Choosing Change: Wilderness Therapy for Your Troubled Adolescent

wilderness therapyPeople aren’t born knowing everything, so as they say, hindsight is 20/20. Parents are there to guide their children using knowledge gained through their own experiences – with school or work, with people, perhaps with drugs. Adults recognize destructive behaviors or situations that can cause problems. And because parents love their children, they want to intervene before things get worse.

Unfortunately, troubled adolescents or young adults do not always ask for help. They may try to deal with things on their own. Some kids are in denial that they may even have a problem. In this case, how are parents supposed to get help for their children when they don’t want it?

Wilderness Therapy: Leading Teens along the Road to Change

Just as with grief, there are several stages of change. Initially, denial remains; if a person does not think she has a problem or recognize the destructive path she may be treading, then she will have no intention to change. With some time, understanding will come, and she will see how her current behavior could play out and how changing her behavior could be beneficial. With this new understanding, a young person will begin planning to change, and then take steps to make that change happen – all as a personal, conscious choice – and continue to modify her behavior. The last stage is a termination of the past behavior; change has been accomplished.

Many troubled adolescents and young adults who enter intervention programs such as wilderness therapy continue to believe or act as if they do not have a problem. Wilderness therapy has many benefits, one of which is that it gets adolescents and young adults out of their current environment and into one that acts as a catalyst for change. While students are forced to face change, wilderness therapy doesn’t employ scare tactics, and leaders are not authoritarian.

While realizing the need for change and making it happen are possible alone, it is a difficult journey. However, having a guiding hand, a support system, and the tools to create change can make all the difference as a troubled teen sets out on the road to change – and making that change last.

Pacific Quest Wilderness Therapy for Teens and Young Adults

Located on one of Hawaii’s beautiful islands, Pacific Quest strives to be a safe, welcoming place where teens can come to learn, heal, and grow. Basically, it is a place that fosters change. By being actively involved in nature, students get to see and experience its cycles of change and growth in action, and which acts as a mirror of life in general.

The Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program has developed a unique Sustainable Growth Model that incorporates whole-person wellness, individualized clinical care, Rites of Passage, horticulture therapy, and healthy community living. This combination teaches diverse and adaptable principles that translate into life skills and tools that can be used in any situation, and students develop an empowered sense of self as they begin to see their successes and gains in Pacific Quests gardens.

When given the proper tools, troubled young adults and adolescents can turn bad behaviors around and feel able to sustain that change because they have begun to realize their full potential.

Posted in Uncategorized |


By: Mike Sullivan, Primary Therapist
Lori Armbruster, Communications Director

PQ StaffPQ staff members were honored and humbled by the overwhelming turnout of alumni, students and families who gathered at the San Francisco Children’s Garden in Golden Gate Park for an inspiring day of service to the community! PQ alumni spent the day working side by side with PQ staff to build sustainable garden beds, revamp neglected pathways, and artfully paint various stumps and signs with inspirational quotes and educational facts to support this beautiful landmark garden. Though the theme of the day was service, the undertone was that of connection. The garden is a powerful classroom and catalyst to support change, which has been proven during each student’s stay at Pacific Quest. Families attending the event sought to give to their local community and were also excited to reconnect with the PQ Ohana that helped to create meaningful and life-changing experiences during their Pacific Quest journeys.

PQ StaffUpon arriving at the park, all projects were carefully outlined and explained. Moms, dads, alumni students, and siblings quickly volunteered for various tasks and out came the gardening gloves, shovels, paintbrushes, and hand picks. The families dove into the tasks, utilizing communication skills, teamwork, and plenty of good humor to complete each task. The families worked throughout the morning, enjoying the camaraderie, sunshine, and people around them. In a pre-lunch debrief circle facilitated by PQ’s Horticultural Therapy Director, Travis Slagle, many commented on how good it was to reconnect with the garden, nature, and community. Young siblings shared the simple happiness they felt being with their families and doing something together. The park interns commented repeatedly that our volunteer alumni were enthusiastic, polite, exceptionally hard working, and clearly dedicated to the tasks at hand.

The Children’s Garden serves as a venue for educating young children in San Francisco about the wonders of the natural world, where their food comes from, and health and nutrition. The garden is maintained by wonderfully enthusiastic interns, who are dedicated to the well-being of youth in their community. The PQ alumni families continuously expressed gratitude that they were able to contribute to such an important and worthy cause. As the day concluded, the Children’s Garden Community Coordinator and her small team of interns expressed sincere heartfelt appreciation, sharing that in one day our “army of angel volunteers” were able to accomplish several projects that would’ve taken their small crew, weeks and — in some cases– months to complete.

PQ StaffAs the day came to a close, bittersweet goodbyes ensued. The community gardening project was a huge success! PQ alumni families rekindled a deeper connection with each other and within themselves by working in the garden and giving back to their local community. It is our hope that families will continue to seek out opportunities to practice and put to use many of the concepts learned at Pacific Quest, and that Ohana Days serves to spark that desire.

As I reflect back on this weekend’s event, I am inspired by the ripple effect of the work that we do. Seeing the smiling faces and families working together is a powerful and tangible reminder of that work. It is our goal to foster growth and connection that ripples outward into communities, where families and children will find a deeper sense of connection to themselves and the world.

Posted in Community, Education, Information, land notes, Nature, News, Organic gardening, Service projects, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

Pacific Quest Welcomes Johnny Tock

johnnytock_175x220Pacific Quest is pleased to welcome Johnny Tock, LPC as a Primary Clinician. Johnny is a licensed Professional Counselor and holds a Master’s Degree in Clinical Counseling from Eastern Illinois University. He completed his undergraduate studies at Hanover College in Illinois. Johnny brings over twelve years of experience in a variety of therapeutic settings including a well-respected children’s group home, county mental health facilities, a wilderness therapy program in North Carolina and a residential boarding school in Idaho.

Johnny is passionate about his work, and is respected for his ability to affect change by creating emotional safety, and by teaching and role modeling healthy relationship skills. He is experienced in using Cognitive Behavioral Therapy to help alter negative thinking patterns in clients who have struggled with issues primarily related to anxiety, depression, ADHD, and oppositional defiance. Johnny also assists his families in learning healthier and more effective ways to communicate and strengthen relationships.

He is dedicated to helping young adults who are struggling to “launch” and assisting them in recognizing their unique potential, their specific passions and talents and their ability to carve out a healthier path for themselves. Johnny promotes personal accountability through solid communication and follow-through with his families and clients.  He is skilled at creating and implementing comprehensive and innovative treatment plans. He utilizes CBT and other evidence-based techniques in his work and brings insight and experience to each individual’s therapeutic journey.  Johnny also enjoys building rapport through music, humor and his never- ending passion for the great outdoors.

Welcome to the team Johnny!

Posted in Group therapy, Information, News, Therapy, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

On the Mainland: Pacific Quest Hosts “Ohana Days” & Alumni Reunion Events

By Lori Armbruster, Communications Director

farmersmarketIn the Hawaiian culture, the word “Ohana” means family, which can be blood-related, adoptive or intentional. The concept emphasizes that families are bound together and members must cooperate and remember one another.

When a young person enters Pacific Quest, they become part of a larger Ohana. As they discover the best in themselves, they forge new and meaningful relationships with family members, peers, their community and the natural world. These experiences leave an indelible mark on their lives and in the lives of their families.

Week after week, our staff receives letters from alumni students who reach out simply to say, “thank you” or “you made a difference in my life”. Sometimes these letters come years later as the “seeds” planted have taken time to mature and come to fruition. Some are from students who may have struggled during their stay – but have come to realize the value of their experience. While each alumni letter is unique, all share a common theme.  Alumni students and their families consistently express a desire to reconnect with one another and with the staff members who were instrumental in helping them during this step of their journey.

As our alumni venture into the world, we challenge ourselves to further support the incorporation of healthy skills and community-building concepts gathered while in our care.  Pacific Quest’s mission is rooted in true sustainable growth and it is when our students learn to engage in their communities and be of service to others, that new levels of growth may be realized. To that end, we are very excited to announce several innovative alumni events for 2014.

Pacific Quest’s Ohana Days will provide a series of experiential activities for alumni families to re-imagine the work of “incorporation” and the next step of sustainable growth in their own communities.  These community-building events focus on service, an action-oriented approach to giving back, and leaving a legacy that goes beyond self.  Ohana Days will incorporate a variety of volunteer opportunities, such as building gardens in the heart of a city, harvesting food for local food banks, or building a garden for a local school or charity, and other healthy lifestyle events. Ohana Days will also provide an opportunity for students, families and staff to reconnect and get re-inspired! This experience will broaden the support network for our alumni, encouraging community involvement, and reawakening parents and students to what it really looks like “to be the change you want to see in the world.”

Stay tuned for a formal announcement on our first Ohana Days and Alumni Reunion event, which will be held in the Bay Area, Saturday, March 22! Future dates and locations will be updated periodically on our website and Facebook page. For more information, please contact:

Posted in Community, Education, Healing, Information, land notes, Nature, News, Organic gardening, Service projects, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

A New Perspective

newstaffteamWritten through the voices of incoming Pacific Quest staff and their stories of arrival…

(Through the lens of Kenny)

As we fly into Hawaii the feeling of nostalgia wouldn’t wear off. I have left my family in the midst of winter to join a group of strangers in the field of troubled youth reform. There are only two buses that run from Hilo to Na’alehu, the base city of Pacific Quest. Just sitting there waiting for the bus in my board shorts, tie dye shirt, and fifty pound backpack I stood out as a “PQ’er”. I met Daniel as he strolled up with his two backpacks and flip flops “slippahs.” We knew that we would be traveling to PQ together.

(Through the lens of Daniel)

Aloha from Hilo! I have arrived. I notice two adventurers, you know the ones that sever all ties to step into the unknown following their heart’s current to an island far away. “Are you going to Pacific Quest?” I asked, as if speaking of a destination and journey in the same proper noun. I could tell Brett and Kenny were fresh off the plane, luggage, smiles, and a clear sense of jet lag from just being uprooted and in process of a transplant to new soils. I spent the two weeks prior severing my own ties. I’m speaking of a severance that mimics the falling leaves in autumn. I graduated in December, quit my job, transferred my leadership roles, and mentally prepared for the next stepping stone. I sent the good news to friends and family, spent the holidays with loved ones, and made intentions for the New Year. A year to be filled with mystery, personal growth, and contributions to this good world only imagined in dreams. A dream come true.

(Through the lens of Brett)

As I walked up to Pacific Quest from the bus stop with a few of my new coworkers we are met by Rae, our new Supervisor. She shows us around the grounds and points out the sweetest orange trees and where to find fresh lilikoi (passion fruit). We settled into the dorms as the staff piled in and out at the end of their evening shift. We hear them joking and laughing as they walked up the stairs. Their camaraderie is evident immediately. We are bombarded with names and questions. Their warm welcome calms my nerves and I smile. A feeling of calm washes over me.

(Through the lens of the new staff team)

For the next few days we are guided by multiple staff Leads and Supervisors. This was our chance to meet people and to tour the camps, cook meals in the camps, orientations, and a new staff training. Our training was comprehensive and our needs were taken care of.

newstaffteam2As our transition phase comes to an end, we are filled with questions, curiosities, and dreams. We consider our life, our choices, and reflect on how we arrived here. We consider our role at Pacific Quest and responsibility with ourselves and others. We remember the communities we left behind and consider the new community we are now a part of. We dream of the future and our path towards it.

Posted in Adventures, Community, Healing, Information, Nature, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

Pacific Quest Presenting At NATSAP









Pacific Quest’s Dr. Lorraine Freedle and Travis Slagle will present at the 2014 NATSAP Conference in Henderson, NV.

Title: “Ready, Set…Grow!  A Horticultural Perspective of Integrative Health, Rites of Passage & Future Therapeutic Programs”

Date: Thursday, February 6, 2014

Time: Session B4 11:00 a.m. -12:30 p.m.

Location: La Luna Room at Green Valley Resort and Spa

As an innovative outdoor therapeutic program for struggling adolescents and young adults, Pacific Quest is proud to be part of the 2014 NATSAP conference.  This presentation will highlight the benefits and implications of Horticultural Therapy as a growth-focused treatment model.  Research studies suggest gardening provides cognitive, emotional, and physiological benefits that can lead to increased overall life satisfaction.  Horticultural therapy offers experiential techniques that place the client in a care-giving role. By engaging individuals and families in the restorative process of cultivating beauty and health in one’s environment, it becomes increasingly possible to internalize beauty and health in one’s self.  This presentation asks the question, how would the world be different if growing a garden were a universal therapeutic task?

Dr. Lorraine Freedle is the Clinical Director at Pacific Quest and a board certified Pediatric and School Neuropsychologist with over 25 years experience in clinical practice and administration in children’s behavioral health.  Travis Slagle is the Horticultural Therapy Director at Pacific Quest. He has over ten years experience working with youth in outdoor and experiential therapy programs.

Posted in Education, Information, News, Updates |

A Parallel Journey

By Jody St. Joseph, Adolescent Program Director

kaucoastIt wasn’t two very large strangers who woke me in the middle of the night, but it was close enough.  My alarm screamed me awake at about 4 am and before long I was at the airport about to leave behind my doggie, my home, and my family.  I boarded the plane tired and very afraid.  What was happening to me!?  What had I done?!

Many hours and three flights later I landed on the strange rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  The Big Island of Hawaii.  Woa, this was real.  I began the long journey down to Ka’u to my new “home” for the foreseeable future.  I was alone in a very strange place with no one I knew and nothing familiar.

I arrived an hour and a half later to my new reality.  A small cabin in the woods.   The kindest woman welcomed me there with a simple “welcome home.”  This, of course, would be my new landlady.  She showed me around my new place, taught me a few of the basics of my new life living off the grid with solar power for my electric and a huge water catchment tank for my running water.  It was simple and there wasn’t much expected of me yet.  Just like the students in our Nalu camp, I started to try to settle into the new surroundings and reflect on the experiences of my life that lead me to this place.  I had to trust so much that was strange and out of my control.  Talk about wilderness therapy!

The next day was my first official day on the job.  What would this strange new experience teach me?  Who were these strange new people that would become a part of my new life?  Would they be nice, would I figure things out… would I be OK!?!?  Luckily I was met with the warmest welcome and more kindness and support than I could ask for.

It was easiest at first to focus on the day to day tasks at work.  I started to piece together my schedule, participate in meetings, do my part to keep the office clean, and started to learn the new language of Pacific Quest.  Much like our Kuleana students, I was starting to get the hang of what would be expected of me daily, and had work tasks to fuel conversations with new people.  I began to identify my personal responsibility in this new community… this new Ohana.

Weeks turned into months and I moved on from “task talk only” and started to participate more fully in my new community.  Work relationships quickly became more personal and I began to get to know the other members of my Ohana.  Some days were stressful and exhausting and I longed for my home and my family.  Other days I learned something new or made a breakthrough on a project and felt the confidence and pride in a job well done.  My scary new surroundings started to become truly beautiful and comforting.  I started to settle in.

It has been over four months now that I’ve been in this new place and on this new journey.  I had no intention of creating an experience for myself that was quite similar to that of our students; however, as I reflect on my time here so far I realize it’s the same in so many ways and I am humbled and in awe of the awesome demonstration of resilience and trust and courage that it takes to survive (and thrive!) through an experience like this.  Pacific Quest students do this day in and day out and my greatest hope for them is that they know how amazing they are for being here, for waking up each day and making the decision to carry-on, trusting that they will be okay.  Of course, by doing that, we are able to guide them a little bit on their amazing journeys and they will grow in their own personal ways.  I hope and believe, and it’s not always easy, that the same will be true for me.

Posted in Community, Healing, Information, Nature, News, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

Staying Healthy During the Holiday Season

By Maile Green, Naturopathic Physician

YogaAs the holiday season is in full swing, I find myself thinking about my daily routines for creating health.  I believe health and a sense of vitality are more than the absence of disease.  I believe physical and mental health are the product of daily practices and habits that create an optimal internal environment.  Throughout the world, health traditions credit the same things with creating health: proper nutrition and water intake, exercise and breathing, adequate sleep, and a sense of meaning.  Each of these practices are easy to understand.  None of them are difficult.  Incorporating them into our busy lives on a daily basis however, can be challenging!

This week I was reviewing the wellness curriculum we use at Pacific Quest.  From the beginning of our program we teach our students about proper nutrition and thinking about food as fuel for their bodies.  We introduce them to the idea of daily movement and breathing, creating flexibility and strength.  We talk about sleep hygiene- practices around adequate and quality rest, including techniques to help them relax and fall asleep naturally at the end of a day.  And, of course, finding meaning in life is a central component of the entire Pacific Quest program.

As I was reading through this material I was reminded of all the things I could be doing for my own health this holiday season.  Am I making sure to incorporate the things that are the foundations of my own health?  Some of them are old habits, and they are easy, but some of them are still a challenge.  One of the things I love about working at Pacific Quest is getting to introduce the concept of creating health to students when they are young.  I am hopeful that our influence will help them to create habits for health now, so they become incorporated into their lives and become easy for them to practice for a lifetime.  As for me, starting this week, I will take a dose of my own medicine and recommit again to making time to exercise and breathe.  I am lucky to live in a place where exercise can be fun, so I will be out on the water on my standup paddleboard.  Hopefully my boss won’t mind if I don’t get to work quite as early as usual!  Wishing you a happy, healthy holiday season!

Posted in Community, Healing, Information, News, Uncategorized, Wellness, Youth |

Finding Perseverance, Mystery and Gratitude in Pacific Quest’s Gardens

By Tess Barnes Dunn, Academic Coordinator

IMG_2681Recently, I had an opportunity to spend a day working with my new Pacific Quest colleagues in the area of our garden set aside for our Rites of Passage ceremony, known as Huli Ka’e.

A rite of passage is an important event that serves to mark the passage from one stage of life to another. Rite of passage is an anthropological term for a ceremony performed to facilitate or mark a person’s change of status on highly important occasions. Belgian anthropologist Arnold van Gennep coined the term Rite of Passage in 1908. He examined rites of passage around the world and found that rites of passage involve three important stages:

  • Severance in which an individual sheds his or her old identity
  • Threshold in which an individual has no status – they are both “no longer” and “not yet.”

  • Incorporation in which an individual returns and assumes a new role, typically with great celebration.

Our students experience severance, threshold and incorporation, they also explore perseverance, mystery and gratitude.

Throughout my day, I also explored and experienced my fair share of perseverance, mystery and gratitude.

Our first task was to eradicate the weeds and rocks. Let me rephrase that – our assignment was to eradicate the thousands of weeds and rocks. We worked together. Weeding. Laughing. Talking. Persevering. Together.

As we worked, I witnessed the mystery of the gardens – that transcendent quality that takes our students to the edge, creates change and celebrates rebirth. I listened to the Intent Statements of students, who had just completed the Rites of Passage ceremony. As they assumed their new role, they spoke of power, happiness, hope and dogged determination.

It was a day to remember. It was a day filled with joy, laughter and love and support. I was over-whelmed by gratefulness – gratitude for this garden and everyone in it.

Posted in Community, Education, Healing, Information, land notes, Nature, News, Organic gardening, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Updates, Vision Quest, Youth |

Tree Growth: A Metaphor For Our Lives

By Bridger Jensen, Therapist

bridgertreeEach morning, our newly-arrived Nalu and Kuleana adolescent students and staff travel from our sleeping quarters up the mountainside of the great volcano Mauna Kea. The short trip to our day camp is performed in silence to aid in self-reflection. From these historic, rolling hills through which we travel, sugar cane was once harvested, and constituted the majority of Big Island export. It is here, in the shadow of Mauna Loa, that our students spend their first few weeks. They reflect from a 1,200 foot-high vantage point over crashing waves, as the sun rises over Pacific Quest.  It is spectacular.

The magnificent hillside itself has therapeutic value for us as well. Majestic trees along the route have been sculpted by the near-constant trade winds blowing through them. Consistent winds push each branch and bud as they grow. Each leaf produced must adapt to the windy environment, or be absconded from the tree and carried away by the wind. The tree trunks grow accordingly to support the burdened branches. Thus, the hillside itself has become an excellent source of natural metaphors. Students often mention these windswept trees as a metaphor for their own growth.

As the students and employees learn about and teach horticulture in our gardens, we learn how plants grow intentionally and sustainably. Each seed planted grows to reach sunlight if needed, or even to face away from the sun if it must shade itself. In dry locations, a seedling may grow roots with the purpose of reaching water, while on a riverbank a plant may grow to stabilize itself as the ground beneath it erodes away. In therapeutic settings, students often talk about “Hehu stories.”

These Hehu stories are the stories of what shaped our lives. Like the windswept trees we pass by every morning, we each have stories about what shaped our lives. Were we depraved of nutrition like a seedling that grows in craggy rocks? Were we forced to struggle for each ray of sunlight like a seedling that grows on a dark forest floor? Perhaps our roots and branches languished, due to less-than-optimal resources? Or maybe we can liken ourselves to a healthy tree that has recently been damaged by a traumatic hurricane? Perhaps excessive pruning from our well-meaning caretaker stunted our growth? As we talk about our Hehu stories, students bring up the trees they pass by each morning. Often relating to the wind-sculpted tree that knows only how to grow with the wind.

There are so many variables that sculpt the beings we become, perhaps too many to account for. Some variables appear environmental, some internal. While we can’t completely control the environment that we grow in, we can choose to grow in our environment. Life events are opportunities to grow uniquely, resiliently and with strength. Like trees, we need the right conditions to grow and we will flourish, even amidst adversity, and sometimes because of adversity. Truly, trials beautify and strengthen us when care is given to our growth.

For some fun and interesting trees and Hehu stories, check out the links below:–the-crazy-tree-guy-saves-a-legacy-of-gettysburg

Posted in Education, Ethnobotany, Healing, Information, land notes, Nature, News, Sustainability, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

Students Explore Green Sand Beach

green sandA group of students recently had the opportunity to visit Papakolea Beach, also known as Mahana Beach or Green Sand Beach.  This infamous beach is located in the district of Ka’u on the Big Island, not too far from Pacific Quest.  Papakolea is one of only four green sand beaches in the world–the others being located in Guam, Norway and the Galapagos Islands.  Students were excited as they prepared for the two mile hike to this secluded beach.  Before starting on the trail head, they geared up with bandanas, extra water, sunhats and sunscreen. The trail runs parallel to the coastline and every once in while the group paused to look for humpback whales.  This trail is known for gusty winds, so students wore bandanas to cover their faces from potential dust while they hiked.

While hiking, students shared with each other how much they were all enjoying themselves and anticipating the beach and swimming in the ocean.  As the group approached the bluff, students were amazed at the bright blue water, and peridot sand down below.  Everyone hiked down to the ocean and in unison ran and jumped into the water.  It was an exceptionally calm day and the temperature of the water was perfect!

Everyone swam for several hours, body surfed in waves and frolicked about, laughing and continuing to sprint back and forth into the water.  The group enjoyed a picnic lunch and then decided to hike back. This was the first outing for many of the students and was breathtaking and awe inspiring!

Posted in Adventures, Geology, Information, Nature, News, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

Pacific Quest Welcomes Christine Riley

christinerileyPacific Quest wilderness therapy program is pleased to welcome Christine Riley, LMFT as a Primary Clinician. Christine received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from State University of New York in Plattsburgh and her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy in 2003.

Prior to joining the Pacific Quest clinical team, Christine served as the Clinical Director for a prominent wilderness therapy program in New York. Christine has experience supervising a team of clinicians, providing clinically-based trainings for field instructors, and maintaining quality of care and wilderness program excellence throughout her career. Christine brings many years of experience observing students’ clinical progress and helping to facilitate crisis interventions. Christine is a respected mental health clinician in the wilderness therapy industry and is recognized for her ability to provide effective individual, group, and family therapy. In addition, Christine is the author of several psychoeducational books for siblings of troubled teens.  Christine is a member of the International Association of Trauma Professionals (IATP) as well as a member of the National Association of Therapeutic Schools & Programs (NATSAP).

In her spare time, Christine enjoys reading, gardening, yoga, cooking, photography and spending time with her husband and two beautiful boys.

Welcome to the team Christine!

Posted in Group therapy, Information, News, Therapy, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |

Los Angeles Alumni Event

By Mike Sullivan, Therapist

YES Berkeley S Kent B Hannah M Ryley P“Belay on!” shouts Johnny, whose legs are shaking and hands trembling as he prepares to climb his first route of the day at the Hangar 18 rock climbing gym in Los Angeles.  Moments before this, Johnny had pulled me aside and said, “Mike, I wasn’t kidding when I told you and the group that I am afraid of heights.” Johnny was clearly scared, and with empathic coaching, he was able to approach the wall and begin to climb.  This marked the start of the first Pacific Quest student alumni group, held on October 19th.

Prior to getting started on the climbing, Johnny and his peers participated in “ground school,” where they learned important climbing commands used to ensure safety between the climber and the belayer (the one in charge of rope).  Johnny had let the group know about his fear of heights, a sign that he was practicing a valuable tool from his stay at Pacific Quest– expressing his feelings.  Johnny’s expression of fear was met with support from the alumni climbing group, which in this instance were a mishmash of Pacific Quest alumni from the past two years ranging from ages 16-23.  Most alumni knew one or two others present in the group, yet many were meeting each other for the first time.  While the alumni were new to each other in many ways, these kids had a deeper bond present before even stepping foot into the climbing gym – they had the shared experience of graduating from Pacific Quest, a challengingYES Berkeley S 2 outdoor therapeutic program in Hawaii.  They knew what it meant to step outside your comfort zone and challenge limiting self-beliefs.  They knew what it meant to take healthy risks and gain a sense of accomplishment and self efficacy from doing so.  They were hungry for more.

“You can do it, Johnny!” the group shouted as Johnny slowly sought out the delicate placement of each foot and the proper hand holds to remain attached to the climbing wall.  Johnny shouted back down to the group, “I don’t know you guys……” sharing his reluctance as he ascended the wall, well above the floor of the climbing gym. Johnny was secured by a climbing rope and thus 100% safe, yet when one gets far enough off the ground, even the sense of safety from the rope diminishes.  One quickly learns that you can’t rely on the “logic” of the rope system solely.  Climbing requires people to draw on an innate sense of confidence, overcome fear, and work through self doubt in the moment.  It demands that one build trust with their partner and draw on the support of the group.  While Johnny understood from the lessons of the “ground school,” that he was completely safe, he ultimately had to reach deep inside himself and reach out to his peer group to find his way.

Johnny’s group shared encouraging cheers as he continued up the climbing wall. Johnny surmounted the route and slapped his hand on the top of wall signaling victory. “Take!” Johnny shouted, alerting his climbing partner below to draw in any excess slack in the rope and begin lowering him off the route.  Johnny was lowered to ground and met with high fives and compliments from his peers.  Johnny and his peers proceeded to climb several routes and socialize throughout the climbing gym.  All expressed what a fabulous time they had at the event.

Posted in Adventures, Community, Healing, Information, News, Uncategorized, Youth |

The Importance of Nutrition in Mental Health

By Dr. Britta Zimmer, Medical Director

It is time to face a simple fact and reclaim health:

Nutritious Food is Medicine

harvestIt’s easy to get caught up in the complexity of science, research, and the physiology of the human body, therefore I am constantly reminding myself, my patients, and my patients’ parents to get back to the roots because without being rooted, healthy change and growth are difficult to obtain.

The roots of health and healing are simply:

good nutrition, adequate sleep, daily movement, and stress management. These are Pacific Quest’s pillars of health. These roots are simply based in science and research.

I just attended The Integrative Medicine for Mental Health Conference and was reminded (via extensive research and excellent lectures) of the importance of nutritional interventions in the treatment of AD(H)D,  Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.


Why is proper nutrition critical in the treatment of all mental health disorders?


Psychotropic medications, such as Prozac, Abilify, Wellbutrin, Seroquel, Ritalin to name a few, affect levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, however these neurotransmitters are controlled by chemical precursors which are made in the body from nutrients obtained from our diet.


Without the proper nutrients the neurotransmitters that psychiatric medications target such as serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine cannot be made or balanced in the first place.


Solution #1

Eat adequate protein in every meal, protein is made up of amino acids and which are precursors to neurotransmitters.

How much protein?  Recommended daily protein  intake is 1 gram per kilogram of body weight. (Example: 115lbs  =  52.2 kg  =  52 gram protein- If you exercise more than 6 hours weekly  =  2 grams per 1 kg of weight)

Be aware that vegetarian diets, antacids, stress, and poor digestive function all inhibit the body’s absorption of protein.

Protein Warning: talk to your doctor if you have kidney disease

Solution #2

Eat foods high in the following vitamins and minerals (or supplement your diet with these nutrients);

B-complex with folate, B6 and B12, Zinc, and Magnesium. These nutrients are essential for neurotransmitter production. You can Google search foods which contain high amounts of these nutrients.

Solution #3

Take Omega 3 Fatty Acids in the form of Fish Oil.

Truthfully, we should be bathing our brains in omega 3 fatty acids. Every aspect of neurotransmission involves the adequate functioning of omega 3 fatty acids in your body. Also research demonstrates the link between depression and inflammation; levels of omega 3 fatty acids in the body directly influence the body’s inflammatory response.

Take reputable brands of Fish Oil such as Nordic Naturals, Carlsons, Pure Encapsulations, or Vital Nutrients as these companies conduct stringent testing for their products. Fish oil sold at Costco and Trader Joe’s has not been adequately tested for potency and purity, I do not recommend those brands

If you take the good brands mentioned above you will NOT burp up fish oil or taste anything “fishy” as these are high quality ingredients.

Vegetarian sources of Omega 3 fatty acids such as flax oil have not been proven to decrease inflammation and support neurotransmitter production like fish sources.

Fish Oil Warning: talk to you doctor if you take blood thinners, do not take fish oil prior to surgery

Solution #4

Test for food IgG allergies and avoid these foods.

Most common IgG food reactions: Gluten (wheat, barley, rye, spelt), Casein (milk products), Eggs, Baking yeast, Citrus, Peanuts, Corn, Sugar, and Soy.

You can test these via eliminations diets or an IgG blood test. The IgE skin prick tests commonly offered by allergist do not give you this information.

Studies show the correlation between gluten consumption and the increase in symptoms related to depression, autism, anxiety, and AD(H)D.

Gluten and casein can increase inflammation in the body, create an autoimmune response, cause gastrointestinal damage, and create an opiate response. This potential opiate response is partly responsible for the addictive quality of certain foods such as pizza, mac n’ cheese, and chicken nuggets. Usually if it is a food you claim that you “absolutely cannot and will not give up” then you most likely have a food sensitivity to that food- sad but true.

Parents are the biggest obstacle to instigating a gluten and casein free diet because it is too much work for them, they do not see the value in it because they don’t wait long enough to keep their child off of gluten/casein, they allow their child cheat “because they feel bad for them” or they succumb to their child’s demands. It takes at least 4 weeks of strict gluten and casein avoidance to see the positive results. Once the patient experiences a reduction of symptoms with a gluten and casein-free diet this motivates them further to avoid these foods. This is the key to adolescent and young adult compliance to restrictive diets, they have to experience first hand the improvement.

Not mentioned in the 4 solutions above is the importance of Vitamin D in the treatment of mental health disorders, more about that in blogs to come.

All neurological conditions are whole body disorders,  because the body/brain are connected (literally and biochemically. )One must treat the whole body to treat neurological disorders such as AD(H)D, Depression, Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Eating Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, and Autism Spectrum Disorders.

The cornerstone of whole body treatment is Nutrition.

Pacific Quest is the only therapeutic treatment programs which offers a gluten-free, casein-free, anti-inflammatory, nutrient dense, organic, whole foods diet.

References available upon request

Posted in Community, Education, Healing, Information, News, Updates, Wellness, Youth |

Letter of Gratitude

We received this letter from an airline passenger who was seated by a Pacific Quest student who recently completed the program.  It’s a good reminder of how even brief encounters can leave lasting impressions.

I was in Hawaii until yesterday and had the profound pleasure of sitting next to one of your recent graduates. Please forgive me for referring to her as a graduate as I am certain you have a more appropriate descriptor for someone who has reclaimed their life by experiencing Pacific Quest.

She was on her way home after two amazing soul-nourishing and life-saving months with you. I write to you today as I am back to my own routine and am realizing that the effect of sharing an hour of my life with her is immeasurable. We connected instantly as soon as the doors to the airplane closed and I made a nervous quip about not being sure if the people in the emergency exit rows were paying attention to the two-minute training of how to save all of us in the event of an emergency. To this, she confidently states, “Don’t worry, I just spent two months learning about what I am capable of. I got this.” She had me hooked instantly. She was funny, confident, self-deprecating, attuned to her surroundings and responded appropriately without missing a beat.

We spoke the entire one hour during our shared flight. I felt the universe had conspired to bring this young girl to me at the moment it had. She shared how much the experience at Pacific Quest taught her and prepared her for the rest of her life. I said to her that the universe works in inexplicable ways, but for the most part, it conspires to offer us what we need. Whether we take the hand she offers is entirely up to us. I expressed to her how very much her speaking to me has made me the better and how I know it will make me a better mother to my 11-year old son.

I write to you today for two reasons. One to thank you for the impact you have had on this young woman. What her parents and you have done is nothing short of life-saving. As parents, we are naturally in a cycle of self-doubt, whether every choice is the right choice for our children. I told her that I was in my thirties before having my son because I knew that I had to find strength in the ways I was bent and find confidence in the fact that I was not broken before I could do right by my son. Even then, I second guess all things about my parenting because manufacturing perfection is not possible and I find myself in the quest to manufacture a perfection for him. Hearing her taught me that doing right by our children is a daily call to prayer. It brings us to our knees daily. Indeed it should.

People come into our lives for various reasons. She came into mine for a specific reason. She was before me a child who found her voice and confidence, ready to live the life uniquely hers surrounded by the love of family and friends that is her birth right. As my son’s mother, I ache at every hurt that comes his way and I ache in advance for all that I imagine may come his way. This young woman taught me that I may not always be there physically for my child, but if I continue to be his valiant mother, providing him unbounded, unconditional, and unqualified love, he will have the strength and confidence to withstand what comes his way every step forward. And, that this is the best I can do for him.

Thank you for changing the course of this young woman’s life and for delivering a confident, young woman back to the universe such that the very first person she spoke to after 56 days with you and your team was me. I am ever better. She worried that she had burdened me for sharing her evolution and journey with me. I am hopeful that she is aware how much meeting her, hearing her and feeling her means to me. If you would kindly forward this to her so that she may know unequivocally that her first step back into the life she is meant to live has made such a profound imprint on my life and vicariously on my son’s. For this, I am grateful and forever bound to her well-being. Her happiness and success will be part of my daily call to prayer going forward. I wish for her to know that I am now part of the universe that is conspiring to provide for her heart and soul.

Thank you, again.

Posted in Community, Healing, Information, News, Uncategorized, Updates, Youth |