How will Wilderness Therapy benefit me? In this episode, clinical therapist Mariah Loftin explains the benefits of therapy conducted outdoors. Among them, with wilderness therapy, instead of returning after a therapy session to the same ruts and patterns in your life, you are immersed in a supportive and healthy environment—the wilderness—which leads to lasting change.
As a Licensed Professional Counselor, Mariah skillfully blends her background as a psychotherapist, behaviorist and art therapist. She is quickly able to assess and appropriately treat students, masterfully illuminating the issues that are difficult for them to face. She then pushes them to their edges to start working on those core issues. In her work, she melds a variety of modalities such as Art Therapy, Behavior Analysis, Relational Psychotherapy for Trauma, DBT, Family Systems Therapy, MI, and Acceptance & Commitment Therapy to best meet the individual therapeutic needs.
Mariah has over 15 years of experience working on intense and complex cases with youth, young adults, and their families. While working as a behavior therapist at Imagine! Colorado, she developed behavior plans, ran groups, and facilitated customized trainings for staff, case managers, supervisors, and parents. Mariah has previously had a private practice comprised of group and individual sessions. She brings both broad, deep experience and a passion for treating clients with a myriad of issues and working with foster care, social services, and other community programs serving the needs of an at-risk population.
Mariah quickly and easily establishes rapport with students and their families, building deep and positive connections with parents while supporting students through change. She is recognized by clients and peers for her positive nature, open personality, and tenacious dedication.
As a seasoned three-dimensional stained glass sculpture artist, Mariah likens what she does in her studio to the work she does in the field at Open Sky. As each sculpture is lit from within, the imperfections in the glass form are the very things that add character and individuality to the piece. Mariah helps students examine and appreciate the many dimensions of themselves, including their mental, emotional, physical and spiritual well-being. She creates an environment that contributes to changes in the student’s inner world, developing a more integrated sense of self along with an increase in self-awareness, understanding, and acceptance.
If Mariah is not in the field at Open Sky or in her art studio, she can be found hiking with her dogs, river rafting, gardening, or touring on her bicycle around the world.
So, for example, if someone is on a hike, and maybe they have a certain level of anxiety as they’re on that hike. Then, in that moment, they get to have the experience of managing their emotions and using coping skills and actually changing and decreasing their anxiety in that moment. That’s experiential therapy.
The interesting thing about Wilderness Therapy and part of the magic of it is the group experience. We start off with a group that is accepting, supportive, and, ultimately, all cheering each other on in the service of their therapeutic goals, in their growth.
I think a key part of the research that Open Sky does is when family members are putting in their own work in learning how to communicate. It supports students having less distress. It supports students thriving.
The thing that I hear most often is that this was the most transformative experience that I’ve ever had. And that they felt so safe within this community that they could be brave enough to do the work that they came here to do.
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.