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November 23, 2018

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Makahiki, an Ancient Hawaiian Celebration

Makahiki is a holiday season that punctuated the yearly farming cycle in ancient Hawaii. Makahiki was a time of rest and renewal in preparation for the next growing season. Makahiki is similar in timing and purpose to Thanksgiving, Octoberfest, and other harvest celebrations.

This week at Pacific Quest, students have been learning about Makahiki and focusing on how to incorporate gratitude as a daily practice. The camps seem to be overflowing with peace, gratitude, and abundance. There is excitement in the air as students create elaborate centerpieces, natural bouquets, and rustic table settings to adorn the exquisite feast. 

Students and staff contributed to chopping and cooking a festive feast. Students, program guides, field managers, clinicians, wellness and logistic teams joined together together at our base to enjoy a spread of fall favorites, including turkey, pork, seasoned tofu, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, salad, carrots, and yams.  Additionally, the young adult ohana decide to perform a Passion Show with performances of songs, dances, and talents. There was fun lawn games, improv games, and lots of jokes and laughter throughout the feast. Students reported, “It’s nice to take a break from deep therapeutic work and come together to have some fun and good food.” Additionally, they shared gratitude:  “Grateful for the opportunities in life to grow,” “Peace,” and, “The abundance of the land.” One student shared with his peers that, “It’s hard to be away from home for thanksgiving. But it is also really nice to celebrate Makahiki with my PQ Family.” There were many smiles, laughs, and fully bellies at the Makahiki celebration at Pacific Quest. 

November 19, 2018

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Pacific Quest Gave Me a Place to Process my Grief

Here is a testimonial written by a student, reflecting on her 1 year anniversary since graduating from Pacific Quest.

Pacific Quest was hands down one of the most pivotal experiences of my life. I entered PQ as a scared teen who was neck deep in avoidance and believed the prospect of long term recovery to be impossible. And I left still very scared, but willing to enter the next stage of my life with an open mind and heart. That change occurred because in a few months, PQ had allowed me to work hard at overcoming trauma, mending and creating relationships, starting to feel happy again, and becoming as prepared as possible for my next step.

When I arrived at PQ, I had been in and out of treatment for the past few years and believed that the cycle wouldn’t come to a close any time soon. That belief didn’t falter right away either. At first, I spent my days writing countless letters and lists of why I should leave, expressing those opinions to anyone who would listen, resorting to self destructive behaviors, and counting the number of days I could stand to stay at PQ. I specifically remember telling myself, “I’ll be long gone by Halloween.” At the time, Halloween was almost two months away and I was determined to, through persuasion and continuation of negative behaviors, be sent to another program before then.

That prediction proved to be very wrong. My halloween was spent at PQ, in Huli Ka’e (a really amazing rite of passage) enjoying hanging out with other students and guides and celebrating the holiday in our own way.

What changed? The most apparent change that comes to mind took place on September 9th. I hadn’t been at PQ long at that point and woke up that day maintaining the belief that I did not belong there. Sure, PQ had helped others, but I thought I was different. In my mind, everyone that believed it would help me was wrong. I was the only one who knew what was best. But around lunch time that day, one of the supervisors came to talk to me and ended up changing my perspective forever. I hadn’t eaten much for a while, and was set on not eating my lunch. But that supervisor sat down with me and we talked. Mostly about rock climbing, which we shared a mutual love for, though she also was very honest with me about the negative behaviors that I was doing, and what would happen if I keep doing them. Through that conversation, she somehow she got me to eat a bite of my meal, and another, and another, until I had eaten half of it! That may not seem like a big deal, but to me it was monumental. She aided me in breaking down a wall of disordered eating that had developed through years of fortification.

After that meal, my mindset changed. My choices started to become clear. For the past few years I had believed that once I became reliant upon a self destructive behavior, it was out of my control. But I realized on September 9th that that was far from the case. My urges neither control me or comprise who I am. I do. That day, I decided to give PQ a chance. And that willingness carried me through the next through months and allowed me to, in time, have a lot of faith in the help of PQ and the people there.

Pacific Quest was a necessary whirlwind of emotions. At times, I felt a deeper sadness and anger than I had ever experienced. But I am so, so incredibly grateful that I had a place to feel those emotions. When I was 12, I lost someone really close to me. And after years of halfheartedly attempting to process that loss, PQ gave me a place to dive into it. Before long, sand play therapy, ripping out weeds, and a long term project of transplanting a tree became a few of my go to ways of letting out my emotions. And it really, really worked. However, another huge factor in dealing with my emotions was talking with guides. Almost every day I would sit down with a guide, vent to them, and maybe pull out some weeds in the process. And I am forever grateful to all of those guides for listening to me.

Though there were some tough times, I also felt some of the most genuine feelings of happiness, peace, and freedom in years. Whether it was sitting around a fire and looking up at stars, going to the market, painting, playing bucket ball, graduating to another stage of the program, seeing my dad, going to the ocean, just sitting in my hale, or numerous other things, the happiness I often felt was inexplicable. One memory that sticks out is my first time playing bucket ball. Prior to PQ, I hated sports. But that day, I remember running across the grass with the biggest smile on my face, feeling surprised at the happiness I felt from not a movie or tv show, but from myself. I was just so happy to be outside, feeling comfortable in my body, not isolating myself but hanging out with others. Another thing that I gained a lot of peace from was gardening. Prior to PQ, gardening was just something that my grandma did and I had no interest in taking part in. But in those few months, I learned so much about various plants, from taro to sleepy grass (my personal favorite). I really grew to love some of my plants, and taking care of them grounded me. I even continued to garden at the next program I went to. PQ was by no means a walk in the park, but in those few months I experienced things from such a beautiful, close up perspective that I never really had before.

As I write this, today is my one year anniversary of leaving Pacific Quest. A year ago right now I was probably sitting in my hale impatient to leave, so grateful for the past few months, but feeling a confusing mix of excitement and fear for my next step. And right now, I’m sitting in study hall, slightly overwhelmed that I have a quiz in a few hours, but very, very happy. I regularly go to school and have a solid group of friends for the first time in my life. My relationship with my family and myself is pretty great. And I even have my first art exhibit in a few months! My life isn’t perfect by any means. I still have hard days, get occasional urges, feel mad at my dad, and so on. But things are better than I ever could’ve imagined. And I truly do not believe this change to be possible without the help of PQ.

November 13, 2018

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“I am the strongest and happiest I have ever been” -Alumna Testimonial

Before I went to PQ I was in the darkest and most desperate place I have ever known. I was having intrusive thoughts of suicide serval times every 10 minutes. I had lost all hope and given up. I felt like nothing was real, and that nothing truly mattered in this life anyways, so who cares? I was isolating, over sleeping, barely eating, and desperate for help.

I went to PQ and I was very reluctant when I first arrived. I had a lot of difficulty adjusting to the program initially, and decided I wanted to leave. Thankfully, the staff and students worked with me to make me feel more comfortable and learn to absolutely LOVE the program. I have met the most reliable, loving, vulnerable, funny, smart group of people through this program, who I know I will be friends with, and able to depend on for the rest of my life. I received the best therapy I have ever had, and I have been in therapy since age 9. I went into the program wanting to no longer have thoughts of killing myself, which I not only accomplished after just a few short weeks, but I came to see the root causes of the thoughts and worked my way through them as well.

Every second of the day at PQ has intention, and restores hope and purpose, although it can be very difficult to see in the moment. I started my PQ journey wanting nothing more than to leave, and by the time I was finishing up I couldn’t imagine my life outside of it, and tried to prolong my stay. I even tried transferring to staff.

Since graduating PQ, I am the strongest and happiest I have ever been. Although I must admit that I do occasionally have thoughts of wanting to disappear, I now have a community to reach out to, and tools to use to come out on top. I can’t rave about this program enough. I often think about how much I want to go back, but I now feel ready to handle whatever life throws in my path with joy.

November 6, 2018

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October Harvest

Last month, Reed’s Bay students harvested 153 pounds of produce.  They enjoyed the fruits of their labor (literally), including eggplant, cabbage, bok choy, purple and green beans, taro, sweet potato, breadfruit, papaya, peppers, basil, and cilantro.  The group plucked oranges, tangerines and kumquats to marinade chicken and tofu, and livened up vegetables and salads with blended citrus herb combinations.  One student proudly cut and carried in a 40 pound rack of bananas which were enjoyed by all.  Green papaya pickling continued and students complimented their savory garlic sweet potato fries with homemade ketchup.  Even dessert came from the garden, as students created and duplicated breadfruit pudding, cacao oatmeal cookies and no bake lemon cheesecake.  As the month came to a close, the students began eyeballing November’s fruits, including five racks of young green bananas.  Thank you to everyone who keeps the garden thriving.



November 2, 2018

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Say you want a VEGGIELUTION…

PQ Therapist Mark Storey and Family Services Director Mike Sullivan teamed up with Sky’s the Limit Fund to host a community gardening event in San Jose, CA.  Veggielution, a community garden set in reclaimed land under a myriad of freeways, was excited to host the group.   It was a huge success, and a great reminder of the power of teamwork and determination.

In good PQ fashion, the group started off the day in an introduction circle, and discussed personal intentions for the day. Then it was onto hard work – pruning, weeding, shoveling, hauling, and clearing, rehabilitating a neglected native hedgerow.  The native hedgerow is important for keeping insects out of the organic garden (which every organic gardener knows is always a challenge!). The group high fived and celebrated success!

Thank you to Sky’s the Limit Fund for spearheading and organizing the event.  Thank you to the staff at Veggielution for your environmental stewardship and commitment to sustainability.  The PQ ohana looks forward to more collaboration and supporting philanthropic endeavors.


October 28, 2018

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The Perfection Pressure Cooker

This month Genell Howell, LMHC, CSAC, SEP discusses about a common trait we see with our internalizing students.


The Perfection Pressure Cooker


Many of us strive to be better at our jobs, school or in our home life. We look for ways to improve and succeed. Perfectionists are also looking for success, however, they impose unrealistic standards upon themselves.  People with perfectionistic tendencies are consistently striving for the best; constantly trying to reach something bigger and better.  They are often the adolescent with a 4.3 grade point average, homecoming king or queen mixed with being a star lacrosse player or lead performer.


Perfection is often accompanied with debilitating anxiety, eating disorders, and depression. Goals become black and white and even great accomplishments seem inadequate. Clients who fit this criteria usually present with rigid thought patterns and an “all or nothing” attitude. Pressure builds as they internalize the intense need to succeed and the acute fear of failure.  Emotions are pushed down further and further, until eventually, the pressure cooker explodes, and the person collapses. The collapse differs from person to person. In some people we see increased incidents of isolating and school/ extracurricular refusal, even in a sport or activity that at one time gave them joy. In others, the level of internalized rigidity is embodied to such extent that it may cause significant physical and somatic complaints, resulting in a myriad of doctor visits chasing a phantom pain.


Drawing on the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) at Pacific Quest, students experiencing perfectionistic traits learn to utilize self regulation. They begin to employ healthy regulatory coping skills, releasing emotions they have spent years suppressing. They learn that balance is essential. Through learning about vulnerability and shame reduction, they begin to understand that it is okay to have faults and imperfections. Throughout this process students use somatic techniques and art-based Jungian depth methods to access and honor deeper emotions while beginning to break the perfectionist cycle.


Interrupting and rewiring the family system is critical. While students enrolled in Pacific Quest are busy tapping into imperfections, the parents step away from the intensity of expectation, supporting their child’s growth and healing. A family systems approach redefines success and expectations, creating healthy growth for the future.


Written by Genell Howell, LMHC, CSAC, SEP

October 28, 2018

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Clinical Spotlight: Genell Howell

Genell is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (LMHC), Certified Substance Abuse Counselor (CSAC) and a Somatic Experiencing Practitioner (SEP) with advanced training in mind-body therapies. Somatic Experiencing (SE) is an evidenced-based therapeutic modality that incorporates the body and felt sensations into therapy. SE is particularly effective in treating individuals with trauma symptoms or high levels of anxiety. With a primary focus on building resiliency, Genell has experience treating adolescents and young adults in a variety of therapeutic settings including residential treatment and wilderness-based models.

Genell earned her Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Prescott College, and her Bachelor of Arts in Geography with an emphasis in Hawaiian Culture from the University of Hawaii at Hilo. Genell combines her clinical expertise in mind-body therapies and substance abuse treatment with her background as a yoga instructor, knowledge of Hawaiian culture, and love of the Big Island to effectively leverage all elements of Pacific Quest’s whole-person wellness model.

She has earned her EMDR level I, II and advanced modalities. Genell received training in sandplay and art therapy which she often incorporates into therapy. She is also certified under Bruce Perry’s training of the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT).

Genell’s areas of expertise include (but are not limited to) addictions, eating disorders and body dysmorphia, attachment issues, depression, anxiety, trauma, low self-worth, mood disorders and emotional dysregulation. Genell utilizes a variety of therapeutic modalities, which include Cognitive Behavioral, Art and Sandplay Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), Somatic Experiencing, and Family Systems approach.

Genell is committed to ongoing personal growth and enjoys learning, reading, playing with her family, running, communing with nature and spending time in the ocean.

Parent Testimonial:  My daughter’s therapist was by far the most important element in her recovery. To say Genell Howell is gifted is an understatement. The best therapist we have ever encountered!

October 28, 2018

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The Four Roots of Horticulture Therapy: Ecological, Intentional, Cyclical & Experimental 

In the following article, PQ Therapist Intern and Program Supervisor Sarah Blechman, describes an outstanding training facilitated at Pacific Quest bi-annually.


The Four Roots of Horticulture Therapy: Ecological, Intentional, Cyclical & Experimental 


Over the last two weeks, PQ hosted the bi-annual company-wide horticulture therapy training. Michael McGee, Dara Downs, Sarah Blechman, and Anthony Florig designed the intensive training to serve as the official roll-out for Pacific Quest’s horticulture methods and values: ” The Four Roots of Horticulture Therapy: Ecological, Intentional, Cyclical & Experimental.”

The training included an hour-long experiential presentation for each “root,” involving hard skills, engagement tools, empirical science, and therapeutic implications. Throughout the training, participants refined tree care, planting, rock wall building, and garden bed maintenance skills. They also learned about the many neurological benefits of farming, soil science, the magic of photosynthesis, farm games and specific land-based interventions for particular behaviors.


The group focused efforts on garden projects at the end of each training, highlighting how completed projects could provide evidence of self-efficacy and meaningful group experience. At the end of the training, participants reported they felt more equipped to lead engaging and therapeutic garden projects, and were excited to use the garden more intentionally to empower the students at Pacific Quest.


Written by Sarah Blechman, PQ Therapist Intern and Program Supervisor

October 25, 2018

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Young Adult Transition Association 2018- Addressing Technology Challenges

The Young Adult Transition Association Conference, 2018, set in the beautiful town of Coeur D’alene, Idaho, just convened. Kellyn Smythe and Mike Sullivan from Pacific Quest were among many conference attendees drilling into the conference theme: the impact of technology on young adults. It was inspiring to be immersed in such great thinkers!

21st century young adults live in a different world than generations preceding them. Most salient appears to be screen time, which studies indicate averages close to 10 hours per day for 18-24 year olds, and surges much higher for those with tech addictions. A 2018 study by the University of San Francisco links increased loneliness, anxiety and depression with screen time. Young adult wilderness and residential treatment programs are being called to action to directly address the tech- driven and tech-reliant environment that floods our youth. The 2018 YATA conference was a summit for discussing factors contributing to this phenomenon.

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC teamed up with Johnny Tock, MA, LMHC to present at the conference. In their presentation, Mike and Johnny showcased the foundations of sustainable therapeutic growth – starting with how The Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT), a lens for looking at neurodevelopment and brain function, provides as approach that “re-wires the brain” from the bottom up. This equips young adults with tools for self-regulation, social engagement, and executive functioning and strengthens social and reward neurocircuitry, integrating the brain and making possible opportunities for behavioral interventions. NMT in conjunction with other evidence-based practices and holistic wellness prepares clients to better navigate the tech laden world. However, while the NMT foundation is a critical step, it is imperative to incorporate practical tools and awareness for technology exposure intentionally, as the graduate prepares for transition.

Mike and Johnny then reviewed specific tech stressors and strategies for coping as the client nears graduation from residential/wilderness treatment. For example, is it more anxiety-provoking to open text messages, or is opening “hook up” apps likely to start a tailspin? Is reconnecting with a favorite video game going to catalyze an immediate regression? Mike and Johnny discussed stress management and desensitization strategies; critical in developing a roadmap for success for transition and beyond. The presentation and discussion points were relevant for active clinicians, program developers, admissions counselors, and educational consultants. It was a packed house with a very engaged audience.

All in all very great conference and look forward to returning next year!

October 22, 2018

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September Harvest!

September is a great month in the organic garden.  PQ young adults at the Reeds Bay campus harvested 311 pounds of lovely edibles. We enjoyed fresh coconut, jackfruit, basil, bok choy, brussel sprouts, cilantro, cucumber, green beans, kale, pineapple, starfruit, papaya, and a variety of peppers. The students continued to stock their oversized pickling jars of green papaya with dill, and hot peppers with garlic and onion. A 20 pound harvest of fresh turmeric found us chopping, dehydrating and grating the anti inflammatory wonder root to create the healthy elixir called “golden milk.”


As we meander through the fall season, the days get a little shorter and the nights a little longer. Our gardens begin to show signs of slowing down. We look forward to planting keiki (seedlings) for winter crops over the coming weeks. Thanks again to everyone who works the gardens, wanders through the gardens, or wishes they could—all your lovely energy keeps the plants going. Mahalo.