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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.

October 19, 2018

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PQ maintains “gold status” in research efforts

Pacific Quest is pleased to report that we have diligently maintained “gold status” in our efforts to gather student outcome data, and contribute to a much larger national study on the efficacy of outdoor behavioral health programs.  Thank you to the University of New Hampshire and the National Association of Therapeutic Schools and Programs for coordinating such a empirically rigorous study.

Stay tuned for updates regarding trends and progress we are observing with our alum.

October 15, 2018

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Sing it Alumna!

Thanks to the wonderful PQ alumna who shared this meaningful video.  As she says “Happy Place is the first song I ever wrote. I wrote it in March while I was in Hawaii, and through writing it I actually learned to play the ukulele! Ohana– this one’s for you. I hope you like it! 🌺”

PQ provides an arena for deep introspection.  We love it when our alum carry this forward and send us songs, poems, art, and garden projects.  Keep sending us your art alumni!  Enjoy.

Happy Place

I’m just a little boat. I’m tryin just to float. Keep getting lost in storms I watch the waves and see em grow and I can’t see the coast. I’m gettin scared cuz I keep looking at the sky. It’s gettin higher and the clouds are fillin up the sky but when I close my eyes…
There are blue birds and the sun kisses my face. There are no words in my happy place. The pua kinney kinney trees are dancing in the summer breeze. Their perfume fills the air in my happy place. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.
I’m just a little lamb, no more than what I am. Grazing the grass and seein big things I don’t understand. One day I know I can. But then I see the trees. Wolves are coming for me. It’s teeth and claws and beady eyes as far as I can see but in my heart I’ll be…
Where there are blue birds and the sun kisses my face. There are no words in my happy place. The pua kinney kinney trees are dancing in the summer breeze. Their perfume fills the air in my happy place. Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo.I just cant wash the world away, gotta be where I’m at. Moments at a time, take it day by day and remember that… on the other side
There are blue birds and the sun kisses my face. There are no words in my happy place. The pua kinney kinney trees are dancing in the summer breeze. Their perfume fills the air. Fuzzy creatures everywhere. Everyone has love to spare. Lollipops and bubblegum. All the people holdin hands are hummin Doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo doo. Hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm hmm.


October 5, 2018

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Clinical Spotlight: Dr. Lorraine Freedle

Lorraine received her BA in Social Work from Pennsylvania State University and her Master of Social Work from the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu. She also holds an Educational Specialist graduate degree in School Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado, and a Master of Arts in Psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy in Clinical Psychology, with a specialization in neuropsychology from Fielding Graduate University. In addition to earning board certifications in social work, school psychology and neuropsychology, Lorraine completed advanced training and certification in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) through the Child Trauma Academy. She is also an internationally certified sandplay therapist and teacher who has conducted award winning research in this modality. Lorraine is the founder of Black Sand Neuropsychological Services, where she conducts neuropsychological evaluations, consultation services, and sandplay therapy.

Lorraine Freedle, LCSW, Ph.D., ABPdN, ABSNP, CST-T

Five years ago, Dr. Freedle stepped into her role as Clinical Director, and was immediately drawn to the evolution of students’ process at Pacific Quest and it’s direct correlation to neurological therapeutic development. “A lot of programs talk about such an approach, but PQ actually harnesses the power of nature and practices complete wellness, with qualified staff working together on every aspect. PQ works because it is an individualized, comprehensive and neurodevelopmentally-informed approach. Everyone’s brain works differently. At PQ we can design strategies that reach our students and move them through a deep and lasting change process.”

VIDEO: Learn how PQ utilizes and integrates NMT throughout our entire program.

Since then, Lorraine has successfully elevated our program and clinical department to a new level. Working with The Child Trauma Academy, we are now site certified in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT). Lorraine provides Sandplay training/supervision, EMDR training/supervision, Art Therapy training/supervision, “Aloha Cohort” therapist team consultations, Referral Source consultations, admissions examination and collaboration, and psychological testing services. A renowned international speaker, she has shared her knowledge and passion extensively at a variety of conferences, workshops and tours. Dr. Freedle has published numerous professional journal articles and book chapters on a variety of issues in children’s behavioral health, including neuropsychological perspectives on trauma treatment, reducing critical incidents in residential care, research on sandplay therapy and the applications of NMT to Outdoor Behavioral Health. And if that wasn’t enough, Dr. Freedle volunteers her time working directly with local Hawaii families to provide much needed therapeutic services.

“We are honored to have Lorraine on our team. She has raised the bar for all of us professionally and personally. One rarely meets a person so passionate and accomplished, and still so warm and genuine,” Suzanne McKinney said.


August 2, 2018

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HIP Agriculture Receives Award from PQ Foundation

Pacific Quest Foundation helps to steward a healthy island community by contributing to existing 501(c)(3) organizations on Hawai’i. Over the years since our founding, Pacific Quest has developed relationships with over 60 local non-profit organizations through donations from our company, employees and clients. The PQ Foundation was created to continue this tradition of stewardship.

The Pacific Quest Foundation has recently awarded a grant to the HIP Agriculture High School Mentorship and Apprenticeship Program.  We had the opportunity to interview Dash Kuhr, the Executive Director and Lead Educator at HIP Agriculture to learn more about this incredible program and how they are influencing the Big Island community.

Can you tell me a little about HIP’s background info and how it got started?

We have two locations in Kapaau (northern part of the Big Island) the Halawa Campus which serves as  the headquarters of HIP Agriculture and includes staff housing, classroom, office, design studio, and library as well as student kitchen, outdoor showers, community stage and outdoor classroom.  We also have the ʻIole Garden, which is the main pacific-style agroforestry garden, where students have the opportunity to study a more traditional indigenous system of agriculture.

HIP was founded in Spring 2011 and has been growing since!  We now have a team of eight adults we can financially support and a seasonal 6 week internship program.  The foundation of our program is based on the 3 pillars:

Youth education

Farmer training

Community outreach

HIP Agriculture is “Committed to educating and empowering the next generation of young farmers, The Hawai’i Institute of Pacific Agriculture offers a variety of programs designed to engage Hawai’i’s youth in sustainable agriculture, land stewardship, and healthy lifestyles.”

What are some of the projects and programs HIP is currently working on?  How many students do you all work with?

We serve about 1,000 students, offering field trips, after school programs and in-class presentations. We work with Kohala elementary school, as well as middle school and high school students from Honokaa, Waimea, and Waikoloa.  For the elementary and middle school students, we bring workshops and activities to supplement their science curriculum – compost and micro-organisms, pollinators and beekeeping, nutrition and cooking from the garden, and native Hawaiian plants – identification and their uses.

Middle school students have classes on plant propagation, traditional lashing, seed saving and mycology.  High school students have classes in advanced plant propagation, ecosystem dynamics, advanced beekeeping and advanced mycology.

Our high school mentorship and apprenticeship program has 23 students.  The students assist in preparing and planting the fields, laying out irrigation, fertilizing and maintenance. They learn a variety of hands on skills – including compost, harvesting protocol, fertilizer management, soil testing, ph testing, soil work, observation, and recording notes and data.  We have an apprenticeship program over the summer which provides a paid educational stipend.

Future goals of HIP and how can people help?

Our goal is to create a hui network of farmers to supply food to the local cafeterias.  We are also honing our curriculum so this program can be utilized in other locations. In addition, we host volunteer days and always need help!  We will have the Kohala Aina Festival in October and special events including Farm to Table and Full Moon gatherings.

July 27, 2018

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Ultramarathon Fundraiser: Helping Hawaii

Mark Agosto and Mike Sullivan

Many of you continue to reach out and share your concern about the people of Hawaii being affected by the Kilauea volcano eruption.  While Pacific Quest is far from danger and unaffected by the volcano, our wonderful community in the Puna District have lost their homes and been displaced (the total number of homes consumed by lava exceeds 600!).  Relief efforts are in full effect, and we want to help!

Alumni and Family Services Director Mike Sullivan, and Co-Executive Director Mark Agosto are racing a 120 mile ultramarathon in August, and have dedicated their training efforts and racing prowess to help the people of Hawaii.  They have created the fundraiser: Helping Hawaii, and can be accessed by clicking the following link: Ultramarathon Fundraiser: Helping Hawaii.

“Racing for a cause” gives meaning to training and racing, and as Mike and Mark have witnessed the devastation happening in Puna, they became passionate about creating a fundraising goal.  Please consider visiting their fundraiser page to read more about their ultramarathon endeavor or to donate.  And be sure to follow us on Facebook and Instagram from August 14-19, as they will be posting photos and stories from the six day race course (yes, that is six days of running through the Colorado mountains)!