In this episode of SKYlights, the Open Sky Wilderness Therapy Podcast, we talk with Clinical Therapist Morgan Seymour about how societal expectations can discourage or prevent boys from developing emotional awareness, the skills to express emotions and feelings, or seeking help for depression, anxiety, social issues, or challenges at school.
Additionally, Morgan explores how—in a new and unfamiliar environment in the wilderness—boys must face emotions they’ve previously avoided or covered up, and how wilderness therapy is an excellent way to strengthen, understand, and be aware of one’s entire self.
Morgan earned her Bachelor’s degree in Social Work from the University of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After completing a 30-day backpacking/packrafting trip through the Alaskan backcountry, she developed a love for the outdoors and gained knowledge of how nature and wilderness can assist individuals in their mental, physical, and emotional growth. She was introduced to wilderness therapy when she became a field guide. Working as a field guide gave Morgan insight to how the wilderness can help support change in both herself and others. After her time in the field, Morgan knew experiential therapy worked, and she wanted to continue to be a part of it. She received her Master’s degree in Social Work at Colorado State University and has been working as a wilderness therapist since 2014. With the wilderness as her co-therapist, Morgan loves to get creative with her interventions, challenging her students to find comfort in the uncomfortable.
At Open Sky, Morgan works with adolescent boys who internalize their feelings, avoid conflict, and struggle with social skills. She tends to work with the students who have severe anxiety, depression, gaming abuse, non-verbal learning disorder, and substance use as a secondary issue.
Morgan approaches each student as an individual and works to challenge him in ways that are meaningful to his unique work. She focuses on her students’ strengths and helps guide them in using those strengths in areas that are challenging to them.
Morgan practices yoga in her free time and believes it can be helpful for her students to use yoga and mindfulness to draw connections between what is happening in their bodies and in their minds and emotions. With such connections, there is more congruence with a person’s thoughts, feelings, and actions.
In addition to her wilderness work, Morgan has experience in foster care and residential treatment. She uses CBT and DBT approaches while working with her students, as well as a strength-based approach. She manages to hold strong boundaries while also building a relationship based on trust and care. She practices yoga on her free time and believes it can be helpful for her students to use yoga and mindfulness to draw connections between what is happening in their bodies and working to be more congruent with what they think, feel, and do.
When Morgan is not working, she is exploring with her blue heeler, Loma, and her husband, Austin. They spend their time climbing, hiking, backpacking, and listening to the lessons that nature has to offer all of us. Morgan continues to learn more about herself each time she is exploring and hopes to share this with every student that she works with at Open Sky.
That’s what beautiful about wilderness is we do get to push them in these ways that they’ve never been pushed. Being able to challenge them and build that relationship where they understand that it comes from a place of care, that I care about them and I’m going to push them. And I care enough about them that if they’re taking shortcuts or trying to get out of things, that I’m going to challenge them a bit more because there’s a reason for it. Later on, they’ll say: thanks, I get it now.
A theme with Team G is that they come into the team and they’re brothers. They have a tribe… The feedback that they give each other is genuine and real and hard but it is exactly what they all need.
I was working with a family and they had a letter written home. It was an angry letter, but they were so excited that they were hearing anger. They said, we don’t care that he’s angry, we are just so happy we know how he’s feeling. Communication doesn’t always mean being on the same page or all agreeing on something. It’s about how you express it.
Graduating students create their own communities and are a part of different cultures. Wherever they go, if they can continue to create spaces of sharing and talking about masculinity and talking about the messages that society sends us and questioning it, I think we’ve all done our job here. Giving them tools, allowing them to critically think and maybe shift the way that they define strength or that they define what it is to be a man. And they can then spread that bigger picture in their friend groups or in college or whatever it is.
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.