While your child is in wilderness therapy treatment, a big question mark can be: “what next?” The transition after wilderness looks different for every family. Whether transitioning home, to school, or to an aftercare program, how can parents foster a healthy environment for their child to continue thriving?
On today’s episode, Clinical Therapist Chris Blankenship answers common questions parents have while preparing for their child to graduate wilderness therapy. He addresses the tendency to miss underlying successes and challenges by focusing solely on boundaries and details. He also guides us in how to best attune to each other, focus on the big picture, and stay committed to family values. With the right approach, parents can help their child continue the skills, growth, and progress gained in wilderness therapy treatment, no matter what the next steps are.
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.
Failure is okay. It’s an opportunity to learn. You actually have to learn from it, though. You can’t embrace it and you can’t ignore it. You’ve got to treat it for what it is.
We don’t want this to just be a flash in the pan of feeling good about oneself, we want this to be something that transcends the wilderness borders.
So often we get bogged down in the minutia…we lose sight of the bigger picture of ultimately all striving towards success, all striving toward health.
I think that’s probably one of the biggest predictors of success during transition—how ready are parents to practice? And, how well are the parents able to attune to themselves and attune to their son or daughter?
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.