Turning 18 is one of the biggest milestones young people experience. Overnight, one goes from being labeled a child to an adult. However, the growth that occurs in that one day is not commensurate with the change in expectations, nor cognitive development.
Transition age young adults are unique on both a social and a biological level. Socially speaking, this population is in the midst of the transition to adulthood, and they are starting to define themselves as independent, differentiate from their parents, and form their own identity.
In this episode, clinical therapist Chris Blankenship discusses how Open Sky helps young adults and families navigate this transition.
Chris is a licensed clinical social worker. He has a BA in psychology from the University of Colorado and a Master in Social Work from the University of Southern California. A Colorado native, he has enthusiastically explored the peaks and valleys of the natural world while simultaneously dedicating his professional career to working with struggling youth.
In college, Chris conducted research on inherent racial stereotyping and the stress-reducing properties of nature. After college, he spent a summer volunteering to clean up the ravages of Hurricane Katrina and decided to move to New Orleans. There he spent years teaching at a low-income school, where his calm confidence enabled him to successfully educate and guide a traumatized population of at-risk youth. Chris also envisioned and then facilitated a school-based club with the goal of assisting young men transitioning to adulthood.
While in Southern California, Chris counseled adolescents living in individual and group foster-care settings and worked as a child welfare investigator in an inner-city setting. These experiences allowed him to develop assessment and clinical skills in an environment where people regularly experienced a life of crisis. Chris brought wilderness therapy to this urban environment when he developed and implemented an outdoor-based therapeutic intervention for children whose parents were struggling with addiction and incarceration.
At Open Sky, Chris works with transition age young adults, 18-20 years old, who have not been able to find a healthy sense of self. These young adults often experience depression, anxiety, trouble launching into adulthood, difficulty in relationships, substance use, personal trauma, and problematic dynamics with family members. Chris’ clear and direct therapeutic approach helps students deepen their understanding of their presenting issues as well as the underlying processes resulting in these symptoms. Using evidence-based treatment modalities, Chris provides direct and supportive techniques that help families to understand not just their child, but their entire family system. He strives to help his young adults stabilize, to give them the tools necessary for growth, and to provide a sophisticated assessment for future treatment options to effect positive change and growth.
When not at work, Chris enjoys hiking with his wife, daughter, and dog; backpacking; mountaineering; cooking and sharing meals with friends; and playing and watching team sports.
What we’re doing is we’re building a whole person. It’s not just healthy physically, but also healthy mentally. They’re going to learn to be healthy spiritually, too. They’re going to be able to build social relationships in a way that they weren’t adequately equipped before coming to Open Sky.
Too often, people come in and they have a thriving social media life, but their actual life is anything but thriving. I want to help them to be able to close that gap between what they’re showing the world and what they’re actually experiencing, so that they are genuine in their day to day interactions. I want them to have relationships that are deep and meaningful, not just relationships that are based on some sort of social transaction.
When students first come in we want to help them feel comfortable and build up confidence. Confidence largely comes from success in the outdoors. It’s really common for people to feel good about themselves hiking before they ever feel good about sharing.
Going through the Open Sky program is really an evolution. It’s an evolution within themselves. It’s an evolution within the group. They’re going from a position of learning to a position of teaching. They’re going from a position of discovering things about themselves to a position of wanting to seek out new discoveries. It is a process of growing and learning that I think is best supported by rolling admissions where we have the person who’s been here eight days together with the person who’s been here eight weeks.
The quickest way to teach anything is to role model it. I want parents to actually be role modeling all of these skills. I spend a lot of time on phone calls, teaching parents the same skills that I’m teaching their sons and daughters so that they can then practice those things and convey those things in their communications with their kids.
On a wilderness trip in Alaska with the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in 1995, Emily discovered she could combine two of her passions: working with youth and being outdoors. Since then, she has worked for Aspen Achievement Academy, Hurricane Island Outward Bound School, and Connecticut Wilderness School. She was part of the founding team at Open Sky.
Emily worked as the lead therapist for adolescent girls for her first 5 years at Open Sky. Her areas of clinical expertise include depression, anxiety, grief and loss, trauma, self-harm, disordered eating, and adoption and attachment issues. Her clinical approach is informed by cognitive behavioral, psychodynamic, family systems, and attachment theories. Relationship building through letter writing is a major focus of her work with students and families.
As a founder and owner of Open Sky, as well as the Clinical and Executive Director, Emily brings a breadth of knowledge with her background as a therapist, field guide, trainer, logistics coordinator, emergency responder, and field director, Emily is known for her direct, caring leadership style, her ability to inspire excellence in others, and her team oriented approach. The student treatment plan is her compass for her decision-making regarding Open Sky’s students, families, and employees.
Emily loves reading, writing, yoga, mountain biking, telemark skiing, rock climbing, spending time with friends and family, and cooking with foods from the local farmers’ market.