By Bridger Jensen, Therapist
Recently, I met with the staff of Pacific Quest to talk with them about positive psychology and sustainable growth. It was no surprise to find them already aware of how positive psychology facilitates change. They even had personal experiences and examples of how using it daily with the students enhanced the students’ experiences at Pacific Quest. It was wonderful to hear their many examples. I thought I would share one of these examples.
Brian is a recent graduate of Pacific Quest and had been bullied repeatedly throughout his life. As a result, Brian had adopted a negative concept of himself and he would not acknowledge positive things that occurred in his life. This was because positive things challenged his negative self-concept. He dismissed any of his achievements as “luck” or his social strengths as “pointless” when in fact he had a lot of excellent qualities. This negative self-concept continued upon his arrival at Pacific Quest and he was dismissive of staff’s efforts to buoy him up by giving him compliments and positive interactions. It was difficult to navigate a conversation with Brian because positivity actually made him feel worse. It made him feel undeserving of such friendship and support. Furthermore, he realized that he had an ungrateful attitude, and he loathed that about himself.
Brian’s change came as a result of learning that the paradigm of his past was getting in the way of his life even more than actual experiences from his past. Restated, Brian realized that the way he was choosing to see the traumatic experiences in his life was much more influential to him than the actual trauma that he had suffered. As a result of understanding this (and with a considerable amount of time), Brian was able to become more open to seeing the past differently. He began to see his trials and trauma as opportunities for growth, not obstacles to living. His investment in the garden increased, then his participation in groups, and then his relationships with peers. His therapist and the staff were able to assist Brian in positively reinterpreting the negative past and keep positivity in the forefront of his mind. In doing so, Brian began to become more open-minded to his own positive traits. As a result, Brian’s thoughts drifted from his failures to his successes, and from negativity to positivity.
Such stories are common at Pacific Quest wilderness therapy program. Our students’ progress continues to be our greatest testament to the truly sustainable growth that is initiated in our camps. It continues to be a privilege to be a part of the Pacific Quest team and I look forward to witnessing the creation of many more stories like this one.