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Episode 9

Supporting Young Adults Navigating Gender and Sexuality

Episode 9

In this episode of the SKYlights Podcast, Clinical Director and Senior Clinical Therapist, Mariah Loftin, MA, LPC explores the often misunderstood differences between gender and sexuality, including sexual orientation and gender identity, and how families can best support young adults navigating these areas.



Mariah Loftin

Mariah Loftin

Clinical Director & Senior Clinical Therapist - Young Adults

Mariah joined Open Sky in 2012 and has been an integral member of the clinical team ever since. As Clinical Director, Mariah leads Open Sky’s treatment team in delivering a transformative therapeutic experience for students and families. She is attuned to the evolving needs of the Open Sky community and is known for her passion and skill for leadership and development. In addition to her work as Clinical Director, Mariah carries a caseload of students. In her work as a clinician, Mariah skillfully blends her background as a psychotherapist, behavior analyst, and art therapist to build deep and positive connections with students and parents while supporting the family system through change. She is recognized by clients and peers for her positive nature, open personality, and tenacious dedication.

Mariah is experienced in a variety of treatment modalities, including art therapy, behavior analysis, body-centered psychotherapy for trauma, dialectical behavior therapy, family systems therapy, motivational interviewing, and acceptance and commitment therapy. She is quickly able to assess and appropriately treat students, masterfully illuminating the issues that are difficult for them to face and supporting their work on those core issues.  She excels at helping students examine and appreciate the many dimensions of themselves, including their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Before joining Open Sky, Mariah worked as a clinician for Imagine! Colorado and had a private practice comprised of group and individual sessions. She has over 15 years of experience working on intense and complex cases with youth, young adults, and their families.

When Mariah is not in the field at Open Sky, you can find her in her art studio, 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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