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Posted: Mar 6, 2008 11:50


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Costa Rica
Diederik Wolsak, RPC, MPCP
Founder/Program Director

Visit by: Loi Eberle, March 20-23, 2007

Describing itself as "an alternative, spiritual program in a breathtaking natural setting," Choose Again predictably evoked a sense of peace and healing. What surprised me was the compassionate interaction and willingness among everyone there to question their limiting beliefs that had caused their dysfunctional and self-destructive behavior.

Developed and operated by Canadian-based therapist, Diederik Wolsak, RPC, MPCP, this program takes place in a re-converted villa in Costa Rica over-looking Lake Arenal. Upon arriving, we hiked with Diederik and the program residents through exquisitely green grassy meadows adorned with flowers, large trees and an occasional cow, eventually ending up at the shores of Lake Arenal. While at the beach I asked residents why they were there. Their reasons included alcoholism, depression, trauma and relationship-based grief. All of them described their problem in the context of how their beliefs about themselves affected their behavior in the world.

It made sense that a program with "Attitudinal Healing" in its name would attract participants who respond to that line of thinking. Diederick explained "residents usually have a mixture of issues, which is beneficial; each participant quickly realizes that the presenting problem is not the issue. The real issue is their beliefs about themselves. By working together, they realize that everyone, from staff to clients, is working on this same issue!"

Residents have full participation in the daily running of the center. They help the staff prepare delicious meals from fresh local produce, eggs and fish, sharing the clean up duties as well. Part of the dinner is a gratitude circle in which clients and staff reflect on and express gratitude for the day's events, the insights volunteered by residents and an appreciation of the people present. Even during this more informal time, I observed everyone's willingness to communicate and participate in the physical and emotional work of changing their dysfunctional patterns.

After dinner and cleanup, people walk by flashlight to their cabins on flower-lined walkways revealing surprises like fireflies and beautifully colored frogs. A snake was once seen long ago, though I never saw anything more exciting than a tiny salamander crawling up the side of my shower. The rooms are small and simple, yet comfortable.

Early each morning a gong rings and a resident volunteer knocks on each person's door, signaling the beginning of quiet time. People are asked to observe a few hours of silence in the morning for meditating, reading or walking, which continues through breakfast. Group therapy/ discussions/ study sessions begin after breakfast, continuing until lunch.

During the morning sessions, processes developed by Diederik and his colleagues that include elements of Attitudinal Healing and Transpersonal Psychology are used to help residents gain insight about attitudes that no longer serve them. Residents are guided to reflect on early life events, sometimes traumatic ones, which had shaped negative beliefs about themselves and their world. They are guided to see that the beliefs were a "story"--not the actual truth. Choose Again teaches that one is 100% responsible for everything in one's life. Complete accountability allows clients to move out of a victim position of blame and convert blame into empowered authorship. Feeling that one's experience in life is chosen by core belief made up at an early age, they teach that the self can be transformed. This is encouraged by reading passages from the Course of Miracles published by The Foundation for Inner Peace and writings from Pema Chodrun, Thich Nath Hanh and others. The readings and discussions encourage a re-connection with one's original self, born a faultless child of God, connected to the universal force. This intensive work of transforming limiting core beliefs is verbalized and compassionately supported by everyone there.

During the afternoons residents are free to participate in yoga, "Volcanic Hot Springs Hydrotherapy," holotropic breathing or meridian energy release therapy. Or, they may choose more individual pursuits of journaling, artwork, photography, swimming, forest hikes and/or gardening. Therapeutic massage, individual counseling sessions and small group work are also available.

With no media, limited trips to town and the directive to only read library materials about consciousness, a reflective, healthy lifestyle is promoted. People are asked not to bring recorded music, escapist novels or other distractions, instead being encouraged to enjoy the natural beauty and listen to the birds and breeze. With no major presenting problems, the pace might seem slow to an adolescent, as was the case with my daughter during the time of our visit.

A person who chooses to be in this environment to gain clarity about one's own negative, limiting core beliefs would have plenty of guidance and opportunity to experience the liberation of developing a different perspective. They also would have a great deal of encouragement to free themselves of dysfunctional behaviors and develop a physically active, healthy lifestyle.

The second phase is initiated through mutual agreement. It involves individual and group sessions and two-day family workshops held in Vancouver. Non-Vancouver participants are assisted in arranging follow-up with one of the over 110 Attitudinal Healing Centers around the world. I learned after I left that an educational component has recently been introduced allowing Choose Again graduates to qualify as "Registered Professional Counselor," a dedication recognized across Canada. Choose Again is committed to the idea to eventually offer its program through the services of peers and graduates.

I am grateful for the opportunity to have experienced the healing, compassionate environment of Choose Again. Diederik is a very gifted therapist who is greatly assisted by his compassionate, insightful team: Claudette, Dawn, Elaine, Christie, Woodsy, Sarah and his daughter Saskia, with help from other returning guests/advocates of this practice. Their high staff to client ratio allows them to individualize the work being done in this unique milieu. The key element of this equation is the participant who is ready to be there, who truly wants to "Choose Again" so as to create a more empowered authorship of his or her life. In that circumstance, the depth of the work that is being done has the potential for being very transformative and empowering.

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