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February 20, 2017

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Eating Disorder Treatment: A Different Approach at PQ

By: Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW

It’s time to talk about it

Eating Disorder Treatment: A Different Approach From Traditional Models | Pacific Quest

Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW

The National Eating Disorders Association has created National Eating Disorders Awareness (#NEDAwareness) Week to shine the spotlight on eating disorders and put life-saving resources into the hands of those in need. This year’s theme is It’s Time to Talk About It. Andrea Sussel, PQ Therapist, shares how we can make that happen without doing further harm.

Eating disorders, food and body image are not easy things to discuss. Conversations can be riddled with unintended triggers, for example, I have heard from many people who are in recovery say that when someone tells me I look “healthy” they instead hear “you look fat”. So how do we discuss these issues without contributing to the struggles of another?

  1. Focus on what our bodies can DO and how they FEEL, not on how they LOOK.
    Because our approach is one of whole-person wellness, students can begin to focus on what their bodies need and how their bodies feel versus how they look. While this is occurring, we are simultaneously providing a lot of education – including lots of research – about whole-body, whole-person wellness. From a programmatic perspective, shifting this focus includes de-emphasize mirror gazing (at PQ we have very few to begin with) and also having students wear clothes that are loose fitting and uniform.
  2. Remember that exercise and movement is for our physical and mental health, not for weight loss.
    Experiencing what are bodies can do, and moving them shamelessly is an essential part of healing from an eating disorder. At PQ, we educate our students about metabolism and how food as fuel translates into a greater capacity to live our lives with more vibrant energy. Movement takes the form of working in the garden, yoga, swimming, weekend hikes, and daily core workouts. It takes reinforcement to rewire the societal messages that tell us to exercise to control weight. At Pacific Quest, we move for a higher quality existence, one that helps us feel more connected to our bodies and our passions.
  3. Speak up when we hear “Fat Talk”, don’t let it go unaddressed.
    Pacific Quest is a Fat Talk free zone. Having appropriate boundaries about what we can and can’t talk about helps not only break the pattern of negative self talk, but gives space to encourage new and healthier patterns to emerge. PQ is also “lookism free”. Lookism is defined as a “construction of a standard for beauty and attractiveness, and judgments made about people on the basis of how well or poorly they meet the standard.” At Pacific Quest, you can be healthy at any size. We don’t subscribe to one “look” being beautiful – all looks, shapes, and sizes are!
  4. Remember, food is medicine.
    Sometimes what isn’t being said is just as important as what is. Getting involved in food preparation can be a healing activity, as individuals start to rebuild their relationship with food. And at Pacific Quest, growing your own food is akin to teaching someone how to fish; learning and beginning to appreciate that entire developmental process can lead to lifelong shifts in understanding and healing. Students have the opportunity to learn about their own relationship with/to food as well as the relationship with their body. The place where these two relationships overlap is in the garden, making Horticultural Therapy a powerful therapeutic modality. There is also a lot of healing that comes from preparing your own food in a community setting. Because Pacific Quest is not a primary eating disorder program, students with eating disorder patterns are able to observe and “rise to” the normative eating habits of the rest of the group.

The Pacific Quest model imparts skills to make progress and healing sustainable for eating disorder recovery for a lifetime: You learn how to truly feed all your hungers at Pacific Quest.

December 16, 2016

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Family Fridays: Getting Her Sparkle Back

By: Alumni Parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

June 30, 2016

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The Healing Power of Assertiveness

By: Jeremy Nunnelley, LPC, NCC
Primary Therapist

On the continuum of communication styles, there are passivity, aggression, and assertiveness. While passivity leads to issues not being known and a lack of support, aggression leads to conflict and the degradation of relationships. In both of these cases, the person who is trying to communicate is left feeling misunderstood and alone. Assertiveness is often referred to as the middle ground between these two maladaptive ways of communicating. Through learning to communicate in a way that is clear, responsible, and respectful to others, a person can have the experience of being heard and understood while nurturing close relationships.

Jeremy Nunnelley, LPC, NCC

Jeremy Nunnelley, LPC, NCC

The popular culture understanding of assertiveness involves standing up for oneself and refusing to be a “doormat.” In other cases, those who have tended to communicate aggressively learn to communicate more respectfully. There is truth in both of these ways of understanding assertiveness, but there is the potential for assertiveness to be so much more. When we practice communicating our thoughts and emotions in way that is respectful to ourselves and others, assertiveness can become a way of being in the world – a way of valuing ourselves and the people around us – a way of being unafraid to share who we really are. The basic skills can expand into a path to living openly, honestly, and courageously. Shame can be dispelled and anxiety lessened as we feel increasingly understood and relationships strengthen.

At Pacific Quest, we begin teaching assertiveness very early in the therapeutic process as students use “I feel” statements to describe their emotional states at the end of each day. As social interaction increases throughout the program, students meet new challenges in being open and vulnerable, and therapists help students examine the role they may have played in isolating themselves. Students experience the development of confidence and courage while surrounded by peers who are honing the same communication skills. It is common for students to excitedly remark after a group session that they feel heard and understood.

Simultaneously, parents develop their abilities to be assertive as they engage in family calls and communicate with their child through letter writing. Therapists guide parents through examining their roles in their family and expressing their thoughts and emotions assertively to the therapist, each other, and their child. Siblings are also invited into this process when appropriate. When the whole family system has developed these communication skills and an understanding of their value, the individuals in that family may all have the experience of being heard, understood, and supported. The end result is greater self-confidence, closer relationships, and sense both caring and being cared for. While the basics of assertiveness are well-known, the potential for healing is often underestimated.

May 20, 2016

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Family Fridays: Walking the parenting path together

By: Alumni Parent

I have stood in your shoes. I still wear them, although I am further up the path. My child was struggling to the point that sending him to Pacific Quest became our best choice. I had been scared, frustrated, sleepless and worried and deciding to send him so far away added a new, and unwelcome, level of fear to me. If this sounds familiar, then I bet it will also ring true that you are also afraid to hope that this will work. Our hope for our children is fragile, and though surprisingly tenacious, we have learned to hide it for fear that one more failure will finally crush it. I sent my child and my hope to Hawaii. Here’s how it turned out.


Before PQ: Our son had struggles on and off during high school. He was uneven in his academics, but passionate about his extracurriculars. During college however, he spiraled down into a serious depression. He had reached out to the mental health services at school at the urging of friends who saw him changing. He was going to therapy and was on medication. Then I had to drive to his school after he stopped responding to calls and texts. I found him in his room with the curtains drawn, piles of dirty clothes and garbage around him as he slept in his bed. He had barely gotten up, showered, eaten, etc. for the past few weeks. Take a picture and put it in a text book – this is full blown depression. We packed him up and took him home.

The next steps: therapy, medication, a day program that seemed to help him get some traction, then working during the summer full time but still exhausted from that effort. He insists that all the work he did over the past 5 months has given him enough knowledge and preparation to return to school for the Fall semester. By Thanksgiving he was struggling. He failed many classes due to absences and didn’t return for the Spring semester. Now what? He stayed home. More intensive therapy and changes in medication as he worked as a laborer. He was growing hopeless that his situation would change. He was embarrassed to fail and it was hard for him to watch his friends move on without him.

We started with a new therapist who said: weekly therapy and medication will help, but what your son really could benefit from is a more intensive experience to really do the hard work and process what is at the root.

What program could be right? Our choices were traditional wilderness programs or Pacific Quest. Traditional wilderness programs focused on physical challenge and isolation to lead to mental strength. Pacific Quest focused on horticultural work, exercise, diet, whole-being wellness and community along with therapy and processing to build the idea that people, like nature, are imperfect, but by adaptation, experience, and using resources we learn to thrive.

We had so many questions about programs: Can a program get someone mentally healthy in 10 weeks? Can a program modify his behaviors in 10 weeks? For us, the goal was wellness – inside and out – and to start to understand what it takes to maintain wellness. Everyone has overarching issues that will be broken into smaller pieces. He will struggle with practical and emotional obstacles with support of peers and professionals. He will begin to identify ways to grow and support the changes he experiences at PQ.


During the time at Pacific Quest: My son set the following goals for himself: accept the past and the future, love himself, think about the future as opposed to worrying about the future and look in the mirror to see — not to criticize.

Your child is not the only one doing work during this time. You and your family will work too. Weekly calls with your child’s therapist and working through the parent manual is an opportunity for growth for all of us. Confession: I wanted to avoid this component. Isn’t this program for him? The reality dawns on me that I want him to work at this hard stuff and I don’t want to work on this hard stuff. My child has to accept and do the work and I have the same choice. I chose to walk with him. I made the time and put forth my best effort.

What did my child learn at Pacific Quest? Increased ability to handle stress because he experienced stress in a healthy, safe place where the focus is learning these skills. Also, how to make healthy choices when stressed, how to reach out to process stress and discomfort and finding a way to move forward in a way that is healthy and sustainable. Another focus was the power of opening up and being vulnerable and how better relationships lead to self-acceptance.

How was this accomplished? There’s a lot to that answer, but here is some of it. First, individual therapy happens twice a week minimum. Therapy groups are also a part and they are staff-led and peer-led at times. Working with staff one-on-one to develop goals and impromptu peer one-on-ones where they reach out to one and other for support. Finally, there is exercise, in depth wellness with nutrition, curriculum and a lot of horticultural therapy and work.

ya-rites-1An interesting example for me was that my child struggled with quiet. Therefore, something like meditation was very difficult. A therapist discussed this with him and suggested that he learn about it by teaching it. So, my child was assigned to learn about meditation, practice it, journal about it, refine it and then he taught a class on it to his peers. The thinking was: Learn what you don’t know.

This is a lot of work for your child. It may be located in Hawaii, but it’s no vacation. There were many ups and downs that would be too long to chronicle. Again, it is by design that there is discomfort in this supportive environment so that the person actively learns the skills to handle obstacles in the real world.


Post Pacific Quest: During transition from PQ, our therapist took time to prepare us thoroughly for the road ahead. PQ is a start. It can be a foundation, but life isn’t easy and there will be setbacks and pitfalls ahead. A wise man that we know said: “Success isn’t measured in the day-to-day stuff. Success is measured by what happens when he falls into the same old hole. What is he doing to get out of the hole?” He is saying that by identifying what works and using what works, then the holes gets shallower. You build on those skills and build resiliency. Next, can you see the hole coming and avoid it?

When my son left PQ, he was excited to go back into the world. It took about five weeks for the first hole to appear. Somehow, he hadn’t embraced the idea that the “hole” or that a challenge would happen. It was very hard. He felt like a failure, but the foundation held. He got out of the hole and began again. There have been other holes. He is disappointed when they happen, but from the long view, some have been shallower and, more importantly, he does go back to the skills he learned and practiced at PQ.


Parting thoughts to those who are walking the path
If I could take away this struggle from you and your child, then I would. Just like you would like to spare your child what he or she is facing. However, there is no way around it. The only way is through it. I hope that you find the best fit for your family. The key thing to remember is that there is no magic. Neither Pacific Quest, nor any other program will take away the challenges of life. The real goal is to develop skills and form a foundation in a safe, therapeutic place so that our children are well prepared when their challenges occur.

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…

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.

November 30, 2015

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Parenting an Adopted Teen

Parenting a teenager is no small feat. As children work their way through adolescence, they struggle with issues of identity, independence, peer pressure, and anxiety about the future. For adopted teens, these issues are often compounded with thoughts about their birth families and why they were given up for adoption. That combination of stressors can sometimes be volatile, leading to risky or out-of-control behavior, which, in turn, can negatively affect the entire family’s well-being. Adoption Awareness Month, November, is a good time to take a look at some of the issues that are known to manifest in adopted teens.

Drug and Alcohol Use

Many teens experiment with drugs and alcohol, but adopted teens may abuse these substances to deal with, or numb their feelings about issues concerning adoption, who or where their biological family is, whether they have siblings. In addition, adopted teens with a history of substance abuse in their biological families are twice as likely to develop their own substance abuse problems.

Running Away from Home

Teens most often run away in a misguided attempt to solve a problem. For adopted teens, that could mean endeavoring to escape from the pressures of having to figure out who they are, and where they fit in the world. Some teens run away in an attempt to find their biological families. This is even more likely if the adoptive parents react negatively to the teen’s request for information about their birth families.

Problems with Sibling Relationships

Sibling rivalries occur in almost every family but can happen more frequently when an adopted teen has siblings who are the parents’ biological children. The adopted teen may feel like an outsider, while the siblings may resent the turmoil caused by the adopted teen.

While almost all adopted teens can benefit from working closely with a counselor, struggling teens exhibiting these behaviors may need more intensive help. Family therapy can be extremely beneficial, especially if the adopted teen’s struggles are impacting the well-being of the entire family. Another option is to enroll the teen in a wilderness therapy program like the one offered by Pacific Quest. Pacific Quest gives teens a safe, positive environment where they can work through their problems with the guidance of a highly trained staff and the support of a peer group. We’re here to answer any questions you may have about how to help the adopted teen in your life.

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