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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.”

October 19, 2016

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Pacific Quest expands capacity to provide EMDR

By: Teresa Bertoncin, LPCC, LMFT, Primary Therapist

Pacific Quest is excited to announce that a cohort of 13 of its clinical staff recently attended EMDR training with Dr. Roger Solomon, a Senior Faculty Member of the EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) Institute, as they work to join PQ therapists already certified in the practice of EMDR.

Trauma is the body and mind’s response to unprocessed disturbing life events. Unresolved trauma is at the core of many psychological disorders—some more obvious than others, for example Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Yet, trauma is often also at the root of many anxieties, phobias, panic attacks, eating disorders, pain, hyper-vigilance, interrupted sleep, self esteem issues and addictions—many of the symptoms we see here at PQ. Trauma symptoms are often difficult to resolve, particularly with adolescents or young adults, because it may not be obvious that the experienced symptoms are related to trauma.

EMDR training recently offered to clinical staff at Pacific Quest

Teresa Bertoncin, LPCC, LMFT

Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a well-established approach to psychotherapy and is an evidence-based treatment proven to be effective in trauma resolution. EMDR therapy is very effective at calming and healing in a short span of time. By focusing on a thought associated with traumatic memories it is very specific and direct. It evokes and integrates information on three levels—cognitive, emotional and somatic—very often targeting a negative cognition or a negative self-belief; I’m unlovable, I’m ugly, I’m unsafe, etc. By tracking physical sensations and feelings in the body, and using eye movements and bilateral stimulations, the negative beliefs become dislodged, replaced with positive beliefs about oneself, while using this positive experience to support a future template of adaptive wholeness.

EMDR has proven to be particularly effective, when working with students in a contained and structured outdoor setting that PQ provides. So often it is not trauma per se, but the student’s unrelenting incongruent beliefs or negative cognitions they have about themselves, that drove the behaviors that led them to PQ. In the safe, tranquil and natural environment at PQ with limited distractions, we have the opportunity to get to the root of trauma more organically than in an outpatient setting. By using the detailed EMDR protocols and procedures therapists help clients activate their natural healing processes fairly rapidly.

As much as the body is capable of recovering from physical trauma, EMDR therapy shows that the mind can heal from psychological trauma. Let’s say you’re walking on a lava field and fall and cut your knee. It might be immediately painful, but the body works naturally to close the wound. If however, there are some lava fragments that had not been cleaned out properly, or you keep bonking your knee up against something, the wound will fester and cause ongoing pain. Yet healing resumes once the block is eliminated. We get stuck in trauma when the brain’s information processing system is blocked by the impact of a distressing event, intense suffering ensues, but once the block is removed the brain, like the body, moves naturally towards mental health. The brain is equipped to manage and handle adversity, and EMDR therapy helps the psyche activate its natural healing process.

September 22, 2016

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Art and Sandplay Therapy Training Series

By: Andrea Sussel, MSS, LCSW
Primary Therapist

Art and Sandplay Therapy Training Series - Pacific Quest: Wilderness Therapy for Teens & Young Adults

Nine members of the Pacific Quest team completed a 10-month long experiential art and sandplay therapy training lead by PQ Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle. Sandplay is a non-verbal, depth-oriented, multi-sensory therapy wherein students use symbols and sand to express and work through their inner experiences. Sandplay rooms are available in both our adolescent and young adult programs. As a primary therapist in the young adult program, I have found this to be especially helpful at various points in treatment with students who are dysregulated and struggling with overwhelmingly difficult emotions. The therapeutic benefits begin as soon as we walk into the room lined with ceiling to floor shelves filled with objects, each of which contain symbolic meaning and energy. Students are incredibly drawn to the collection and it immediately stimulates dialogue, curiosity and expression. Students with trauma sometimes find this form of therapy provides them with a safe way to access and express memories through art, process the experience, and rejoin the world of others.

A Shared Journey

Lorraine held a space for each member of our group to learn concepts and to have a personal journey of healing through a variety of art mediums from pastels, to finger painting, to clay, to creating a “wholeness” project with collage materials. We began each session by making a group sand tray by choosing a personal object from among thousands on the shelves. Together, we created a safe space to go deep, heal and connect in an academically rich, learning experience that was indeed transformative. The experience prepared us to skillfully guide our PQ students on their unique journey.

In our final class, Lorraine prepared a slide show for each of us combining images from our process with her great insights. It felt profound to pause and witness each individual’s transformation in symbolic form.

Personal Reflections

As a Certified Gestalt Therapist, this training will live inside me in perfect harmony with my pre-existing “permission to be creative”, awareness of the here and now, and listening deeply to what emerges in my thoughts, feelings and messages from my body. The entire group expressed heartfelt appreciation for this unique experience to learn about ourselves first, so that we can serve our students well, as they travel their hero’s journey.

Art and Sandplay Therapy at PQ

We offer art and sandplay therapy to our students for many reasons: it’s fun and requires no artistic ability, it transcends verbal communication, and it is multidimensional, allowing for many processes from different levels in the brain and psyche to occur simultaneously. Art therapy is integrative, addressing emotional, cognitive, motor and sensory experiences happening in the here and now. It integrates right and left-brain functions, conscious and unconscious, past and present. And, it facilitates communication through processing what has been created, easing the discomfort that some experience from sharing purely emotional material.

May 19, 2016

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PQ Has Completed Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics® (NMT) Training Certification Phase I Level


Pacific Quest is pleased and excited to announce the completion of an eighteen month training and certification process with The ChildTrauma Academy. Pacific Quest is now site certified in the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, or NMT, which is a “developmentally-informed, biologically-respectful approach to working with at-risk children.” NMT is an approach to clinical practice that allows clinicians and programs to use their environment in a neuro-sequential way. This evidence-based practice integrates multiple principles, techniques, and interventions to be applied in a way that promotes brain development and relational health.NMT-phase-I

Pacific Quest is the first and only outdoor/wilderness program to be site certified in NMT! As such, Pacific Quest utilizes the garden and nature-based setting, mind-body techniques and clinical therapies in a neurodevelop
mentally-informed manner that is individualized for each student. Bruce Perry, M.D., PhD, founder of the ChildTrauma Academy, adds, ”We are very excited to have Pacific Quest become an NMT Trained Site because they have a great deal of experience and knowledge to share with our community. Pacific Quest’s focus on wilderness therapy, nutrition, and holistic practices is a natural compliment to some of the therapeutic recommendations that are generated by NMT principles, and so their expertise in implementing a blending these approaches can be highly successful and offer us all valuable insights.”

As part of the Phase I NMT site certification process, clinicians at Pacific Quest participated in case consultations with Dr. Perry and other trainees from across the globe. They learned to use the clinical practice tools with fidelity, and completed over 100 hours of training in core principles of neurodevelopment and traumatology. Their training continues through case-based staffings, fidelity exercises and review of current research and practice updates.

Pacific Quest Clinical Director, Dr. Lorraine Freedle has completed Phase I, Phase II/Train the Trainer and is a certified NMT provider and trainer. She comments, “Pacific Quest is an enriched environment with an abundance of opportunities to effect meaningful change. NMT is a very helpful paradigm for case conceptualization and targeted treatment planning so that we may use the resources we have at the right time and in the right way for our students.”

March 14, 2016

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Successful Horticultural Therapy Training at PQ

IMG_20160224_140032128Horticultural Therapy is one of the cornerstones of Pacific Quest’s integrative, holistic approach. Recently, over sixty Pacific Quest employees participated in an all day training in horticultural therapy. Therapists and direct care staff worked side-by-side utilizing creative interventions, combining evidence-based practices with mind-body techniques.

Horticulture Therapy Training

One of the main goals of this training was to have interactive and engaging lessons role-modeled for the program guides and to let them experience the numerous possibilities of teaching in the garden. In addition, this was an ideal opportunity to train program guides in both the hard skills of working on the land and the soft skills of utilizing the garden as a therapeutic tool. Program guides had the opportunity to analyze and brainstorm how to teach our curriculum and to unite the different aspects of the program with the garden.

The first half of the training focused on experiential activities that were based on the Five Pillars of Health (i.e. nutrition, sleep, movement, breathing, and the mind-body connection) and the ways in which these key elements of the program are brought to life in the garden. The second half focused on utilizing narrative education and concepts of rites of passage to teach about soil. Guides learned how research in horticultural therapy indicates that simple garden activities are compatible with evidence-based practices used to treat a myriad of clinical issues ranging from anxiety and depression, to trauma and stress related disorders.

Words from our Horticulture Therapy Director

Pacific Quest’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle M.A., commented, “For the adolescents and young adults that we work with, the simple task of growing a garden becomes a parallel process of the growth in oneself. Whether we are treating the emotional wounds of childhood, or the injured leaves of a common houseplant; the key factors of empathy, relatedness, and unconditional positive regard are still the same. Nature teaches us that everything that lives is biologically designed to grow and adapt. The same is true for the families and young people with whom we work. By actively experimenting with the process of growth and adaptation in nature, we become more aware of who we are and what we want to be.”


January 29, 2016

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Dr. Freedle Will Co-Present at NATSAP – La Jolla, CA


Pacific Quest’s Clinical Director, Lorraine Freedle, Ph.D., ABPdN will be co-presenting at the 2016 NATSAP Conference.  The back-to-back presentation entitled, “From Super Power to Darkest Hour: Giftedness… Why Does it Matter?” will take place on Thursday, February 11th from 1:45- 3:15 pm (Part I) and 3:30- 5:00 pm (Part II).

Dr. Freedle and Daniel Peters, Ph.D. will discuss how most educators and mental health providers receive little if any training in the characteristics and needs of students labeled “gifted” or “twice-exceptional (2e).” Gifted and 2e students have unique characteristics, along with tremendous potential and vulnerability. These students are typically more intense, sensitive, excitable and perfectionistic than others, and they are often misunderstood and misdiagnosed. Like other special needs populations, gifted and 2e students require differentiation and accommodation in education and treatment.

Participants in this presentation and experiential workshop will review characteristics of these students, discuss challenges, explore case studies, and develop interventions designed to transform suffering and fully embrace their high potential.

We hope to see you there!