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October 22, 2019

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Staff Training at the Farm!

Last week Pacific Quest staff members participated in a company-wide training focused on Horticultural Therapy and Rites of Passage.  It was a great opportunity for the team to come together on our new farm property and have time to connect while learning new skills and strategies to work with our students.

Horticultural Therapy Director Travis Slagle teaching a workshop on “Rites of Passage in the Garden” highlighting the Polynesian voyage and canoe plants.

The training began with an introduction to the Four Shields and the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics that’s utilized at Pacific Quest and an integral part of our program.  After the intro, the team divided up and spent the morning at various “stations” that focused on different learning objectives.  Staff members had the option of picking which workshop they wanted to participate in. Some of the options included: Meditation & Mandala workshop, Cordage and Ti lei making, medicine walk and planting skills, soil & compost, and hard project skills & “imagineering”. 

Field Manager Anthony Florig leads a workshop on “Tools for Relating with Tools”

One of the main goals was to emphasize the importance of how to incorporate these various lessons and projects into the daily routine with students. PQ Field Therapist Sarah Blechman, who helped organize and facilitate the training comments, “The whole day was so engaging! It was abundantly clear the facilitators were authentically passionate about the rich union and incredible effects of the interplay between horticulture, rites of passage and how to facilitate the two using the neurosequential model. My favorite part was when our program guides, managers and therapists all worked together to create our first garden bed in our ethnobotanical garden. Working on such a large project together felt like the whole community was working on a gift for our new farm.”

April 12, 2018

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The ‘Sustainable Recovery’ Model of Care at Pacific Quest

By:  Mark White, LMHC – CDC II

“Life has always seemed to me like a plant that lives on its rhizome. Its true life is invisible, hidden in the rhizome. The part that appears above ground lasts only a single summer. What we see is the blossom, which passes. The rhizome remains.” (Carl Jung, Memories, Dreams, Reflections)

Mark White, Primary Therapist

Jung theorized that human beings – like plants – seek to grow whole.  At the outset of our lives and through the lived experiences of childhood we send our roots out into the world and find what nourishes us and what doesn’t.  At a young age we inherently come to know the wisdom of playing more and touching the hot stove less. Our learning is largely instinctual; with knowledge found through trial and error.  As children, our brain’s Limbic system largely guides our exploration of the world and our place in it – we thus ‘fight, flee or feast’ in response to our making contact with our environment.

In a similar fashion, a germinating seed reaches out through the darkness of the soil seeking nourishment – sending it’s initial roots toward water and nutrients and away from rocks and other stressors.  It finds what makes it grow and seeks more of that.

As childhood gives way to adolescence and young adulthood we continue to explore and grow.  We have a series of firsts – a first crush, first time driving a car and for some of us our first use of alcohol and other substances.   Our Limbic system continues to guide us as the pleasure receptors in our brains feel the ‘high’ of the first buzz’. Our primitive brains tell us to do more of this (feast) and we oftentimes do – especially as the executive/consequential thinking function in our Prefrontal Cortex may not yet have fully developed.

For some youth, the process of addiction begins.  Tolerance increases and we need more of the substance to produce the same amount of pleasure.  Our focus becomes narrowed as we seek to find, procure and/or otherwise obtain our drug(s) of choice.  We spend growing amounts of time and energy thinking about and seeking the substance and less time engaged in pleasurable activities and familiar relationships we once enjoyed.  Essentially, as we send our roots more and more toward our drug(s) of choice and the behavioral patterns of addiction take hold.

At Pacific Quest (PQ) we utilize Horticultural Therapy (HT) to understand the equivalent of the human process of addiction in plants – a condition commonly known as ‘root bound’.  When a plant becomes root bound it has grown to the point where it exhausts the available nutrients. In an effort to thrive, the plant begins to consume itself to stay alive. At this point, if the plant is not transplanted it will inevitably suffer and is likely to meet an early demise. In our knowledge of addiction we understand that without intervention, a young person developing the behavioral patterns of addiction may unfortunately experience similar outcomes.

At PQ young people are both educated and empowered to become aware of how the process of addiction has impacted their growth and are supported in engaging in the process of Recovery.  Within our Sustainable Recovery tract students begin to actively send their ‘roots’ -time and energy- back toward the relationships/activities/values in their life that nourish them. Caring for the gardens, exploring the Big Island and all its rich diversity and engaging in sober fun with peers are all part of the growth process – in addition to Recovery-focused clinical services.

Our unique clinical process invites students to become mindful of their personal behavioral patterns of addiction and become both knowledgeable and skillful in preventing relapse into these old behaviors.   Recovery programming includes personalized Recovery coaching as well as HT-based clinical interventions that empower each student to learn effective relapse prevention skills to address their own, individual circumstances.

Students also engage in a weekly Recovery Group and become knowledgeable of practical ways to make meaningful behavioral changes to support their personal Recovery.  In addition to group and individual therapy, through our active daily schedule students are supported in making these life changes at PQ. Learning to actively manage peer and other social pressures, awareness of relapse triggers and cues and use of effective coping skills are all growth opportunities students have each day.  Our active approach to care ensures students partake in intensive preparation for sustaining important behavioral changes post-treatment. Additionally, for students also interested in learning about a 12-step approach, access to an on-campus ‘PQ- only’ meeting is available as is individualized ‘step study’ work as well.

Last and perhaps most importantly, our Sustainable Recovery model of care invites students to affirm who they are in this world and their opportunities and responsibilities in Recovery– a deep sense of knowing that for many of our alumni has served as the ‘rhizome’ for their sustainable growth into adulthood.

About the author:  

Mark White is Recovery Coordinator and a Primary Therapist at Pacific Quest.   Mark has a passion for wilderness rites of passage work and integrated healthcare.  He has worked with young people and their families since 1999. Mark believes Pacific Quest provides an unparalleled healing and growth experience.  

October 20, 2017

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Eat Local Initiative at PQ!

By: Dara Downs, Alumni & Family Services Liaison

Green beans thriving at Reeds Bay

In mid April of 2016 we started the Eat Local Initiative at our Young Adult Program at Reeds Bay.  This initiative was designed to help track the amount of produce being harvested, being cooked, as well as to help create motivation in the student milieu. It’s set up so that every time we grow and harvest food from our gardens, we weigh it, clean in, and document it. Then when it’s time for meal prep, we check to see if any of our freshly harvested produce can be cooked with that meal. If this is the case, then the food is used during that meal and documented. At the end of the month, based on how much home grown produce was cooked in our meals, the students are given a stipend to spend on specialty or rare items to use in the kitchen. In the past student have purchased cacao nibs, fruit leathers, passion fruit, dried spiced bananas, coconuts, ulu flower, and other island treats.

I work closely with Annette Nickontro, our Young Adult Kitchen Manager, who is really hands on in motivating students to use produce from the garden.  She oversees every part of the kitchen, working directly with students in creating weekly menus and recipes.  For many students, wandering the garden to collect herbs and produce is a whole new experience. Annette notes, “It’s been exciting to see the students pulling produce they grew from seeds and creating some amazing recipes for things like hot sauce, pesto, leafy green stir-fries, and kale chips!”  It’s a wonderful collaboration for both Annette and I to help students see their potential in gardening and cooking from something so small as a seed and feeding their fellow students.

Working together we found that since the Eat Local Initiative started, we have harvested 990 pounds of produce from our gardens, and of that, we have cooked 490 pounds of food!  With these numbers, we concluded that we are harvesting approximately 55 pounds of food per month and we are preparing about 27 pounds of food from our gardens per month.

Basil harvest for fresh pesto!

Once I found out how close we were to reaching 1000 pounds, I told our current students, and their immediate response was, “What?! Only 10 pounds away from 1000, we are so close, let’s keep eating what we grow! That’s a crazy amount of food.” Soon after, Annette and the students harvested 12 pounds of Basil and made a bunch of pesto to freeze for the winter! So we are happy to say that after a year and a half we have reached 1000 pounds of harvested produce from our gardens.  When asked to comment, PQ’s Horticultural Therapy, Travis Slagle, M.A. said, “The need for self-sufficiency is both practical and emotional.  The young people we serve benefit by knowing where their food comes from and taking an active role in sustaining their community.  At PQ, we believe the experience of self-sufficiency is transferable and relevant across the lifespan.”

With the Eat Local Initiative in place, we are focused on creating realistic goals and continuing to build a self sustaining agricultural model at PQ. We are excited to celebrate this accomplishment!

May 4, 2011

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Toby Mautz on LA talk radio

In case you missed Toby’s appearance on LA talk radio, you can download it here.  Toby shared about the PQ therapeutic model coined “sustainable growth.” It was also the final LA talk radio show hosted by Dore Frances.

Toby emphasizes the importance in nurturing the whole self.  He offers a lens of viewing the self as three equal parts, including the mind, body, and emotion.  “Sustainable growth” gives people a framework for caring for each domain of the self – taking care of our bodies through diet/nutrition, exercise, consistent sleep cycles, adequate hydration; stimulating our minds through active learning and engagement; and tapping into our emotions through identification/expression, reflection.  This model becomes sustainable when people implement action in each domain in a balanced way.

Toby Mautz on LA talk radio - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults


April 18, 2011

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Dr. Zimmer to present at IECA – “Optimizing Mental Health: A Naturopathic Medical Approach in a Therapeutic Base Camp Environment”

Dr. Zimmer to present at IECA - "Optimizing Mental Health: A Naturopathic Medical Approach in a Therapeutic Base Camp Environment" - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

PQ’s Naturopathic Doctor Britta Zimmer is presenting at IECA in Philadelphia!  This is exciting news for the PQ team as we value the integral role of health and nutrition in the therapeutic process.  For those of you attending the conference please make sure to check out Dr. Zimmer’s presentation on May 5 at 2:45 pm.

The session will demonstrate, through clinical examples and current research, how optimal nutrition and positive lifestyle modifications can decrease mood, anxiety, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders. Optimizing nutritional status, regulating sleep patterns, promoting exercise, and teaching breathing techniques facilitates the therapeutic process. As the physical body becomes more balanced, the mental / emotional body becomes more receptive to therapy. The value of a sustainable model of growth, self-care, and health will be demonstrated within therapeutic environments.


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.


March 31, 2011

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Tune into Interview with Toby Mautz, PQ Clinical Director on April 18th!!

Radio Interview with Toby Mautz, PQ Clinical Director  - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young AdultsDore Frances will host Toby Mautz, MSW, LCSW on her radio show titled “Family Solutions Today” on April 18th at noon pacific time.  Toby will talk about Sustainable Growth (The PQ therapeutic model) and how to incorporate the lessons into family daily life.  Toby has been working on refining this model for years, drawing on his experience of working with hundreds of teens and families in several therapeutic settings.  His theory is simple yet captivating.  Listeners will absolutely find it applicable to their daily lives.  Tune into LA Talk Radio on the web!!!

Also, stay tuned for a follow up blog posting regarding the radio show and feel free to post comments or questions here on the PQ blog.

October 8, 2010

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Pacific Quest Gathering

Pacific Quest Gathering - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Pacific Quest recently held an informational and educational gathering for visiting educational consultants on the Big Island of Hawaii. Educational consultants arrived from the Midwest, East and West Coast, and Southern U.S. to learn about the services Pacific Quest provides for struggling youth.  Our guests were greeted in camp with a welcoming ceremony, drumming circle, and a delicious lunch prepared by Pacific Quest students.  Afterwards, a garden tour of our four organic farms captured the key components and stages of our program for the consultants. Our guests were able to ask students about their Pacific Quest experience and what led them to our program. The afternoon on the farm concluded with traveling to the nearby town of Pahala, where guests stayed in an old plantation house and surrounding cottages. In the evening, our guests experienced an authentic Hawaiian experience, with locally grown food and local entertainment.

The following morning, Pacific Quest therapists and wellness staff delivered interactive presentations about our program. Topics included were: the wellness program at Pacific Quest, including our focus on nutrition, sleep, and self-care, education about the different phases a student experiences at Pacific Quest, a mindfulness activity, engagement in forming intents to live by, and our sustainable growth model.

Following the educational presentations, we loaded the vans and spent an afternoon engaging on the farm and with students. Staff and guests put on work gloves, and joined students in working in the nursery, transplanting plants, and harvesting mangoes and papayas on the farm. Students shared their experiences and knowledge of the farm with our visitors and were active teachers for the day.

After getting dirty and working the farm, our caravan loaded up and drove to the Kona side of the island, for interaction with the PQ staff and a traditional Hawaiian luau. Educational consultants learned how to dance the hula and performed for the guests at the luau. Guests had the chance to discuss the program, ask questions to staff, and to relax and enjoy the beauty of Hawaii.

What came from this gathering was an exchange of knowledge between educational consultants and the students and staff at PQ. Our guests were able to experience our students’ daily life and engage in learning about the mind-body-emotion connection. One of our goals at PQ is to educate others about sustainable growth, a tenant of our program. By hosting this event, we were able to share our sustainable growth model through experiential education, informational sessions, and one-on-one interaction with students and staff.

Mahalo to everyone who participated in this event!