Since its founding in 2006, Open Sky has transcended traditional wilderness therapy by emphasizing treatment for the whole family (not just the adolescent or young adult), and the application of evidence-based clinical modalities. This approach also includes innovative, well-researched, holistic healing practices such as yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. When a family partners with Open Sky, each family member embarks on a rewarding adventure of self-discovery and learns a range of strategies that promote lasting success.
Burg (2001) made the following observation:
“Over time many programs have realized that for long-term change to occur, the family system must adapt so that the adolescent’s problem behavior is no longer supported. But instead of redesigning the intervention program from the beginning, based on family therapy principles, the family intervention component is merely added to the existing program. There may be some efficacy in this type of program, but it is not designed or implemented with the guidance of theory.” (p. 121)
Throughout the last 11 years, Open Sky has offered programming driven by clinical research and theory to meet the needs of the families we’ve served and continue to serve. We don’t do it for the sake of marketing, but rather as a result of a deep understanding of our vision: “To be the premier family-centered wilderness therapy experience.”
Program development based on vision translates directly to the participant experience. This occurs isomorphically: when Open Sky leaders model values-driven behavior and decision-making on an organizational level, that behavior trickles down through those delivering services to the parents and students engaged in the program. When parents understand on a deep level why their own growth and change are vital to the success of the family, they are more engaged, see a greater change in their child, and sustain the growth long after their Open Sky experience (Issenmann & Smith, 2016).
There are two main stages of change:
As the Clinical and Family Services Director and as a Family Therapist, it is important to me that we offer a clear program that is clinically and theoretically driven, supporting families as they create second-order change.
The Open Sky Family Services Team offers a comprehensive range of family services to parents and other family members. They are each designed to help parents and students develop and utilize tools to better care for themselves (Taren, Creswell & Gianaros, 2013), to understand and take steps toward differentiating (Kerr & Bowen, 1988), to restructure their family in a healthy way (Minuchin, 1967), and to re-write unhealthy individual and family narratives (White & Epston, 1989). Our Family Services include Parent Coaching sessions, Genograms, Family Assessments, Wellness Weekends, Family Quests, Parent Support Calls, and Graduation.
Open Sky research shows that parents who participate in a Wellness Weekend, a Family Quest and Parent Coaching have children who make the most gains and sustain them long after Open Sky. In addition to the individual gains by the students, our research shows that their families also experience the most growth (Issenmann & Smith, 2016).
Why is this? Open Sky has heeded Burg’s advice quoted near the beginning of this article. We have introduced theoretically driven programming that provides families the opportunity to change the structure and organization of their family system. The common thread in each of these Open Sky services is their design based on clinical theory (Family Systems Theory, Structural Family Therapy, Narrative Therapy, Internal Family Systems Theory, Reality Therapy). Like Burg, I believe that services added without true clinical and theoretical intention, while perhaps helpful initially, are rarely creating experiences for the family to go beyond first-order change. Our approach at Open Sky helps families and students achieve and sustain their long-term goals.
Burg, J. E. (2001). Emerging issues in therapeutic adventure with families. Journal of Experiential Education, 24(2), 118-122.
Issenmann, T., Smith, K. (April, 2016). Expediting growth: Therapeutic change through intensive, experiential family interactions. Paper presented at the International Family Therapy Association World Family Therapy Congress, Kona, HI, USA.
Kerr, M. E., & Bowen, M. (1988). Family evaluation: An approach based on Bowen NewNew York: Norton.
Levy, A. (1986) Second-order planned change: Definition and conceptualization, Organisational Dynamics, 15, (1), 5, 19-17, 23.
Minuchin, S., Montalvo, B., Guerney, B.G., Jr., Rosman, B. L., and Schumer, F. (1968). Families of the Slums: An Exploration of Their Structure and Treatment. New York: Basic Books.
Schwartz, R. C. (1995). Internal family systems therapy. New York: Guilford Press.
Taren AA, Creswell JD, Gianaros PJ (2013) Dispositional Mindfulness Co-Varies with Smaller Amygdala and Caudate Volumes in Community Adults. PLoS ONE 8(5): e64574. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0064574.
White, M., & Epston, D. (1989). Literate means to therapeutic ends. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre Publications. (Republished in 1990 as Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton.)