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July 11, 2017

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Severance and Intention – A Family Rite of Passage

By Mike Sullivan, Alumni & Family Services Director

I recently presented at the Rocky Mountain Regional NATSAP conference in Whitefish, Montana. Before I continue, I will have to profess that this was one of the most beautiful settings for a conference – situated in a lush mountain valley near the entrance to Glacier National Park.  Further, the conference drew many attendees from therapeutic programs scattered throughout Northern Idaho and Montana, lending to an intimate and rich networking event.  The seminars were stellar and I hope to return to this conference again next year.

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC

The conference specifically targeted the theme of “addressing family systems work,” which especially piqued my interest due to my career focus in family therapy and parent involvement in the treatment process.  I chose to present on experiential techniques for promoting a “rite of passage” experience for families, wherein, the family collaborates in deepening awareness into maladaptive patterns and ruts that they wish to sever from, and works together to set goals and intentions of positive characteristics and communication styles they want to work toward.  I opened the presentation by defining aspects of a rite of passage. I then shared a case vignette, and highlighted a particular families’ process engaging in family therapy and an actual garden ceremony.  The presentation concluded with the audience breaking into small groups where I assigned them to brainstorm experiential approaches that they utilize to engage families in ROP type experiences, and report back to the group at large with ideas generated.  It ended up being a neat combination of networking and idea sharing across models, allowing each professional to walk away with applicable tools.

I have always been intrigued with the role a rite of passage can play on a family systems level. Outdoor therapy provides a seemingly paradoxical model.  The identified patient (adolescent or young adult) is sent thousands of miles from home, isolated from access to family.  The child’s parents describe the deterioration of communication, care, and respect within the family, and trust that the outdoor model will enhance family relationships.  Some would question how effective this model can be; that sequestering a child in the woods can’t possibly address the complexity of the family system.  So therein lay the paradox – how does the outdoor program address the family system, with members of the family spread out across the country?

Outdoor programs nationwide have invested significant resources in bolstering family treatment, recognizing that individual treatment gains quickly diminish if the primary caregivers aren’t growing alongside their child. Outdoor therapy, when applied correctly, leverages the geographical distance to first foster individual growth and then reunite the family in an intentional manner to facilitate growth needed to sustain therapeutic gains.

As the NATSAP outcome study gains momentum and the sample size continues to grow, quantitative data supports claims that family systems benefit from outdoor therapy.  The Family Assessment Device, a trusted measure developed to identify problem areas in family functioning (Epstein, et. al, 1983), has demonstrated that families engaging in outdoor therapy make clinically significant progress.  This is remarkable and leads to the question – what factors contribute to that success? Having worked in outdoor therapy for 10+ years, I have observed the power of engaging families in a rite of passage experience.

A traditional “rite of passage” entails a ceremony, clearly marking the transition from one life stage to another. Individuals identify “severance,” or an “old story” that they wish to leave behind.  This includes limiting self-beliefs and maladaptive behaviors.  The individual then focuses on cultivating the best version of themselves, their “new story,” or “intention.”  The process of identifying “severance” and “intention” increases insight and allows for specific goals to emerge.  Individual growth is critical, and this same phenomenon can be applied on a family level. Families collaborating in identifying maladaptive family patterns informs the process of family “severance,” and working together to name a shared vision of how the family strives to function creates a family “intention.”

Types of family “rite of passage” experiences may vary.  Valuable approaches include exploring themes of severance and intention in a family therapy context, followed with a ceremony to mark the transition.  The ceremony may be creating an art project, hiking a mountain, or overhauling an overgrown garden bed and planting seeds.  Many approaches exist. The activity itself is not important per se, but the meaning assigned to it.  The family should collaborate in identifying what the actual rite is, and assign meaning within a guided context.  The process of guiding a family rite of passage is extremely powerful and programs would benefit from continued dialog about family interventions to use in the short duration of outdoor therapy journey.

January 20, 2017

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Newfound Hope: Our Daughter’s Story at PQ

By: Alumni Parent

Where were we prior to PQ?

Our daughter has always been a bright, and charming person who excelled at school and sports, not to mention having a lot of friends. But underneath all of her success was a dark area in her life that reared its ugly head when she was in the 10th grade…social anxiety.

We started to notice that our daughter was complaining of being sick and needing to stay home from school. We didn’t make a big deal about it since she was nearly a straight “A” student. But we started to notice a trend that she was stressing out about what were seemingly trivial details. She also started to stress about how her friends perceived her. While a struggle, she completed 10th grade and went on a summer trip to a program in Europe and seemed to have had a great time.

11th grade year at her school (a highly competitive prep school) started out seemingly just fine. She was into her classes and taking in the grind that we knew to expect. But then the absences started to pile up again. She was becoming withdrawn and refusing to leave her bedroom. If she did make it to school she often complained of being sick, calling my wife or I to complain. Finally, mid-way through the first semester she just couldn’t get herself to leave her room anymore.

I didn’t have a clue what was going on. The thought that my child was having an emotional issue just didn’t compute. I mean, when I was upset about stuff in high school I just hit the gym and worked it out. Why couldn’t she do the same? It just didn’t make any sense to me. So I just remained angry a lot with her, not understanding this was something she couldn’t control. I also closed myself off emotionally towards her in a lot of ways.

My wife had more of an idea about what was going on. There is a bit of family history with struggles in this area on her side so she had a better comprehension about what was going on inside our daughter’s head. She was also the one to bear the brunt of the early struggles with our daughter. She got her into see a therapist. She talked to her for hours about what was going on in her head. And she also took the brunt of the angst and vitriol that was spewed out of the ever morose and despondent daughter.

For the next four years, our daughter was in therapy for what we came to find out was a severe social anxiety disorder. The years had a lot of ups and downs. Successes and more than a few betrayals by people she thought she could trust. She did finish high school, but too late to apply to college. She tried a semester at a gap program in Paris but again couldn’t handle the anxiety. After that, she took a gap trip abroad that had a lot of support for kids with issues and came back like a new woman. Full of piss and vinegar and ready to seemingly get on with her life. So it was off to college and right into another failure. After barely finishing one semester she fled home. Transferring to a school closer to home this time she was ready to try again, failure. To top off the final failure she was in a car accident that totaled a brand new car.

At this point our daughter finally realized that she had hit rock bottom and needed to make a radical change to get help. She had been told about wilderness programs that could help teach her skills to help regulate her behaviors and not succumb to her fears and anxieties.

Coming to PQ

One day in December 2015 our daughter came to my wife and I and asked about applying to a place called Pacific Quest. She had been researching a number of alternatives and this was the program that she thought would be best to help her. After looking into the program and consulting with her therapist we agreed to her going. We spoke with Kellyn about the possibility of her starting as soon as possible and he said he would see what they could do. Less than two weeks later she was on an airplane to Hilo with just her clothes on her back.

PQ was a startling wake-up call for our daughter. She had lived a bit of a spoiled lifestyle never having to do without anything. At PQ she was all of a sudden met with expectations that had never been placed upon her. The idea that she didn’t have instant access to mom and dad were particularly hard for her, but we clearly saw the value in this. The early parent meetings were intense for us. We heard about the struggles of having to conform and do what was expected. Her therapist, who was terrific, brought the idea that she might write a letter asking us to rescue her.

But we had faith in our daughter’s will power to succeed and survive. We told her therapist it was her decision that she needed to go to PQ and because of this she wouldn’t want to run away from the program. We were right. After the initial phases of the program we started getting regular letters from our daughter talking about what was going on. The fact that she had to write rather than speak, made her slow down and process, rather than just to spew out a bunch of words, and was a great idea. We were also getting reports from her therapist about what she was working on and how she was progressing. He was also digging into our history with her to find out what made her and our family tick.

The work on both sides was ongoing for 6 or 7 weeks before the fateful day when we finally got to have our daughter in on a phone call. We didn’t know what to expect. She immediately fell back into an old pattern with my wife and I, she had sprung a trap laid by the therapist. He immediately pounced on it and called her for how she had reacted and spoken to us. Boundaries were crossed and she was out of line!

My wife and I were astounded to hear the reaction. Dead silence from our daughter. She was using one of her new tools to compose herself so that she could speak to us as an adult. They call it her toolbox, skills that they work with the participants to develop to face situations that in the past would derail them. Our daughter was a willing learner.

We spent a number of other sessions working with the therapist, sometimes with our daughter on the call and sometimes not. We were clearly seeing growth on her part so we were happy. Near the end of her stay at PQ a family weekend was planned for those parents who could make the trip to Hawaii. Our daughter was very anxious for us to come out for it. Since she had been making such good progress we decided one of us should go out. I was selected since I had the most leeway in my work to take such a trip. I don’t know what I was expecting when I got there, maybe some sort of super school play or something. I didn’t realize I was being thrown into the therapy fray.  Best thing that could have happened to my relationship with my daughter.

During this two-day weekend, parents were given the opportunity to experience some of what our children were going through. I was forced to confront some of my issues surrounding what our family had gone through during the worst parts of our daughter’s suffering. I came to realize that I had walled myself off from her and the rest of the family with the excuse I didn’t want to get angry with her anymore. It was pointed out to me that instead of being a solution it was actually a contributing factor to the bigger problem. It wasn’t fair to my daughter and it sure wasn’t fair to my wife. I was devastated. Once I confronted this part of myself it was about finding forgiveness and figuring out a path to help us all go forward.

After PQ

Shortly after the parent’s weekend our daughter was ready to move onto the next phase, a transitional program. PQ recommended an educational consultant and between our daughter, the therapist and the consultant, we found a program that we felt would best meet her needs.

Today our daughter is finishing a reintegration program that has continued to build upon and add to the toolbox she started to develop at PQ. Just recently she finished two college psychology classes and commented that it was the first time in nearly 5 years that she had actually finished classes on time. Next semester she will be taking a full load of classes and is actively planning a future as a full time student.

For the first time since this problem started, our daughter feels she has a fighting chance due to the skills she learned from the wonderful guides (some of whom she is still in contact with) and therapist at PQ. She also made some friends amongst the participants and remains in contact with several. The fact that she saw that she was not the only one with issues, and that she had the chance to participate in group therapy really opened her eyes about her perceptions and her harshness towards herself and got her thinking differently. There is now hope where before there was only despair. We recommend this program highly, and are so glad we decided to entrust our daughter into their care.

January 19, 2017

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Successful Collaboration with Sky’s the Limit Fund!

By: Mike Sullivan, Alumni and Family Services Director

Happy new year!  We are diving into another great year of collaboration with Sky’s the Limit Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to transforming the lives of at-risk youth by providing grants, support and hope through outdoor therapy programs and beyond. Sky’s the Limit Fund has provided financial assistance to a large number of families over the years, and as a partner program, we have matched them dollar for dollar.  We enjoy giving back and catalyzing life changing experiences for families who wouldn’t otherwise be able to access the amazing benefits of outdoor therapy.

Pacific Quest's collaboration with Sky's the Limit Fund is a Success

Mike Sullivan and colleagues at STLF event

2016 was a powerful year.  As a Sky’s the Limit Fund grant recipient said: “Outdoor therapy saved my son’s life.  I don’t know where we would be without Sky’s the Limit Fund and Pacific Quest.”  That young man arrived at Pacific Quest in a depressed and anxious state, and emerged with confidence and charisma.  The combination of evidence based therapy, whole person wellness, and this particular young man’s decision to grab life by the horns were all pivotal in his growth.  This is not an isolated story. Having attended several STLF fundraisers throughout 2016, I was able to witness grant recipients share their success stories in front of large crowds. These are tear jerking personal accounts of suffering and healing.  Thank you to Sky’s the Limit for making such things possible!

Looking Ahead

2017 is shaping up to be another great year.  Nancy Moore has completely transitioned into her new role as Executive Director, allowing STLF founder Rochelle Bochner to step away and focus her energy on her grandchildren.  Pacific Quest is excited to host Nancy and an STLF Chairperson on campus for a site tour later this spring, continuing to showcase the unique horticultural and wellness platform that makes PQ so powerfully therapeutic.

December 16, 2016

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Family Fridays: Getting Her Sparkle Back

By: Alumni Parent

As a little girl, our daughter was always the life of the party. She was a bright and sunny kid who loved to have fun. She loved to sing and would often belt out the words to Nat King Cole’s “Love” while dancing around the room. She had a whacky sense of humor and always had a sparkle in her big blue eyes.

Our daughter loved to plan parties, decorate our house for just about every occasion and plan menus for the holidays. In middle school everything started to change. She desperately wanted to fit in and have friends. She became obsessed with social media and how others viewed her. The drama started to take over her life. It got worse when she was bullied by other girls in school. Often it was so bad that she refused to go to school so she didn’t have to deal with the fear and anxiety. She became increasingly anxious and depressed and difficult at home. Little things would set her off in a frenzy. She would go to her room and lock herself away, refusing to come out or open the door.

In 8th grade she was diagnosed with ADHD and went on medication. While things were better for about a year, the old issues resurfaced with the pressures of high school, only now the stakes were higher. She began to put off her homework to hang out with friends. She started smoking marijuana and hanging out after school at a nearby park. We would find evidence of her smoking almost every morning in her room. And while the punishments escalated, they did nothing to change her behavior. She would constantly lie about where she was and who she was with. Hours would go by where we had no idea of her whereabouts. When she came home she refused to talk to us. Rather than do her school work and ask for the help she needed, she would just avoid it all together only to fall further and further behind. Our house became toxic as we were either franticly trying to track her down or arguing with her. I became consumed with trying to find her the right help. She went to therapists, tutors and psychiatrists. We tried DBT and CBT and nothing helped. She became my second full time job. Finally, it hit us that we couldn’t help her at home. An educational consultant recommended wilderness and after talking with several programs we decided on Pacific Quest.

It was a very difficult decision to send our daughter so far away. The day the transporter came to get her was like a bad dream. I’ll never forget my husband’s words in the early days after she left. Whenever I felt worried and scared about our decision he would say “I am more worried thinking about what would happen if we kept her here.” As the days went by, and they did go slowly at first, I started to get more comfortable. We would get updates from the staff at PQ as well as her therapists about her progress. During our weekly therapy sessions, we also received feedback about our communication style with our daughter and how we could make changes in how we communicated with her and each other. Every week we received photos from PQ and we started to see big changes. She looked healthier. There was a visible calmness that soon turned to huge smiles which we hadn’t seen in ages. At first, we couldn’t have imagined our city kid adjusting to life outdoors in Hawaii with none of the comforts of home. Not only did she adjust, she began to blossom. Her letters home became increasingly reflective. She expressed pride that she could do the hard work required and move through the phases. She also began to appreciate so many of the things she had at home, including parents who believed in her. She even thanked us for that.

When we went to see her for family program, I will never forget how she put her hand in mine and walked me to her little hut. We spent an incredible two days with her where the work we all did culminated in a reunion of acceptance, forgiveness and appreciation for each other. We talked, we listened, we cried and we laughed. The PQ staff was kind, nurturing and supportive. They taught our daughter the importance of loving herself and owning up to the choices she made and the power to make new choices going forward.

The day before we moved her into a therapeutic boarding school outside of Phoenix, she and I went for an evening swim. It was nearly 90 degrees that evening. It was only the two of us in the pool. She again placed her hand in mine. We stood there eyes locked, stars shining down on us and she said…”mom, I’m nervous about my new school.” This time, I just listened and validated, so happy that she was able to share and seek comfort in my presence. As I looked at her in that moment, I noticed something else. The sparkle was back in those big blue eyes.

December 8, 2016

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Thanksgiving Blessings: Gratitude and Grace

As I sat in my dining room with my seven guests for our annual Thanksgiving meal, I recounted what I was grateful for in my life. Thanksgiving is actually my favorite holiday, not because of what it represents in terms of American history, but because it is a day that I am able to celebrate my friends and family without the messy pressure of gift giving that comes with the Christmas holiday. As I sat down with my family and we exchanged our thoughts of thankfulness, I realized that I am most thankful for grace. The grace that gives me forgiveness when I have screwed up, that has taught me to be a better person, the grace I was given as I learned table etiquette and proper socialization (though I rarely employ those strategies these days), the grace to stumble as a daughter, wife, and mother, and finally the grace to be a human. I realize the amount of grace I have been given as I have navigated the years of my life and think about the students with whom I work and the amount of grace that they need.

Thanksgiving Blessings: Gratitude and Grace - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Theresa Hasting, LMHC

I am grateful for the students and families I get to work with and feel honored to have the privilege to help these young people start the process of reworking their lives. It doesn’t always take on the first try, but the courage and bravery that I see when I am working with teens and their parents often amazes me. To allow themselves to be vulnerable about their deepest pains, even if they do in the messiest of ways, earns the right to given the same amount of grace I have been given in my life.

At Pacific Quest, we work hard to provide them with the grace they need to explore their inner experience, their family dynamics, and how they can learn to give themselves graces. Through my own years, I have realized that grace must ultimately come from within. To do this, we have to offer our students a firm but loving hand, working to join with them through creative, fun and meaningful interactions. The work in our gardens offers such a wonderful medium for this relationship to grow in. We are able to destroy and create whatever needs to be for the student to find meaning. At our fingertips is the ultimate metaphor for destruction and creation, death and renewal, loss and rejuvenation; the island itself, formed by the very fertile Pele.

The idea of grace is at the very core of what we do at Pacific Quest. We must give grace to our students having their process and acknowledging that change does not occur because we simply will it or give insight to it. Change happens because someone gave us the grace of their time and energy so that we could then transform our own inner grace into accepting cognitive change.

By: Theresa Hasting, LMHC
Primary Therapist

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.

August 19, 2016

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Family Fridays: We Have Our Son Back

By: Alumni Parent

If you are reading this, you might be a parent who is at the end of your rope and desperately looking to solve one of the biggest problems you have faced in your lifetime. I am so sorry you are where you are, it is excruciating. I know intensely how you feel, since I sat right in your spot about four months ago.

Prior to leaving for Pacific Quest my sixteen year old son was knee deep in a major depressive episode, self medicating with marijuana, and completely stalled in school. He was hopeless, demoralized, mostly shut down and his low points triggered suicidal thoughts. Our local doctors felt he was “showing improvement” but we never really made it off rock bottom for the good part of a year. My husband and I took a leap of faith and decided to be proactive instead of waiting until our son landed in the hospital or worse, which we knew was imminent. Remember you as parents are the only people who truly know your child. Trust your instincts!

Right now you are standing in a position to potentially save your child’s life. It is time for an intervention, and you are faced with the decision of where to turn for help. Do your best to take the guilt, pain, sadness, fear, anger, frustration, and disappointment you are feeling at this moment and toss it out the window. You need to find clarity to make the best decision to benefit your child’s long term health and well being.

If I had only known how well my son would be doing after a month at Pacific Quest it would have been a much easier decision. PQ was like a breath of fresh air after beating our heads against the wall for over a year. Each person that came in contact with my son was the best we had ever seen and had an unbelievable passion for their work. Pacific Quest provides a top notch platform for your child to completely reboot.

Alumni Parent Reflections | Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

A painting of my son that I did from a photo taken during his first month at PQ

Like many wilderness programs, PQ transports your child back to 1900 and they will live as their great grandparents did as children. Leaving behind TV, Netflix, Instagram, Snapchat, texting, Facebook, their music, video games, junk food and all the vices they were using to cope. Also left behind will be their friends, family and in my son’s case his varsity lacrosse team. Everything they have ever known gone in a flash! Just your child, the garden and their thoughts, hard work with tons of support.

Yes, it will take time to adjust but you will all survive. Pacific Quest stands in a category unto itself. Horticultural Therapy and overall wellness are the heart of the PQ approach. The kids learn how to restore the health of their mind and body through a clean diet, sleep, exercise, lots of internal work and lessons in the garden. As they progress through the challenging stages of growth in the program the reality of what they need to do to change the trajectory of their life comes into focus. Yes, this is all in a tropical environment, but it is no vacation your child will work hard and begin to own their choices.

Right now you most likely cannot imagine what it will be like to see a glimpse of that kid you raised, not the stranger living under your roof at the moment. That child who loved you unconditionally. Their lost essence will eventually reappear at Pacific Quest, and you will be eternally grateful.

When my husband and I saw our son at the Family Program we could not believe the transformation. The light in his brain had turned back on and he was absorbing everything he learned in the garden. He also stayed focused on the curriculum since it is a requirement of progressing towards graduation. How many wilderness programs have an academic curriculum in tandem with the therapeutic and wilderness component? Your child will be so happy to have those credits when they put the academic pieces back together.

After graduation from Pacific Quest, the focus will be on reintegration back into modern society. Your child will need continued support stepping back into their world, to face life’s challenges and pressures head on. Sustaining good habits takes practice, time and support. We chose to send our son directly to a therapeutic boarding school where he is continuing all the work he started at Pacific Quest. We are also working hard as a family to do the work we need to do to support our son and brother. We have implemented family behavioral goals which we created in the garden at PQ. At this point we are looking forward to reuniting as a family in six weeks for the first time in 8 months.

Change does not come easily, if it did everyone would do it overnight. The kids make tons of progress in wilderness weekly and are motivated to get home and back to their lives. Once they realize PQ may not be their only stop and it is going to be a marathon not a sprint, reality sets in and the life sustaining work begins. From that point forward they have to choose to really own their future choices. For our family the key was to find a place where our son could grow, learn, achieve success and also fail with the help of qualified staff supporting him every step of the way. At his new school he is working on regaining traction in his education, positive coping and social skills, positive identity development and we are all working on improvement of our family dynamics.

Sending your child away might be the most courageous decision you make in your life time. Wishing you peace as you embark on your journey.

July 5, 2016

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Sportsmanship: Positive Role Modeling for Youth

Pacific Quest is supporting Mike Sullivan in his 2016 race and triathlon training. In this series of posts, Mike will share insights and perspectives throughout his races and training, and drawing parallels between the mind-body connection and wellness – important themes at Pacific Quest Wilderness Program. In his first two posts, Mike shared his insights before and after the Hilo Marathon. Mike parallels navigating transitions in racing, wilderness therapy, and life in his third post. His fourth post looks at acceptance, on and off the course.  Today, Mike explores sportsmanship and how we play the game. 

By: Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC
Alumni and Family Services Director

In my quest to raise awareness for the connection between fitness and mental health, I am reeling in the glory of two appearances in the newspaper this week! A dramatic finish in the Kona Half Marathon last Sunday drew significant attention, allowing me to practice what I often teach: good sportsmanship. Despite a knee injury and a laid back approach to the Kona Half Marathon, I found myself in a fierce battle in the final stretch of the race. The young man I was battling enjoyed a solid lead throughout the majority of the race, and in the final mile I closed the gap. He beat me across the finish line, finishing one second before me, clinching first place. We congratulated each other, both grinning about how close I came to passing him in the final stretch. I am a good loser, and respect that he beat me.

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC

Mike Sullivan, MA, LMHC

Thirty minutes later, while hydrating at the Gatorade coolers, the local newspaper approached me. “Michael Sullivan, you won the race and we would like to interview you for an article we are writing for the Hawaii Tribune-Herald.” WAIT, WHAT? That other guy won. I told the reporter he had the wrong person. “Actually, that young man was disqualified for running under someone else’s name and you are now technically the winner.” My stomach turned; I encountered a strange mix of emotions. I wasn’t happy about winning on a technicality. I was surprised and dismayed, as my gut told me that it wasn’t right being awarded first place when I was second across the finish line.

The young man surfaced during the interview with the paper and congratulated me for winning. I immediately rectified the situation and employed my moral compass. “While I may have won on paper due to a technicality,” I told him, “You really won the race.”  He smiled and gave me a sweaty hug, and then disappeared into the crowd of people.

Mike Sullivan and Bree Wee, first place male and female finishers in the Kona Half Marathon

Mike Sullivan and Bree Wee, first place male and female finishers in the Kona Half Marathon

It is experiences like this that remind me of yet another aspect of what I appreciate about sports -they serve as a window into human character. According to Miriam Webster’s Dictionary, sportsmanship is defined as “fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition.” I strive to inspire youth through sports, and will always convey the age-old lesson: it isn’t about winning or losing, but how you play the game. I feel great about my second place victory, and furthermore, feel even better about the flurry of attention it created in the media, as it allowed me to highlight my sponsor Pacific Quest, and the importance of positive role models for youth.

Check out the two newspaper articles about the event: Half Distance, Full Drama from West Hawaii Today and Athlete of the Week from the Hawaii Tribune-Herald to read more about Mike Sullivan’s race and role as an upstanding leader in the Hilo running community.