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Episode 9

Supporting Young Adults With Gender And Sexuality Issues

Episode 9

In this episode of the Open Sky Wilderness Therapy podcast, Senior Clinical Therapist, Mariah Loftin, MA, LPC explores the often-misunderstood differences between gender and sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity; how unaddressed gender and sexual issues can result in health risks to young adults; and how families can best support children navigating these issues.  



Mariah Loftin

Mariah Loftin

Senior Clinical Therapist - Young Adults Group

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.


The emphasis is for parents to hold love to be more important than social mores and societal expectations. Come back to a child’s happiness. Come back to support, and be self aware of your own biases. What are your own stigmas? Be brave heading forward.

As students and families have the conversation, what we’re doing is we’re building a foundation so that they learn, “How do we talk about things that are uncomfortable? How do we talk about this topic that we have avoided?” That can be talking about depression, and isolation, or it can be about coming out, and sexual orientation and gender. We’re beginning the process, teaching communication skills for families and their children, so that they can take these skills with them and be able to continue the conversation.

I love watching families come back together. I love watching students have brave conversations. I also really value my students being reconnected with themselves and finding a sense of relief, so that they can head forward in their lives. Not to say that their journey is done, but that they actually have some foundation to head forward so that they can fulfill their dreams. That’s what this place is all about, supporting people thriving and fulfilling their dreams.


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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