Featured Team Members: Jonathan Mitchell, MA, LPC
A: I began in this industry as a field guide in 2001. To be honest, the reason I took the job was that I couldn’t find work living in Bend, Oregon at the time. But about three months in, I started to fall in love with the work. I made the decision to attend graduate school with the vision of becoming a wilderness therapist. It never occurred to me to practice therapy in a different setting because I hadn’t seen a model as effective as wilderness. As a therapist working with adolescent boys, I’m passionate about the impact of wilderness both on my own life and the lives of each person I work with.
With more than 800 or 900 days in the field as a field guide, I truly understand how this process works and can empathize with the students and guides in my team. I know what it’s like to live in the wilderness and guide the students with patience and compassion. My understanding of the role also helps me coach my guides to implement each student’s treatment goals.
A: I often joke with my students that I’ve been doing this longer than they’ve been alive. These 18 years of experience have culminated to be one of my greatest strengths. Parents frequently ask, can you really help my child? I can respond with confidence: yes! Throughout the years, I’ve seen so many different iterations of similar patterns and profiles of students, yet I enjoy that no one is the same. Everyone is beautifully unique. I’ve found that despite individual differences, nothing is shocking to me. I’ve learned that I can address any situation or circumstance that arises. I like to connect with each student, see him progress, and reach breakthroughs together.
This extensive experience is also a benefit in my role as Senior Therapist. When consulting with the team on various cases and methods of treatment, I draw from a host of experiences and insight. This allows me to better support the team and I’m always eager to learn more from them.
Another major strength is my passion. Literally, every Tuesday that I drive to base camp, step out of my truck, and put my feet in the dirt, I am stoked to be there. I get excited to hear what happened during the week and help address issues that came up. This work is so dynamic. I really care about these kids and love them. I’m dedicated to them and their families. It’s my responsibility not only to ensure their safety but to help them grow in profound ways.
I also love to have fun! Yes, the issues my students and their families face are serious, but infusing lightness and humor into our work together goes a long way. It can calm tense emotions, make a person more relatable, and even bring someone to consider something from a new perspective. I enjoy these moments and see that my humor and joy are infectious.
A: I love working with the adolescent boys because I get to see them return to a more childlike outlook and behavior. This is highly beneficial and necessary for their treatment. It’s so sweet out there. They often talk about their “brotherhood,” which they form in this emotionally safe environment.
The societal pressures of fitting in and the onslaught of social media fade away. They are allowed to really experiment with being who they’ve deep down wanted to be, surrounded by supportive peers, guides, and myself. They get to be boys again in the most pure and healthy way, which is often difficult in our modern world. I love to witness this exploration process unfold. It is so dear and sacred to me. Once reunited, parents often tell me they finally have their son back; their child back.
Open Sky’s mission is to inspire people to learn and live in a way that honors values and strengthens relationships.
A: Open Sky’s mission is an iteration of my own life’s mission, which is to inspire people to be who they truly are and always wanted to be. I strive to give people tools and the access to ways of doing so that are active, profound, and inspiring.
The basis of my clinical approach is simple, yet vital. I know what the potential is for every person I work with. It’s not just a feeling—it’s an unshakeable knowing that this person can thrive. The clinical techniques and strategies I use all emerge from this basic foundation. I will never give up on them. I don’t doubt their ability to be successful or feel good about themselves and their lives. This doesn’t mean it’s always easy for the student. They doubt themselves and they doubt me. There is anger and sadness and a multitude of other emotions. It can be challenging, messy, and heartbreaking. But through it all, my focus on their potential is completely unwavering. Their 10-12 weeks here is about them coming into congruence with that focus; to start to step into what they are truly capable of.
A: I’m really passionate about inspiring and serving others, offering whatever I can to uplift them. I travel internationally to lead transformational workshops. I believe doing this is a way for me to connect with the universality of people’s struggles. I see the way people grow and evolve in more diverse ways than when working with adolescent boys in wilderness, which enriches my work, as well. I write and am currently working on writing my second book—a memoir. I meditate and I love to spend time with friends and family.
I also love being outside, whether backcountry skiing, high-performance rock climbing, whitewater kayaking, backpacking, or survival training. I love moving through the wilderness (and what we call in climbing, the “vertical wilderness”) in ways that are challenging and fun. Facing these challenges allows me to better empathize with my students when I challenge them to look at their lives in a different way and feel things they may not initially wish to. I find it is important for all of us to face ourselves and our fears in courageous ways.