John Souza, DMFT, and Mike Sullivan, LMHC recently presented at the Young Adult Transition Association (YATA) conference in Coeur d’Alene Idaho, speaking to the “Myth of Independence” within emerging adulthood and the need for relationship. After dispelling the common perception that young adults (and the rest of humankind really) are independent entities, and highlighting some of the shame and sense of failure that many emerging adults feel when they remain in-dependence with others, Dr. Souza focused on teaching attunement skills and empathy tools within a corrective relational experience. Dr. Souza and Mr. Sullivan identified strategies that Pacific Quest employs to create such experiences for emerging adults and their families.
The presentation was among many thought-provoking breakout sessions at the YATA conference, all focused on the challenges posing todays emerging adults, ages 18-29. Keynoting the event, Dr. Jeffery Arnett, set a positive tone for the conference. Despite the significant obstacles many emerging adults face today, Dr. Arnett’s research suggests a very high level of optimism. This was very welcome news, albeit, contrary to what many in the audience experience on a regular basis. Most conference attendees focus their careers on providing emerging adults with therapeutic services, helping them navigate the multitude of problems they are experiencing in their lives. The YATA conference continues to stimulate powerful conversations regarding the changing landscape for emerging adults.
“Transformative and life-saving are just two of the many positive adjectives that describe our family’s experience with PQ. If your child is in need, and you are fortunate enough to be able send your child, just do it. Theresa and Camille, just two of the many gifted and caring PQ therapists, support not just the child, but the family as well. Weekly calls help parents understand what their kid is experiencing, and the difficulties in the family dynamic that led them to PQ. PQ therapists then educate the family on how to change the dynamic – how to talk to, and listen to, your child. Moreover, the experienced individuals working daily with the kids are top notch – patient, kind and empathetic. The PQ parent on-site parent program is top notch. The individual and group sessions provide deep insight and understanding of your child’s behavior and causes of that behavior. It’s an incredibly difficult journey, but at PQ you are not alone. I cannot say this enough times – if you are in need of a program, look no further, just send your child to PQ.”
Last week Pacific Quest staff members participated in a company-wide training focused on Horticultural Therapy and Rites of Passage. It was a great opportunity for the team to come together on our new farm property and have time to connect while learning new skills and strategies to work with our students.
The training began with an introduction to the Four Shields and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics that’s utilized at Pacific Quest and an integral part of our program. After the intro, the team divided up and spent the morning at various “stations” that focused on different learning objectives. Staff members had the option of picking which workshop they wanted to participate in. Some of the options included: Meditation & Mandala workshop, Cordage and Ti lei making, medicine walk and planting skills, soil & compost, and hard project skills & “imagineering”.
One of the main goals was to emphasize the importance of how to incorporate these various lessons and projects into the daily routine with students. PQ Field Therapist Sarah Blechman, who helped organize and facilitate the training comments, “The whole day was so engaging! It was abundantly clear the facilitators were authentically passionate about the rich union and incredible effects of the interplay between horticulture, rites of passage and how to facilitate the two using the neurosequential model. My favorite part was when our program guides, managers and therapists all worked together to create our first garden bed in our ethnobotanical garden. Working on such a large project together felt like the whole community was working on a gift for our new farm.”
Last week I was contacted by PQ to check in with my family; it has been about six months since my son finished the program. They asked if I had news or photos to share. I didn’t have any photos. I only saw him for a couple hours when I picked him up at the airport and drove him to the place where he would likely spend the next nine to twelve months of his life in a transition program. We had lunch and got him moved in to begin the next stage in his journey, and then I got back in my car for a very long, lonely drive back home. It hits me hard every now and then, confronting that I’ve only seen my son for a few hours over the last nine months, such as when someone asks for a recent photo…and I don’t have one.
At the PQ family program I attended last Spring, we were given a bean seed to take home. Well, I could just look at that bean every now and again to reflect on the program experience and learning, or I could put it to work. And as it turns out, it put me to work. So I got a little pot, some soil, planted the seed, and placed in on a south-facing windowsill where it reveled in the lengthening spring days. Around Mother’s day, when we finally got consistently above 50 degrees at night (I’m from Seattle…it takes a while spring to actually take hold in my part of the world), I moved it out to the garden–thinking of the exercise we did where we learned about transplanting. I carefully tended to the roots, and gently repacked the soil, and made sure it was well watered over the next few days (actually I didn’t have to do much external intervention in that department–did I mention I live in Seattle?), all the while thinking about my son and his recent transplant experience. I wasn’t quite sure what I would find when I picked him up at the airport, twelve weeks after I sent him to you. I know he had a bumpy time at PQ, but the person who emerged was like the kid I had once a long time ago–open, reflective, curious, not so defensive, and even a little optimistic. He had found a place, a tribe, acceptance. As we drove from to the new place, where he would start another, even longer program, he talked about feeling ok about himself–something he hadn’t felt in a long, long time. I had this rush of relief and euphoria, thinking that he had turned a corner, and that he was going to be ok.
Well, transitions can be difficult. Very difficult.
Everything progressed well for a couple weeks. Little Bean started to bloom. But one day some deer came through and ransacked my whole garden–tomato plants, raspberry buds, carrot tops, beets, leaves and buds on fruit trees…and Little Bean was taken down almost to the ground. I thought it was toast. But we had a two warm weeks afterwards, and it started to leaf out again. And then came June…also known as Junuary in Seattle. It got cold and rainy. Bean barely grew at all. But it was still alive.
Towards the end of June, it was just starting to get warm again, and Bean started growing. But then one morning I came out and… AGAIN. Chomped by deer. Just as it was starting to produce. Our dog has one job…ONE JOB—keep the deer away! Apparently he is no longer taking his job seriously. I didn’t have a picture before the attack, but Little Bean was bushy, about 1.5 feet tall, had blooms, and actual beans.
I started to realize that Little Bean’s struggles were another parallel process. So on June 24th, I started taking pictures of the deer-struction.
Summer arrived on July 5th (as it usually does). I had started growing pole beans on the trellises. Little Bean, it turns out, is a bush bean. This was a major contributor to its struggles as it couldn’t grow up out of the way of the deer. But Little Bean kept trying…until another deer attack, July 18th.
They denuded the pole beans of all the leaves along the trellis, but couldn’t reach those at the top.
So, as we approached the end of growing season, I realized (duh) my laissez-faire strategy wasn’t working. The dog was no longer effective as a deer-terrent and they weren’t getting full on the many other tasty treats in the garden. I had to try something different–Little Bean couldn’t grow indoors, but the out-of-doors wasn’t quite working out either. Enter the cloche. I use these to get tomatoes going early in the season. It finally dawned on me that I could deploy them against the deer.
With this protective covering, Little Bean grew a bit more, survived two more pillages, and on August 30th I harvested two small beans.
But then came the slugs: September 24
I deployed slug traps, put the cloche on at night and during rainy days, but here we are at the end of September, and realistically, I’m not going to be able to count on Little Bean to produce enough food to get us through the winter.
But there are a couple new blooms. Little Bean is still trying. September 29th:
Some takeaways– I need to improve the deer proofing of my garden. Little Bean was not the only casualty. Harvest was way down across all product lines. Next year, I’m enclosing the garden. The cloche did the trick for a while, but I deployed it too late in the season. However, Little Bean started getting too big for the cloche, so that solution wouldn’t have worked indefinitely. Then came the slug invasion. So the cloche couldn’t protect from all predation. I also realized that I need to plant the right kind of bean for my conditions. Pole beans do much better, not only in terms of surviving the deer, but they just get far more light in my garden configuration. If Little Bean hadn’t carried the additional burden of symbolizing much more and serving as proxy for the care I wanted to be giving my child, I would have given up and chocked it up to a poor plant choice and bad luck with the deer. But it was what you guys gave me, just as the universe gave me my particular kid. I kept at it, and looked for new strategies to help it survive. Another solid lesson is that it’s good I’m not a farmer and people don’t have to rely on me for their food supply. The small success story of the garden this year is the pole beans, which survived the repeated pillages and are now in full production mode. Here’s what I harvested today, and there’s still lots coming, even though the middle of the plants keep getting eaten.
The growing season is coming to an end, but fortunately, we humans can keep at it even during the winter months. Thank you PQ for all that you have done for our family…we are still growing though it hasn’t been easy. Thank you especially to Mark White who really stuck with my Little Bean.
Getting off the farm and out to explore the island is a big hit amongst PQ students. This past weekend, students of the young adult program travelled mauka to the Ka’u Desert, situated on flanks of Mauna Loa. The students enjoyed a great lunch, punctuated with views of the ocean, volcanoes, and indigenous plants and birds.
Three years ago I was known for running away from Pacific Quest on several occasions. Now I look back and see how far I’ve come.
I attended Pacific Quest at a very rough point in my life. I was suffering with several mental health issues as well as the aftermath of severe emotional trauma from childhood. I have anger issues, attitude issues, self and esteem issues.
Through the beautiful hearts and souls that comprise this program, from therapists to field staff, I healed from alot of early childhood issues, learned to love myself, developed coping mechanisms to cope with my mental health issues, and made meaningful connections that i never thought i could make. I also had a genetic test done that allowed me to find out the right type of medication I should be on.
Three years later, I left California and moved to North Carolina with my mom, where I have been pursuing horticulture and landscaping, with a deep passion of becoming a horticultural therapist down the line. I am a Certified Plant Professional through North Carolina Nursery and Landscape Association.
I still struggle with mental health and emotional issues, however, with the continued coping skills learned from PQ put into action such as meditation, journaling, exercise, gardening, and well as my own continued pursuit of counseling outside of PQ, I’ve created a life that is truly worth living. I finally have healthy friendships and relationships that I enjoy and feel joyful most days regardless of the circumstance.
One of my favorite quotes is that “people will only meet you as deep as they’ve met themselves”. I definitely met myself in a meaningful and often painful way at PQ, which in the life changed me and made me grow for the better.
Thank you PQ. When things are rough, I think of all the loving hearts that have pushed me to be my very best self and help me recognize the potential for a better life.
We are celebrating another year as a Gold Status Research Designated Program! The Pacific Quest team is dedicated to ongoing research efforts put forth by the University of New Hampshire and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs (NATSAP). Gold Status is the highest status granted by the NATSAP research committee for data collection rates.
PQ data indicates that a significant number of our adolescent and young adult students that graduate Pacific Quest report a reduction in clinical symptoms and remain below the clinical cut-off six months and one year post treatment. We utilize a normed and valid survey known as the Youth Outcome Questionnaire for adolescents and the Outcome Questionnaire for young adults.
We are grateful for every family that has contributed to our data collection efforts since we began this partnership with UHM and NATSAP in July 2014. We look forward to continued data collection using normed and valid measures and our continued contribution to the outdoor behavioral health research database.
Outcomes studies on wilderness therapy/outdoor behavioral healthcare (WT/OBH) programs serving youth ages 12-17 have demonstrated that family involvement in treatment increases the likelihood of long-term maintenance of individual students’ gains from such programs. This same body of research has linked caregiver participation in family activities to an increase in trust and empathy between caregivers and students. However, as some researchers have uncovered, these gains may not necessarily generalize to improvements in family functioning. Moreover, when considering family involvement in the treatment of young adults (herein referred to as emerging adults or EAs; ages 18-25) there remains the historical remnants of a socially constructed bias against such involvement; based on the presupposition that the paragon of EA development is “independence” from caregivers.
Pacific Quest’s Family Program for Emerging Adults
At Pacific Quest (PQ) we have considered the above research findings and social constructions, and in response have developed our Family Program for Emerging Adults based on a practice-based evidence/research model. Data from our practice suggests not only is family work with EAs appropriate, it can often be a critical element of their treatment process as caregivers report a correlation between our Family Program and an improvement in family functioning. This has led us to conclude that the ultimate aim in the treatment of EAs may not necessarily be to only encourage greater independence, but also to cultivate intentional interdependence.
Clinical and Theoretical Foundations
PQ’s Family Program for EAs is embedded within an integrative WT/OBH model designed to treat a variety of emotional and behavioral problems by way of horticultural therapy and other experiential modalities. Our Family Program for EAs builds on this model by creating opportunities for corrective relational experiences (CREs); unexpected moments when caregivers and EAs are able to attune with one another and are therefore transformed. During these CREs caregivers and students learn in what ways they mutually influence one another and thus how to be intentional with that influence. The nature of human nature is that we are not independent, but rather are reliant upon each other. Through intentionally designed CREs, family’s at PQ become more cognizant, and thus able to influence this reality.
The Corrective Relational Experience Over several years of observing Pacific Quest’s Family Program for EAs, we have come to understand that while there are a number of smaller CREs throughout the two-day intensive program (consisting of caregiver-only meetings, family therapy with primary therapists, and multi-family therapy groups) the overall Family Program is itself a CRE. We have found this CRE to consist of two primary clinical dynamics: Differentiation and congruence (see Figure 1): Development of one positively influences development of the other. Moreover, these processes mediate the establishment of accurate empathy and trust, which in turn can encourage the maintenance of differentiation and congruence.
Improvements in Family Functioning
PQ’s Family Program for EAs has been correlated with improvements in family functioning. This has been measured through a pre/post-test design employing the psychometrically supported Global Assessment of Relational Functioning (GARF). The GARF consists of three subdomains:
Of 161 caregiver respondents, all reported improvements in the three GARF subdomains (see Chart 1). Overall, the subdomain reported most positively impacted during Family Program was Emotional Climate. Communication (an aspect of the subdomain Interactional/Problem-Solving Skills) was identified by 85.7% of respondents as the specific aspect of family functioning most positively impacted by the Family Program.
At Pacific Quest we have answered the call from researchers to improve family engagement in WT/OBH. We have also recognized the interdependent nature of human nature and used this as the impetus for our work with EAs and their families. By employing a practice-based evidence/research model we have correlated our Family Program’s CRE approach with improvements in the emotional climate and communication aspects of family functioning. Future practice/research with EAs might consider how to generalize such improvements in family functioning by creating CREs with others (e.g., siblings or families-of-creation) and in other environments (e.g., a transitional program or a caregiver’s home).
I love the idea of “Farm to Table.” Eating at restaurants that take this approach is so satisfying – food right from the garden, even better when the food is organic. There is nothing quite like the crunch from a raw green bean that has been harvested that morning! While this dining option appears to be hip and trendy these days, farm to table is how our ancestors sustained themselves every day.
Living in Hawaii, where food grows abundantly, I got to thinking that it would be a healthy challenge to see if I could pull off the “Farm to Table” lifestyle. So I planted, replanted, weeded, pruned and harvested. I repeated the cycle and repeated it again and again. After about a year I’m proud to report that I’ve achieved a seventy percent failure rate on the food I’ve planted. Consequently, I do eat thirty percent of my food from my garden, which I consider a mild success. I am still mostly a ‘Safeway to Table’ guy at this point (which is fine because they give fuel points and gas on the Island is expensive).
So why am I proud of my seventy percent failure rate? Because I learned I need to keep planting. I learned that “Farm to Table” is, in fact, all about resilience, perseverance, and practice. If I choose to focus on the seventy percent failures, then I will be unlikely to plant. If I choose to focus on the thirty percent yummy goodness from the garden then I’ll be more likely to keep planting.
I’ve also learned that I can be resilient and strong in this way
– like my ancestors. So I choose to keep planting.
I strive to be as skilled as they were and I will enjoy the vast majority of my
food from my garden. I have to persevere in my planting, struggling and
This past year, I have been particularly inspired by the effort and growth of my Pacific Quest students. Witnessing their journeys of self-discovery, personal strength and resiliency is reaffirming and heartwarming. Our alumni substantiate that their personal development at PQ is easily transferrable to life on the mainland. The awareness, skill sets, and confidence our students develop are indeed sustainable. Our students clearly know what ‘keep planting’ means, in their own, unique ways.