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Episode 11

Catching Up With Open Sky Clinical Director And Therapist, Sebastiaan Zuidweg, MA, LPC

Episode 11

Sebastiaan Zuidweg knew early on that his calling was a life of being in service to others. Sebastiaan believes in Open Sky’s holistic family systems approach as a catalyst for change, and the power of the wilderness as an effective medium for therapeutic work. His clinical approach is rooted in the belief that every individual has the ability to activate his or her potential and pursue health and wellness.



Sebastiaan Zuidweg

Sebastiaan Zuidweg

Assistant Clinical Director & Therapist

Sebastiaan Zuidweg grew up in Washington state where he cultivated a strong connection to nature and adventure activity in the wild places of the Pacific Northwest. With time spent in a junior Peace Corps program and exposure to world travel and community service, Sebastiaan knew early on that his calling was a life of being in service to others.

Drawn to the majestic Rocky Mountains, Sebastiaan chose to pursue his educational and professional development in Boulder, Colorado. There, he obtained a Bachelor’s degree in Anthropology from the University of Colorado and a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with an emphasis in Wilderness Therapy from Naropa University. While in graduate school, Sebastiaan worked as a school counselor for an expeditionary learning school and provided treatment at a therapeutic foster home in Denver. In his spare time, he volunteered at the Breckenridge Outdoor Education Center and Adaptive Adventures, supporting people with disabilities.

After graduate school, Sebastiaan worked as a lead therapist for Catherine Freer Wilderness Therapy Programs. He provided clinical assessment, individual and group therapy, and aftercare planning for adolescents suffering from addiction, depression, trauma, anxiety, and conduct disorders. His belief in and enthusiasm for the wilderness therapy model solidified as he witnessed struggling youth and parents who were once stuck in dysfunction reunite and transform into emotionally expressive, articulate, and integrated families.

Sebastiaan’s career path transitioned to the community mental health arena where he worked as an Emergency Crisis Clinician in Gunnison, Colorado. In addition to carrying a clinical caseload, He provided assessment and response to mental health crisis as well as community support and education. He later assumed the Regional Manager position in which he was responsible for administrative and clinical oversight of the community mental health clinic and local university counseling center. Sebastiaan also worked as a clinician and Program Manager for Step Up on Second, a permanent supportive housing and mental health service provider whose primary focus is to house and treat the chronically homeless and severely mentally ill population of San Bernardino, California.

Returning to his passion for counseling youth and families, Sebastiaan believes in Open Sky’s holistic family systems approach as a catalyst for change and the power of the wilderness as an effective medium for therapeutic work. Sebastiaan’s clinical approach is rooted in the foundational belief that every individual has the innate ability to activate his or her potential and pursue health and wellness. He uses techniques that stem from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), and Motivational Interviewing (MI). He works from a solution-oriented and strengths-based philosophy. He uses his ability to create authentic therapeutic relationships with youth and families to help motivate change, increase self-awareness, and challenge dysfunctional behavior.

In his free time, Sebastiaan is typically exploring the Rocky Mountains on his skis or climbing in the desert canyons of the Southwest with his family and friends. He enjoys time spent in nature, where he finds solace and reflects on his work and personal life. He and his wife love to pursue adventures and explore new places and cultures of the world.


I immigrated to the U.S. when I was a kid. I was six years old, immigrated from Holland, which is one of the flattest and most densely populated countries in Europe. We moved to Washington State, in the foothills of the Cascades, and my brother and I just took to playing in the wilderness and immersing ourselves in nature, and that was a big part of how we grew up.

I stumbled across this degree at Naropa University that really highlighted what wilderness therapy was, and it really married the idea of nature and wilderness in helping people, and it clicked for me immediately.

To see a student and family arrive, really stuck in dysfunction and struggling with pain, suffering and emotional turmoil, and then to see them come out the other end of the experience, is amazing. Teaching their families how to communicate in healthy ways, and how to create meaningful connections and relationships, they learn how to manage their emotions and behaviors, and know what their core values are.

At Open Sky we use a pan-cultural, medicine wheel, directional model to honor the growth path of the student. Every time a student moves to a new direction, we honor their change and their transformation with a ceremony. They co-create it with the guides and the therapists, and it’s an opportunity for them and the group to really honor that transition.

As a leader, I tend to be a collaborative, motivating, leader and director. I’m more interested in activating the potential of my staff, helping them realize what their abilities are, and support them in their growth and development as individuals on a personal and professional level.


Emily Fernandes

Emily Fernandes

Executive Director & Co-Founder

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.


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