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Posted: Oct 11, 2007 09:35


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San Jose, Costa Rica
Guy LeGuyonne, Managing Partner & Director of Communications

Visit by: Loi Eberle, MA, IECA, March 28, 2007

Recently I visited Introspections Costa Rica, located in a lovely neighborhood in the outskirts of San Jose, Costa Rica. In this transitional living environment for young adults 17 and older, residents earn “Independence with Responsibility” by acquiring progressively more skills as they move through the program’s three phases.

I found Casa Blanca, the Phase I house, to be attractive with lots of common space, comfortable bedrooms, a swimming pool and beautiful gardens. In this phase, staff provides supervision and emotional support twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. Residents share menu planning, meal preparation, household maintenance, and the expectation of upholding community standards. The staff and students were friendly, speaking enthusiastically about Introspections in the limited time we had to talk in between their activities: going to the gym, doing community service work, shopping for groceries and attending group.

I asked about the beautiful masks and carvings through out the house. A student explained they learned to carve them from a member of the Barucas, a local indigenous tribe. Frank Darquea, Executive Director, elaborated: students prepare a “student narrative project” as part of the Narrative Therapy they use to integrate their past with how they want to re-invent themselves in the future. It involves being guided in daily journaling three days a week in groups. They also carve the balsa masks, do weaving and experiment with other forms of narrative art that symbolizes their unique individual processes. Frank explained the cultural integrity of the Barucas was an important metaphor for the Introspections participants because it enabled them to see themselves beyond their culture, giving them a different concept of family and tribe. One resident told me they carved symbols in the masks and totems to use as metaphors to resolve personal and group conflicts and for insights into a healthful and more mindful way of living.

After sharing a delicious meal prepared by students under the guidance of a mentor trained in culinary arts, I spoke with those students who didn’t have to leave immediately for community service projects or internships. They showed me their rooms, which were personalized with their artwork and distinctive decorative style. Residents of the opposite sex are not allowed to enter each other’s rooms, and there are strict rules forbidding romantic relationships between the residents. If these rules are broken, students are given the opportunity for further reflection, with staff, sometimes in one of the other Costa Rican settings, including the nature preserve, where they also conduct activities. In the rare case that the behavior continues, the parents must withdraw their student.

One resident was ready for Introspections as a result of insights she gained during her wilderness expedition. She said preparing her Human Potential Portfolio helped her understand how her previous behavior had impacted her, and what she now instead wanted for her life. Then she excused herself to work on an academic assignment, sitting down on the floor with her laptop. I asked if it was a distracting environment in which to study. She said she enjoyed the flexibility. Soon she was working diligently, listening to music through ear buds to avoid the noise.

I accompanied another resident to his tutor/mentor appointment elsewhere in the house. I learned that the staff and students together selected which of the various accredited correspondence high school and/or college curriculums from the United States to use. A nearby learning center offers study skills classes for people with mild learning differences, however they are in Spanish. This is not much of a limitation, though, since all Introspections students are required to learn Spanish.

I spoke at length with Michael Lyles, founder and CEO, Frank Darquea, Executive Director, and Crystal Perdue-Villalobos, lead therapist. They explained that students and staff learned, worked, played and lived together, communicating frequently. Crystal said some students request individual therapy in addition to the narrative therapy groups, but for the most part the group work is sufficient. They also have SMART Recovery groups and a new chemical dependency counselor, both providing powerful ways for residents to explore how their drug and alcohol behaviors have interfered with their goals. Students are guided in learning to develop skills and a healthy lifestyle that better meets their needs than their previous behaviors.

I walked with a mentor to the Phase II independent living apartments, while he discussed how the SMART recovery process often reaches adolescents who do not respond to 12- step work. Sober living is a requirement for Introspection participants, and they are vigilant about maintaining this, through random drug tests, supervision and peer support. I suspect it is also maintained by how active they keep everyone! The Phase II apartments were spacious, light, airy, attractive and very clean. After speaking with the residents about their complicated treatment backgrounds, I was impressed with their insight and at how well they were doing. Some were taking college classes and applying to four year colleges upon their return to the United States. Even though they live independently in Phase II, they continue to participate in therapy groups and program activities. I didn’t see the Phase III apartments because none of the students were there. They were all working at their internships.

We found Michael Lyles, near his apartment, which is located in the Phase II complex. He asked if I had time to hear a student’s poetry. After hearing it, I was highly impressed, both with his poetry, his knowledge of literature and history, as well as his insights gained through his work with narrative therapy.

My visit left me with a great deal of excitement about Introspections Costa Rica. This is an environment in which students can explore who they are and develop what they want to become. Although students appear to have more freedom here than in other environments, it is balanced with the great deal of support they receive. Founder, Michael Lyles, and Director of Communications, Guy LeGuyonne, have the challenge of deciding who will flourish, and who will abuse this setting. The participants I met indicate they have made good choices about who they will enroll. Introspections truly does foster independence with responsibility and provides an environment in which the skills of learning how to live a more balanced life can be nurtured.

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