We recently sat down with Open Sky Family Services Director Matthew Krugh, MSW to learn about new services for families, exciting infrastructure developments in the field, and his growing team.
A: Parent Gateway Calls are designed to support parents as they transition into Open Sky’s program and begin a parallel journey with their enrolled child. Between the 2nd and 4th weeks of enrollment, parents will receive two 1-hour Parent Gateway Calls from a Family Therapist. The goal for each call is to help bring a sense of clarity and comfort to what can be an overwhelming and emotional transition for families. Family Therapists help to ease this transition by providing education, teaching skills, answering questions, and offering support to families so that they, in turn, can best support themselves and their child at Open Sky.
Through the Parent Gateway Calls, we aim to compassionately receive parents into the program, orient them to the variety of family services available, and walk them through the first steps of the Family Pathway. We also introduce and begin practicing some of the skills essential to personal well-being and healthy relationships. These are the same skills students are developing in the field.
Our new Parent Gateway Calls are included in Open Sky’s tuition and run parallel to the initial stages of the student experience at Open Sky. When a student enters the field, they begin in the “Gateway” stage of the Open Sky Student Pathway. In these first 24-48 hours, the student’s focus is on regulating their nervous system, observing, connecting with a student mentor and guide mentor, and learning the most basic skills and processes for living in the wilderness. Through the Parent Gateway Calls, we mentor parents as they adjust to the program and get into the flow of their family’s work.
A: The Gateway Calls I just mentioned are an excellent example of our role on the extended treatment team. Of course, Open Sky’s Primary Therapists continue to update parents on the student’s progress during weekly phone calls. Through the Parent Gateway Calls, however, our Family Therapists support parents in beginning their own personal progress and wellness plan. The Parent Gateway Calls also bring more initial continuity and cohesion to one’s entire Open Sky family experience, as families then continue to have multiple points of contact with a familiar Family Therapist throughout their experience: Wellness Weekend and Graduation (both are included in Open Sky’s tuition, apart from travel and lodging), and Parent Coaching and the Family QuestTM intensive, if they elect to participate in these additional services.
Some parents may decide they want additional, individualized support from the Family Services Team after the Parent Gateway Calls. This is where Open Sky’s Parent Coaching services come into play. Parent Coaching is a 6-call set of hour-long coaching calls to help parents grasp the wellness, communication, mindfulness, and emotional regulation skills they learn in the Family Pathway and during Wellness Weekend. Each call is highly customized to the needs of the parent or parents. Some parents may benefit from support focusing on their own self-care and personal wellness plans. Some may need concrete practice with skills like the “I Feel” statement or reflective listening. Others may need to engage in deeper work related to complex family dynamics, patterns, or family history. The progress the parents make through Parent Coaching will of course directly impact the student’s progress. The beauty is that through Parent Coaching, parents will be better positioned to utilize new skills, strategies, and insight in their relationships at home with spouses and their other children.
We are also a part of the extended treatment team through Family QuestTM follow-up calls with the family’s educational consultant or home therapist. After this 3-day, 2-night wilderness therapy intensive with the student and family, the therapist who facilitated it efficiently updates the home professional on the family’s work, progress, and dynamics. The Family QuestTM follow-up call is an additional point of contact our team has engaged recently and supports the interdisciplinary team efforts with the student and family’s progress.
A: Last year, we collaborated closely with the Operations Team to make some huge capital enhancements to the Family Services site at our Utah base camp. We constructed 12 new individual Family QuestTM sites, each with its own tipi shelter. This has been a long-held dream and I’m overjoyed to see it come to fruition in its construction and in how it enhances the family experience! Each tipi offers the shelter and warmth necessary to dive into the deep family work of the intensive, while maintaining the integrity of the wilderness setting.
This was always a priority for me as Family Services Director, because I knew we could deepen the work and improve the overall experience with Family QuestTM sites that model student team sites. These improvements have been a game-changer in the service we are able to provide and the memories and growth a family will experience.
This new site development has inspired us to continue thinking outside the box with what we can offer through Family Quests. The changes also include a new gravel road to the Family Services area and wheelchair-accessible paths to each individual site, which have allowed us to host family members with varying physical abilities. We also collaborate with our IT team to set up technology enabling us to work with family members who have hearing impairments. I’m excited about our team’s passion, creativity, and ingenuity in the ways we’ve made the Family QuestTM experience accessible to more families.
A: In 2019, we had our largest number of Wellness Weekend participants since our inception. Our number of Family QuestTM families continues to increase as well—over 75% of our families elected to participate in 2019. More than ever, families attend Wellness Weekend and go right into the Family QuestTM intensive, which is ideal for the therapeutic process during that experience. Parents are recognizing that working on their individual needs and skills at Wellness Weekend best positions them to effectively come together with their child during the Family QuestTM experience. Together as a family, they deepen their work, explore their relationships, and envision the future using the foundational mindfulness, emotional regulation, and communication skills they’ve just learned at Wellness Weekend.
We’ve also been hosting more “alternative” Family QuestTM intensives with alumni. This is beneficial for families in a wide range of stages. For instance, an alumni family may want to really hone skills and re-strengthen relationships before a big transition, such as the child moving out of the home or going off to college. Or, perhaps a family has hit a bump in the road and needs to come together to re-center and re-engage with the skills they learned at Open Sky.
Additionally, the Family Services Team has taken a lead role in supporting and increasing the discharge and post-discharge research participation. We’ve seen a massive increase in the completion of research, well above the average rates of completion. Research is critical and helps us continually sharpen every aspect of our programming and therapeutic treatment. It also contributes to the validity of wilderness therapy as an effective treatment option, with the goal of increased coverage from insurance companies.
A: With the growing spectrum of services we offer families and the increasing number of families that participate in these opportunities, we now have more Family Therapists and other Family Services staff than ever. We have worked diligently to solidify the professional pathway for therapists and staff. This pathway includes licensure supervision, cross-training, interdepartmental collaboration and support, and an emphasis on personal growth and sustainability. This pathway sets our team up to be a key part of the overall treatment team and continuum of care Open Sky offers to each student and family. Additionally, many of our therapists and staff have field guiding experience. The team’s knowledge of and passion for the wilderness, Open Sky programming, and the field experience deeply enrich each family’s experience.