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November 10, 2017

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Metamorphosis and Transformation

By: Danielle Zandbergen, Therapist

“If the fires that burn innately inside our youths are not intentionally and lovingly added to the hearth of community, the youth will burn down the structures of the culture, just to feel the warmth.”

-Michael Meade

Before transitioning into the clinical team as a primary therapist, I began my journey at Pacific Quest as a program guide. I worked many weeks in the rite of passage portion of the program, Huli Ka’e, where our students step into a “threshold” experience and begin to “end their old story” and “begin stepping into the new story.” I’ve always viewed this phase similar to a metamorphosis or transformation that we often see in nature.


Danielle Zandbergen, MA

During one of my shifts in Huli Ka’e, I was working in the plant nursery with a student.While we were planting seeds together, we both noticed a cocoon on one of our growing papaya trees. We then began to bear witness to the cocoon cracking and opening up to a new life, as we watched the once known caterpillar morph into a beautiful monarch butterfly. As the student and I watched in awe, there was an intense emotion that welled up between us, to the point where we looked at one another silently and began to smile and cry at the sight of this rarely seen transformation. In so many ways, it was much like a student’s experience when participating in a rite of passage.

In grade school I remember learning about metamorphosis through the lens of a physical transformation many animals experience, where a caterpillar hatches from larva, then stuffs itself with leaves, grows plump and through a series of molts sheds its own skin. The caterpillar stops eating, hangs from a twig or leaf and spins a silky cocoon around itself and sometimes molts into a shiny chrysalis. It is then that the caterpillar experiences a radical transformation and eventually emerges as a butterfly. Tadpoles go through a similar transformation, where an egg mass is laid, cells grow into a tadpole, and the organism lives completely underwater, while a hormone in the tadpole’s thyroid gland initiates their metamorphosis.  Then the tadpole develops into a frog, and all the organs and physical features transform in order for it to live outside of the water and learns how to adapt to a completely new environment.

Metamorphosis in the natural world is very much like the transformation our students experience as they embark on their own Rite of Passage, and in the grand scheme of things, what many of us experience throughout our lifetime. At Pacific Quest, we set the stage for a meaningful and transformative rite of passage that many teenagers never fully experience in their lives. Often named “liminality,” the threshold experience is paramount to the rite of passage and in a lot of ways, a student’s experience at Pacific Quest is seen as a “liminal” or threshold event. Liminality may involve a significant challenge, ambiguous features and sometimes disorientation between the “old and the new.” This often looks like a pattern that is no longer serving the individual, thus inducing a need to “sever from” and begin a transition into something new in order to get those needs met, or adapt to a new way of living.

Our students often “stand at the threshold,” between the two worlds, in which we hold ceremony and ritual spaces to represent severance and incorporation. However, oftentimes a student needs to fully sever from certain behaviors, thought patterns or addictions in order to step into their new intention. Without this significant threshold experience, many teenagers and young adults seek various alternatives to mark this transition. Some resort to substances, buy lottery tickets or cigarettes, some engage in sexual activity, where some may engage in all of the above in order to feel as if they are stepping into their adulthood, but may not engage in the important ceremony and ritual that creates a meaningful experience for their transition.

Although at first glance it may seem that these are unhealthy manifestations of a mental health issue, and subsequently may lead to even more unhealthy choices, there is also an element to these behaviors and choices that represent a child’s search for that threshold; signifying meaning and purpose in their lives. Our society tends to hold a lot of weight (and responsibility) over “ages,” such as turning 16 and being able to drive legally, or 18 when one is expected to move out, get a job, and continue college. Although all of these represent a form of rite of passage, over time they have come to be an expectation that has negated the entire meaning behind ceremony, ritual and celebration that is so much a part of a rite of passage.

One of our goals as a program is to facilitate and provide this experience to our adolescents and young adults. One of my goals as a therapist, guide, role model and caregiver, is to help our students find meaning in their life and recognize that what they are worth is only as much as they value themselves and their experiences in life. It is all of our jobs to celebrate these important marks of transition and develop intentional and positive ceremony around reaching these important life stages so the legacy can continue on.

October 20, 2017

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Eat Local Initiative at PQ!

By: Dara Downs, Alumni & Family Services Liaison

Green beans thriving at Reeds Bay

In mid April of 2016 we started the Eat Local Initiative at our Young Adult Program at Reeds Bay.  This initiative was designed to help track the amount of produce being harvested, being cooked, as well as to help create motivation in the student milieu. It’s set up so that every time we grow and harvest food from our gardens, we weigh it, clean in, and document it. Then when it’s time for meal prep, we check to see if any of our freshly harvested produce can be cooked with that meal. If this is the case, then the food is used during that meal and documented. At the end of the month, based on how much home grown produce was cooked in our meals, the students are given a stipend to spend on specialty or rare items to use in the kitchen. In the past student have purchased cacao nibs, fruit leathers, passion fruit, dried spiced bananas, coconuts, ulu flower, and other island treats.

I work closely with Annette Nickontro, our Young Adult Kitchen Manager, who is really hands on in motivating students to use produce from the garden.  She oversees every part of the kitchen, working directly with students in creating weekly menus and recipes.  For many students, wandering the garden to collect herbs and produce is a whole new experience. Annette notes, “It’s been exciting to see the students pulling produce they grew from seeds and creating some amazing recipes for things like hot sauce, pesto, leafy green stir-fries, and kale chips!”  It’s a wonderful collaboration for both Annette and I to help students see their potential in gardening and cooking from something so small as a seed and feeding their fellow students.

Working together we found that since the Eat Local Initiative started, we have harvested 990 pounds of produce from our gardens, and of that, we have cooked 490 pounds of food!  With these numbers, we concluded that we are harvesting approximately 55 pounds of food per month and we are preparing about 27 pounds of food from our gardens per month.

Basil harvest for fresh pesto!

Once I found out how close we were to reaching 1000 pounds, I told our current students, and their immediate response was, “What?! Only 10 pounds away from 1000, we are so close, let’s keep eating what we grow! That’s a crazy amount of food.” Soon after, Annette and the students harvested 12 pounds of Basil and made a bunch of pesto to freeze for the winter! So we are happy to say that after a year and a half we have reached 1000 pounds of harvested produce from our gardens.  When asked to comment, PQ’s Horticultural Therapy, Travis Slagle, M.A. said, “The need for self-sufficiency is both practical and emotional.  The young people we serve benefit by knowing where their food comes from and taking an active role in sustaining their community.  At PQ, we believe the experience of self-sufficiency is transferable and relevant across the lifespan.”

With the Eat Local Initiative in place, we are focused on creating realistic goals and continuing to build a self sustaining agricultural model at PQ. We are excited to celebrate this accomplishment!

October 11, 2017

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Healthy Self = Heal + Thy + Self

By: Cynthia Albers, Admissions Coordinator

Harvesting fresh green beans from the garden

There is an onslaught of advice, cautions, directives and warnings supposedly to guide us toward a healthy lifestyle.  So, what, exactly, does it mean to be healthy?  What does healthy feel like?  At Pacific Quest students are given the opportunity to ask themselves this same question and discern what that means to them by practicing the five pillars of health…and nutrition is on that list. I asked myself those questions starting around age 16 and now into my 7th decade, many choices, actions and paths have brought me to the happy condition of enjoying health.  Undeniably, food and all that surrounds it, has played a big part.  Here’s part of that story…

I grew up with 8 siblings, birth position 2, in Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon line. At age 6, our brood moved into a home my parents built in the country, where we kids quickly learned the joy and freedom of roaming the woods, waterfront and fields that were part of our new domain.  Our diet was like that of most Americans of the era: 3 squares a day, with flesh featured at dinner; milk, kool-aid, water and the occasional soda pop for beverages; sandwiches of lunch meat or tuna on white Wonder Bread for school lunch, and hot or cold cereal with milk for most breakfasts. Stony Creek, an inlet to the Chesapeake Bay, supplied fresh fish and crabs, caught by our own hands, so seafood was frequently on the menu. A garden plot was carved out and tended by the clan.  As kids, we hated it!  All that work that took us away from exploring. But then, came the strawberries, cantaloupes, green beans, kale and corn on the cob, which we frequently ate right off the stalk ~ raw and full of  sweet goodness!  I began to realize how yummy these foods were, especially compared to the slimy, horrid mash that is canned spinach in the dead of winter.  I was developing a deep connection to sourcing my own food, though I had no idea at the time.

Late summers were spent helping my mother with canning: prepping and blanching corn, tomatoes and green beans, then ladling the hot veggies into sterilized jars; turn ‘em upside down to wait for the tell-tale “Pop!” signaling the seal. In the damp coolness of Autumn we took frenzied forays into conifer forests, with cousins galore, each of us given a large brown paper grocery bag and entrusted with a serrated knife. We were set loose to find and sever the wild mushrooms that lay hidden in beds of pine needles.  Now that was my kinda fun! Many bushel baskets were fungi-filled, and the families joined at our house for cleaning and sautéing the ‘shrooms with onions and butter, then filling quart plastic bags to be frozen. The bounty was distributed among the families and was served at holiday dinners all winter.

The desire to gather and grow food had inculcated my sensibilities and would last a lifetime.

Preparing a healthy meal at PQ

Fulfilling that desire has waxed and waned over the years, changing with occupation, domicile, region and season.  On the shores of Hood Canal, Washington, oysters were free for the plucking and shucking, along with wild blackberries copious along roadways. Montana mountains gave huckleberries by the bucketful, boletes and coral mushrooms to fill the pot; hunter friends who shared venison, bear (yes, bear) and elk sausage satisfied my omnivore leanings. In Hawaii, where a third of my years were lived, our jungle homestead boasted 4 varieties of avocado, papayas, bananas, citrus, and required the patience of 2 years for white pineapples; collards were endless and found their way into nearly every dinner dish.

Now, home is the high desert mountains of the Southern Sierra, gardening in this arid climate with mostly granitic soil beckons an entirely new approach. Apricot, pomegranate and mulberry trees grow most willingly here and also resist the nibbling of deer above ground and gopher below. I’ll undoubtedly find ways to forage and grow food to fuel both the yearnings and health. Doing so feeds more than the just my body…it feeds my soul.   Pacific Quest fosters ways for students and staff alike to build a meaningful connection to food and nutrition.  May connections realized at PQ stay with each of us for a lifetime and fuel health for years to come.

October 10, 2017

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PQ Featured on LA Talk Radio

Wilderness Therapy Hawaiian-Style

This week Dr. John Souza, Primary Therapist and Mike Sullivan, Alumni & Family Services Director were featured on LA Talk Radio “Answers For the Family“.  During the program they shared their experiences with developing and implementing family therapy with young adults, often referred to as “emerging adults”, in an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare setting. Additionally, Mike and John compared the common “myths” with the facts of emerging adulthood, while also providing insights into the importance of deepening family engagement with this population, as well as how nature-assisted therapy can promote both immediate and long-term improvements in family functioning.

Listen to the full radio show here:

At Pacific Quest we fully utilize family participation in the therapeutic process.  By involving the whole family in the healing process, we strive to improve communication, increase empathy and develop usable conflict resolution skills, which help deepen each individual’s understanding and trust in the greater process.

For more information about our Family Program visit:

October 4, 2017

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5 Simple Ways to Decolonize Your Life

By: Mike McGee, Family Program Manager

The term “decolonization” is controversial.  It forces us to critically examine the western approaches to nearly all intellectual pursuits from politics to science to religion and social interactions.  The opinion is held by many that decolonization requires radical action while others propose further education to create a fully imagined multicultural society.  It can also imply that the status quo is flawed.  Yet there are aspects of decolonization that can enrich each and everyone of our lives. These indigenous methodologies make up the worldview of intact or native cultures and can allow individuals to find deeper connection and meaning in this world.  At Pacific Quest, we strive to utilize these concepts without appropriating native cultures and encourage our clients and families to find their own unique expression.

Mike McGee, Family Program Manager

When I began to study indigenous methodologies and approaches, I found more commonalities than I expected. I began to find the connections in science (Quantum Mechanics), sociology (Sociocultural perspective), gardening (Biointensive methods of farming), education (narrative education), and numerous therapeutic approaches (Neurosequential Model, Narrative Therapy, and Family System Models).  We may fail to see these approaches as uniquely indigenous methodologies.

Here are 5 simple ways (that we use at Pacific Quest) to begin the process of what I’m calling micro-decolonization:

  1.   Life is Cyclical

The environmental approach seen in social and family systems work, sociology, and therapy highlight something that intact cultures have always known: that life is cyclical rather than linear.  When we narrowly focus on end goals, we often fail to see the beauty in detours.  We fail to see the richness of each experience.  We fail to see that the seed is just as important as the sprout, the fruit, or the compost.  Whatever goodness has happened in the past will return, as will periods of struggle.

  1.  Value all perspectives in life development

Our society sees adolescence as a time of recklessness, upheaval, and boundary pushing. This view is echoed in our advertising, entertainment, and beauty standards.  We look at adults as providers and martyrs.  We see children as naive and ignorant.  We tend to see the elderly as disabled or old-fashioned.  Yet each perspective brings a unique lens and strength to our society.  The joy of childhood, the passion of adolescence, the steadiness of adulthood, and the wisdom of elder-hood all are valued in communities that thrive.

  1.  Accept differing perspectives as truth

We live in a world where we often are only able to accept one truth.  This is taught to us from an early age.  This color is orange and this one is blue.  But those colors are also various shades of gray to someone with color blindness.  They may be considered apricot or teal to someone else.  The truth is contextual to each individual.  It is their truth and how the world appears to them.  Adopting the viewpoint that more than one ‘truth’ may coexist in a situation allows for freedom of expression and can lead to mutual understanding.

  1.  Give gifts that mean something

It feels good to give.  And it also feels good to receive.  It’s validating to friends and family when the gift exchange represents more than just the dollars spent, and is infused with creativity or thoughtfulness by the giver, fostering more meaning for the receiver.  Ask just about any parent what their most precious possession is and there is a good chance that it is something that their child made or gave them.  As we age, our creative expressions can be tainted by criticisms or comparisons, lessening our desire to exercise our creative side.  When gift exchange with meaning occurs, the cultural value of gift giving and the ceremony of that act deepens the connections to those around us.

  1.  Have a connection to the source of your food

One of the main things that separates intact societies from colonized and western cultures is a deep connection to their food source.  We have lost much of the knowledge of where our food comes from and how to cultivate it.  To deepen personal connection to food, get to know the farmers in your area, shop at the farmer’s market, and grow your own herbs, edible plants and vegetables.  There is no better way to find meaning and connection to nature than working in tandem with nature to provide yourself and your loved one’s nutrition.

September 27, 2017

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Hawai`i Hosts International Sandplay Therapy Congress

By:  Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director

Sandplay therapists and researchers from 24 countries gathered in Kailua-Kona this summer to explore the latest trends in Jungian Sandplay Therapy and to participate in the 24th Congress of the International Society for Sandplay Therapy (ISST).

With support from my Pacific Quest ohana and the Hawai`i sandplay community, I served as the primary conference organizer and host.  After two years of planning and anticipation, we were excited to realize that the conference surpassed all expectations!

Kahu Kauila Clark offered lessons in Hawaiian culture and ceremony, providing grounding each morning while eight PQ therapists participating in this advanced training opportunity spread the Spirit of Aloha with our visitors.

Research was presented on the effectiveness of Sandplay Therapy in treating individuals with anxiety, trauma, parental distress, and co-occurring disorders.

Neuroimaging data revealed how people access and reprocess memories through Sandplay and also provided evidence for neural synchronization between the therapist and the client during Sandplay Therapy.

I presented original research on the neuropsychology of Sandplay Therapy and the role of Sandplay in the treatment of adolescents and young adults with co-occurring trauma and substance use disorders.

Sandplay Therapy is offered to students at Pacific Quest. This nonverbal method has roots in Jungian psychology, play therapy, and eastern contemplative practices.  Touching the sand, using symbols for self-expression, and entering a state of mindful presence activates multiple brain systems for healing.  We have found that Sandplay Therapy complements our holistic approach and helps our students to express and resolve emotional and personality issues that may be inaccessible in verbal therapies alone.

On September 29, 2017 twelve therapists on our team will begin a year-long intensive and experiential training in Sandplay Therapy.  This series not only allows me to provide STA/ISST-certified training at Pacific Quest; it also improves quality of care for our students and helps my team practice self-care and grow stronger together.

Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director is an international sandplay teacher (STA/ISST), serves on boards of the Sandplay Therapists of Hawai`i and the Sandplay Therapists of America and is the Research Editor for the Journal of Sandplay Therapy.

For more info, visit:

International Society for Sandplay Therapy (ISST)

Sandplay Therapists of America (STA)

September 22, 2017

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Spreading Aloha to Victims of Hurricane Harvey

By: Kellyn Smythe, Admissions & Outreach Manager

This week Pacific Quest’s Executive Director Mark Agosto and I traveled to Houston to share the aloha spirit with victims of Hurricane Harvey.  With support from the team at Academic Answers, needs like diapers, mattresses, food, refrigerators, clothing, bedding, and a full set of new kitchen appliances were identified and fulfilled.  However, in a whirlwind of shopping, moving, organizing, and delivering, it became clear that the Aloha Spirit was already there.  This community has rallied to support each other in the face of a devastating natural disaster.  In the wake of gutted homes, flooded cars, and soggy photo-albums, a sea of smiles and busy hands are wringing out the dampness and putting lives back together.  The task ahead is daunting, but the seeds of recovery are being sown in the gulf. PQ is honored to be a part of that effort and plant a few seeds or our own.


September 15, 2017

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Pacific Quest Fall Tour 2017

By:  Yvette Slagle, Communications Manager

Pacific Quest recently hosted a program tour for some of our referring professionals visiting from the mainland.  It’s always a special treat to provide guests the opportunity to see first hand our beautiful gardens, meet our talented team and spend time on the island getting more familiar with what our program entails.

For some, this was a first time visit, while others had been to PQ in the past and were eager to see what has evolved and developed since their last visit.  The first day of the tour kicked off with PQ’s Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle, who introduced guests to our camp system model and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics and Sandplay Therapy.

Afterwards, our visitors were able to see the Adolescent camps as well as the Young Adult kuleana camp in Ka’u and share a healthy lunch while learning more about our Wellness Program and Integrative Psychiatry with Dr. Britta Zimmer, PQ’s Medical Director.  The afternoon was spent participating in several student led activities, including making fresh garden salsa and learning about the 5 pillars of health, planting taro in the nursery, and learning more about Polynesian history.

The second day of the visit included a presentation with our Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle who shared insight on the importance of creating connection and meaning in the work in the garden and how this translates to other areas of a student’s life.  Afterwards, we visited the young adult program at Reeds Bay in Hilo and met with a panel of young adult students who shared their experience at Pacific Quest.

Overall, it was a great experience and we are thankful to everyone who made it out to the Big Island as well as to our dedicated team who made this visit a success!  Denise Westman, Outreach Director comments, “We appreciate everyone for taking the time to join us for this full two-day intensive visit.  This is an incredible opportunity to gain a better understanding of our program and take a glimpse into the powerful work occurring at PQ as well as feel the authenticity that shines through our staff.  Mahalo to all!’’

August 31, 2017

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PQ Announces New Video Library!

By: Sharon Findlay, Admissions & Communication Manager

Pacific Quest is excited to announce our new Video Library for parents, students, and referring professionals! Viewers can easily filter the videos by category and featured staff member. Categories include: Advice for parents, Common Questions, Medical + Wellness Questions, Therapeutic Approach, and Why Pacific Quest. Parents can get to know our team from afar and hear their personal and professional perspectives on what makes Pacific Quest the special and healing place that it is.

With this new video library and new content, we worked hard to anticipate the needs of parents considering Pacific Quest for their child. Videos like “Being so far away, how effective is Pacific Quest at reconnecting the family system?” and “Gardening seems a little soft. How effective can it be?” are just two examples real questions we’ve received. This video library gives parents the opportunity to get candid answers from multiple team members.

The videos provide new and engaging content, as well as informative visuals for what Pacific Quest looks and feels like. Parents are able to see the many areas of campus from these videos. These resources are accessible to parents and professionals at whatever time of day is most convenient for them to learn more about Pacific Quest and get specific questions answered.

August 29, 2017

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Alumni Visit, 3 Years Later!

By Ashley Cipponeri, Alumni & Family Services Liaison

Summer in Hawaii brings a steady stream of new students and visitors to experience Pacific Quest! Not only do we see an influx of student admissions during the summer months, but we also see a steady stream of alumni students returning for a visit. Pacific Quest is often times the catalyst for student’s long term growth. Students identify their time at Pacific Quest as one of the main turning points for their wellbeing. The roots of reflection, responsibility, community living, and mentorship began here.

Alumni student, Juliette, recently visited Pacific Quest’s Adolescent Program. She was eager to experience Pacific Quest with the new outlook she has developed since her time at Pacific Quest. We had the opportunity to interview Juliette during her visit:

How old were you when you attended Pacific Quest and how old are you now?
I had just turned 14 when I arrived to Pacific Quest and I am 17 making it three years, almost exactly, since I was last here.

What were some of the challenges you faced while at Pacific Quest and how did you learn to cope with those challenges?
I had never been away from home for more than a week so I missed my home, my parents, and my family a lot. I had to deal with these challenges because I wasn’t able to overcome them. I wrote letters a lot and I tended to distract myself with landwork or writing letters. I also sang a lot and wrote lyrics in my journal to songs I enjoyed. I also did not do exercise before PQ so having to do work and exercise everyday was a big struggle at first. That was the hardest physical thing for me.

From the start of the program to the end, did you feel any difference with your physical activity and how you felt?
I felt a lot better. Just from eating super healthy and drinking a lot of water and working out everyday, I felt stronger and clearer, both physically and mentally.

Did you set any goals while you were at Pacific Quest that you continued to work on these past couple years?
My intent statement. I am a brave, smart, and beautiful young woman who accepts that the choices she has made are all a part of her journey. Accepting the past and recognizing I can’t change it and I have to move forward.

Have you been able to sustain any of the changes you have made starting at Pacific Quest?
I am trying to eat healthier, it doesn’t always work out because you have to make it versus just going somewhere, but I do try to eat healthier and I definitely eat healthier compared to before coming to Pacific Quest but not as healthy as the Pacific Quest diet. I also drink plenty of water.

Have you made any changes in how you deal with challenging emotions?
Before I came here, emotions were a big thing for me because it was hard to identify what I was feeling so I didn’t know how to express myself so I learned how to be aware of my emotions and not give up.

Did the emotional vocabulary you learned while at Pacific Quest help when you went to other programs after Pacific Quest?
Yea, it was the start of expanding it.

What was your favorite part of being at Pacific Quest?
I loved cooking. That was my favorite thing to do and I was good at it. People liked it when I did it because I was creative. I really enjoyed learning about plants. I don’t get to use it much now but I still remember most of it.

Do you have any Malama* words of wisdom?
*Malama means “to care for” or “steward”. It is the pinnacle phase at Pacific Quest.
Even if something is hard, it doesn’t mean it is bad. I really like quotes and one of my favorite is, “it’s always darkest before dawn” and I agree with that. It gets really hard before it gets better.

What would you say to parents who are on the fence about sending their child to Pacific Quest and maybe are worried about their child not enjoying?
I’d say they do not have to enjoy it for it to be good. I doubt there will be any student that enjoys it the first couple weeks. Some enjoy it in the end but the important thing is they will look back on it and be glad that you sent them there and in the long run they will thank you.

You spoke about how the healthy eating and drinking has had an impact on you, what about the other pillars of health taught at Pacific Quest?
Yea, deep breathing is the best way I have found to help with my anxiety and calm myself down.

Anything else you want to share before we close?
Even if you believe you might make it through without PQ, it will still be good for you. I don’t think this will be bad for any person. Even if you think you can do it by yourself, with the program you will progress better and faster.