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April 4, 2018

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Teresa Bertoncin Presents in Chicago

Primary therapist, Teresa Bertoncin recently presented at the International Society For The Study Of Trauma And Dissociation Conference in Chicago. This conference provided cutting edge information about dissociation, the dissociative disorders, and all forms of complex trauma related disorders. It was comprised of the most recent developments in clinical interventions, theoretical concepts and research in the field of complex trauma, abuse and neglect.

teresa-bertoncin-PQ

Teresa Bertoncin, Primary Therapist

Teresa’s presentation highlighted the trauma of Stigmatized Loss and the devastating impact of exclusion, isolation, invalidation and neglect. She discussed the benefit of therapeutic modalities specifically EMDR (Eye movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) psychotherapy and the wilderness setting.

Teresa’s discussion of stigmatized loss included the impact of divorce and family dissolution, suicide, illness, substance related causes, and psychological abuse.  Factors that garner resiliency in cultural preservation versus individual preservation, and those that lead to societal devaluation were addressed, utilizing contrasting case studies from rural South African villages, as well as the universal similarities that exist among adolescents and young adults in the United States.

In addition, Teresa explored the ways in which an intact cultural community helps members navigate these traumatic experiences; while identifying the internal, familial and societal factors of shame, disgrace and judgment that keep victims and those experiencing loss at an impasse.

The workshop explored the trauma of stigmatized loss and disenfranchised grief, and resulting identity disintegration. She shared how stigma devalues relationships and connection, and that stigma is at the root of rejection and ostracism.

The audience participated in an experiential example and lively discussion on the topic of rejection.  Teresa comments, “Rejection has a strong impact, even on the most minute level, and we react to it physiologically, emotionally, cognitively and behaviorally.”  She explained how our need to belong is so strong that we experience psychological and physical effects right away. She adds, “Rejection impacts our thinking, floods us with anger, destroys our self confidence and derails our sense of belonging.”

Brain scans show the same brain regions get activated when we experience rejection, as when we experience physical pain. The resulting long-term physical and mental consequences of disapproval and rejection can be extreme. Teresa shared research showing that children and adolescents may be impacted more negatively by rejection and ostracism than adults, with more extreme reactions. Brains of adolescents who experience rejection and ostracism may undergo long-term changes with normal development short-circuited. Adversely affecting cognitive ability, influence hormonal systems, and can induce symptoms ranging from paranoia to substance abuse.

Teresa went on to discuss the successful treatments and specialized interventions for these types of complex trauma, all of which are utilized at Pacific Quest in conjunction with the neurosequential model approach to treatment, including: EMDR, Horticultural therapy, Sandplay therapy, mindfulness, somatic and cognitive behavioral therapy, and the advantages of an outdoor behavioral health setting.

March 7, 2018

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Gender Education and DeMystification Symposium

By:  Elnur “El” Gajiev, PsyD

Elnur “El” Gajiev, PsyD

It was a crisp late February morning in Salt Lake City; snow falling upon the Wasatch mountain range to the east and the Oquirrh range to the west – quite a different scene than the tropic landscapes of Hawai’i that I’d become accustomed to. Yet, here in the heart of snowy Utah, I found myself in the midst of an inspiring collection of clinicians, program administrators, educational consultants, frontline staff, students, learners, and phenomenal speakers. We had gathered for the third annual Gender Education and DeMystification Symposium (GEMS) Conference – an event dedicated to expanding the awareness, knowledge, and skillful practice of engaging with gender-expansive youth.

“Gender-expansive?” you may ask. I know, I was right there with you. Entering the conference, I had many of my own questions, based upon the limits of my own understanding. Sure, I had worked with several LGBTQI+ clients in the past, but given the rapidly evolving changes within our greater social sphere, there was, and will continue to be, so much to learn and keep current with. This is particularly so with a population that is constantly stretching the bounds of what we believed was once impossible. That said, what truly impressed me about the GEMS Conference was the felt sense of acceptance and camaraderie in honoring the experiences that each of us came in with, and the manner in which were brought together in expanding our individual and collective understandings.

Of course, this could not have been possible without the outstanding speakers who were present. Speakers, who noted the relationship between growth and comfort (see picture above), and challenged us to question many of our previously-held beliefs through thought-provoking exercises and activities. As one speaker provided us with a foundational framework of languaging related to this work – noting the differences between biological sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, gender expression, and sexual behavior (cheat sheet below) – another spoke about the striking data, including:

  • 50% of transgender youth under the age of 20 have attempted suicide at least once
  • LGB youth are 3x more likely than their straight peers to contemplate suicide
  • 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ
  • 6 in 10 LGBTQ youth feel unsafe in schools
  • 80% of LGBTQ youth report severe social isolation

Several speakers spoke about the importance of attuning to intersectionality, that is, “the interconnected nature of social categorizations such as race, class, and gender as they apply to a given individual or group” and how this plays a critical role in creating overlapping and interdependent systems of discrimination, distress, and disadvantage for our children and their families.

One of the more powerful notions that I had a chance to engage with firsthand, before the entire audience, was the concept of “Gender Dysphoria Noise.” This concept highlights the oscillating, yet continuous, nature of gender dysphoria through the various stages of transition, and just how dysregulating of an experience it can be to engage in some of the more simple aspects of life, from going out with friends to traveling, and yes, even using the bathroom. For me, this also underlined the many privileges that I personally hold as a cis-gender heterosexual male, meaning there is so much that I have the luxury of not having to think about in my everyday experience. And so, as a clinician, this further emphasized the significance of understanding how my day-to-day worldview may differ vastly from that of my students who identify as LGBTQI+. Furthermore, as a member of an organization dedicated to fostering sustainable growth in youth and families, this also highlighted several points of growth that we have before us from a programmatic vein, and how the impetus falls upon us to face these challenges with the same acceptance, awareness, and openness that we ask of our students and our families.

And since we’re on the topic of students, I think I can speak for nearly every single one of us in attendance in saying that the most resonant session throughout the 3-day conference was the student panel – each of whom shared their experience, their insight, their humor, and their wisdom in remarking on their personal journeys as well as the ways in which those of us on the other side of the mental health baton can hinder or help them in navigating the worlds before them. The lessons were endless, and rippled through many of us in attendance, and I for one was deeply grateful for the opportunity to be present as a listener and a learner. My deepest thanks to each of the organizers of the event, the once-more phenomenal speakers and presenters, my fellow colleagues who engaged whole-heartedly, to Denise Westman (an astounding human being), and most importantly, to the students who have shaped the lives of countless others by sharing their voices.

October 10, 2017

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PQ Featured on LA Talk Radio

Wilderness Therapy Hawaiian-Style

This week Dr. John Souza, Primary Therapist and Mike Sullivan, Alumni & Family Services Director were featured on LA Talk Radio “Answers For the Family“.  During the program they shared their experiences with developing and implementing family therapy with young adults, often referred to as “emerging adults”, in an Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare setting. Additionally, Mike and John compared the common “myths” with the facts of emerging adulthood, while also providing insights into the importance of deepening family engagement with this population, as well as how nature-assisted therapy can promote both immediate and long-term improvements in family functioning.

Listen to the full radio show here:

http://www.latalkradio.com/sites/default/files/audio/Answers-100917.mp3

At Pacific Quest we fully utilize family participation in the therapeutic process.  By involving the whole family in the healing process, we strive to improve communication, increase empathy and develop usable conflict resolution skills, which help deepen each individual’s understanding and trust in the greater process.

For more information about our Family Program visit:

https://pacificquest.org/our-programs/young-adults/family-involvement/

August 20, 2017

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Adventure to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park

A group of PQ students recently has an adventure at Hawaii Volcanoes National Park! The group packed up the cars and headed up the Southeastern coast towards the park, listening to music and playing fun games along the way. The car ride followed a highway that took the group past stunning panoramic ocean views over Whittington beach park, where everyone could see the Pacific ocean spanning off into the horizon. The group also drove through the Ka’u desert, into the lowland Ohi’a Lehua forest on the gentle slopes of Mauna Loa, and finally into the national park and its vast, lush expanses of tropical forests.

The first stop on this outing was the Thurston Lava Tube.  Known as Nāhuku, the lava tube was discovered (or possibly re-discovered) in 1913 by Lorrin Thurston, a local news publisher at the time. The group stopped for a brief lesson on how lava tubes are formed before setting off on a winding trail through a forest of tree ferns.  At the bottom of the trail the large, ominous mouth of the lava tube became visible and the group was soon inside it’s lighted passageways. The group entered the tube and took a moment of stillness to observe the cavernous silence of the tube, imagining a river of molten lava flowing through the spot where they were standing over one hundred years ago. After this moment, the group took a few group photos and then made their way through the remainder of the tunnel, pausing to touch the walls of the tube, feel the moisture and moss, and observe spiderwebs hang from lights lining the tube. At the end of the tunnel, everyone made their way up a series of winding staircases that joined a path to complete the trail loop.  After the lava tube, everyone was ready for lunch. The group enjoyed a picnic while a student read stories about Pele, the goddess of fire, and her journey through the Hawaiian islands before finally finding a home in a crater at the national park.

After lunch, the group was ready to head out on the next excursion, a trek that would take them around and across the floor of the nearby Kilauea Iki crater. Descending again through the lush rainforest, the students arrived on the crater floor. The crater’s most recent natural history is dominated by a 1959 vent eruption that spewed a curtain of lava 1900 feet into the air for five weeks. This eruption filled the valley floor to create a lake of lava weighing an estimated 86 million tons and rising to a depth of 400 feet. As the group walked and talked together, they couldn’t help but pause periodically to marvel at the natural beauty of the crater as everyone looked out in awe over the crater, under Mauna Loa, and across the steam vents.

As the group continued across the crater floor, everyone paused to learn about and observe some of the steam vents, and look for interesting geologic marvels such as ‘Pele’s Hair’ – thin strands of rock lifted from the lava lake of Kilauea’s caldera and blown by the wind to settle in cracks and crevices all over the surrounding area. Students marveled at the Ohi’a Lehua trees that took root in the otherwise desolate crater floor, ruminating on how life finds a way to endure, even in the harshest conditions.  Everyone hiked back up the switchbacks on the opposite side of the crater and made the short hike back through the rainforest to where the cars were parked. Just before leaving the crater, the group stopped at an overlook to take one last look at how vast the crater was and how far they had come. A tired, but very fulfilled ohana climbed back into the cars to relax and reflect on the ride back to Pacific Quest.

June 12, 2017

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One Year Later – Meeting with a PQ Alumna

By: Erin Marcus, Clinical Admissions Director

One of my favorite parts of the work we do is receiving updates from students after they leave Pacific Quest.  Over the years, we’ve received emails, letters, photos and it’s always an inspiration to hear about continued progress and personal growth.  I recently had the opportunity to visit with a PQ alumni student, Celest and discuss how she is doing after her journey at Pacific Quest.

Erin Marcus interviews alumni student Celest

Thank you so much for speaking with me Celest! How old were you when you went to Pacific Quest and about how long have you been out of the program?

I was 17 and I have been out of the program for about one year and a month.

We’ve been able to spend some time together recently and I’ve noticed how calm and comfortable you seemed to be in different settings. Were you always this comfortable in your own skin?

I think I’ve always been comfortable with who I am and expressing myself but what was challenging for me was being comfortable with other people. If I didn’t really like someone by first impression I didn’t give them a chance. I could and still can be pretty judgmental. But PQ gives you a unique setting where you get to know your peers on a deep and factual level, that usually takes a lot of small talk to get to anywhere else. It was easy for me to relate to people I never thought I would by appearance and later on have more compassion for the people around me at school or work, instead of just labeling them “not my kinda person.”

What were some of the difficulties you experienced during your time at Pacific Quest? How did you cope with/overcome them?

Being able to just sit with my thoughts got tricky at times and having everything so scheduled could get mundane for moments but oddly enough I think the hardest thing for me was to be comfortable with my peers in a light way. I got so use to just hearing and telling heavy personal stuff that it started to just feel like I was reading a book of my life, because it’s hard to feel things from the past, even if they hurt at the time. I’ve always had a somewhat difficult time joking with people at first and exposing my personality so the regimented talk was kind of a comfort. To just be expected to say the facts how they made me feel and nothing else. But getting to know my peers on a level where I would let myself get uninhibited sometimes made me uneasy. But it started to come naturally with repetition and having to constantly be in public. That’s probably what I grew from most. Just allowing myself to get comfortable. Allowing myself to feel happy and have it be known.

What were some of the goals that you set while you were at the program?

I set goals to get into a college, notice when I’m feeling depressed and take care of it, make effort to be social, and to be a healthier person in general.

What was the outcome? Do you feel like you’ve been able to sustain the changes you made at the program?

I have gotten into a school. I am much better at recognizing when depression is creeping up since I’ve learned so much about what genuinely makes me a happy productive human being. Making an effort to be social is probably the one I let slip under the rug the most without even realizing it but I am much less critical of people. And I do socialize in better ways than I use to, meeting my need for human interaction in actual productive conversations, instead of bonding through mutual hate or love of similar vises.  

What were your favorite parts about being in the program?

My favorite parts about the program were being able to get to know my peers through group therapy, developing relationships with staff, and being able to see a therapist regularly.

What are some of the long term changes that you attribute to your hard work while you were with us in Hawaii?

Long term changes for me were being able to appreciate smaller things more often. Appreciating everything I’m given and working on myself because I deserve to be worked on. I realized my self worth and that I do and can take up space.

What words of wisdom do you have for students who are on the fence about coming to Pacific Quest and to those struggling to stay once they have arrived?

If you are considering going I would recommend just going and not getting too stressed on the details. If you are given an opportunity to go to Hawaii and experience something vastly different from your day to day, why not take it? No matter how hard it gets, it’s a blink of an eye in all of your time, and I promise once you go home you’ll be glad you went. Once your a few weeks in you’ll probably be glad, but everyone feels differently. The first week is the hardest. And our generation really struggles with long term gratification so this is a prime way to really feel good about your actions in the long run. If that means anything to you. But whatever your struggle is you deserve to give it the attention and the time it needs to pass.

What advice do you have for parents who are having difficulty deciding if they should send their son or daughter to Pacific Quest?

It’s not that intense of a program as in your kid isn’t going to be killing themselves with manual labor and sleeping under a leaf every night but, it is a lot to go through emotionally and a very efficient way of growing up. Like a developmental pressure cooker. I don’t think anyone can’t handle it but I think everyone sometimes doubts that in the program. Which is so necessary. To struggle. But overall, if you’ve got the funds, I recommend it.

Often times, parents worry that their son or daughter will resent them if they send them away to a program and/or that their child will feel abandoned or never forgive them.  What was your experience and the experience of some of the other students you were in the program with?

I don’t think it’s a great idea to send your kid in blind. Having a conversation is important, even if they are going regardless. It just sits bad to feel lied to and I’ve seen that delay progress in some cases. I was a bit upset at first in the program because I wished they had explained to me better what it was, but as I realized there’s nothing really to know or say, I accepted it. And a few weeks in I just was excited for the next time I was going to get to see them. You’re there because you’re loved.

What was your experience with the healthy lifestyle at PQ?  What, if any changes have you maintained since leaving?

I liked having a consistent sleeping cycle, so these days I really don’t let myself sleep in past 9:00 am.  I’m usually up by 9:00 am which is insane compared to the 12 pm wake up I was pulling before PQ. I eat a similar diet to what is at PQ so that wasn’t too much of a change for me. Most of the health knowledge I picked up to apply to my life everyday was for the health of the mind. Going on runs, starting up conversations, drinking tea.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Overall, what PQ did for me was make me grow up. Get out of the mindset that my sadness or whatever I was feeling was part of me, and not just a fleeting small potato like everything else. Being little doesn’t help anything or anyone. You deserve what you work to get. Everything else is a privilege. Doing things for your own well being is the most important thing to do before helping anyone else.  

June 9, 2017

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Pacific Quest to Donate a Portion of Profits to PQ Foundation

We are pleased to announce that Pacific Quest will now be donating a minimum of 1% of our profits annually to the Pacific Quest Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity whose mission is to support the Hawaii County community and its existing non-profit organizations.

Pacific Quest was founded in 2004 and over the years we have developed relationships with more than 60 different local non-profit organizations through donations from our company, its employees and its clients. With the generous support and donations from alumni, families, community members and businesses, we are excited to continue our tradition of stewardship within the Big Island community.Pacific Quest Announces Formation of Pacific Quest Foundation

Martha Bouchard, PQ Foundation Director, reflected on this decision to donate profits to the foundation, “It is essential to our mission to both be sustainable and in right relationship with the community in which we work and in which Pacific Quest has built such life changing programming for students. This has to go beyond the community service that our staff and students do. For us, being able to increase our capacity to give back to the island by helping to fund organizations that are the heart and soul of our local communities is a direct reflection of that commitment.” Donations to the foundation help to fund the organizations that sustain our island’s diverse communities, which benefit both residents and visitors alike.

Pacific Quest Foundation will begin accepting applications in Fall 2017. Requests will be considered from Hawaii Island based non-profit organizations in four general categories, including:

  • community or public service
  • environmental issues
  • health and education
  • youth and senior citizens

For more information on how to help support the Pacific Quest Foundation, please visit:

http://pqfoundation.org/donate-now/

May 30, 2017

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Dr. Freedle Published in Routledge International Handbook of Sandplay Therapy

Dr. Lorraine Freedle, Clinical Director at Pacific Quest Wilderness Program, was asked to contribute her original work to The Routledge International Handbook of Sandplay Therapy.  Dr. Freedle’s chapter, “Healing Trauma through Sandplay Therapy:  A Neuropsychological Perspective” explores the underlying mechanisms of Jungian sandplay therapy that promote neural integration and wholeness of personality.  It also chronicles the sandplay journey of Liv, a teenager who came to Dr. Freedle to heal from traumatic grief following the sudden and violent deaths of loved ones.

Dr. Lorraine Freedle

“This chapter is not just a brain-based theory, it’s anchored in depth psychology.  And so as we explore how sandplay helps traumatized people safely access and reprocess their pain, we don’t lose the importance of connection to the deeper Self,” Dr. Freedle shared.

As a board certified Pediatric and School Neuropsychologist and international Sandplay Teacher (STA/ISST) Dr. Freedle has practiced and lectured at the crossroads of neuropsychology and sandplay therapy for over 25 years.  The contents for the chapter emerged over a number of years building upon her prior presentations and publications.

When asked about what makes this chapter unique, Dr. Freedle shares “The chapter makes the neuropsychology of therapeutic change accessible and explains how sandplay works.  This is very important for people and programs who would like to utilize sandplay to effect meaningful change.”

This text will be used worldwide in universities to teach sandplay therapy. Pacific Quest congratulates Dr. Freedle on this prestigious honor and accomplishment!

For more information on The Routledge International Handbook of Sandplay Therapy as well as information on how to purchase, please visit: https://www.routledge.com/The-Routledge-International-Handbook-of-Sandplay-Therapy/Turner/p/book/9781138101692

For more information on Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy Programs, please visit: www.pacificquest.org

May 17, 2017

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How does living near a volcano fit into Recovery?

By: Mark White, LPC – CDC II
Primary Therapist

Kuleana – Hawaiian for ‘personal responsibility’

Kuleana is also the name of the second phase of the Pacific Quest (PQ) Young Adult Program. This powerful experience challenges students to dig deep and take charge of their individual (and group) process each and every day. The Kuleana Camp is located not far from the slopes of a volcano near the southernmost point in the United States – meaning that there are few external distractions for students access – except the resources within themselves.

Mark White therapist photo

Mark White, Primary Therapist

Having worked in the field of addiction treatment for many years, I understand that internal motivation for change is needed for students to implement and sustain lifestyle change(s) over time. Moreover to really provide the best opportunity for these changes to ‘take root’ is for the student to develop strong ownership and/or personal investment in the change(s) they are committing to.

This is a different dynamic than simply telling the therapist what the student thinks we want to hear, or coming up with a great story to tell mom and dad. Kuleana demands student investment in the form of action. Simply put, if the garden isn’t tended it will die – there’s no running over to Home Depot to grab some more plants. Talking about taking responsibility is simply not enough. Success of the community is 100% dependent on student actions in this phase.

In turn our treatment team has the opportunity to challenge students to contemplate how to take Kuleana for their own Recovery, as this process is also 100% dependent on themselves. For we know that time passes quickly and soon enough students will no longer be living by the sea near a volcano. They will be at school, at work, with family or adventuring alone in life. As a licensed professional counselor and certified chemical dependency counselor who’s worked with hundreds of youth in treatment since 1999, I’ve very aware that I won’t be around to help them with their choices in-the-moment. I also know that mom and dad won’t be able to make choices for them either.

That being said, the good news is that PQ students can have Kuleana and are able to harvest this powerful resource at anytime/anyplace to choose to further their Recovery. Once they’ve found this power within themselves no one can take it away – it is truly the fertile soil for lasting life change.

April 8, 2017

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Community Service at Punalu’u Pond

By: Nikki Robinson, Adolescent Program Master Guide

A group of Pacific Quest adolescent students recently joined the community at Punalu’u Black Sand Beach to participate in removing invasive plant species.  The pond at Punalu’u is a unique and rare ecosystem – an anchialine pool, it is connected to the ocean by an underground fissure, consists of brackish water, and the water level changes with the tides. Of all the anchialine pools on the planet, more than half of them can be found on the island of Hawai’i!  These ponds are home to a plethora of endemic plants and animals. Water hyacinth, an introduced and invasive species, thrives in this pond, crowding out native plants and animals, blocks sunlight into the pond, acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, and threatens the existence of many species that only exist in this rare ecosystem.  Our job, pulling water hyacinth out of the pond, ensures the survival of endemic species to the island.

Pacific Quest community service pond clean up at Punalu'u

Removing water hyacinth from pond

Upon our arrival to the beach park, most students were eager to jump into the murky pond and work together with members of the community to eradicate the water hyacinth from an area of the pond.  As the rest of the group eased into the pond, students broke into groups.  Some students pushed clumps of hyacinth in towards the shore, while others threw the plants onto and away from the shore. The students spent time pausing to investigate the life forms in the pond. They discovered crayfish, tadpoles ducks, and the endangered nene. As they cleared the pond, they shared stories with community members; some of whom have lived in the region all of their lives. After some time working, the students were satisfied with the large area of cleared pond and ready to eat lunch.

Before lunch, we all jumped into the ocean to clean off. The cool water felt great after all the hard work we had done. The group circled up, had a round of thanks, and ate lunch over fun conversation topics. We enjoyed lunch and a view of palm trees, black sand, sea turtles, and beautiful blue waves. The weather was perfect for a day at the beach. After digesting for a while, the group decided to go for a refreshing swim in the ocean. Some choose to swim while others chose to float and chat.

Punalu’u was once a major residence for ancient Hawaiians. Hawaiians used this land for fishing and as a major source of fresh water. Punalu’u means “diving spring”, and sits on top of thousands of tons of fresh water flowing underground. During periods of drought, ancient Hawaiians would dive to the bottom of the ocean and fill “ipu” (gourds) with fresh water. Punalu’u is also home to endangered hawksbill sea turtles known as Honu’ea. Tourists come from far away to admire the fascinating creatures, but are warned: “do not touch or ride the turtles”. Students watched as turtles basked in the sun. They were awed by the turtles’ size and gentle nature, but made sure to give the turtles plenty of space.

After taking a nice swim, the students took some time to relax on the beach. The group played an organized bonding game and shared stories over the experience afterwards while loading up the van. We then headed back to Pacific Quest with about an hour to relax before it was time to hop into the gardens and kitchen to prepare dinner.

March 16, 2017

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Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ

By:  Dara Downs, Alumni and Family Services Liaison

Pacific Quest recently offered a Horticultural Therapy training for all staff members at our Young Adult campus at Reeds Bay.  This training was a unique experience where field managers came alongside field guides, and logistics staff worked side by side with nurses. Therapists and administrative staff traded their computers and phones for a trowel and some compost. In order to participate everyone left their job titles in the parking lot and put on their close toed shoes, long pants, and work gloves. They all knew, it was time to work in the garden!

Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Back to Basics Gardening Stations

One of the main goals of this training was to assist all employees in developing a relationship with the garden, and increase individual’s confidence on the land.  In addition, the training was designed to help staff members understand the role of Horticultural Therapy (HT) and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) at PQ. In doing so, our Academic Coordinator was able to weave in parts of the HT curriculum into the training events to help set guides up with applicable lessons to use directly in the field.

The day was filled with numerous hands on activities and as every farmer knows, the best way to learn something is to get your hands dirty!  The group started off with a scavenger hunt in the ethnobotanical gardens at Reeds Bay called “The Village”. These gardens focus on growing traditional Hawaiian plants which are referred to as canoe plants. Everyone used the clues in the scavenger hunt to find specific plants. Upon finding each plant, participants followed a lesson from the curriculum based off the acronym CARE (Commitment, Awareness, Relationship/Responsibility, Effort).  They were able to practice caring for these sacred plants while also racing the clock!

After this competitive challenge, everyone engaged in “Back to Basics Gardening Stations” around campus. These stations focused on educating and providing hands on experiences in the following topics:

  • Compost and Soil Health
  • Tree Health and Bed Maintenance
  • Nursery and Transplanting
  • Square Foot Gardening

Presenters at each of these stations role modeled the three “R’s” of NMT: Regulate, Relate, and Reason. Each station started off with a breathing exercise, or something tactile and rhythmic, before jumping into relating to the environment, reasoning and teaching a lesson.

Following this, the group enjoyed lunch, and afterwards set up to process what they gained from the morning activities.  PQ’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle, MA, led the group discussion on how to use these activities to engage students in meaningful conversations. He touched upon practicing these gardening techniques while developing

Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Travis Slagle leading group lesson

relationships with students who may be challenging or disengaged. He comments, “It is essential that we are able to successfully translate skills of intuition and observation from a gardening experience to our daily lives.”  Staff members began sharing their stories and openly discussing techniques and experiences of successes they’ve had on the land. Participants shared ideas and methods that worked and helped to reach a wide variety of students.

After this open forum discussion, everyone broke into their groups again for afternoon stations which were focused on specific activities for assisting our students in the NMT model (regulate, relate and reason). The groups included, cordage making, weeding/bilateral movement, planting play, and wellness. These groups introduced themes of music and play into the garden, while also demonstrating tools like cordage making where you can bring the garden to a student. The wellness department also led a group that focused on EFT (a breathing/meditation technique), the bucket theory, and connecting plant health with gut health.

To end the day, everyone was invited to a garden party where music was played and pineapple paradise was saved from weeds and invasive species like african tulip trees.  Amanda Moreno, PQ Therapist, mentioned that, “It was a gift to spend a day in the garden connecting with my peers and collaborating with my colleagues. I learned a lot about gardening and can’t wait to use it with the students.”  An Adolescent Program Field Supervisor also commented, “One of my key takeaways from this training was the value of regulate, relate, and reason. I learned so many ways to engage in each of these in the field.”