapport and relationships with students so they can support and challenge them in their daily goals, living skills and group engagement. Through this regulatory and relationship support, students practice reasoning. Reasoning skills include being a camp leader and having to schedule an entire day and hold peers accountable to camp expectations. Students often create garden projects or legacy projects in which they have to plan, organize and problem solve allowing for a natural method to practice executive functioning.   Students often process and reason in their therapeutic work as they reflect, come into awareness and work to shift from their old story (negative behavior) into their new story (healthy behavior) . But first, they have to tell their story.

In a 60 Minutes Overtime report, Oprah reflects on her experience of doing this story with Dr. Perry. She described the process as “Life Changing” for her and expressed a hope that this story of trauma informed care will be revolutionary. Dr. Perry and Oprah expressed the importance of connection and having a sense of value.  Oprah emphasized the importance of sharing our story and asking the question, “What happened?” She explained, not only is this an important question for those who have experienced trauma, but it is the most important question we can ask of anyone.

To continue and share our work, Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director and Travis Slagle, Horticultural Therapy Director will be presenting at the Neurosequential Model International Symposium in Banff, CA, June 13-15, 2018.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF20FaQzYUI

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gqu54ZlhINc

May 7, 2018

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Expressive Therapies Summit – A Playful Event

Dr. Elnur Gajiev, Mike Sullivan, Dr. Lorraine Freedle and Dr. Dan Siegel in LA

Carl Jung said, “Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”  This quote captures the essence of the Expressive Therapies Summit, a recent gathering of international clinicians interested in the role of play and art in healing.  The conference provided workshops in sandplay, poetry, nature art, role play, drawing, and more. It was a powerful way to release ourselves from the tug of war in the prefrontal cortex (our most complex executive functioning parts of our brains that tend to “overthink” things) and tap into the lower more relational and regulatory parts of our brains (our “lizard brains” as Dan Siegel calls it).  Needless to say, the conference was experiential education at its finest, replete with play and activity.

Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director and renowned sandplay expert Dr. Lorraine Freedle presented “Play as Archetype and Agent for Transformational Change.”  Audience members enjoyed learning about the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and the neuromechinisms involved with play, symbolic expression and healing.  Play isn’t just a human activity, it exists in many species of animals, and remains a critical component of social, emotional, and cognitive development. Dr. Freedle engaged the audience with interactive art, videos, and case studies, allowing participants to develop a felt sense for the power of play, and the important role it plays in transformational change.  Being that sandplay is Dr. Freedle’s specialty and her background is rooted in Jungian psychology, she brought her travel sand tray from Hawaii, and offered insights into the value of sandplay specifically.

The keynote address stands out as another highlight.  Dr. Dan Siegel, leader in the neuroscience field introduced themes from his new book, linking tools and insights related to decreasing chaos and rigidity, and increasing flexibility, adaptation, coherence, empathy, and stability (F.A.C.E.S.).  Dr. Siegel’s plethora of books remain favorites among the Pacific Quest team, and Dr. Elnur Gajiev, Dr. Lorraine Freedle, and myself were lucky enough to be present for his keynote address. Even better, we were able to chat with Dr. Siegel following the presentation and he was kind enough to give us a photo.

The Expressive Therapies Summit did not disappoint, and will remain a priority for continuing education in years to come.  Thank you Dr. Freedle for contributing your expertise to the event, and thanks to all the participants for making it a truly interactive and educational event.

April 12, 2018

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The ‘Sustainable Recovery’ Model of Care at Pacific Quest

By:  Mark White, LMHC – CDC II

“Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.” (Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Mark White, Primary Therapist

Jung theorized that human beings – like plants – seek to grow whole.  At the outset of our lives and through the lived experiences of childhood we send our roots out into the world and find what nourishes us and what doesn’t.  At a young age we inherently come to know the wisdom of playing more and touching the hot stove less. Our learning is largely instinctual; with knowledge found through trial and error.  As children, our brain’s Limbic system largely guides our exploration of the world and our place in it – we thus ‘fight, flee or feast’ in response to our making contact with our environment.

In a similar fashion, a germinating seed reaches out through the darkness of the soil seeking nourishment – sending it’s initial roots toward water and nutrients and away from rocks and other stressors.  It finds what makes it grow and seeks more of that.

As childhood gives way to adolescence and young adulthood we continue to explore and grow.  We have a series of firsts – a first crush, first time driving a car and for some of us our first use of alcohol and other substances.   Our Limbic system continues to guide us as the pleasure receptors in our brains feel the ‘high’ of the first buzz’. Our primitive brains tell us to do more of this (feast) and we oftentimes do – especially as the executive/consequential thinking function in our Prefrontal Cortex may not yet have fully developed.

For some youth, the process of addiction begins.  Tolerance increases and we need more of the substance to produce the same amount of pleasure.  Our focus becomes narrowed as we seek to find, procure and/or otherwise obtain our drug(s) of choice.  We spend growing amounts of time and energy thinking about and seeking the substance and less time engaged in pleasurable activities and familiar relationships we once enjoyed.  Essentially, as we send our roots more and more toward our drug(s) of choice and the behavioral patterns of addiction take hold.

At Pacific Quest (PQ) we utilize Horticultural Therapy (HT) to understand the equivalent of the human process of addiction in plants – a condition commonly known as ‘root bound’.  When a plant becomes root bound it has grown to the point where it exhausts the available nutrients. In an effort to thrive, the plant begins to consume itself to stay alive. At this point, if the plant is not transplanted it will inevitably suffer and is likely to meet an early demise. In our knowledge of addiction we understand that without intervention, a young person developing the behavioral patterns of addiction may unfortunately experience similar outcomes.

At PQ young people are both educated and empowered to become aware of how the process of addiction has impacted their growth and are supported in engaging in the process of Recovery.  Within our Sustainable Recovery tract students begin to actively send their ‘roots’ -time and energy- back toward the relationships/activities/values in their life that nourish them. Caring for the gardens, exploring the Big Island and all its rich diversity and engaging in sober fun with peers are all part of the growth process – in addition to Recovery-focused clinical services.

Our unique clinical process invites students to become mindful of their personal behavioral patterns of addiction and become both knowledgeable and skillful in preventing relapse into these old behaviors.   Recovery programming includes personalized Recovery coaching as well as HT-based clinical interventions that empower each student to learn effective relapse prevention skills to address their own, individual circumstances.

Students also engage in a weekly Recovery Group and become knowledgeable of practical ways to make meaningful behavioral changes to support their personal Recovery.  In addition to group and individual therapy, through our active daily schedule students are supported in making these life changes at PQ. Learning to actively manage peer and other social pressures, awareness of relapse triggers and cues and use of effective coping skills are all growth opportunities students have each day.  Our active approach to care ensures students partake in intensive preparation for sustaining important behavioral changes post-treatment. Additionally, for students also interested in learning about a 12-step approach, access to an on-campus ‘PQ- only’ meeting is available as is individualized ‘step study’ work as well.

Last and perhaps most importantly, our Sustainable Recovery model of care invites students to affirm who they are in this world and their opportunities and responsibilities in Recovery– a deep sense of knowing that for many of our alumni has served as the ‘rhizome’ for their sustainable growth into adulthood.

About the author:  

Mark White is Recovery Coordinator and a Primary Therapist at Pacific Quest.   Mark has a passion for wilderness rites of passage work and integrated healthcare.  He has worked with young people and their families since 1999. Mark believes Pacific Quest provides an unparalleled healing and growth experience.  

April 4, 2018

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Teresa Bertoncin Presents in Chicago

Primary therapist, Teresa Bertoncin recently presented at the International Society For The Study Of Trauma And Dissociation Conference in Chicago. This conference provided cutting edge information about dissociation, the dissociative disorders, and all forms of complex trauma related disorders. It was comprised of the most recent developments in clinical interventions, theoretical concepts and research in the field of complex trauma, abuse and neglect.

teresa-bertoncin-PQ

Teresa Bertoncin, Primary Therapist

Teresa’s presentation highlighted the trauma of Stigmatized Loss and the devastating impact of exclusion, isolation, invalidation and neglect. She discussed the benefit of therapeutic modalities specifically EMDR (Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) psychotherapy and the wilderness setting.

Teresa’s discussion of stigmatized loss included the impact of divorce and family dissolution, suicide, illness, substance related causes, and psychological abuse.  Factors that garner resiliency in cultural preservation versus individual preservation, and those that lead to societal devaluation were addressed, utilizing contrasting case studies from rural South African villages, as well as the universal similarities that exist among adolescents and young adults in the United States.

In addition, Teresa explored the ways in which an intact cultural community helps members navigate these traumatic experiences; while identifying the internal, familial and societal factors of shame, disgrace and judgment that keep victims and those experiencing loss at an impasse.

The workshop explored the trauma of stigmatized loss and disenfranchised grief, and resulting identity disintegration. She shared how stigma devalues relationships and connection, and that stigma is at the root of rejection and ostracism.

The audience participated in an experiential example and lively discussion on the topic of rejection.  Teresa comments, “Rejection has a strong impact, even on the most minute level, and we react to it physiologically, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.”  She explained how our need to belong is so strong that we experience psychological and physical effects right away. She adds, “Rejection impacts our thinking, floods us with anger, destroys our self confidence and derails our sense of belonging.”

Brain scans show the same brain regions get activated when we experience rejection, as when we experience physical pain. The resulting long-term physical and mental consequences of disapproval and rejection can be extreme. Teresa shared research showing that children and adolescents may be impacted more negatively by rejection and ostracism than adults, with more extreme reactions. Brains of adolescents who experience rejection and ostracism may undergo long-term changes with normal development short-circuited. Adversely affecting cognitive ability, influence hormonal systems, and can induce symptoms ranging from paranoia to substance abuse.

Teresa went on to discuss the successful treatments and specialized interventions for these types of complex trauma, all of which are utilized at Pacific Quest in conjunction with the neurosequential model approach to treatment, including: EMDR, Horticultural therapy, Sandplay therapy, mindfulness, somatic and cognitive behavioral therapy, and the advantages of an outdoor behavioral health setting.

March 23, 2018

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A Personal Reflection – PQ Alumni Student Testimonial

We always enjoy receiving letters from past students – who share updates on how they are doing, how their experience at Pacific Quest has impacted them and how life post PQ is unfolding.  This is a letter from a student to her therapist – what an inspiring testimonial to the powerful work that takes place here!

“ …I’ve been thinking a lot about my experience at PQ since leaving and just wanted to share some of my major takeaways with you since you were an integral part of my stay. I am so grateful for you and the role you played in my growth at PQ and beyond. Since coming home, things have certainly not been easy but I have learned so much and become such a stronger person in the process and I feel like I am really headed in the right direction at this point. I’m amazed at how much things have changed since I was in Hawaii! Looking back it’s sometimes hard to believe I’m still the same person. I thought when I graduated that I had learned a ton, and I did, but so much of that learning came after I had time to process the whole experience and live it out on my own.

Okay, I’ll warn you now, this is definitely the longest email I’ve ever written in my life, but I’m just so excited about all the realizations I had that I had to share them!

I still at times struggle with recalling treatment as a positive experience, mostly because it was just such a difficult time in my life, but as I was journaling the other day, I concluded the following… PQ taught me a lot of things – like how my happiness, life, and well-being are not dependent on my parents. Even though I love them, they don’t have the solutions or answers to everything and they shouldn’t be my reason for living. I need to live for myself because I am worthy of life and have a lot to hope for in the future. I also worked a lot on quieting my inner critic and developing more self-compassion. Acceptance was huge – accepting my feelings and present reality. For a long time I fought against and stuffed my emotions, but at PQ I learned to feel and express them in healthier ways. Although I remember feeling like all my independence had been taken from me (like how I couldn’t even go to the lua by myself at times), I really did learn a lot about being more independent and functioning and making decisions on my own, based on what I needed, rather than what I thought I “should” do. I also learned about setting boundaries with people. Other’s problems do not have to become mine. And I undid my distortion that adulthood sucks and that I didn’t want to grow up. In reality, both childhood and adulthood have their challenges and high points, but being an adult is really cool!

I learned about pushing through discomfort after taking the time I need to process, I learned about being okay with not being okay and letting my emotions out instead of bottling them. Man, I did a lot of letting out! I didn’t know it was possible to sustain that much emotional upset for that long or cry that many tears, but I think it was just everything I’d been holding in for my whole life finally pushing out. And I proved to myself that I really can make it through anything even when I think I can’t. I realized how much I want authenticity for myself and in my relationships. I learned to deal with and embrace difficult and vastly different types of people and to allow them to have their own beliefs while standing strong in my own. I learned that even when I think I can’t go on, or sustain more pain, or not hurt/kill myself, that I can live and be okay. I learned that sometimes it’s best to push through the pain and stick it out for the long-term goal to be reached. I learned that even when and sometimes especially if people know your weaknesses/struggles/faults/fears/failures, they can still love you.

I learned a lot about gardening and loved it! (Although it’s winter in CO and hard to grow things outside, I have a bunch of potted plants inside that I love caring for). I learned about the importance of balance. I learned how I can use my story to relate to and positively impact others and make a good change in both our lives by being authentic, truthful, and open. I learned that even with all the pain, life is worth living and I will never give up! I learned how many people love and want to support me. I gained empathy for more people and human experiences and suffering. (This whole experience really gave me a lot more empathy for my sister which has and will continue to help mend our relationship).

I learned to express my needs. I was honest and open and vulnerable more so than I’d ever been before with myself and others. I learned about self-reflection and how to ponder and explore what was going on. I learned to feel instead of stuff and it was so liberating! I laughed. I cried. I screamed. I sobbed. I wept. I yelled. I spoke. I found my voice and I was heard! I survived. I learned. I grew. I changed. And now I can thrive! I became more authentically me than ever before. I really did cry a lot and feel a lot of loneliness, sadness, anxiety, fear, depression, grief, and hopelessness – more than I ever imagined possible. And (and I say “and” not “but” because both were equally true) I also felt deep love, empathy, and compassion for myself and the people around me. I felt proud of myself (and I feel so proud of myself right now as I reflect on these things which is really amazing). I felt victorious and accomplished and happy and whole. On my last day, at my appreciation ceremony, eating dinner out by ocean front, my eyes brimmed with tears of joy and gratitude. It was by far one of my happiest moments (and I love thinking back to it – everything about it – the way the sun sparkled on the ocean, the way I was there in community with all those beautiful people I was lucky enough to call my friends and they were there to love and support me).

PQ was so hard, those 81 days, but it was oh so incredibly worth it! It saved and changed my life. I didn’t want to admit it for a really long time, but I needed PQ. I needed to go far away, get out of my comfort zone, be in a new place with new people, to first lose but then find myself, in a group of people who finally, really, truly, understood me and now I am finally starting to understand and love myself on a whole new level I never saw as possible…”

– PQ Alumni Student

March 7, 2018

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Gender Education and DeMystification Symposium

By:  Elnur “El” Gajiev, PsyD

Elnur “El” Gajiev, PsyD

It was a crisp late February morning in Salt Lake City; snow falling upon the Wasatch mountain range to the east and the Oquirrh range to the west – quite a different scene than the tropic landscapes of Hawai’i that I’d become accustomed to. Yet, here in the heart of snowy Utah, I found myself in the midst of an inspiring collection of clinicians, program administrators, educational consultants, frontline staff, students, learners, and phenomenal speakers. We had gathered for the third annual Gender Education and DeMystification Symposium (GEMS) Conference – an event dedicated to expanding the awareness, knowledge, and skillful practice of engaging with gender-expansive youth.

“Gender-expansive?” you may ask. I know, I was right there with you. Entering the conference, I had many of my own questions, based upon the limits of my own understanding. Sure, I had worked with several LGBTQI+ clients in the past, but given the rapidly evolving changes within our greater social sphere, there was, and will continue to be, so much to learn and keep current with. This is particularly so with a population that is constantly stretching the bounds of what we believed was once impossible. That said, what truly impressed me about the GEMS Conference was the felt sense of acceptance and camaraderie in honoring the experiences that each of us came in with, and the manner in which were brought together in expanding our individual and collective understandings.

Of course, this could not have been possible without the outstanding speakers who were present. Speakers, who noted the relationship between growth and comfort (see picture above), and challenged us to question many of our previously-held beliefs through thought-provoking exercises and activities. As one speaker provided us with a foundational framework of languaging related to this work – noting the differences between biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, and sexual behavior (cheat sheet below) – another spoke about the striking data, including:

  • 50% of transgender youth under the age of 20 have attempted suicide at least once
  • LGB youth are 3x more likely than their straight peers to contemplate suicide
  • 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ
  • 6 in 10 LGBTQ youth feel unsafe in schools
  • 80% of LGBTQ youth report severe social isolation

Several speakers spoke about the importance of attuning to intersectionality, that is, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group” and how this plays a critical role in creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, distress, and disadvantage for our children and their families.

One of the more powerful notions that I had a chance to engage with firsthand, before the entire audience, was the concept of “Gender Dysphoria Noise.” This concept highlights the oscillating, yet continuous, nature of gender dysphoria through the various stages of transition, and just how dysregulating of an experience it can be to engage in some of the more simple aspects of life, from going out with friends to traveling, and yes, even using the bathroom. For me, this also underlined the many privileges that I personally hold as a cis-gender heterosexual male, meaning there is so much that I have the luxury of not having to think about in my everyday experience. And so, as a clinician, this further emphasized the significance of understanding how my day-to-day worldview may differ vastly from that of my students who identify as LGBTQI+. Furthermore, as a member of an organization dedicated to fostering sustainable growth in youth and families, this also highlighted several points of growth that we have before us from a programmatic vein, and how the impetus falls upon us to face these challenges with the same acceptance, awareness, and openness that we ask of our students and our families.

And since we’re on the topic of students, I think I can speak for nearly every single one of us in attendance in saying that the most resonant session throughout the 3-day conference was the student panel – each of whom shared their experience, their insight, their humor, and their wisdom in remarking on their personal journeys as well as the ways in which those of us on the other side of the mental health baton can hinder or help them in navigating the worlds before them. The lessons were endless, and rippled through many of us in attendance, and I for one was deeply grateful for the opportunity to be present as a listener and a learner. My deepest thanks to each of the organizers of the event, the once-more phenomenal speakers and presenters, my fellow colleagues who engaged whole-heartedly, to Denise Westman (an astounding human being), and most importantly, to the students who have shaped the lives of countless others by sharing their voices.

February 21, 2018

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Mike McGee Receives Scholarship Award

Pacific Quest is proud to announce that Mike McGee, Family Program Manager, was awarded a National Association of Social Workers (NASW) Hawai`i scholarship!  This scholarship supports social work students in good standing who are making a difference in their communities.  The NASW Student Scholarships were first awarded in 2009 and aim to assist students in their education as they pursue careers in social work.

Mike McGee, Family Program Manager

Mike is currently pursuing his MSW at the University of Hawaii – Manoa, focusing on Mental and Behavioral Health.  The program itself has a focus on indigenous methodologies and populations, which ties in with the Rites of Passage programming that Mike spearheads at Pacific Quest.  Of the award, Mike comments, “ I am truly humbled to be chosen for this scholarship. Social work is such a unique field in its acknowledgement of the strength and capacities of all human beings. Throughout my years of experience at PQ, I see how these strength-based values are essential for the therapeutic process.” Mike will continue to apply his passion for the rich marriage of Rites of Passage and horticulture therapy in his current role of Family Program Manager.  Mike hopes to further utilize his education and experience  in pursuit of becoming a therapist at Pacific Quest.

This is Mike’s second scholarship award.  Last year he received a scholarship from the Zachary Fochtman Foundation to carry on a legacy of a young man who aspired to become a Wilderness Therapist.   The award is given annually to individuals that are currently in the wilderness therapy field.   Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director, comments, “Mike has a solid and unique skill set, which he continues to develop.  He will carry Zachary’s legacy forward with integrity.  We are proud to have him on our team.”

Mike will receive the award on March 16th in Honolulu – Congratulations, Mike!

February 19, 2018

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Academic Coordinator Attends Learning and the Brain Conference

Pacific Quest’s Academic Coordinator Isabel Holmes was recently in San Francisco attending the Winter 2018 Learning and the Brain Conference.  This event brought together hundreds of researchers, educators, clinicians, and school leaders from across the globe to explore the latest neuroscience research on innovation and creativity in an interdisciplinary forum.

Isabel Holmes, Academic Coordinator

In sessions such as “Being Creative is a Choice”, “Visible Literacy in Learning”, and “The Middle Way: Finding the Balance Between Mindfulness and Mind Wandering for Creativity and Achievement”, Isabel was able to learn about new strategies to develop innovative and creative mindsets in staff and students and see evidence of the benefits of imagination, mindfulness, and mind wandering for memory, literacy, and achievement.

Of particular interest was researcher and professor Alison Gopnik’s opening keynote address, “When (and Why) Children are More Creative Than Adults”, which touched on a number of tenets from her recent book, The Gardener and the Carpenter–a framework for creative learning and exploration that translates particularly well to the gardens of Pacific Quest and has been much discussed amongst staff in recent months. Isabel was grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this exciting meeting of minds, and looks forward to sharing what she learned while continuing to learn alongside her PQ colleagues.

Isabel Holmes joined Pacific Quest in the fall of 2016 after graduating from Vanderbilt University with her M.Ed in Human Development Counseling. She worked as a Young Adult Program Guide for seven months before moving into the role of Academic Coordinator. Isabel dedicated her early career to helping a variety of populations get the most out of their educational journeys and brings a holistic understanding of behavioral health in academic environments to PQ.

As the Academic Coordinator, Isabel strives to creatively integrate the curriculum into our students’ daily process and envisions bringing the curriculum to life in the field through groups and experiential learning opportunities. She serves as an energetic liaison between internal departments and between PQ and external entities, and is invigorated by opportunities to drive staff development and training.

Learn more here about the Accredited Academic Program at Pacific Quest!

February 2, 2018

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Breathing Life Into Relationships

Pacific Quest’s Young Adult Family Program: Breathing Life Into Relationships

By: Dr. John Souza, Young Adult Family Program Therapist

Ohana

In Hawaiian culture the taro plant symbolizes family or “Ohana”.  The word Ohana itself comes from the taro.  The “Oha” are the new growth emerging from the corm, an underground storage organ that is the foundation of the taro.  Adding the word “na” pluralizes the Oha, thereby creating a group growing together or an “Ohana”.

Dr. John Souza

Within the word Ohana are the words “Ha” and “Hana”.  “Ha” is the sacred breath of life carried by all and which joins us.  “Hana” is the work into which we breathe our life; and in which we engage with joy knowing it is through our shared work that we make our family relationships healthy and vibrant.

Breathing Life Into Families

Pacific Quest’s Young Adult Family Program has become a haven in which families come to practice joyfully breathing life into their relationships. In 2017, our Family Program had the privilege of hosting 316 students and caregivers. With over 90% of our students participating in Family Program, PQ is an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare (OBH) program that continues to emphasize integration and diversity, something the garden teaches us is essential for resiliency.  In a time of environmental and social stress, the opportunity for families to have such a place of respite is essential for them to engage in what we call the Corrective Relational Experience.

The Corrective Relational Experience

The Corrective Relational Experience (CRE) is about rebuilding trust and increasing mutual empathy. During Family Program the CRE is achieved by students, parents, and staff embracing two main responsibilities: Practicing Differentiation and Congruence.

Differentiation is being able to separate one’s own thoughts and feelings, both intra-personally (i.e., within one’s self) and interpersonally (i.e., between one’s self and someone else). Additionally, differentiation involves the ability to enter into or exit from a given emotional relationship by choice. Differentiation means not losing one’s emotional self in a relationship, yet also not cutting one’s emotional self off from a relationship: to stay flexibly connected, yet separate.

Congruence is how reflective your values/beliefs (intra-personal) are in a given relationship (interpersonal). That is to say how closely does what you say reflect what you actually want, need,, and feel in a given relationship? For example, if you don’t like a behavior, do you say, “I don’t really like that” or do you only think that, but actually verbalize, “That’s great!”? To be congruent increases authenticity, a critical component of trust and accurate empathy, the heart of the Corrective Relational Experience.

Professional to Personal: Being Part of a Larger Change Process

As a research-informed clinician, I often wonder about the application of research in practice and practice in research. What I’ve found is that the research on Wilderness Therapy and OBH that continues to point to the importance of family involvement in the development and maintenance of gains made by youth in such programs is spot-on. These gains are being supported by the development of mutual trust and empathy between parents and their sons and daughters. Moreover, for me as a clinician, being able to work with entire families in person only enhances the sense of shared trust and empathy within the therapeutic/clinical relationship (between therapist, student, and parents), itself a major predictor of successful therapeutic outcomes.. This mutual influence between clinician and client becomes the nucleus of a much larger change process.  As I the professional, experience greater trust and empathy, it becomes part of my personal experience, which I take home to my family and to my community. As parents experience this CRE, they too take it back to their families and communities. In this way we become like the taro or Ohana, breathing life into our relationships, born of the same source of trust and empathy.

Having Your Own Corrective Relational Experience: Breathing Life Into Your Relationships

There are many ways to have a Corrective Relational Experience. Below are just a few suggestions of specific skills PQ families have used to foster their own CRE’s. Feel free to modify these or make up your own!

  • Breath: It sounds simple, but this rhythmic, sensory-based activity will help keep you regulated and better able to relate to another person. I like to inhale for four counts, pause for one, exhale for eight, pause for one, and repeat. Feels great!
  • Listen: Again, it sounds simple, but really listening to someone with total openness and suspension of judgment or an agenda is challenging. Try inviting someone to share with you for five minutes while you listen; fully open yourself up to hearing whatever they have to share. Be sure to thank them for sharing!
  • Reflect: This is a great skill to use in tandem with listening. However, try to limit your reflections to only those words used by the speaker. Not only will this minimize you inadvertently inserting your own opinions or judgments about what the speaker was sharing, but will also let the speaker know the correct message was conveyed and received.
  • Share: Related to listening and reflecting (and essential for building trust and empathy) is the art of sharing your own struggles. This involves knowing if you need to share more or if you need to share less. If you need to share, be sure that what you share is focused on the relationship in the present moment and involves feeling words such as happy, mad, scared, confused, etc. If you need to share less, let the listener know that you’re practicing creating more space for them to share.
  • Ask for Feedback: A great way to not only practice vulnerability, but also truly honor your relationship with another person, is to ask them for feedback on the relationship. Ask them to share how they feel in the relationship, if there are realistic ways they see that you could more effectively support the relationship, if they have ways that they want to better support the relationship. The key is to remain curious and focused on improving your bond with the other person. Should you find yourself struggling to do either of these two things, repeat the above skills, beginning with breathing or simply request to take a break and return to the conversation at an agreed upon time in the not-too-distant future.

The most important element in any CRE is a genuine desire to improve the relationship. This includes listening, sharing struggles, and setting clear boundaries.

I wish you and your relationships all the best.

A Hui Hou (until we meet again)!

For more information on Pacific Quest’s Young Adult Family Program, please email drjohn@pacficquest.org.

January 19, 2018

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Sandalwood Restoration Project on the Slopes of Mauna Kea

A  group of Young Adult students recently had the opportunity to assist with a Sandalwood Restoration project on the slopes of Mauna Kea.  After departing Reeds Bay, the group took a scenic drive to meet the Hawaii Volcanoes National Park rangers at the restoration site.  The rangers explained the importance of this project and the need to plant native Sandalwood to regenerate the forest and help maintain the root system of this region.

Students were given instructions and tools and worked alongside the rangers, digging holes and planting “keiki” sandalwood trees.  It was important to find a moist area in the soil, dig a small hole and then plug in the baby plant. Finding a nice, water-fed area was essential to ensure the small plants will grow.

Planting baby Sandalwood trees on slopes of Mauna Kea

A few of the students were a bit apprehensive at first, as this was a new project – but the rangers were patient and compassionate and able to help students to provide extra support to the group.  Before long, students were excited to get their hands dirty and help out!  It was a beautiful day and from the higher elevation, the group had a an incredible view of Haleakala – the volcano on Maui as well as the Kohala mountains and Mauna Loa. At this higher elevation there were a variety of different flowers, including the Hawaiian Rose, which provided insight into how diverse the Big Island landscape is.

Pacific Quest is committed to community stewardship and the ability to “give back”.  We believe empowering young adults to be active participants in community service promotes positive and meaningful engagement in society.  This is an ongoing project and Pacific Quest students will continue to offer support on a monthly basis towards rebuilding this ecosystem.

The Pacific Quest Foundation also provides financial support to the Sandalwood Reforestation project. Grants such as these are made possible by the generous donations of Pacific Quest and Pacific Quest Foundation families, friends and supporters.