Guided by Open Sky’s vision, purpose, belief, mission, and core values, our therapists see remarkable success with teens and young adults, two groups that have historically been resistant to treatment. A major goal is to help students understand their basic needs, discover their core values, and learn to meet their needs in ways that honor their values. Our students report that when doing this, they feel more positive, hopeful, confident, calm, and connected.
Relationships that develop in the wilderness are uniquely powerful and amplify a student’s change process in ways that are unparalleled in other treatment settings. Research indicates the restructuring of the therapeutic relationship—the therapist going to meet with students in the field, where they are now comfortable—contributes to students’ success in wilderness therapy. Because the program is experiential and students are active members of the treatment team, they are more invested in the therapeutic process—many for the first time.
Open Sky therapists provide students an accurate reflection of their life experiences, decisions, and subsequent consequences in the context of wilderness living. The therapists work with students and families to see themselves as whole persons—emotionally, cognitively, physically and spiritually—and discover the parts of themselves they have neglected.
The Open Sky therapist oversees the treatment team for each student. Other team members include the family, student, other professionals, field guides, and support staff. Treatment planning meetings occur twice weekly and as needed with other team members. Therapists supervise the field guides in accordance with each student’s individualized treatment plan, and guides work with students to complete assignments and interventions designed by the treatment team. Field guides run daily group sessions, teach curriculum, and oversee program activities throughout the week. By taking advantage of the teachable moments that present themselves each day in the wilderness, the guides inspire the students to live and learn ways that honor their values and strengthen relationships.
Therapists have earned either a Doctorate or Master’s degree and embrace a variety of clinical modalities based on their clinical training and research-proven methods. In addition to intensive individual and group therapy, for over 10 years, Open Sky has used mindfulness practices like meditation and yoga in the wilderness setting because research demonstrates their effectiveness.
The family is the center of the Open Sky experience. Therapists assist families in growing and learning alongside their child, because we believe it is crucial for family members to participate fully in the program. Family involvement allows the therapist to systemically assess the student’s and family’s past struggles and the changes that will be necessary to achieve their goals. Our research indicates that a student’s success is proportional to the involvement and growth of the student’s family. Students with parents who are actively involved in the Family Pathway, who attend Wellness Weekend, and who participate in the Family QuestTM experience, make more therapeutic progress than students whose parents are less involved.
Open Sky uses a base-camp model, in which students regularly return to the same base camp location, for several reasons. This model follows a Trauma-informed approach in which students always have a safe, familiar place to return to after having gone “on Expo” to push their limits, learn, and experiment with new skills. Base camp also serves as a community location to gather for Group Meditation, Graduation, and events such as talent shows and holiday celebrations. Gathering with peers outside their team is significant for students to recognize they are not alone in their struggle. Inter-team specialized therapeutic groups, in which students from different teams can get together with a therapist to work through specific issues (such as substance use, disordered eating, anger management, and trauma) are another way Open Sky honors the value of community.
The base-camp model is also valuable when students receive psychological testing and wilderness psychiatric services. Students benefit from receiving these services in a familiar setting, without distractions and with professionals who understand wilderness therapy and how to treat students in the field.