Open Sky is unique for our family-centered approach to the therapeutic process: we believe that actively engaging the entire family system is essential for students’ long-term growth. While students receive treatment in wilderness, families participate in a parallel process. They learn about the foundations of effective communication and practice essential skills to complement their child’s work in the field. At the heart of this process is Open Sky’s team of therapists in Family Services.
In this Q&A, Family Services Manager Austin Presas details what working as a therapist in Family Services looks like, who would thrive in this position, and her favorite aspects of working for Open Sky. Ready to apply? Click here to learn more!
Open Sky employs an array of qualified mental health professionals to meet each member of the family unit’s needs. While our clinical therapists work one on one with students, therapists in Family Services work specifically with Open Sky families. They support parents through their parallel process and facilitate opportunities for families to engage in meaningful, therapeutic work alongside their children. Therapists in Family Services are responsible for leading or co-leading Family Quests, Wellness Weekends, Family Pathway classes, graduations, and other events, as well as initiating group parent calls and engaging in parent coaching.
Therapists in Family Services act as vital resources for parents to learn about the foundations of treatment at Open Sky, practice essential communication and emotional regulation skills, form connections with other families, and understand the importance of investing in their own growth and self-care.
Therapists spend Monday through Wednesday in the field at base camp, facilitating Family Quests. Family Quest is a multi-day family therapy intervention in the wilderness where, for three days and two nights, parents join their child in the field, witnessing firsthand what the experience of living in wilderness has been like for their loved one. Through it all, therapists provide individualized attention for families and support them as they engage in deep and important therapeutic work together.
On Thursdays and Fridays, therapists in Family Services participate in department staff meetings, complete case notes from Family Quests, and collaborate with clinical therapists to form individualized treatment objectives and goals for each family.
A typical day on Family Quest might begin with a slow, quiet morning: waking up to a fire, having breakfast, and doing some yoga or mindfulness practice. This is followed by structured therapeutic group work with family members and the student, facilitated by a therapist. During these sessions, therapists provide the time and space for family members to share feelings, set goals, and create intentional ceremonies, all for the purpose of repairing family dynamics and finding a new way forward. Therapists serve as guides for family members as they vocalize the sentiments they’ve been sharing through letters as well as any they may have kept to themselves. They help families communicate and express themselves articulately as well as provide direct, professional feedback.
Families then have the opportunity for some exercise, such as going for a hike to a beautiful overlook or finding a nice spot for a picnic, before going back into session for more therapeutic work. Therapists are also cognizant of designating time and space for families to connect organically without facilitators, perhaps by taking a walk together or having some downtime at their campsite. There are also opportunities for fun, humor, and lightness on Family Quest. The day then ends with a healthy meal by the fire and sleeping under the stars.
First and foremost, simply being outside together for three days is a unique therapeutic experience. This slowed down and present-centered process is naturally enhanced just by being in the wilderness. There are tremendous benefits to having nature as a co-therapist. There is space for creativity, metaphor, magic, and a type of connection that can be difficult to access with modern-day technology distractions.
Also, for many parents, Family Quest is their first experience camping. Engaging in therapy in a wilderness setting may require them to step outside their comfort zones and try something new and challenging. This openness to engage enhances the therapeutic process. It helps parents better understand what their child has been experiencing while at Open Sky, which builds empathy and rapport.
Another powerful aspect of family therapy in wilderness is that it often restructures family roles and dynamics. Because of the time they’ve spent in the field, students can demonstrate competence and self-efficacy in things their parents might not be familiar with, such as bow drilling fires, cooking, and building shelters. In the field, the child moves into a caretaking role for their parents, who may feel vulnerable in the wilderness setting. It’s a really interesting dynamic to witness and provides students opportunities to feel confident in the skills they’ve developed and the progress they’ve made.
We are looking for individuals who are eager to combine their love of the outdoors with a rewarding career serving families. Therapists in Family Services tend to be compassionate, empathetic, and eager to support the growth of individuals and families. Successful therapists dig into this work and strive to be part of something larger than themselves. They are adaptable and can apply themselves in a dynamic role that includes everything from coaching parents to chopping wood, preparing food on a campfire, and holding ceremony and rites of passage. Therapists in Family Services are in tune with themselves and their core values, live in alignment with their own personal and professional growth, and understand the importance of self-care. They model these qualities and encourage them in other people.
I love this part of my job! I hear things from parents like, “I feel like I have my child back,” or “Our family has never been able to share this openly before,” or “It’s like a weight has been lifted.” We hear so much love, pride, and hope from families. We also see such significant transformations in family members who often arrive nervous and unsure and leave feeling connected, confident, and hopeful.
Open Sky is unlike any work environment I’ve been a part of before, and it is overwhelmingly inspirational. I work with amazing people on the Family Services team. We have great team culture and know each other so well. Each week I work with a variety of therapists and different families, which provides so many opportunities for professional development and learning. Our team cares about one another and supports each other’s growth. It feels like a family in itself.
Four Corners Area
I moved to Durango for both Open Sky and to live in the Four Corners area. What I love about living here is the vast amount of wilderness – the incredible rivers, trails, mountains, and desert canyons. It feels endless, like I could spend a lifetime here and continue to keep finding amazing places. Another reason I love it here is because of the community, both at Open Sky and in the general area. The unique people I’ve met here are the reason I’ve remained for over six years.
Ready to apply to be a therapist in Family Services? Click here to learn more!