“The Wilderness Therapy Symposium is a big metaphorical campfire that people love to gather around” – Rob Meltzer, Founder, WTS
Under the leadership of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council, The WTS brings a diverse cross-section of clinicians, field guides, rites of passage guides, professors, educational consultants, research specialists, college students and residential program staff under one roof to share thoughts, insights, and preferred practices in an open, collegial spirit. The aim of the symposium is to improve ourselves personally and professionally. As well, we celebrate our successes and honor those who have contributed greatly to the evolution of the field and those in the trenches, our field guides, with a special ceremony followed by our own DJ Norman spinning tunes for those that want to get on the dance floor and let loose.
I am fortunate to be the current Chair of the Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Council. Elected by my peers to serve a collection of the 23 leading wilderness therapy programs working together to advance the field through preferred practices, effective treatment and evidence-based research. Founded in 1996, the Council has led the way in funding independent research projects studying the field’s effectiveness. The Council partnered with the Association of Experiential Education to co-create the first Outdoor Behavioral Healthcare Accreditation (Open Sky was the first to attain this accreditation!). And most recently, the Council’s collective efforts have enabled our field to receive our own insurance revenue code, a crucial step towards our field being formally recognized by the insurance industry, hopefully making this service more available to future families in need of help.
Five years running, Aaron Fernandes, Open Sky CEO has chaired the committee responsible for facilitating the symposium. Under his leadership, the event transitioned successfully from it’s founder Rob Meltzer over to the OBH Council. In that time, we have moved the event from Boulder to Park City and increased enrollment from about 250 attendees to exceeding 400 each of the past three years. And, this past Spring, we ran our first regional symposium in Asheville that saw about 250 attendees. As well, the spirit that made that first gathering so special back in 2013, one in which sharing, growing, and learning are prioritized over marketing agendas, remains as strongly a part of the event as ever!
I often say that after nearly 20 years in this field serving in various capacities, nothing beats being out on the wilderness working directly with young people who are in the fire of self-discovery… the joy of witnessing major transformation (and if I’m lucky, perhaps playing a small part in that), seeing the stars at night, watching a thunderstorm roll in off the horizon, facilitating a transition ceremony or watching a family embrace in reunion after weeks apart. But, a close second might be attending the symposium. I feel fortunate to have this metaphorical campfire to sit around, a chance to swap stories with friends and colleagues, to reflect on the past and envision a better future. I am always better for it and invigorated to get back to work here at Open Sky doing all I can to improve what we do to support the families and young people we are entrusted with. I’m already looking forward to the next one!