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Featured Team Members: Chris Blankenship, LCSW

Transition Age Young Adults Therapist Chris Blankenship


Q: Why did you decide to become a therapist and what drew you to wilderness therapy?

A: I had the goal of becoming a therapist from a very young age. When I was five or six years old, I had a friend with cystic fibrosis. I loved nothing more than sitting with him, listening to him, and being there for him. Since then, I’ve had the desire to help people. I have always been a good listener. I grew up being fascinated by people’s different reactions to the experiences they were having – the similarities and differences between them, and why those occur. These interests and strengths fed my drive to pursue my career as a therapist.

In high school and as I transitioned to adulthood, I struggled to figure out who I was and the person I wanted to be. I lived in Colorado and started spending more time in the outdoors, mountaineering and climbing. I gained a lot of confidence in the wilderness and learned a lot about myself. Once I learned about wilderness therapy, it was easy to marry my two passions of being outside and helping others experience growth and change in the wilderness.


Q: What do you value most about working with students and the team at Open Sky?

A: I love to get to know people while they’re getting to know themselves. Transition age young adults are at a crossroads in life, so-to-speak, so they are naturally poised to look inward and think about who they want to become in adulthood. It’s exciting and rewarding to see the evolution that occurs during a students’ stay here. I love challenging and supporting them throughout that experience. I’m with them every step of the way, celebrating successes and leading them through hardships.

I also value working with parents. My students’ parents are trusting me during one of the most vulnerable times in their lives and their children’s lives. Participating in this program is a huge investment of time, energy, and money. I strive to help them make the most of it all. It’s not enough for me to just give them updates on our phone calls. I do everything I can to challenge parents and equip them to lead their family forward.

I value working with Field Guides as well. I admire their dedication—that they spend eight days in a row every other week living in the outdoors and leading students through challenging circumstances emotionally and physically. This responsibility takes a physical and emotional toll on our guides as well. However, they show up in such professional, compassionate, and passionate ways to help our students learn and grow.

Finally, I am so grateful to work amongst our incredibly talented team of therapists. I’m always learning from them, asking questions, listening, and seeking to understand. We consult with each other and talk about novel approaches, new interventions, and impactful ways of working with families. Together, we’re constantly focused on improving our craft. Each of them has unique strengths and unique perspectives. They’re also really just fun people—some of the best.

Young adult client plays music at Open Sky Utah base camp


Q: What is unique about the transition age young adults population?

A: Transition age young adults are unique on both a social level and a biological level. Socially speaking, this population is in the midst of the transition to adulthood and are stepping out of their family of origin for the first time. They are starting to define themselves as independent rather than as a part of the family unit. It’s a developmental stage in which they are differentiating from their parents and forming their identity.

Biologically, the brain doesn’t significantly change overnight when a person turns 18 years old, but they do suddenly find themselves with much more freedom and responsibility than before. Legally, they can vote, smoke, join the army, and move out to live on their own, but they don’t necessarily have the neurological capacity to process and properly navigate the responsibilities, expectations, or consequences. Forward-thinking processes are the last to develop in the brain, which encompasses the ability to do long-term planning and the understand real-life consequences of their actions. These young adults are expected to stand on their own two feet; to be an adult socially, even though they aren’t there yet neurologically.

These challenges make the transition age group unique and also really fun to work with. They like to have fun, joke around, and be carefree like adolescents but are developing critical thinking skills more in line with young adults. The transition to adulthood is a ripe time for exploring, but it can be problematic in the long run if a person doesn’t fully take advantage of his or her strengths and become the person they want to be.


Q: How do you help students to connect to, trust, and learn from you?

A: I am unapologetically myself. It’s important to me to role model for my students to be true to oneself, drawing on personal strengths and not hiding insecurities. This is especially important for my transition age students to witness and practice in their own lives because they are in this identity-forming developmental and social stage. I’m honest, transparent, and easygoing. My students connect with me easily and know they can trust me because they see that I’m a real person and can count on me showing up every week like this.

Transition age therapist Chris Blankenship fist bumps student in therapy session.


Q: How can parents of transition age students appropriately engage in the process?

A: Parents of transition age children are in a unique and important stage of parenting. This stage of the transition to adulthood requires a different approach than parenting an adolescent. It’s important that each parent shows up in the transition with the desire to learn and improve, as they are going through a massive shift alongside the child.

Parents of young adults should still hold boundaries, but this certainly looks different from how parents of adolescents should hold boundaries. Instead of holding the boundary from the angle of what the child must do, the parent should actually communicate what he or she will do to support and encourage the best in the child’s own decision-making. At end of the day, the son or daughter has a choice and can do what he or she wants, but that doesn’t mean the parent steps aside completely. I encourage parents to continue to hold boundaries, listen, and support, but from a lens that is more focused on them as parents and less on the child.

I work with parents and families by showing them new ways of communicating and regulating emotions. These are tools that I practice with my students as well. Throughout the Open Sky experience, they are essentially getting two to three months of practice and feedback parenting a young adult. By practicing these skills within the new framework of how to hold boundaries and empower their young adult, they are better prepared to do so in the most positive and effective ways after Open Sky.

Transition Age therapist Chris Blankenship with a student and her parents.


Q: How do you recharge and have fun outside of work to be present and effective in your therapist role?

Chris Blankenship enjoys his time off with his dog on a lake.

A: I have an incredibly supportive family and love to spend a lot of time with them. You can always find me outside, whether in the mountains, on a river, or by a lake. It’s important for me to have some practices in my life that yield tangible results, so I really enjoy cooking and building things with my hands. I’m also an avid sports fan. Whether watching or playing sports, it’s a good way for me to unwind. By re-energizing in the outdoors and with family, and by pursuing active and creative interests, I’m able to channel that energy and creativity in the field with my students. It feeds my passion of reaching these young adults and helping them live a fulfilling life.


May 17th, 2018

Chris Blankenship, LCSW | Assistant Clinical Director and Senior Therapist | Adolescent Boys and Transition Age Young Adults