Our Approach: Teensfield guide mentoring student

We believe that all teens have unique needs and especially those that are struggling with such issues as depression, anger, self-esteem, drug use or anxiety.  We employ six guiding principles which govern our strengths-based approach in each and every teen's treatment at Open Sky.  Combining this innovative philosophy with the most sophisticated and comprehensive clinical treatment available enables our students to depart as healthy, high-functioning, and vibrant people and our university-led empirical research results prove it.

The Six Guiding Principles

Our Approach with Teens

  1. Creating Authentic Connections
  2. Learning Through Nature
  3. Providing a Genuine Healing Community
  4. Inspiring Self-Confidence through Real Successes
  5. Harnessing Nature's Healing Capacity
  6. Celebration and Ceremony

student with therapist EmilyCreating Authentic Connections

The Open Sky team believes in being genuine; of sharing openly what we are feeling and thinking with one another. This is a fundamental aspect of our community: people relating with people on the most basic level as humans sharing an experience in this world. In truth, we are not a “program”, we are a collection of people providing a life-affirming rite of passage. We believe that our responsibility to our students and to each other is to be real with each other, to show up and be present with one another at all times, as best as we each are capable. In a genuine community environment with authentic interactions, each person is encouraged to discover their true nature as worthy, honorable, and capable people.

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Learning through Naturesnowfalling on students

Adolescents are at a unique time in which they are craving two seemingly opposing needs: independence and support. Developmental needs of adolescents are especially unique in that they have “grown up” in many ways and yet in many other ways are still children. For many, they have the body of an adult and yet the brain’s development is still a few years behind. Along with being in between childhood and adulthood, there is the emergence of hormones and changing body chemistry, intensive social pressures, the normal desire to individuate from parents, combined with all the stresses of the modern pace of life. It is no wonder that so many teens have trouble making this shift.

At Open Sky, we believe that the basic solution to what our teens need is a balance of support and structure. We support our students by listening with empathy and treating each of them as individuals with unique attributes and gifts, life experiences and struggles. We support our students by providing a holding environment in which their greatest attributes are encouraged and their maladaptive behaviors and self-destructive thinking are not accepted or reinforced. With firm and clear (not controlling or disempowering) boundaries and a sense of what is acceptable and what is unacceptable in conjunction with appropriate consequences (both positive and constructive) our teens learn one of the first lessons of adulthood: that with every action, there is a subsequent reaction; for every cause, there is an effect.

In essence, moving out of childhood is moving into conscious awareness in which we are no longer a function of our trauma or our family and personal history and its accompanying impulsive reactivity. At Open Sky, we aim to help each of our teens learn that they have the ability to make choices with what they do and how they respond to circumstances.

team hiking into camp just after sunsetWe believe firmly that to motivate teens to make this step that they must be given choices and that these choices become their greatest lessons. We do so by providing a wilderness experience in which many of these lessons come from nature, not from the opposing force of authority. For example, if a student sleeps poorly because the wind whipped their shelter all night because he didn’t secure it tightly and then is grumpy and irritable all day, we help him connect the dots between his shelter building effort (such attributes as attention to detail, prioritizing quality and craftsmanship, persistence, not settling for just good enough) and how he slept and therefore how he feels (the result of not doing an adequate job of securing his shelter). With this simple connection, the teen makes a massive leap - a leap towards understanding that what he puts into life, he gets out of life, and that all behavior has consequences. The teen might have a tendency to want to blame the wind for the poor night’s sleep or for that matter, blame his parents for sending him here in the first place or for not being properly taught how to build a shelter. We understand that these all are certainly realities, but that they are disempowering - to place our current circumstances/experience on those of others. This example shows that to have the freedom to make choice (how you build your shelter), there is a responsibility one must take for the consequences of that choice (sleeping poorly and being irritable). However, the learning doesn’t end here. Learning has taken place when behavior has changed; when the teen no longer accepts an adequately built shelter but instead works hard to ensure that the shelter will withstand the wind and weather and not flap all night. Connecting the dots between behavior and consequence empowers teens to make intelligent choices.

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girls team in Utah Providing a Genuine Healing Community

In one way or another, most of our teens at Open Sky are suffering from a wound of some kind. A wound that has been internalized and is a hurt that is deep and strong. This might be the loss of a loved one, it might be a violation of a personal boundary, it could be a regret of a past behavior, it could be a feeling of being unaccepted or unappreciated; the source of which could be from any of a number of events or life moments. Each of us, at one point or another, experience this kind of hurt and struggle with the pain of it. We believe that the way to heal is through the pain, providing space for the pain to be felt, for it to be nurtured by caring people, to be heard and acknowledged, not shamed. Walking through this pain with nurturance and support and with the skillful guidance of our treatment team enables a student to heal this wound, to release its grip on his thoughts and feelings. Each teen at Open Sky will share his story with the other students, with his therapist and field guides and in doing so, will have the opportunity to heal and be given support for growing and learning. Through the day-to-day time spent in the nurturing presence of guides and opportunities for exploring this hurt, there is a chance to discover the source of strength that emerges from surviving this hardship and to see how these experiences enable us to expand our compassion for ourselves and for others.

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a tarp shelter to be proud of!Inspiring Self-Confidence through Real Successes

In this modern age, we have taken away much of the challenge of our physical existence, so much so that arguably we have created an unhealthy culture where our material abundance has led to the highest rates of obesity and apathy ever known. Living in the outdoors requires work: demands of the weather, of walking everywhere, of learning to live without furniture and a bed means that teens learn how to take care of themselves in ways that are easily taken for granted everyday. There is not a bed, toilet, oven, microwave, television, computer, iPod, overhead lighting; all these basic amenities are missing. Teens learn to make do with what they can do for themselves; specifically they learn how to take care of themselves completely without the modern conveniences their lives are propped up by. This engenders a sense of empowerment, of being capable of successfully keeping themselves physically comfortable and safe: warm when it is cold, dry when it is wet and fed when they are hungry. Open Sky teens become successful students of life and in doing so become confident in themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing.

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sunflowers under the open skyHarnessing Nature’s Healing Capacity

Being outside provides a space in which everything is free to be felt and expressed without judgment, without limit and without consequence. Nature can handle a teen's barrage of angry outbursts or their depths of grief and sorrow.  Nature is receptive to everyone’s presence and allows for a spaciousness that is not found with the busyness and materialism that surrounds teen's normal, everyday civilized existence. The pure beauty of vistas, of mountains, of desert landscapes, of plants and animals generates a reverence and appreciation for life and for our surroundings. It doesn’t tell us what to do like our magazines and advertisements do; it just is, allowing us to just be. For many, many people, their greatest personal solace is found in the wilderness, with Mother Nature embracing them as a part of this spectacular planet, our teens heal and re-balance themselves.

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Celebration and Ceremonystudent day 2007

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, we genuinely enjoy working with young people. There is nothing quite like the excitement and enjoyment of working with youth; being immersed in the innocence and freshness of young people, their creative and expressive energy, being in the presence of a growing person and an emerging personality. Our team is comprised of people that genuinely enjoy the essential aspects of youth and find that being with teens and young adults is invigorating and inspiring. Our goal is to celebrate this energy, this youthful vitality through appropriate and healthy ways: sweat lodges, hiking and exploring, playing games, making music, and just having fun. Our guides are role models for living a healthy and vital life. When not working, most of our team is off in the mountains or desert riding mountain bikes, skiing, playing music, dancing, climbing and living an active, youthful life.

Student graduation ceremony with her motherIit is a tremendous honor and inspiration to each of us to be a witness to the adolescent experience: one of the most significant and challenging stages of human development. For centuries, prior to the arrival of the modern world, this time frame was honored with a life affirming rite-of-passage and the teens had guides to lead them through this journey to their emerging adulthood. As each teen accomplishes a set of objectives in the student pathway, we honor this growth with a ceremony utilizing the symbolism of the four directions. People of all ages crave being acknowledged in their growth and learning and we believe that a successful experience with Open Sky is the very acknowledgment our teens need in this day in age to make this shift into adulthood.

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Research-Proven Results

Open Sky’s holistic wilderness therapy program provides the most sophisticated and comprehensive treatment available for teens in the entire industry. Open Sky students depart as healthy, high-functioning, and vibrant people and our university-led empirical research results prove it.

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