Defiance and opposition can be normal and even healthy signs of adolescence. When do these patterns become unhealthy? How can parents effectively respond to their teen’s defiant behavior? What are the best strategies for parents who are at their wit’s end during this phase of parenting?
Here to help us answer some of these questions is Open Sky Senior Clinical Therapist, Jonathan Mitchell. Jonathan will also share helpful examples from his work at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy and from his own experience as a defiant teen.
Jonathan is a licensed professional counselor with extensive experience serving adolescents, young adults, and families. He grew up in Wisconsin, earning his BS in mathematics and physics from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire in 2000. Instead of getting a job traditional to his field of study, Jonathan took to the outdoors to work with people. Over the next six years, he worked extensively in the wilderness therapy field, in roles such as field director and field manager.
Inspired by the magic of the wilderness to motivate change, Jonathan returned to graduate school and earned a master’s degree in counseling. During this time, he worked as both a therapist at an intensive outpatient addiction treatment center for teens and a college math teacher. He has continued to expand his clinical training, earning a certificate in Gestalt therapy from the Gestalt Institute of the Rockies in 2008. In 2009, he joined Open Sky as a Family Quest therapist and is now a primary clinical therapist for adolescent boys.
Jonathan’s areas of clinical expertise include oppositional defiance, adoption/attachment issues, treatment resistance, navigating non-traditional and complex family systems, substance abuse and addiction, depression, anxiety, and trauma. His clinical approach draws on the teachings of dialectical behavioral therapy, Gestalt therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and years of experience as a field guide. As a therapist, he is appreciated for his pleasant and direct nature, intuitive connection with clients, and knack for working with defiant and strongly guarded adolescents.
When not working at Open Sky, Jonathan can be found exploring the Southwest: rock climbing, trail running, and telemark skiing. He has traveled extensively in India, and his daily meditation and yoga practices are core parts of his life. A Green Bay native, Jonathan is an avid Packers fan.
Defiance is – in its roots – an exaggerated expression of independence or differentiation from the family.
This is all the anatomy of defiance. It comes from a place of powerlessness and not being seen and heard by the world around them.
It feels powerful but it’s so isolating. I know from myself and the kids that I work with who are really defiant, they’re really lonely. It’s the double edge sword of defiance in that it’s powerful but it also ostracizes us from the world around us and from relationships. We’re not connected to people when we’re defiant.
The other tenet of what has worked for families who have been successful navigating this defiance issue is being consistent about leaning into the process and not giving up. Remaining patient, remaining open, continuing the healthy pressure on the child, and finding some support in the world around them.
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.