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April 19, 2017

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Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep

By: Pauli Richardson, Wellness Coordinator

It’s not unusual for students to come to Pacific Quest and have difficulty with sleep. It’s a combination of jet lag, anxiety, poor sleeping habits at home, inability to relax, among other factors. Most students are not familiar with “sleep hygiene” or what proper rest looks like. For this reason, sleep is my favorite Pillar of Wellness to teach the students. Sleep hygiene is your lifestyle routine that helps promote sleep. Without it our bodies would not be able to get the sleep it needs naturally. During sleep the body heals itself and balances hormones.

The first question I ask the students is what their sleep routine looks like at home. Then we compare that list to a list of healthy sleeping habits and see how it differs. After taking a closer look, many students realize, they do not have a consistent sleep routine.

Tips for Healthy Sleep Hygiene


For good sleep, it’s important to strive to go to bed and wake up at the same time everyday. At Pacific Quest, the students wake up at 6:45 AM and they are in bed by 8:30 pm. We teach that this habit is important in helping reset the body’s circadian rhythm, the body’s natural sleep/wake cycle.

For some of our students this is the first time they have gone to bed before midnight in a long time. The later you go to sleep the less likely you are to reach deep restful REM sleep.


In addition, it’s essential to create an environment that promotes sleep. Our bedroom needs to be a place that helps us relax. There are many people that eat on their bed, look at phones while in bed, watch TV, play video games, etc. Your bed should be for rest only. When it is not, your brain won’t instantly know it’s time for sleep and the screens may interfere with the brain’s production of melatonin, an important sleep hormone.

At PQ, students get a break from electronics but we discuss what to do once they face those temptations outside of this environment.  I encourage them to journal or color right next to their bed if they need to, and then get snuggled under the covers once they feel sleepy. Students can also request a calming tea to help them relax or learn to make their own with herbs from our garden! Drinking lavender, lemon balm,or chamomile tea is soothing for the body.

HEALTHY HABITSHelpful Tips to Improve Sleep - Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy

  • Avoid Caffeine after 12pm
  • Use essential oils before bedtime
  • Listen to relaxing instrumental music
  • Exercise during the day
  • Close your eyes and visualize a calming nature scene
  • Eat foods with Tryptophan (banana,yogurt,turkey)
  • Get a massage

Meditation is an important aspect of our program and it’s key for preparing students’ minds for sleep. It can look very different from day to day. For example, we have staff play guitar, teach deep breathing, read a poem, do soft yoga poses and sometimes students like to lead their peers in their own guided meditation.  I enjoy teaching the students Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR). This is where students start at the top of their head and work all the way down to the feet squeezing and relaxing each muscle group.

It takes effort and dedication to develop good sleep hygiene habits. It is my hope that students will take what they have learned at Pacific Quest and continue to practice taking care of themselves. Quick fixes are not sustainable, and when students learn this they are on their way to living a healthier life. Sweet dreams!

November 16, 2016

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Moving Forward: The story of a PQ alumna

By: PQ Alumni Student

I didn’t realize how much of my life I was hiding from, and how much I didn’t know about myself, until the three months I spent at Pacific Quest.  Prior to going to PQ in February, I was in a severe depression. I hated every minute and everything about myself.  It was a time that I don’t wish upon anyone.  I hid behind alcohol, sex and shopping, anything that would avoid the idea of feelings, and moving past my pain. I was filled with anger, and major giddiness because the emotions were almost non-existent. I wanted nothing to do with the way I felt, and the fact that I was drowning slowly, falling into pieces I would not be able to pick up myself.  I pushed away friends, family, anyone who cared for me, and I refused to see therapists or take my medication regularly.  After a very dark few months and three days in a psych ward, I realized how much I needed help.

Pacific Quest alumni student shares her experience at PQ and beyond.

Alumni student working in the garden

When I first came to PQ, I fought it, not interested in anything, but as time went on and I learned more about myself I began to love it there. There was no doubt that the program was not easy, but the things I learned and overcame at Pacific Quest, I am convinced saved my life.  I found out at PQ, I have major childhood traumas, anxiety issues and my medications were wrong.  My therapist and the PQ guides helped me regain confidence, realize how incredible I can be, learn to channel my anger, my impulsivity, and cope without addictions taking over. They helped me get on the right medication track, and work out many great things with my family. I have never cried, laughed, yelled, struggled and enjoyed myself so much in my life. It was so worth it.

Leaving PQ was tough, it was like leaving a world of comfort, new strategies, a healthy living style and having to realize that the real world is tough.  I don’t want to go back to where I was, so I have to choose to move forward. I graduated from PQ into a transition program. I fought it for some time, but after about 2 months, I pulled it together. I began to remember all that I learned in Hawaii, and how capable I am. I regained motivation, and the capability to function.

I am now in college, doing excellent, enjoying it and getting the services I need to succeed. I am also working part time in the restaurant industry.  I have been making friends and I’m not pushing anyone away, and even with my family things have improved.  As for my anxiety, I used to get panic attacks to the point where I could not breathe; it felt like I was having a heart attack, with my body spasming.  I could not control it, or understand it, and I was very scared.  Since I graduated PQ in the end of May, I have only had a total of 3 anxiety attacks that I could not control. I now know great deep breathing techniques and body exercises to limit my anxiety to get any farther. I had one therapist tell me “we fear the fear of anxiety” and that has stuck with me forever. I can now tell my triggers, and when I am getting anxiety.

I feel like a whole new person.  My ability to love myself with no one else and to accept the help that I need and want to do well is something I never felt before.  I’m now at a place where I have taken control of my life, and I could not be happier.  I’m convinced Pacific Quest saved my life, and helped me understand how amazing it is to be on this earth and how lucky I am to have gone to a place like that, and be able to grow from it.  It is and will always be a memorable experience I will never forget and will forever be grateful for.

October 19, 2016

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Pacific Quest expands capacity to provide EMDR

By: Teresa Bertoncin, LPCC, LMFT, Primary Therapist

Pacific Quest is excited to announce that a cohort of 13 of its clinical staff recently attended EMDR training with Dr. Roger Solomon, a Senior Faculty Member of the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Institute, as they work to join PQ therapists already certified in the practice of EMDR.

Trauma is the body and mind’s response to unprocessed disturbing life events. Unresolved trauma is at the core of many psychological disorders—some more obvious than others, for example Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yet, trauma is often also at the root of many anxieties, phobias, panic attacks, eating disorders, pain, hyper-vigilance, interrupted sleep, self esteem issues and addictions—many of the symptoms we see here at PQ. Trauma symptoms are often difficult to resolve, particularly with adolescents or young adults, because it may not be obvious that the experienced symptoms are related to trauma.

EMDR training recently offered to clinical staff at Pacific Quest

Teresa Bertoncin, LPCC, LMFT

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a well-established approach to psychotherapy and is an evidence-based treatment proven to be effective in trauma resolution. EMDR therapy is very effective at calming and healing in a short span of time. By focusing on a thought associated with traumatic memories it is very specific and direct. It evokes and integrates information on three levels—cognitive, emotional and somatic—very often targeting a negative cognition or a negative self-belief; I’m unlovable, I’m ugly, I’m unsafe, etc. By tracking physical sensations and feelings in the body, and using eye movements and bilateral stimulations, the negative beliefs become dislodged, replaced with positive beliefs about oneself, while using this positive experience to support a future template of adaptive wholeness.

EMDR has proven to be particularly effective, when working with students in a contained and structured outdoor setting that PQ provides. So often it is not trauma per se, but the student’s unrelenting incongruent beliefs or negative cognitions they have about themselves, that drove the behaviors that led them to PQ. In the safe, tranquil and natural environment at PQ with limited distractions, we have the opportunity to get to the root of trauma more organically than in an outpatient setting. By using the detailed EMDR protocols and procedures therapists help clients activate their natural healing processes fairly rapidly.

As much as the body is capable of recovering from physical trauma, EMDR therapy shows that the mind can heal from psychological trauma. Let’s say you’re walking on a lava field and fall and cut your knee. It might be immediately painful, but the body works naturally to close the wound. If however, there are some lava fragments that had not been cleaned out properly, or you keep bonking your knee up against something, the wound will fester and cause ongoing pain. Yet healing resumes once the block is eliminated. We get stuck in trauma when the brain’s information processing system is blocked by the impact of a distressing event, intense suffering ensues, but once the block is removed the brain, like the body, moves naturally towards mental health. The brain is equipped to manage and handle adversity, and EMDR therapy helps the psyche activate its natural healing process.

October 18, 2016

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From Surviving to Thriving: The story of a PQ alumna

By: PQ Alumni Student

Before Pacific Quest, I was alive, but I wasn’t really living. I was surviving, but I was far from thriving. My life had become completely consumed by depression and anxiety. It was back in 2014; I had dropped out of college, and not for the first time. I had been suffering for over a decade by that point and had lost all hope. I had been doing therapy for years, had tried countless different medications, hell, I had even spent six weeks at a treatment facility in an attempt to “get better”. I was just about ready to give up, to end it all. I knew I didn’t want to die, though. So I decided to take a chance on Pacific Quest.

I could not be more grateful for my PQ experience.  There isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t think about those three months of my life. The experience is still so vivid in my mind, and I think that’s what is so special about the program.  Being in Hawaii is truly magical. Yes, the experience was beyond tough; it was filled with tears, frustrations, moments of hopelessness. But in the end, it was worth it. PQ helped me save my own life.

Taking a Chance on Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Alumni student with Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle

Notice how I say that I saved my own life?  That’s because I’ve learned to take accountability for my actions and the decisions that I make.  It’s one of the many lessons I learned at PQ.  I learned things about myself that I have never known.  Not only did PQ help me finally gain clarity about diagnoses and medications, but more importantly, I also learned about who I am as a person, and how to love that person!  I learned to appreciate myself for who I am.  I learned tools and coping mechanisms that are still with me, to this day. I learned to see the beauty in life again, and in myself. My experience was a powerful one.

After attending PQ, I moved to a transition program in Oregon. I felt rejuvenated, vivacious, and ready to slowly but surely rebuild my life. I felt so motivated by my experiences in Hawaii, and I was determined to stay on my path of health and self-love. Today, I am still in Oregon. I graduated from the transition program and am living on my own, happily and healthfully. I have a better relationship with my family members than I have ever had before. I have a better relationship with MYSELF than I have ever had before. I’m currently enrolled in college and will be graduating in a few months. Today, I am content with my life. I am proud of myself. I enjoy living! And it’s all because of that fateful day back in July of 2014, when I decided to go to Pacific Quest.

April 29, 2016

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Treating Anxiety: Overcoming the Fear of Fear Itself

By: Brian Konik, Ph.D.
Primary Therapist

As I look forward to working with a new group of students this summer at Pacific Quest, I am reminded of what a unique opportunity the gardens provide when designing individualized interventions. I feel very fortunate that, after spending over 20 or so years researching and designing interventions for individuals struggling with anxiety disorders, I have found an environment that facilitates a comprehensive interdisciplinary approach. I rely heavily on the principles of Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) and Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) when designing exposure-based intervention. The students at Pacific Quest are immersed in an environment that integrates daily access to meditation, yoga, horticultural therapy, and mindfulness exercises to provide a perfect complement to a CBT and ABA approach.

PQ therapist Brian Konik

Dr. Brian Konik

I often say to parents and students that although problematic anxiety is one of the most prevalent, researched, and reliably treated psychological phenomena, it is also alarmingly underreported and treatment is not regularly pursued. Why is that? We find that those dealing with significant anxiety often avoid the experiences and/or settings that cause the anxiety and they ultimately fall into a pattern of avoidance behavior that stifles their development. Eventually parents and loved ones find themselves in a position where they have to insist on treatment. The PQ setting is unique because we are able to manipulate environmental variables to engage in exposure-based interventions with our students and to subsequently reinforce an evidence-based approach to therapy.  

Our ability to individualize the student experience provides me the opportunity to weave evidence-based practices for anxiety into the overall program. Students who struggle to thrive at home or at school are being challenged in the Pacific Quest gardens to face their fears head-on and to break the cycle of being anxious about being anxious — worrying about worrying — panicking that they may panic. Watching students who experience generalized anxiety, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, panic attacks, social anxiety, Tourette Syndrome, selective mutism, body dysmorphic disorder,  and specific phobias overcome their challenges and begin to thrive in the PQ model is an incredibly rewarding experience for me as a Clinical Psychologist. I can’t wait to join another group of students on their journeys to overcome anxiety in whatever form it appears to them!  

September 3, 2015

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Dealing with Cyberbullying

With the start of a new school year, talk of cyberbullying is sure to skyrocket. And it’s for good reason—70 percent of students report seeing frequent bullying online, according to Teens no longer butt heads passing in the hallways. Instead they take their drama digital, and often attack through text messages, malicious websites, emails, and via social media. Although cyberbullying is more prevalent among teens, remember that people of all ages can be affected. From young children to middle age adults, cyberbullying is a hurtful, serious issue that we should know how to deal with at every age.

Child Cyberbullying

Unfortunately cyberbullying can take place as soon as children begin using technology and feel comfortable enough that they’re parents aren’t watching. Fifty-two percent of young people report being cyberbullied and have simply begun to accept it as an everyday part of life. Discuss appropriate online behavior with your child as soon as they begin using computers and cell phones, and set up an action plan they can follow if they witness cyberbullying or become the target of an attack.

Teen Cyberbullying

The alarming fact is that adolescents are not as emotionally able to withstand the bullying and humiliation. This harassment can lead to thoughts of hopelessness, loneliness and decreased self-worth and even contribute to depression, suicidal thoughts and behavior. According to studies conducted by the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying victims are nearly twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who have not experienced this form of attack. Because cyberbullying occurs online, it can follow teens from school into the home and affect their every waking hour.

Teach your teen to prevent cyberbullying with these tips:

  1. Think before you type: The first initiative in ending cyberbullying is to stop your own teen from participating. Stress to your teen that they must step back and take a breath before reacting and posting online. Once things go on the Internet they can be nearly impossible to take down.
  2. Sign up for the positivity page: Help your teen create an online space where they can spread positivity and promote the thoughtful acts they witness at school.
  3. Always talk to a parent or teacher: It is important to ignore the cyberbully while documenting the attacks. Let your teen know the lines of communication are always open and encourage them to always report the behavior.
  4. Never participate in the gossip: Your teen may not feel they are a cyberbully if they are simply passing along the gossip. Let your teen know that participating in this type of behavior at any level is wrong and will not be tolerated.

Adult Cyberbullying

Because cyberbullying is often a result of an imbalance of power, it can affect people of all ages. “It can take on a sadistic quality, in which the bully, not satisfied with merely humiliating his victim, seeks to torment his quarry to the point of self-destruction,” notes an article on This torment on adults often takes the form of “trolling” or a contest where the bully feels the need to bait their victim in order regain the power they feel they have lost. Once “hooked,” the troll will then use aggression and repeated negative actions to wear their victim down.

Preventing cyberbullying is a group effort. If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, take the issue seriously, no matter their age. Adolescents may not always be vocal about being bullied, so keep an eye out for warning signs. Pacific Quest’s Wilderness Therapy Program can serve as a source of help for your struggling adolescent or young adult. Our goal is to transform students into confident, empowered and well-balanced individuals who can create lasting change.
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June 11, 2015

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How to Deal with Anxiety: Four Tips to Help Your Teen

Every adolescent faces countless changes and shifts throughout their teenage years, making anxiety management a main priority to obtain healthy day-to-day functioning. For most teens, anxiety acts as a gentle prod, pushing them forward through life in a productive way. But for some, anxiety can take over, becoming a chronic burden that stifles their academic success and beats down their emotional and physical health.

Here are a handful of signs your teen may need help managing their anxiety:

  • Excessive worrying and fearful behavior
  • Tends to withdraw in social settings
  • Inner restlessness, nervousness or extreme stress
  • Complains about muscle tension, cramps, stomachaches, headaches, limb and/or back pain, fatigue or discomforts associated with pubertal changes

Here are four proven stress reducers that can teach the modern teen how to deal with anxiety in a healthy way:

 1. Meditation

Everyone’s doing it. High-energy broadcast news anchors, iconic rock legends, even sports superstars. What are we talking about? Meditation, of course.

“In moments of madness, meditation has helped me find moments of serenity — and I would like to think that would help provide people a quiet haven in a not-so-quiet world,” says Sir Paul McCartney.

Indeed, with endorsements like these, as well as easy-to-use guided apps like Headspace, Mediation and mindfulness have hit the mainstream. And it’s no surprise, as anyone can practice meditation in hopes of reducing stress—even adolescents and young adults.

Mediation in a nutshell is the deliberate act of regulating attention through observation of oncoming emotions and thoughts. There are many different ways to practice, but they basically all follow these steps:

  • Direct focus to an attention anchor (breath, external object, person whom we love)
  • Observing and acknowledging internal and external distractions
  • Letting distractions go to return back to attention anchor of choice

Meditation aligns with the 21st century notion of schooling in the U.S., which “views learning as a holistic process that seeks to educate students academically, emotionally, socially, ethically and spiritually.”

>>>Interested in learning more about mindfulness? PQ Therapist Tom Jameson, MS, NCC, has more tips for quieting the chaos.

2. Gardening

Gardening, specifically horticultural therapy, is a stress reducer that works for all ages. When teens are placed in caregiving roles, they are empowered to create an environment and attitude that is both growth-focused and life-affirming.

Garden therapy has a rich history in improving anxiety and trauma — pharaohs were prescribed walks in lush gardens to treat mood instability in Egypt, while philosophers taught meaningful lessons in the gardens of Greece. Seeing gardening through from planting to harvesting helps young adults connect with the earth and naturally learn how to deal with anxiety.

3. Yoga

Research published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics has found that teens who completed a 10-week yoga course, rather than 10 weeks of regular physical education, scored better on tests measuring mood problems or anxiety, and also noted fewer negative emotions.

Yoga is a great stress reliever because it can be done virtually anywhere and requires little equipment. At Pacific Quest, students practice yoga as part of their daily routine and embrace it on their path to whole-person wellness.

4. Communication

Encouraging your teen to communicate to you the causes of stress in their lives is a stress reducer in and of itself. Peer pressure, tests, bullying and competition are all real stressors that plague youth.

If your child does not feel comfortable enough to discuss what plagues them, they may not know how to deal with anxiety and may turn to negative ways of coping. When listening, use positive and uplifting phrases such as, “It’s nothing we can’t handle together” or “Take a deep breath and begin again.” Let your child know you are there for them and will do whatever you can to help bring back balance into his or her life.

If you think your teen needs help learning how to deal with anxiety and stress, Pacific Quest is here to help.


January 26, 2010

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Inter-office memo:

Inter-office memo: - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

About three months ago an 18 year old was sitting in a psychiatric hospital staring down a paranoid thought disorder and a bi-polar diagnosis.  The psychiatrist reported that this individual would not be successful without consistent medical and psychiatric management.  I thought PQ would offer more than doctor visits each week.  Through the dedicated relationship  fostered by the admissions process and the skills of the clinical department, the consultant trusted we were the fit.

The student pushed our system a bit in the beginning and many responded.    During the first few days the student had such enormous anxiety he thought he was having a seizure.  He was taken to the emergency room.  Throughout his stay the student exhibited incredible growth, moving into a mentoring role during his final week.

The student recently graduated PQ and successfully transitioned to another program.  After meeting with the psychiatrist there a few times the working diagnosis has shifted to simply an anxiety disorder.  No paranoid thought disorder. No active or real signs of any bi-polar.  We helped the student move from medical and “psychiatric” stigmatization and a life long entrenchment with psychological problems.  Through dedication and opportunity this student has put himself in a completely different position.  It is a testament to the power of the program and what an individual can do if he/she embraces the opportunity.

I feel fortunate to have been a small part of this young man’s growth.