Open Sky works with many teens and young adults who, before wilderness, may have been resistant to traditional talk therapy. In this episode of SKYlights, Clinical Therapist Mark Sobel, LCSW discusses what treatment resistance means, how it shows up in the students he works with, the power of wilderness therapy to help young people heal and grow, and what parents can do to care for themselves while connecting with their children.
Mark is a licensed clinical social worker, originally from Philadelphia. He earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from University of Rochester with a minor in theater and a Master’s in Social Work from Fordham University in New York City.
The backdrop of Mark’s childhood was defined by the not-so-distant skyline of a bustling metropolis, as opposed to the silhouette of mountain peaks and forests. As such, he discovered the healing power of wilderness later in life as a young adult and has found deep meaning and connection in the outdoors ever since. After undergrad, this new self-discovery, coupled with his zeal for working with young people, brought Mark to the remote coffee-growing mountains of Costa Rica as a schoolteacher in 2011 and then to the woods of Maine and New Hampshire as a wilderness therapy guide in 2013. These experiences cemented Mark’s belief that the combination of supportive relationships, intentional community, and nature creates an unparalleled environment for individuals to grow and triumph. In 2015, Mark pursued his MSW, gaining invaluable experiences as both a school social worker and as a counselor at an community intensive outpatient clinic for adults struggling with mental health and addiction.
At Open Sky, Mark builds on more than a decade of prior experience working with children, adolescents, and families. He spent four years working at a residential therapeutic school for children and adolescents in Evergreen, CO. There, he served dual roles as both a Clinical Therapist and the Admissions Manager. He also worked as a Clinical Mentor for a separate program that supports adolescents transitioning back home from out-of-home placement, including wilderness therapy. Mark approaches his work with families with deep care and empathy, informed by his holistic understanding that treatment is a continuum and the journey for teenagers and their parents can often feel long and devastating. Compassion and authenticity are his cornerstone values, as he knows that growth requires both discomfort and hope. Drawn to Open Sky’s humanistic philosophy and family-focused approach, Mark’s goal is to help families harness the skills necessary to make real, lasting change while supporting his client’s growth towards self-actualization. He is honored to be engaging in this work at Open Sky!
Mark has expertise working with complex clients who struggle with significant anxiety, depression, social isolation, emotional dysregulation, and relational tension and dysfunction within the family system. He’s received specialized training in Emotionally Focused Individual Therapy (EFIT) as well as Internal Family Systems Therapy (IFS). He draws from tenets of Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, family systems modalities, and Motivational Interviewing. He approaches his clients with patience, directness, and playfulness, believing that humor and joy are essential parts of treatment.
In his free time, Mark can usually be found either on his bike or on his feet exploring the natural wonders that Colorado and the Southwest have to offer, often with his faithful canine sidekick, “Dos”. He enjoys trail running, mountaineering, cycling, snowboarding, bikepacking, and backpacking. Aside from outdoor adventuring, Mark finds great joy in singing, spontaneous jam sessions, and nights filled with games and good conversation with family and friends.
I think oftentimes that resistance is self-protective because it’s steeped in this belief of, ‘Why am I going to open up when my experience is that other people don’t actually consider my experience valid?’
Patience can be really difficult, especially for parents to create and hold that space. The important thing is to not get on the emotional roller coaster with the student, which is so much easier said than done. The idea of being curious and being emotionally detached. The goal is to be with someone while they’re in pain, not be in their pain with them.
I think it doesn’t really matter how big your toolkit is unless you can slow down enough to realize, ‘I am completely caught up in my child’s experience. I need to look down at what tools are at my disposal.’ So I think practicing what your child is practicing, which is so much of it, is mindfulness.
The reason that someone won’t share their experience with you or they close off isn’t because they don’t want to, it’s because they think you won’t listen or they think that you’ll twist their words. But as soon as they know, ‘I’m gonna be heard,’ people open the floodgates because it’s a human need.
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.