Cultivating Growth: A Q&A with Clinical Therapist, Brian Leidal, MA, LPC
Brian Leidal, MA, LPC | Clinical Therapist | Adolescent Boys & Young Adults
A: At age 16 or 17, I became a camp counselor. In that role, I found true connection with fellow staffers and campers. That connection is what has led me along the journey I’m on and what makes me passionate about the work I do today. The authenticity and genuineness of being in conversation and processing with someone who is really trying to make meaning of their experiences…that’s the essence of my work.
I was an adventure-based counselor at a residential treatment center from 2010-2012, working with clients from inner-city Philadelphia. I led them through a ropes course and facilitated group discussions about their experiences on the course. I eventually hit a plateau where I knew there had to be more I could do to help these kids but didn’t have all the tools to do so. I decided to go to grad school and pursue a Master’s in Community Counseling with an emphasis on addiction counseling.
From there, I worked with individuals in inpatient substance use rehabilitation. I joined the Open Sky team in 2016 as a Family Services Therapist, leading Family Quests, Wellness Weekends, and Parent Coaching. I became a primary therapist in the summer of 2019 and now work with young adults. The work I do with young adults at Open Sky brings together all of these experiences.
A: The aspect of wilderness that I appreciate the most—and believe to be transformative for our clients—is the serenity of being in nature. I am passionate about the way that Mother Nature can enhance the experience with beauty and challenge in ways that we as humans can’t manufacture. I am a sailor and have had a lot of formative experiences navigating through weather and appreciating the beauty and solace in nature. I firmly believe there is an unending possibility for growth in the wilderness.
What drew me to Open Sky was the professionalism, the polish, the wealth of knowledge, and how all of it is applied to the work with parents and students. When I visited during my interview process years ago, I was struck by the maturity with which the students were talking about their emotions and personal work. Now I get to facilitate and witness that every week in my team of young adults.
A: One of my strengths as a Family Services Therapist was my ability to identify the roles, patterns, and cycles between family members, especially when the family system is in crisis. This is essential to helping the family determine what hasn’t been working for them and what they themselves can change to form a more stable, healthy family.
As a primary therapist on the Clinical Team, I translate that strength into understanding my student’s role in the family and how the family functions as a whole. While my work with the student is more in-depth than before, it is so valuable to seek to understand, involve, and engage the family with care and skill. The more work the family is able to do in a process that is parallel to the student’s, the longer the child’s changes will last.
A: My approach comes from a foundation of validation, understanding, compassion, and firmness. By building a relationship with my young adult clients from that foundation, I’m able to challenge them and show that what they were doing before isn’t working. This is the same way I’ve built connection and trust with families in Wellness Weekends, Family Quests, and Parent Coaching. I’ve honed the ability to gauge how to navigate those conversations, deliver feedback, and challenge clients and their families in productive ways.
My clinical work combines an eclectic mix of tools, depending on what works best for the student. Much of my approach is rooted in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). I guide my students in reflecting on their patterns, looking at how those patterns inform thoughts, understanding how those thoughts trigger emotions, and becoming aware of how the emotions influence behavior. I have my students ask the questions, what are the thoughts contributing to my emotions? What is it like to feel these emotions? What do I do when I feel strongly? I empower them with coping skills and strategies to work through those questions, build awareness of their emotions, and begin to make choices in line with their values.
I place a heavy emphasis on mindfulness and a somatic approach. Polyvagal Theory underpins all of the work that I do, and I constantly track shifts in the state of a student’s nervous system. This helps students to understand that the body is the place where energy is stored and moved. Therefore, we experience physical symptoms when we don’t discharge this energy. Students learn to recognize shifts in their state of being, to accept those shifts, and to work with them when they arise.
A: The thing that has excited me most these last three years working with students on Family Quest, and now in working with young adults as a primary therapist, is witnessing the transformative moments that they’ve been working so hard to achieve. In these moments, they are being the truest, best version of themselves. I love when the student is direct and assertive with their parents. There is so much power in that. I feel chills when I see students really begin to act in line with their values and thrive in healthy adulthood. It is inspiring to witness them become able to stand on their own while staying connected to other people, with a sense of purpose, drive, and meaning in their lives.
My passion is helping this generation of young people become healthy individuals who will take part in shaping a positive society. This isn’t necessarily a specific conversation I have with my clients at Open Sky, in this stage of their treatment. Rather, I guide and coach them in what it means to be responsible and healthy; someone who builds themselves and others up rather than tears down.
A: I love to play any type of game: board games, card games, and video games. I love to sail, float the river, and hike. I’m a relentless learner, always reading articles, books, journals, and listening to podcasts. Meditation is also a passion of mine—I meditate daily for at least 20 minutes. And I love connecting with my wife by going on dates, laughing, and getting through challenges together.