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Therapeutic Approach

Guided by Open Sky’s vision, purpose, belief, mission, and core values, our therapists see remarkable success with early adolescents, teens, and young adults, 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 wilderness therapy 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.

A conversation between an adolescent boy and therapist Morgan Seymour at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy.

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.

Students and staff at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy do yoga together in Colorado

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.

Adolescent girl students at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy's Utah base camp

Mindfulness and Yoga Research

  • Positive affect and improved self-worth (Davidson, 2003; Harrison, L., Manocha, R., and Rubia, K., 2004)
  • Improved stress regulation (Cabral, P., Meyer, H. B., and Ames, D., 2011; Napoli, M., Krech, P, and Holley, L., 2005; Singh, et al., 2007b; Tang, et al., 2007)
  • Decrease in anxiety (Bögels , et al., 2008; Cabral, P., Meyer, H. B., and Ames, D., 2011; Kirkwood, G., 2005; Napoli, M., Krech, P, and Holley, L., 2005; Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., and Oh, D., 2010; Semple, R., Reid, E., Miller, L, 2005, Shapiro, D., et al., 2007; Singh, et al., 2007b; Tang, et al., 2007)
  •  Improved anger management (Bögels , et al., 2008; Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., and Oh, D., 2010; Shapiro, D., et al., 2007; Singh, et al., 2007b; Tang, et al., 2007)
  • Healthy social relationships (Barnes, et al., 2007; Carson, et al., 2004; Hutcherson, et al., 2008)
  • Improved family relationships (Harrison, L., Manocha, R., and Rubia, K., 2004; Singh, et al., 2006; 2007a; Boegels, et al., 2008)
  • Increased parental satisfaction (Singh, et al., 2006; 2007a)
  • Prevention of mood disorder (depression) relapse (Cabral, P., Meyer, H. B., and Ames, D., 2011; Kuyken, W., et al., 2016; Piet, J., and Hougaard, E., 2011; Pilkington, K., et al., 2005; Shapiro, D., et al., 2007; Teasdale, et al., 2000)
  • Improved attention and academic functioning (Harrison, L., Manocha, R., and Rubia, K., 2004; Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., and Oh, D., 2010; Napoli, M., Krech, P, and Holley, L., 2005; Semple, R., Reid, E., Miller, L, 2005)
  • Improved attention and academic functioning (Harrison, L., Manocha, R., and Rubia, K., 2004; Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., and Oh, D., 2010; Napoli, M., Krech, P, and Holley, L., 2005; Semple, R., Reid, E., Miller, L, 2005)
  • Decreases binge eating and emotional eating (Katterman, S., Kleinman, B., Hood, M., Nackers, L., Corsica, J., 2014)


Barnes, S., Brown, K. W., Krusemark, E., Campbell, W. K., and Rogge, R. D. (2007). The role of mindfulness in romantic relationship satisfaction and responses to relationship stress. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 33(4), 482-500.

Bögels, S., Hoogstad, B., Van Dun, L., De Schutter, S., and Restifo, K. (2008). Mindfulness training for adolescents with externalizing disorders and their parents. Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapy, 36(02), 193-209.

Cabral, P., Meyer, H. B., and Ames, D. (2011). Effectiveness of yoga therapy as a complementary treatment for major psychiatric disorders. The Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders, 13(4).

Carson, J. W., Carson, K. M., Gil, K. M., and Baucom, D. H. (2004). Mindfulness-based relationship enhancement. Behavior Therapy, 35(3), 471-494.

Davidson, R. J., Kabat-Zinn, J., Schumacher, J., Rosenkranz, M., Muller, D., Santorelli, S. F., … Sheridan, J. F. (2003). Alterations in brain and immune function produced by mindfulness meditation. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(4), 564-570.

Harrison, L. J. (2004). Sahaja yoga meditation as a family treatment programme for children with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder. Clinical Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 9(4), 479-497.

Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., and Oh, D. (2010). The effect of mindfulness-based therapy on anxiety and depression: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169-183.

Hutcherson, C. A., Seppala, E. M., and Gross, J. J. (2008). Loving-kindness meditation increases social connectedness. Emotion, 8(5), 720-724.

Katterman, S. N., Kleinman, B. M., Hood, M. M., Nackers, L. M., and Corsica, J. A. (2014). Mindfulness meditation as an intervention for binge eating, emotional eating, and weight loss: A systematic review. Eating Behaviors, 15(2), 197-204.

Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., Tuffrey, V., Richardson, J., Pilkington, K., and Ramaratnam, S. (2005). Yoga for anxiety: a systematic review of the research evidence. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 39(12), 884-891.

Kuyken, W., Warren, F. C., Taylor, R. S., Whalley, B., Crane, C., Bondolfi, G., … Dalgleish, T. (2016). Efficacy of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy in prevention of depressive relapse: An individual patient data meta-analysis from randomized trials. JAMA Psychiatry, 73(6), 565-574.

Napoli, M., Krech, P. R., and Holley, L. C. (2005). Mindfulness training for elementary school students: The attention academy. Journal of Applied School Psychology, 21(1), 99-125.

Piet, J., and Hougaard, E. (2011). The effect of mindfulness-based cognitive therapy for prevention of relapse in recurrent major depressive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1032-1040.

Pilkington, K., Kirkwood, G., Rampes, H., and Richardson, J. (2005). Yoga for depression: The research evidence. Journal of Affective Disorders, 89(1-3), 13-24.

Semple, R. J., Reid, E. F., and Miller, L. (2005). Treating anxiety with mindfulness: An open trial of mindfulness training for anxious children. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 19(4), 379-392.

Shapiro, D., Cook, I. A., Davydov, D. M., Ottaviani, C., Leuchter, A. F., and Abrams, M. (2007). Yoga as a complementary treatment of depression: Effects of traits and moods on treatment outcome. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 4(4), 493-502.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S., Fisher, B. C., Wahler, R. G., McAleavey, K., … Sabaawi, M. (2006). Mindful parenting decreases aggression, noncompliance, and self-injury in children with autism. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 14(3), 169-177.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Winton, A. S., Singh, J., Curtis, W. J., Wahler, R. G., and McAleavey, K. M. (2007a). Mindful parenting decreases aggression and increases social behavior in children with developmental disabilities. Behavior Modification, 31(6), 749-771.

Singh, N. N., Lancioni, G. E., Singh Joy, S. D., Winton, A. S., Sabaawi, M., Wahler, R. G., and Singh, J. (2007b). Adolescents with conduct disorder can be mindful of their aggressive behavior. Journal of Emotional and Behavioral Disorders, 15(1), 56-63.

Tang, Y., Ma, Y., Wang, J., Fan, Y., Feng, S., Lu, Q., … Posner, M. I. (2007). Short-term meditation training improves attention and self-regulation. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 104(43), 17152-17156.

Teasdale, J. D., Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M., Ridgeway, V. A., Soulsby, J. M., and Lau, M. A. (2000). Prevention of relapse/recurrence in major depression by mindfulness-based cognitive therapy. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 68(4), 615-623.

“We came away overwhelmed with gratitude for your organization and for the warmth, compassion, and high-level training and competence of all of your staff. You helped us find the way forward with our son and our family. Thank you for your special work!”

― Alumni Parent, 2016

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