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Episode 5

Deconstructing Motivation

Episode 5

One of the most common frustrations expressed by Open Sky clients and their families is the struggle to understand and “fix” a lack of motivation. In this episode of SKYlights, Dr. Aaron Wallis brings some clarity to the concept of motivation and an understanding of the neurological influences that affect our ability to turn desire into action.



Aaron Wallis

Aaron Wallis

Clinical Therapist - Young Adults Group

Dr. Aaron Wallis earned his BA in Psychology from Texas Tech University and his PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Northern Colorado. While in graduate school, Dr. Wallis was able to explore a few areas of clinical interest through research: substance use (cannabis), social skill development, and social media. Not only did he study these concepts through research; he was also able to hone his clinical skills working directly with individuals in several college counseling centers including Grand Valley State University and the University of Colorado.

Dr. Wallis has a strong interest in the myriad issues that face young adults face as they navigate the complex transition to adulthood. He has a particular passion in working with clients to address social anxiety, substance use, anger and emotional management challenges, and the development of a healthy relationship with social media. He was drawn to Open Sky because, being a scientist at heart, he values Open’s Sky focus on research, efficacy, and techniques that actually work. He is invigorated by the opportunity to move beyond traditional talk therapy, using the power of wilderness therapy to create experiences that his clients can incorporate into their character as they heal.

Dr. Wallis believes in empowering students to understand themselves and their struggles. By helping them understand what they are experiencing biologically, neurologically, and socially, he aims to reduce self-stigma and help students see their issues as manageable; not as fundamental character flaws. Dr. Wallis also understands that no member of a system can completely change without the support of the whole system. For this reason, he values Open Sky’s emphasis on supporting families healing together.

Growing up in a military family, Dr. Wallis had the privilege of living in many fascinating places before moving to his beloved state of Colorado. When he’s not working, he likes to “get lost” in the wilderness with his wife and their dogs. He enjoys biking, swimming, exploring new food and places, and generally being active and outside. He is also working on what may be a lifelong challenge of bringing Texas BBQ to Colorado.


wilderness therapy


Motivation is sort of a cluster term and it loses meaning; and it often implies that people don’t want to change or don’t want to make something new happen in their lives, and my clients are often frustrated with that. So I’d like to think about it more in terms of turning that desire into action. Converting that deep want to change and to be better into something new, lifestyle wise.

Having them walk themselves through a thing that they’re trying to do or change, and then where they may have failed in that process, it can be really illuminating. It’s not that I don’t have motivation. It’s not that I don’t want to change. It’s that I overestimated the task, I underestimated myself, and how can I carry that knowledge with me into the next task and know that I’m probably going to overestimate the difficulty, or maybe I’m going to underestimate myself. And just knowing that going in, can help you adjust that estimation of the task itself.

If I can get my clients to think about motivation in terms of something that requires effort and that involves frustration and failure, but also an opportunity for reward and reflection, then it feels more manageable than something that you just do or don’t do.


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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