Committed to advancing the wilderness therapy industry and leading integration of the entire family system into our therapeutic process, Open Sky Wilderness Therapy has been busy this year presenting our expertise and enriching our knowledge at international and national conferences and publishing our work in peer-reviewed journals. Below is a snapshot of what we have been up to. We are proud of our staff and their commitment to excellence in our field.
International Family Therapy Association (IFTA): 2016 World Family Therapy Congress
With a focus on the exchange of knowledge and ideas that support the health and well-being of families, the IFTA 2016 World Family Therapy Conference in March offered abundant opportunities to advance our family therapy expertise and share the role of wilderness in intensive family therapy interventions.
Open Sky’s Tony Issenmann, PhD, LMFT, and Kendall Smith, LCPC, NCC, RYT co-present on Expediting Growth: Therapeutic Change Through Intensive, Experiential Family Interactions. Their talk addressed times of immense developmental and emotional transformation for adolescence and young adulthood that may require creative family therapy approaches to navigate successfully. Tony and Kendall presented comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research about intensive family therapy interventions that contribute to clinically significant treatment outcomes for the child and family.
Kirsten Bolt, MEd, LMFT and Tony Issenmann, PhD, LMFT co-presented on Increasing Differentiation Through Intentional Separation of Families. While separating families is counterintuitive, research indicates that during times of intense emotional turmoil, intentionally separating parents and their young adult or adolescent children reduces entrenched and cutoff family relationships. Tony and Kirsten’s interactive presentation provided an overview of current research and an opportunity to experience the benefits of separation.
The 2016 Regional Wilderness Therapy Symposium
The Wilderness Therapy Symposium in Asheville offered a fantastic opportunity to collaborate on our industry’s potential and to influence its positive direction. The Symposium offers a place to explore, inform, and educate one another on a diverse range of topics all centering on various concepts and applications of wilderness therapy. Open Sky had a strong showing with 4 presenters covering diverse topics.
Open Sky’s Emily Miranda, MSW, LCSW co-presented on the very challenging and sensitive topic of multicultural awareness and inspired the audience to consider ways we can be more inclusive and more informed in our work. The presentation, Becoming More Multiculturally Inclusive in Your Professional Setting, provided basic concepts about multicultural awareness and sensitivity, how to practice more inclusive language and how to handle situations in the workplace with multicultural sensitivity and professionalism.
JJ Simms presented her quantitative research exploring the idea of who succeeds most and least in wilderness therapy programs. Her presentation, Questions & Answers: Who does Wilderness Therapy (not) Work for?, was dedicated to exploring the idea of finding the “ideal wilderness therapy client.” She reviewed research results that show which demographics succeed most/least in one wilderness therapy program, and reviewed other current studies that highlight significant predictors of change. As a NATSAP Research Designated Program, we are proud of JJ’s work continuing our leadership in outcomes-based research for the industry.
Last but not least, Kirsten Bolt, MED, LMFT, presented Therapeutic Containment: Taming Lions and Herding Cats. Kirsten shared how more effective and efficient treatment occurs when students feel safe, are fully engaged, and are contained by the treatment team. With greater containment, treatment staff are less likely to experience burnout, further supporting treatment efficacy. She explored therapeutic containment strategies: confronting students with passion and compassion; stepping into our power, and supporting others to as well; managing our own emotional reactivity; and following the “hard-easy” rule even when we’re stressed.
Kirsten Bolt’s work, Descending from the Summit: Aftercare Planning for Adolescents in Wilderness Therapy was published this March in Contemporary Family Therapy in March.
Despite substantial gains adolescents and families can make in the intensely therapeutic and structured environment of wilderness therapy, regression is still a significant risk at the time of discharge. Intentional and comprehensive aftercare planning is crucial to support adolescents and families following the changes that began in wilderness therapy. Wilderness therapy is a powerful and focused intervention, but it is not the solution. This article describes why most adolescents leaving wilderness therapy programs transition to longer-term, residential therapeutic schools and programs upon discharge. Although intentional separation of parents and children might appear counterintuitive, these settings often provide the least-restrictive environment. Their therapeutic benefit is explained using Bowen theory and the trans-theoretical model of change. Considerations for a successful aftercare plan are identified, including the importance of the family therapeutic process in supporting adolescent clinical growth, and when going home upon discharge is recommended. Lastly, suggestions are offered for treatment providers to support families making difficult aftercare decisions.