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Episode 31

Treating the Unique Needs of Pre-Teens and Early Adolescents

Episode 31

As early adolescents transition from childhood to adolescence, hormones emerge, body chemistry changes, and social and academic pressures increase.They might experience uncertainty about who they are and feel a natural desire to differentiate from their parents. Add the stressors of the modern world, and it’s no wonder that so many early adolescents struggle to navigate the stage in their lives. In this episode of the SKYlights Podcast, Clinical Therapist Julia Lehr, MSSW, LCSW, AMFT discusses the unique needs of early adolescents, the pressures this population is under, her therapeutic approach, and how parents can cultivate greater connection with their children. 



Julia Lehr

Julia Lehr

Clinical Therapist - Early Adolescent Girls Group

Drawn to the relational aspects of the therapeutic process, Julia achieved a Master of Science in Social Work while specializing in couples and family therapy at the University of Louisville. With a dual theoretical background, Julia views the therapeutic landscape through a multisystemic lens integrating the micro, mezzo, macro, and family systems perspectives. Julia believes in the power of relationships as she feels that they help to navigate difficult life transitions and provide greater meaning to our world. Therefore, she works to create a strong therapeutic alliance with the identified client, family, and treatment team.

Fueled by both her passion for family therapy as well as the healing elements of nature, Julia has worked in a variety of roles within the field of wilderness therapy and has created space for students and families in diverse field areas from Utah’s West Desert to the Pisgah National Forest in North Carolina. Within all of these spaces, Julia has enjoyed guiding students’ and families’ therapeutic process through ceremonies and traditional skills in addition to traditional therapeutic modalities. Experienced in working with individuals, couples, and families from diverse backgrounds, Julia’s specialties lie in supporting clients struggling with anxiety and depressive disorders, externalized behaviors, extensive trauma histories, experience with grief and loss, attachment issues, and complex relational conflict. As an analytical thinker, Julia enjoys mapping out and connecting meaning through thorough assessment and creative intervention.

As a therapist, Julia works to provide an anchor or safe attachment base to create an environment for the client to begin the process of healing and growth. From here, Julia creates meaningful spaces for clients to explore complex vulnerable emotions through the use of metaphor and emotional expression. Julia pulls from experiential approaches such as techniques of emotionally focused therapy and animal assisted therapy to cultivate change. As a systemic therapist, Julia works to expand the client system to include families and partners to increase progress towards treatment goals and create lasting change. With a background in teaching yoga, she incorporates mindfulness and breathing techniques into her sessions to promote grounding experiences as well as to support clients in increasing awareness of their external and internal worlds.

As a trail runner and climber, Julia has experienced first hand the healing effects of the natural world through self-reflection, increased confidence through natural challenges, and the power of relationships with adventure partners. Spending unstructured time exploring the outdoors is very grounding for Julia and helps provide connection to the self. As a maker, Julia is always finding new creative projects incorporating fabric arts, recycled materials, plants, or whatever brings inspiration to each new piece. When not on the rock/trail, you can find Julia enjoying time with her two dogs, Ezra and Fjor, exploring a desert, stream, forest, or the open road.


We all change throughout life. We have different interests that develop, things that we’re gravitating more to, but as parents are seeing their kids change, it can sometimes be alarming to them of, ‘Wait, I thought I knew this person and now they’re doing this other thing, and now their favorite color isn’t what it was,’ and that’s totally okay. We all change and there’s a variety of different benefits that they can gain from experiencing the world.

They really want to share what’s going on for them, and sometimes they’re doing that in ways that we can’t actually understand what’s going on. So what I really work with students is what’s going on for you, identifying that, and then being able to speak to it and share in a way that’s clear for other people, and then they feel heard.

Because it is not easy being a parent at all. And as you are going through a transition, there’s the transition for the children into early adolescence, and then there’s also a transition for parents. And so any time we’re having a transition in our lives, it’s really important to ground through self-care.

We can address these behaviors. We can address these experiences now so that we don’t have to have increased suffering as they go into adolescence and young adulthood. We can actually decrease that suffering now. And so then they can make the choices and they don’t have as many experiences to reflect back on to continue to heal.

I think for parents, it’s a really tough time, and it can make them feel like they’re making so many mistakes. ‘Oh, I should have done it this way or that way, and I should have done it differently.’ And I think reframing those mistakes as, ‘Oh, I’m taking an opportunity to learn and grow as a parent.’ And that’s totally okay.


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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