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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.

May 6, 2016

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A letter of appreciation: Our son’s growth and our journey as parents

We are thankful to the entire Pacific Quest team who have chosen to help others in such a meaningful way. Our son graduated the program and has entered a new and healthier chapter in his life. While we know our son’s journey will continue to have ups and downs, it is nice to know he is moving on in a good place.parent_testimonial

We enjoyed reconnecting with our son when he transitioned out of Pacific Quest. He was in great spirits, very talkative and open and surprisingly, not very anxious (wow, what a change!). We talked about his experience at PQ and he shared some fine memories, including cooking chili for everyone. He shared some of the growth that he experienced, and importantly, demonstrated it through his mood and demeanor. He continues to be in a good mood and a joy to be around. Wow.

Integral to our son’s experience, and our’s as parents, was his primary therapist, Erin Gustin. We must admit that this has been a journey for us as parents as well. testimonial pic 2We feel like we have welcomed Erin into our homes and our family these past three months. We will miss those Wednesday evening pre-dinner phone sessions. It has been so instructive, helpful and insightful, including the ‘ups and downs’ of our son’s journey, sharing hopes and triumphs and frustrations. We want to thank Erin more than she can know for all she has done for our family!

April 8, 2016

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A Story of Hope: My Daughter’s Journey of Healing

By: Alumni Parent

My daughter spent three and a half months on the Big Island in your program and I will be forever grateful for all that she gained from being part of your program. I am writing this review in the hopes that other parents can gain a sense of hope.

My daughter started her life as a happy, dynamic, strong kid.  She had plenty of friends and was always engaged in whatever life had to offer her with a smile on her face. Her father and I divorced when she was 13, and she started to lose her ability to cope with life the following year. Her first negative coping mechanism was anorexia. Her weight went from 145 to 95 in a matter of three months. After many eating disorder programs, she turned to self harm by cutting herself. Extensive therapy helped but she still had a need to be numb from her pain of not being able to cope. She then turned to alcohol and lastly drugs. She had five psychiatric hospitalizations when she was 16. Her fifth hospitalization was when her dad and I knew she would not live if we kept her in regular society.  We needed help but did not know how to help her or us in finding help. Internet research and an educational consultant, pointed us in the direction of Pacific Quest.  I remember the first phone call and hearing the costs and feeling like it was so impossible to come up with that amount of money. We knew we needed to do everything in order to help our daughter.

I asked her father to bring her to PQ because I knew that drop off would be tough. I had no idea just how tough the first part of her PQ journey would be until we were in that first week together. She was stripped of every single negative coping mechanism that had carried her for the past two years. I knew she needed to go through that period but I also knew how hard it would be for her. That week was the first week in two years that I was able to really sleep. I knew we were starting a profound journey.PQ alumni review

As the PQ process continued, we were asked to participate in parenting therapy sessions.  We thought our divorce had gone so smoothly because we didn’t yell or hire expensive lawyers to fight anything out in court. We were very wrong. All of our anger had been under the surface and needed to be expressed. It was during this process where I started to realize that our way of coping with our divorce of not expressing feelings…had been passed on to our daughter.

Flying to PQ for parents’ weekend was another hurdle for us: we knew it would benefit her, but neither of us really wanted to do it.  We did though… and it did help our daughter. The lessons of how to talk to teenagers in a healthier space so that the words can actually be heard, was invaluable to me. Thank you so much PQ! Later, my youngest daughter has benefited greatly from that lesson. We were also faced with the realization that she could not be brought back to mainstream society yet.  After attending a longer term therapeutic program, she graduated from high school in December and is now a full time college student living in off campus housing with five other girls in her suite. She has a job and is taking classes to get her Bachelors in Sociology. She now says how grateful she is for going to PQ, and talks about working at PQ someday to give back to kids who have gone off course.

I cannot stress enough how close to leaving this earth my daughter was. The only coping skill that soothed her was to be numb from drugs. Pacific Quest not only saved my daughter but it saved me too. PQ provided a much needed basis of removing all the negative coping mechanisms and beginning to chip away at my daughter’s inability to find healthy coping skills. She was also taught the very important lesson at PQ that there is no such thing as normal. There are many different ways to be a human being and express the feelings that we all experience. My daughter was part of a program that encouraged health for her body and her mind when she was with PQ.

The appreciation for PQ can been seen in her most recent Facebook profile picture. Thank you PQ!

February 19, 2016

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A Letter of Gratitude: My Son’s Journey

Life-is-what-you-make-of-itAs many of you know, I don’t post much on FB and when I do, it’s rarely personal.  This is a long one and many will not finish.  I’m not posting it for sympathy or kudos.  I’m posting it for a few reasons – to let others know they are not alone, to thank a handful of people and for those who know someone to give them some support.  

Many years ago my son was asked ‘Did your mom prepare you for the path, or did she prepare the path for you?’ Interestingly enough our answers were different.   Over the past few years, my son has struggled with what is now being called ‘A Failure to Launch’.   It seems pretty rampant in kids of his generation – we as parents take care of everything and so our children never really learned how to cope with the negatives in life (aka We Prepared the Path!)  My son would go for periods of time where I didn’t worry about him and then something ‘bad’ would happen and he would turn to alcohol and drugs.  This had been going on for about seven years. I was told to kick him out, put him in the military, etc. Not an easy thing for a parent to do – he’s my son and I love him, how could I do that? The timing wasn’t right for either of us, until this past fall.   I’d reached my limit and told him he needed to get help or he was no longer welcome in my life.   You’d think that was the hard part, boy did I learn a lot over the next few days!

There are so many programs out there, how do you know what is the right one?  We both used the internet to try to find the right place – we wanted to deal with the cause, not just the the symptom (abuse).  Didn’t want somewhere local – at 23 he could check  himself out and his ‘friends’ would rescue him, didn’t want one that was AA or religion based, etc..   With so many options – how do you know what works, what doesn’t.  I’d heard stories of people going bankrupt and of kids that were on their nth program.  We’d been told not to send him to any type of program in Florida, we wanted a wilderness program… it was daunting!   And then we lucked out when we called a program that recommended an Educational Consultant.   What a god send.  So here is my first THANK YOU –  Dick Baroody!  Dick spent hours with my son (and I) to find out what the issue was, what motivated him, my thoughts and feelings and then he recommended four places.  Places that he had personally been to and he felt would work for my son.  We looked at them, but my son got the final say.  He picked Pacific Quest – in Hawaii (I know, I should have a problem that sends me to Hawaii!), based on horticultural therapy and Hawaiian principles of life.   All in my son’s wheelhouse!   He decided on October 23rd  that PQ was the program that he would go to ‘for me’.  The next morning at 9:00AM we boarded a plane to DC, that would eventually find us in LAX. He to continue on to Hilo and me back to PA.  Dick worked with PQ to expedite the process and while we were in the air, my neighbor faxed all the paperwork!  Putting my son on that last leg was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.  I watched the gate close and as we texted each other our final good-byes and love you’s the doubt and insecurity was overwhelming.   And right on cue, Dick was texting/calling me – giving me the support I needed to stay strong.    My son landed some five hours later and PQ sent me a text that they had him.  They took his phone and his laptop and I was now dependent on others to take care of my baby!

Here is my second THANK YOU – Andrea Sussel!  She was my son’s therapist during his stay at PQ.   She and Dick kept me informed and kept me SANE.  While their main goal was to help my son, they also helped me.   When I had my doubts they gave me encouragement, when my son signed himself out, they were right there with me in spirit, helping me to stay strong, they prepared me for his ‘rescue’ letter (that letter that says this place is a prison, they abuse me, etc… — come on who won’t believe their kid over complete strangers!)   They gave me weekly updates and PQ sent me pictures. Over the first 6+ weeks I felt that my son was gaming them, I worried that it wasn’t working.  And then something clicked – maybe it was just time, maybe it was the Impact letters- don’t know and don’t care, I started to see a difference.  And then he did his Rite of Passage.  I will not go into the details – they are kept secret for a reason, but that phone call on December 24th – it was the BEST CHRISTMAS GIFT EVER.   My son was committed to being sober, he was looking forward to going to a Transition House, he knew that he couldn’t come home now and maybe ever… all the arguments I was prepared for – were gone.   Dick and I talked and he came up with three Transition programs for us to look at.    So here’s my third THANK YOU, to the program manager at the Transition program.   He and my son had a long talk (as did I) and it seemed the right fit.

On January 6th my son completed his stay at Pacific Quest.  We got to spend two days trying to fit in as much as we could before he left Hawaii (yes, he wants to go back, who wouldn’t!) and on January 9th we parted in Phoenix, him for Denver and me back home.  Was it hard – Yes.  But as he said to me on October 24th as he boarded the plane to  Hilo – “I got this mom”.   He was ready to face the next step in this journey.  He’s been in Denver for a little over a week and he seems happy, he’s working on finding an internship, he’s settled in, has gotten back into rock climbing and disc golf…

And it is a journey… he needs to learn how to cope, how to pick himself up when life knocks him down, to be independent.    I need to learn to let him make his mistakes and let him clean up after!  I need to  embrace the positive and forget the negative (forgive and forget!)   We both have a long way to go and for the first time in years I really believe that we can make it.   And now to my last THANK YOU – to those friends that were there daily over the past three months (okay past seven years!) – you know who you are!   There were others that showed support – but not a day went by that one of these amazing women didn’t reach out just to see how I was doing (my neighbor had an edge as we walk our dogs together every day!).  All texted me in Hawaii on my first day there asking how I was doing and how my son was.    While Dick was wonderful – they were extraordinary!   And I know they will continue to be my support team.

There is so much more I could write and that will have to wait for another day!   And one last THANK YOU to all that have helped my son and I on this  journey…

February 16, 2016

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Pacific Quest Alumni Join Surfrider Foundation In Beach Cleanup


By Mike Sullivan, Alumni & Family Services Director

Pacific Quest alumni gathered at Torrey Pines State Beach this past Saturday to reconnect and contribute to a larger effort at protecting our ocean ecosystem.  Together with volunteers from the Surfrider Foundation, we combed the beach in hunt of marine debris littering the shores and posing environmental threats.  We collected everything from tiny shreds of styrofoam to large pieces of plastic. There were over 200 people total and we gathered hundreds of pounds of garbage in the clean up.  Go Pacific Quest!  Go Surfrider Foundation!

The beach clean up was a fun and relaxing event.  Alumni reminisced on stories from their journeys at Pacific Quest and shared about life in Southern California.  I was impressed with the continued interest the alumni shared regarding gardening, exercise, and culinary exploration.  They have infused elements of these into life outside of Hawaii, sharing photos and discussing future goals.   It is absolutely fantastic to see the alumni applying interests cultivated at Pacific Quest in their daily lives at home.   We look forward to featuring testimonials and success stories on our “Ohana Fridays” blog updates.

Pacific Quest believes in giving back to the community and maintaining alumni relationships.  Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle and I will be traveling to Los Angeles in March to help promote Sky’s the Limit Fund, a non-profit foundation dedicated to raising funds to help families access wilderness therapy who wouldn’t otherwise be able to do so.   While in Los Angeles, Travis and I will be hosting an alumni event at Wattles Farm, a 4.2 acre community garden in the heart of Hollywood. We will be leading a gardening workshop and community service project. We encourage any and all alumni who would like to participate to please RSVP to Mike Sullivan at

We look forward to another positive experience of community service, and most of all reconnecting with our alumni families in a fun and meaningful event!

January 8, 2016

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Working Through Compassion Fatigue

theresa-hasting-450By Theresa Hasting, LMHC

You’ve given everything you had; sleepless nights making sure your son stayed in his room, missing work to ensure he went to school, constant vigilance to ensure his safety.  You’ve got him in a safe place where he is able to work on these issues.  Now what?  As we work with parents of adolescents who come to treatment, we hear so many stories of parents being at the end of their rope.  Treatment offers not only their child a chance to reset, but also a chance for parents to reset.  Before this can happen, parents express feeling exhausted, relieved, sad, guilty, and angry.

Compassion Fatigue is a term to define this state; when parents feel that they have little, if nothing left to give in offering help and support to those in need.  The work of healing from compassion burnout requires finding time for one’s self each day, creating space for healing in the family/spouse relationship, asking for and receiving support, and self compassion.  Setting realistic and reasonable goals is necessary for healing to happen in a way that honors the depth of pain parents are experiencing.

At Pacific Quest, therapists support the family through these emotions during weekly family therapy sessions.  As we work with our students on the Five Pillars of Health, we encourage parents to examine their process in keeping with these pillars through journaling exercises.  In addition, we offer parents a PQ cookbook that allows them to experience an anti-inflammatory, whole food diet – similar to what their child prepares and eats while at Pacific Quest.  In assisting parents process their emotional response, parents are provided with journal topics that focus on the family system, parenting styles, emotional awareness, and negative thought patterns. Additionally, the communication process between adolescents and their parents is slowed significantly through the letter writing process to allow the creation of emotional boundaries and help students and parents process their emotional response with others before responding.  Parents are asked to write a letter to their child and express the emotional, physical, social, and spiritual exhaustion they’ve experienced in trying to support their son or daughter.

While this process may seem daunting and it may be difficult to find time for self care and self compassion, here are a few tips to consider: take a five minute thought break, turn off the background noise (music/tv/podcast), schedule time for yourself/spouse/family, weekly review of goals and projects, close your door, journal, and meditate.

July 2, 2015

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The Positive Impact of Family Dinners on Teens

School, work, after-school activities—the demands of modern-day life can easily decrease the time we spend together as a family. But sharing a meal with the entire family each evening is great for the mind, body and soul. Some busy parents may consider sitting down as a family for dinner a luxury but, many professionals consider family dinners the most natural form of family counseling. Touching base with your children nightly has been proven to have both a positive psychological and physical impact, and as a result should be made a true priority.

When asked when they were most likely to talk with their parents, dinner was the top answer among American teenagers. This time for open communication, paired with fresh and healthy foods, creates a winning recipe all parents should consider as food for thought.

Psychological Impact

Studies continue to prove—time and time again—that sitting down regularly for a family meal has immediate and long-lasting effects on youth as they navigate through the rocky waters of adolescence. Here are some quick facts:

  • Multiple studies connect regular family dinners with lowering multiple high-risk teen behaviors such as: binge drinking, smoking, drug use, problems at school, violence, eating disorders and sexual activity.
  • Regular family dinners have been associated with lower rates of depression and suicidal thoughts in teens.
  • Victims of cyberbullying have been shown to recover more quickly if they participated in regular family dinners.
  • Adolescents who eat dinner with their parents often experience less stress and have better familial relationships.

Physical Benefits

In the fight against obesity, family dinners play a major role. Consider gauging your teen’s interest in growing and preparing healthy foods alongside you, and try to incorporate key nutritional education. Increasing participation in all aspects of family dinners will only serve to amplify these physical benefits listed below:

  • Children who regularly eat family dinners consume more fresh and healthy foods like vegetables and fruits, as well as micronutrients and key vitamins.
  • Teens who eat regular family meals grow into young adults who are less likely to be obese and more likely to eat healthily once they live on their own.
  • Adolescents who share family meals three or more times per week are more likely to be in a normal weight range, have healthier dietary and eating patterns, and are also less likely to engage in disordered eating.

Making the Most of Family Meal Time

When considering implementing more family dinners, it is important to approach the situation from a positive place. There will always be excuses as to why you can’t make it happen. “There’s just not enough time in my day to cook a wholesome meal,” or “My family’s schedule is just too overwhelming” are valid sentiments, but they can be overcome and you can make dinner a household staple. The Family Dinner Project provides a free guide that includes simple healthy recipes, dinner activities and conversation starters to help you enjoy more quality time with your teen. They also host helpful parent groups where members can share their challenges and successes in a supportive environment.

At Pacific Quest, we know the importance of fresh and healthy foods, as well as a healthy familial unit. Our Wilderness Therapy program incorporates wellness plans unique to each and every student that outline specific components for overall health and wellness. All students go through the process of learning the basics of nutrition, and they even cook and prepare all of their own food from natural, organic ingredients. Meals at PQ provide a special time to converse and connect, while nourishing a healthy body. It is our belief that for adolescents and young adults to feel energized for optimal engagement in family counseling and other aspects of the therapeutic process, they must eat nutritious food. If you have questions about our approach, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.

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April 12, 2011

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Sustainable Growth: A Parent’s Journey

When I went to the parent workshops last December to visit my 14-year-old son, I was struck by the language, the setting and the lifestyle of the Pacific Quest community.  PQ staff repeatedly emphasized the word growth.  I would naturally comment on “change” only to be gently reminded that the PQ philosophy stresses “growth.”   A second word and concept, Ohana, made an especially huge impact on me.  PQ has adopted many Hawaiian terms to capture the essence of what they are doing, and the concept of Ohana—family– is integral to their philosophy.  During the third stage of the program, the teens live in a new setting, or camp, and join an Ohana, learning the value and importance of being a contributing member of a healthy, functioning family.

The organic gardening culture at PQ encourages the concepts of growth and Ohana to co-exist and thrive in practical terms.  Everyday the PQ field staff teaches the teens the skills necessary to plant, grow, sustain, and harvest an organic garden.  Weeding a garden plot, planting seeds, transplanting seedlings, watering plants, harvesting vegetables, cooking raw foods, and then composting waste are all significant parts of the lifestyle and culture of PQ.  In our son’s first letter to us, he excitedly talked about all the vegetables, fruits and herbs he was planting and tasting, and ended by asking us to plant him an organic garden at home.  He had never really eaten vegetables or gardened, but was immediately inspired by the PQ setting.  It wasn’t clear yet to our son, or to us, that the gardening was actually a metaphor for how you can choose to lead you life, and that eventually the Ohana would be a model for how you can cultivate meaningful and supportive relationships with your family and others.

Because our son asked us to plant an organic garden and because his counselor emphasized the importance of the parents doing parallel work, I decided to start a garden in our backyard.  Though I understood that parallel work meant emotional and psychological work, like keeping a journal or writing out my old story (these were things my son was doing at PQ), it felt more manageable to do something practical.  Plus, I was hoping to have a new subject and hobby to share with my son through our letters, and ideally an activity that we could sustain when he returned.  What I didn’t realize five months ago was that planting a garden would mark the beginning of evolving into a different kind of parent, family and lifestyle.

Sustainable Growth: A Parent’s Journey - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

As my son’s letters became more emotionally deep, our garden became more physically rooted.  The PQ philosophy stresses the physical body and its healthy maintenance—proper sleep, food, exercise.  The gardening is an analogy to your own physical body and emotional well-being.  I learned to slow down and be present when I was gardening….no talking fast on the cell phone while checking my email.   I learned to be aware of my environment when I was gardening…is the soil dry and do the plants need water?  I learned to integrate my family into a process and experience of gardening… my son waters, my daughter picks lettuce, I pluck weeds.  I learned to cook healthier meals and to experience mealtime as a cohesive family…no more Panda Express eaten in front of the television, but rather a homegrown, homemade meal with everyone participating around a bustling kitchen. The process of planting and cultivating an organic garden has caused me to re-think my own habits, parenting, and family life.

Sustainable Growth: A Parent’s Journey - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

My son continued to write letters full of both gardening updates and Ohana updates.  The Ohana gardened together, cooked together, ate together.  The Ohana shared old stories, new stories, and intents with one another.  The garden and the Ohana members were all growing simultaneously.  Meanwhile, our home garden was inspiring something quite similar in our family life.  I became very hopeful about my son’s growth, my growth, and our family’s growth.

However, when it was time to meet with our educational consultant again, visit therapeutic boarding schools, fill out applications, and take our son to Montana, I was so consumed with these tasks that I neglected the garden.  I slipped into old patterns, my old story, of doing too many things at once and doing them too quickly.  I reverted back to delivery pizzas for dinner and eating in front of my computer.  The cilantro started to wilt, romaine lettuce started to die.  Family dinners at the
table were abandoned in the name of fatigue and stress.  Once again, I was in an old, familiar state of focusing on the future while neglecting the present.  My kids liked the harmonious feel of the new garden culture in and around our home and begged for its return.  I didn’t regain my own motivation until my son wrote me from his new therapeutic boarding school and said he was quickly losing his own connection to his body and its needs.  He was also reverting back to old patterns—eating fewer vegetables, forgetting to do his yoga breathing, over-exerting his body.  He said he missed his PQ mind-body-emotion connection and was feeling increased emotional distress.  His solution:  be more present and respect his body’s needs.  We visited him last week and he had salad and vegetables on his plate and was happier.

Of course it’s not all this simple, but I have learned through PQ’s philosophy of sustainable growth and Ohana that if you establish strong roots and a meaningful intent, you have the potential to thrive.  After some temporary neglect, my garden is once again thriving and we harvested scallions and arugula last night for both our family and my brother’s family.   For our family, the concept of sustainable growth started with PQ and our son, but has materialized in our vibrant backyard garden.  I am hopeful.


December 10, 2010

Written by:

“This I Believe”

We love to spread around good news when it comes back to us at PQ.  This month a father of an alumni student reached out to share about his experience attending a speech his daughter gave at school.  Below is the father’s description of the speech and the alumni PQ student’s speech in written form.  Both father and daughter gave permission for us to share this.  For confidentiality purposes we have kept the identities of our alumni clients private, changing the wording of the email and speech slightly.

Reading the students speech produced chills in my spine.  It is amazing that she is able to share this with the world and serve as an inspiration to her fellow student body. I want to extend a huge thank you to the student and family who chose to share this with us.  We are very proud of you!!

Father’s email to PQ:

About a month ago my daughter voluntarily gave a 20 min speech to her entire school (400 students and faculty).  She wrote it  herself.  She told us she was going to tell the school “her story,” but she wouldn’t tell us the details. She said we had to see it if we wanted to hear it.  I took the day off work and attended along with my wife and our 15 year old daughter.

To me, it was nothing short of incredible.  She delivered her material with remarkable poise and confidence.  She said things in front of 400 people that she’d never said to her mother and me.  Every parent in the place had tears in their eyes.  I was literally speechless.

Kids  have come up to her since then telling her that they are having challenges and that she was inspiration to them.


Before the summer of 2009, I went through things that I thought would not happen to me until I was older, or even ever. I do not feel the need to go into vast detail about the things I struggled through during the early years of my high school career, but I will say this: they changed my life forever. I will never forget the things that I have been through or the feelings that were attached to them. Still, even now, I can feel those feelings, even though some of these experiences occurred over eight years ago. Looking back on who I was as an eighth grader or freshman and comparing it to who I am now, a senior who has done five years of high school, my personality and point of view on life are vastly different. And that is not simply because I have grown up.

Let me start off by saying I have never seen myself as a mean person. But that was not the case when it came to my family. For some reason, which I never truly understood until the summer of 2009, I was not nice to my parents or my younger sister. I would get angry very easily. I was extremely impatient and would freak out if I didn’t get my way. I took my problems with friends or school out on my family, and would very often say mean and insulting things. My sister and I were not friends by any means, because I was frequently wounding her with verbal abuse and mean names. I was in the mind-frame that because they were my family, they would love me forever no matter what happened. For some reason, I believed that I had the ability to say and do whatever I wanted when it came to my family and that everything would always be alright. But what I never considered was that my family would always love me, but they didn’t have to like me.

Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. My family started to genuinely dislike me. Now, they still loved me of course, and I know they always will. However, they began to dislike spending any time with me at all, because we were always fighting. My sister was afraid of me. We very, very rarely had a conversation where I was nice to her. She even told her friends about how much she disliked me, and about how she wished I would just be nice for once.

Now don’t get me wrong; I love my family more than anything in this world and would do anything for them now. And I have always loved my family. There is no other way for me to describe my feelings for them. Even while I was yelling and screaming at my parents and my sister, I have never felt any feelings but love for them. Of course, I have been angry or upset with them, and I have said that I hated them, as I’m sure many kids have burst out in a fit of rage. But I have always loved them. With that said, I sadly have not always appreciated how loving and caring they are. I used to be rude, short-tempered, and impatient. I was truly just plain mean.

On top of all of this, I was suffering from depression. This is where my story gets fuzzy, because I do not feel the need or want for all of you to know my personal struggles. However, I will give you a brief overview of what I was going through. When I was in sixth grade, I didn’t have many friends. There was a group at school, created by two students, called the IHA. It stood for the I Hate A___ club. My only friend for three years was my best friend to this day. Could you imagine how it felt? Looking back on this, I can still feel the sense of not belonging to any community. I felt like an outsider and a loser for three whole years.

This is what truly started my depression. I was not severely depressed until I started high school, though. Throughout middle school I surely felt depression, but I never knew how serious it could get until I started at high school.

Although during the middle of eighth grade I began to make friends with people, high school was a whole different story. I went into it with a confidence that maybe this would change things for me, and that I could finally have some friends, some people that truly cared about me. And while I did have friends, and I did meet new people that slowly but surely became my friends, I still felt somewhat alone. Friends came and went, none of them staying for much longer than a few months. For some reason, people really liked to pick on me and spread rumors. I was classified by so many different labels: “bitch”, “slut”, “stuck up”, and so on. I like to think these labels do not accurately describe me.

So, because of the environment at my old public high school, and also because I was failing my classes, I got sent to boarding school. I absolutely LOVED it there. I had amazing friends, I was doing better in school, and I finally felt like I belonged. I thought that maybe, just maybe, this would be a new start for me. A place where no one knew my past and didn’t have to know it if I didn’t want them to. I took full advantage of this opportunity, and quickly made friends with many people. For a short time, my depression subsided. My family and I became close- closer than we had ever been before. My mom and I became very good friends, talking on the phone every day and enjoying each other’s company. My sister and I started to have a good relationship, because I wasn’t insulting her or yelling at her anymore. My father began to be one of my role models, and we shared some fun times that I will never forget. Life seemed to finally be looking up for me.

However, unfortunately, in the winter of my sophomore year, I became involved with some people that were not healthy for me. I met a boy that I quickly started to like, and we soon started dating. After dating a while, I realized that we had fallen in love. I was so unbelievable happy. But, sadly, things started going downhill. He became, at least in my perception, jealous, controlling, manipulative, and just plain mean. He was emotionally and mentally abusive. He got angry very easily and would always blame everything on me. Every time we fought, which was extremely often, it was always my fault. I started to feel terrible about myself and my depression slowly but surely came back. He made me think that I was a terrible, messed up person, and I began to hate myself.

This is when my depression became truly severe. We dated for a year and half, and because of all of the fighting and blame put on me, I fell into a deep slump. Nearly every time we fought, he would claim that he “never wanted to see me again” and would break up with me. Even though we would get back together a few days later, every time he said those words they hurt even more.

When we finally broke up for good, my depression became more serious than I ever expected. I was never happy. I can’t remember one instance during this time period of my life where I genuinely felt happy. I spent every day thinking about how I could get him back and prove to him that I wasn’t as bad as he thought. You might be thinking, “how could she ever stay with someone like that who was so terrible to her?” Well, I’ll tell you what I tell everyone who asks me that—he truly made me feel as if I deserved what I was getting. I was blind to his faults, and instead criticized myself for not being a good enough person to be able to keep him as mine.

My family and friends tried everything they could to make me see how terrible he was. Sadly, the depression I was in made it so that I was not nice to the people who truly cared about me. I went back to my old habits of being impatient, mean, and rude. Even though my parents began to dislike me again, they still tried their hardest to help me get out of this horrible situation. My sister became scared for me and would tell her friends about how much she was against my relationship with this guy. My family wanted so badly to help me solve my problems, but nothing worked. Once again, I was a dreadful person to be around.

December of my junior year (my first junior year) was the final straw. My family was tired of trying to help me see how bad he was for me. The teachers and guidance counselor at my school were worried for my health and well-being. My grades were well below what I needed to get into the colleges I wanted. My parents and the school agreed that something needed to happen to get me away from this awful person.

One day, I got pulled out of English class by the Dean of Students. He told me that he needed to have a conversation with me, and led me to a room in the top of the health center. As soon as I walked in, I knew that I was in deep trouble. My parents, the Assistant Dean of Students, the school nurse, and the school guidance counselor were all sitting around the room looking at me. The Dean of Students asked me to sit down, and slowly began to tell me that I would be leaving school.

As you can probably assume, I was devastated. Like I told you, I absolutely loved it there. Although my ex-boyfriend was making my life a living hell, I still felt at home there, and couldn’t imagine going to school anywhere else. I started bawling, begging them to let me stay and telling them that I would do anything, ANYTHING, to stay. Evidently, nothing worked. They told me to go to my room, pack a duffle bag, and go home. I was told that I could study for exams at home and then come back to take them, and that I would be getting the rest of my stuff then. I cried and screamed the whole way home.

I began school again at my local high school in January of 2009. I made new friends, and started getting out of my depression stage. While I was starting to become happier in general, I was still not a very nice person to my family. We began fighting nearly every day again. My friendship with my mother started to dissolve, I instigated many problems with my sister, and I created a hostile environment in my household. I can still remember a fight with my parents, about something that I had posted on Facebook. Looking back on it now, it really wasn’t a big deal. But because I was stubborn and felt entitled to do whatever I wanted, I was enraged that my parents would even think to tell me what I could and could not post on my Facebook page. I became furious with my father when he asked me to please take it down, and stormed up to my room, away from him and my mother. I refused to speak to them and started packing a duffle bag. I decided that I was going to run away to my best friend’s house for the night. She only lived a few streets away and what could my parents possibly do to punish me? I ran down the stairs, through the kitchen, and out the front door. My father ran after me, screaming at me and asking what the hell I thought I was doing. I stood in the middle of my front yard, barefoot with a duffle bag, in the rain, yelling at him that I was running away to Allie’s and was sleeping there for the night. Of course, he told me that I was not allowed to do this and if I did I would be in serious trouble. But I was defiant and quite frankly just didn’t care, so I stormed off to her house.

As you can probably guess, I got in a whole bunch of trouble. My parents and sister both tried extremely hard to get me to come home, but in my fit of tears I convinced my best friend’s mom to let me stay. She told my parents that she would take care of me and bring me home after school the next day. Even though my parents were enraged with me, they let it happen. They knew that fighting it wouldn’t change anything. I was set on staying there, and because I felt so entitled to whatever I wanted, that wasn’t going to change.

That’s just one of the many stories. I could tell you about endless nights of fighting and tears. I couldn’t see it, but I was spiraling downward. Fast. My parents and my sister noticed how bad my life was becoming, and how quickly our family was starting to fall apart. They were scared for our relationships and were willing to do anything to save it. My parents did a lot of research and talked to a lot of people, and in the summer of 2009, they sent me away to a wilderness therapy camp in Hawaii.

I know what you might be thinking: Hawaii? That doesn’t sound so bad. However, this was not the Hawaii that people see on TV or in magazines. I was living in mountainous woods, far from city centers and very far from Hawaii’s well-known tourist sites. I worked in an organic vegetable garden every day, with some self-reflection and therapy time sprinkled in. No one truly believes me when I insist that it was not, in fact, fun and I did not, in fact, spend my summer “vacationing” in Hawaii.

Living at a wilderness therapy camp, no matter where in the world it is, is not easy. You are not allowed to contact your family in any way other than letters. You cannot see your family until a certain amount of time has passed. You are not allowed to have any contact with the outside world. You get all of your personal belongings taken away from you, and the only things that are yours are your sweatpants, t-shirts, shorts, underwear, towels, sunhat, and journals. You sit in your hale (Hawaiian for hut) day after day, thinking about how in the world you got to where you are now. Some days are work days. This means that you go out into the garden, are given a job, and you work until your task is complete. Sometimes it is as easy as planting some lettuce, other times it is as hard and working with a staff member to cut down banana trees. Other days are therapy days. This means that the therapists come to camp for the day, and your assigned therapist will meet with you for a check in. They will tell you what your family is thinking about your experience, and will help you through your issues. Other days are reflection days. On these days, you sit in your hale for the entire day and think. You literally just sit there and reflect on what you’re going through and how to change your faults. You write in your journal every day as a requirement. However, it soon becomes more of a comfort than a requirement.

When I first arrived in Hawaii, I genuinely believed that I did not “deserve” to be there. I thought I was perfectly fine the way I was—why was I being treated as a suspect? Moreover, I thought that I deserved better. Looking back, I now realize that even my choice of words—“I do not deserve to be here”—suggests that I did deserve to be there. At that point, I believed I was entitled to whatever I wanted, and whatever that “want” was, it was more important than anybody else’s feelings, needs, or concerns.

I spent my two and a half months in Hawaii reflecting on myself, my family, and my life. Was this really who I wanted to be? Did I want to spend nearly every day fighting with my parents and sister? Did I want to be easily angered or upset?

I most certainly did not want any of those things. So I worked. Living in Hawaii at a wilderness therapy camp helped me reveal the imperfections in myself that I never knew I had, and it gave me the chance to change them. Through talking, both formally and informally, I exposed my most volatile emotions to myself as well as to everyone else in the camp. By exposing these feelings, I began to accept them, ultimately learning how to control them far better and be patient in the midst of inner chaos. The structured program of Pacific Quest, from the first stage of isolation and powerlessness, to the next stage of growing community and autonomy, to the arrival of my parents and the news I would soon be leaving Hawaii, allowed me to realize I cannot win every battle, nor can I fight every one. I started to understand that I must work through my struggles, yet accept certain things that I cannot change. I discovered that I have the ability to be patient, calm, and accepting, and I found the strength to validate myself and not always look to others to show me that what I am doing is correct.

My family and I now have the best relationship I could ever imagine. In fact, they’re watching right now. My mother is my best friend, and I talk to her every day about the things going on in my life. My sister and I are closer than ever, and we never fight. She is truly the best sister and friend I could ever ask for. My dad and I are very close, and every time we are together, we have fun. I no longer take advantage of my family’s love and care, but instead try to reciprocate the amount of love they give me every day.

Now, I don’t mean to make this a sob story or dwell on my personal conflicts, or to make this all about my journeys through life. This is supposed to be about what I believe, right? Okay, so here’s what I believe. I believe in simply believing. It might sound stupid, and it might not make sense to you. But let me explain. I believe that if you have the confidence and self-assurance that you can do whatever task you are given, that you will be able to. I believe that if you can believe in yourself, you can do what you put your mind to. I believe that if you can believe in others, they will be able to believe in themselves. I believe that if you simply just believe, everything will become just a little bit easier.

Just try it. Just try believing. In anything. In yourself, in others, in the power of whatever. I don’t know what you all believe in.  But here’s something I do know—simply just believing is what helped me get through all of my tough experiences in life. The day before I left for Hawaii, my mother gave me the necklace that I still wear everyday. It says “believe” on it. Every time my father sent me a letter while I was in Hawaii, he would mention something about believing in myself, in others, in anything. I didn’t know then how significant that small word would become to me, but it is what helped me through my journey at Pacific Quest. It is what helped me improve my relationships with my parents and my sister. It is what changed my life.