Stress is something we humans cannot avoid. From being cut off in traffic on our way to work, to navigating a global pandemic, we all face it regularly to some degree. So, how do we respond to stress? How do we prevent our thoughts from spiraling, our emotions from taking control, and our actions from causing even more damage?
Open Sky Clinical Therapist Brian Leidal will address these questions and more in our conversation today. He’ll also provide five actionable steps for grounding the nervous system and responding to stress in alignment with core values.
Brian grew up in Michigan, where he learned at an early age to love and respect the outdoors. He took part in numerous adventures with the Boy Scouts of America, eventually earning the rank of Eagle Scout. His college years were spent at Michigan State University where he earned a Bachelor’s degree in Parks and Recreation.
After graduating, Brian took on various outdoor seasonal jobs as a trip leader and outdoor educator for youth. He eventually moved to South Dakota and worked on the Native American reservations of the Great Plains. In 2010, he accepted a position at a residential treatment facility for male youth in Western Pennsylvania. He facilitated team building initiatives and climbing activities for the residents at the high ropes course, which was the beginning of his journey into experiential therapies. This cultivated a desire to attend graduate school for counseling. He completed his Master’s degree in Community Counseling with a specialization in addiction in May 2014.
Brian’s post-master’s work in inpatient drug and alcohol rehab helped him to hone his clinical skills with young adults struggling with addiction. Brian returned to facilitating team building and climbing with youth at a residential treatment facility, where he refined his group counseling skills and helped young people empower themselves through their experiences in the ropes course.
Brian joined the Open Sky team in April 2016 as a Family Services Therapist. Brian is passionate about working with the entire family, empowering each member to help shift the family system toward healthy dynamics. As a Family Services Therapist, he facilitated Family Quests and Parent Coaching for parents and families. He led more than 133 Family Quests and is continually inspired by the transformational work families accomplish over just two-and-a-half days in the field.
Brian appreciates the importance of parents working on themselves in parallel with their children. As both parents and students become more in tune with their emotions and patterns, the entire family system is changed and becomes healthier.
In his work as a Clinical Therapist, Brian utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with a heavy emphasis on the student’s current somatic experience. He helps his students to understand how thoughts and thought patterns influence emotions, which then influence behaviors.
When not in the field, Brian enjoys all aspects of the outdoors: hiking, climbing, camping, and generally exploring the world around him. Brian loves to read and enjoys getting immersed in a good work of fiction as well as topics related to his field of work. Brian is thrilled to work with an organization that combines his passions for therapy and adventure.
Under chronic stress, under a great deal of emotion, it’s normal for our stories that we’re telling ourselves to be skewed toward the negative. Even with people that we love; especially with the people we love. The practice here is to recognize when that’s happening and do something that’s more constructive for your relationships and your values, rather than act impulsively.
When those thoughts become repetitive and pervasive, they actually do have an effect on our nervous systems. And as a result, that’s where these negative core beliefs can become reinforced and entrenched.
Try from that grounded space to think of a more compassionate alternative story than the one you just made up. By doing that last step, this is a way to reprogram these chronic stress stories that we tell ourselves about ourselves, the world, our families, our friends, the situation.
It’s a constant practice for myself to not jump to the conclusion of the negative bias. This requires mindfulness, it requires practice, just like any skill that we learn. And it’s one that I continue to aspire to as well.
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.