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Young Adults - Our Approach

Young Adult Profile

Open Sky Wilderness Therapy treats young men and women, ages 18 to 30. Using an individualized, strengths-based approach, Open Sky assists young adults in becoming healthy, capable, and confident young men and women. Learn more

Program Approach and Philosophy

All young adults have unique needs, especially when struggling with such issues as depression, anger, self-esteem, substance abuse, anxiety, or figuring out what to do with their lives. At Open Sky, we take a strengths and values-based approach to each young adult’s treatment, employing eight guiding principles. Combining this innovative philosophy with sophisticated and comprehensive clinical treatment, our students become healthy, high-functioning, and vibrant people. Our university-led empirical research results demonstrate this.

The Eight Guiding Principles

    1. Treating Young Adults as Adults
    2. Creating Authentic Connections
    3. Providing a Genuine Healing Community
    4. Inspiring Self-Confidence through Real Successes
    5. Harnessing Nature’s Healing Capacity
    6. Providing Real Life Skills
    7. Finding Direction
    8. Celebration and Ceremony

Treat Young Adults as Adults

We believe a key to becoming an adult is to be treated as an adult. At Open Sky, young adults are given considerable freedom and autonomy to be contributors and leaders within their peer group of students. Young adults are expected to step up in making decisions, solving problems, and orchestrating each day’s activities. Each participant is a vital member of the community on a day-to-day basis. A nuance between our young adult and adolescent program involves developing and fostering appropriate relationships between the guides, clinical staff, and entire treatment team. We believe it is critical that young adults are invested in the program, and we work to foster a level of trust, relationship, and support to effectively engage young adults in a manner consistent with their developmental stage and needs.

Instead of utilizing external pressures and motivators in the way young adults might require to accomplish the day’s agenda, our young adults are asked to be responsible for ensuring that everything gets accomplished each day. Whether it be preparing dinner, getting each other up and out bed in the morning, or organizing students for a day on the trail, young adult students are essential to the day’s success at Open Sky.

We believe young adults need a balance of support and structure. We support our young adult clients by listening with empathy and treating them as individuals with unique attributes and gifts, life experiences, and struggles. We provide a holding environment in which their greatest attributes are encouraged, and maladaptive behaviors and self-destructive thinking is not accepted or reinforced.

With the support of field guides, young adults are immersed in a group of developmentally close, well-adjusted adults they can look up to for guidance and direction. We have found that many young adults respond well to mentors and teachers during this phase of their lives. Field guides are carefully selected and trained to provide an empowering experience that balances freedom and autonomy with support and direction.

Creating Authentic Connections

The Open Sky team believes in being genuine and sharing openly with one another what we are feeling and thinking. This authenticity is a fundamental aspect of our community: people relating with people on the most basic level as humans, sharing an experience in this world. In that sense, we are not a “program,” but a collection of people providing a life-affirming rite of passage. We believe our responsibility to our students and each other is to be real, show up, and be present with one another at all times, to the best of our ability. In a genuine community environment with authentic interactions, young adults are encouraged to discover their true nature as worthy, honorable, and capable people.

Providing a Genuine Healing Community

In one way or another, most of our young adults at Open Sky are suffering from a wound of some kind. That wound has been internalized, and the hurt is deep. It might be the loss of a loved one; a violation of a personal boundary; regret of a past behavior; or a feeling of not being accepted or appreciated, the source of which could be any number of events or life moments. Each of us, at one point or another, experiences this kind of hurt. At Open Sky, we provide an emotionally safe and supportive community where students can be heard and acknowledged as they work toward healing.

Young adults at Open Sky will share their stories with the other students, their therapists, and field guides, and in so doing will have the opportunity to grow and learn. Through the day-to-day time spent in the nurturing presence of guides and opportunities for exploring issues, there is a chance to discover the source of strength that emerges from surviving hardships and to see how our experiences enable us to expand compassion for ourselves and others.

Inspiring Self-Confidence through Real Success

The modern age has taken away much of the challenge of our physical existence, arguably creating an unhealthy culture. Living in the outdoors requires work: adjusting to the demands of weather, walking everywhere you go, or living without furniture means that you learn how to take care of yourself in ways that are easily taken for granted. There is no shower, bed, toilet, microwave, or television; all of these basic amenities are missing. Young adults learn to make do with what they can do for themselves. They learn how to take care of themselves completely, without the modern conveniences that prop up their lives. This engenders a sense of empowerment, of being capable of keeping themselves physically comfortable and safe, warm when it is cold, dry when it is wet and fed when they are hungry. At Open Sky, young adults become successful students of life, confident in themselves and what they are capable of accomplishing.

Harnessing Nature’s Healing Capacity

Being outside provides a space in which everything is free to be felt and expressed without judgment, without limit, and without consequence. Nature can handle a young adult’s barrage of angry outbursts or depths of grief and sorrow. Nature is receptive to everyone’s presence and allows for a spaciousness that is not found with the busy-ness and materialism that surrounds young adult’s normal, everyday civilized existence. The pure beauty of vistas, of mountains, of desert landscapes, of plants and animals, generates a reverence and appreciation for life and our surroundings. It doesn’t tell us what to do like our magazines and advertisements do; it just is, allowing us just to be. For many people, their greatest personal solace is found in the wilderness. With Mother Nature embracing them as a part of this spectacular planet, our young adults heal and re-balance themselves.

Providing Real Life Skills

“…Why not stay out there in the wilderness the rest of your days? Because that’s not where men are! The final test for me of the legitimacy of the experience is ‘How well does your experience of the sacred in nature enable you to cope more effectively with the problems of mankind when you come back to the city?'”

– Willie Unsoeld, member of the first American team to climb Mt. Everest 

Unlike most wilderness programs, Open Sky set out from the beginning to provide transferable skills and practices that can be utilized to help our students better succeed in the real world. Each day, young adults participate in yoga and meditation (healthy resources for managing anxiety, depression, grief, and anger); prepare and eat a healthy, whole-foods diet; and learn to effectively communicate with others (essential to creating and sustaining genuine relationships). Our guides and therapists specialize in helping teach young adults how to become more self-aware, to manage emotions effectively, and to successfully and authentically relate with others. Providing tools and resources that can be utilized after Open Sky helps these newfound abilities become more deeply internalized, such that the ability to access these skills is nearly automatic when the stresses of life are upon them.

Finding Direction

Adulthood is in large part about contributing to one’s family and society at large. In applying a strengths-based philosophy with our young adults, we encourage them to explore their passions and unique gifts and how their soul might be called to serve their families, communities, and the world. We recognize that each generation depends upon its children becoming fully adjusted adults who are passionate about how they spend their time and in turn contribute to society as teachers, artists, philosophers, doctors, chefs, mechanics, engineers, business leaders, counselors, and ultimately, mothers and fathers of the next generation.

While at Open Sky, young adults are immersed in many new experiences, many of which may inspire them to consider a certain career or hobby that might turn into a lifelong passion or perhaps a just a fascinating short-term interest. Activities like yoga, meditation, healthy meal preparation, hiking, backpacking, problem-solving, delegating chores, or simply gathering around a campfire and playing music are just a selection of the experiences our young adults encounter during their stay with us. Young Adults often pursue personal, professional, and academic interests inspired by their time at Open Sky.

Celebration and Ceremony

There is nothing quite like the excitement and enjoyment of working with young adults—being in the presence of their creative and expressive energy. Our team is comprised of individuals who genuinely enjoy their lives and are role models to the young adults in our care. It is a tremendous honor and inspiration for us to witness an age appropriate rite of passage for our students. For centuries before the arrival of the modern world, emerging adulthood was honored with life-affirming rites of passage. As each young adult accomplishes a set of objectives in the Student Pathway, we honor this growth with ceremony utilizing the symbolism of the four directions.

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