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Embracing Creativity and Challenge: Get to Know Danielle DiPiro, Clinical Therapist

The Open Sky Team

Featured Team Members: Danielle DiPiro, MA, LPCC

Danielle DiPiro, MA, LPCC originally joined Open Sky as a field guide in 2015, intending to learn more about wilderness therapy. Eight years later, Danielle continues to embrace the healing power of nature and create lasting change for the whole family as a Clinical Therapist for adolescent girls. Get to know Danielle in the Q&A below! 

How did you develop a passion for mental health, working with young people, and their families?

As a teenager and young adult, I spent my summers working for a small nonprofit summer camp. Each summer, this camp hosted a group of young women who had at least one parent who was incarcerated and one summer, I was chosen as the staff to lead their group. 

Although these girls were only teenagers, the majority had endured a lot of hardship in their lifetime. It was beautiful to see them just get to be kids while spending the week at camp each summer. On the other hand, it was clear that one week away from the challenges they faced at home wasn’t a long-term solution to help them deal with what they were experiencing. Many had unstable homes or had experienced trauma and were dealing with mental health challenges as a result. I found myself requesting to work with this group each summer and thus began my passion for helping young people with their mental health. 

Describe your background and clinical experience.

I worked with a state-run substance abuse program and a residential treatment center before getting my first taste of wilderness therapy in 2015 when I joined Open Sky to work as a field guide. I quickly fell in love with working with students in a wilderness setting and wanted to learn more ways to help young people grow and thrive. This desire led me to pursue my MA in clinical mental health counseling. 

Having a background as a tenured field guide combined with my clinical experience helps me to harness the power of the wilderness while being clinically astute. Over the years that I have spent working at Open Sky, I have worked with a wide range of students and their families. I have experience working with adolescents struggling with substance abuse, anxiety and depression, autism spectrum disorder, emerging personality disorders, low self-esteem, and behavioral issues. I have also spent time facilitating our Family Quest experiences. I love getting to work in a setting where I can help the whole family system learn, grow, and change.

What brought you to Open Sky?

I was initially drawn to Open Sky because of the program’s holistic approach. I love that not only is Open Sky providing top-notch therapy, but students are also eating foods to nourish their bodies, learning mindfulness, and the whole family system is brought into the change process.  

I moved to Durango to work for Open Sky with the original intention to work for one year to get a taste of wilderness therapy. Spoiler alert: I didn’t leave after the year was up. I love that Open Sky pairs the healing power of nature with clinical sophistication.  

Describe your treatment approach. What modalities do you bring into your work and how do you build therapeutic relationships with students and families?

One of the things that I love about working with Open Sky is that I am not bound to a specific treatment approach. The treatment approach I use varies depending on each individual and their needs. I frequently draw from cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and choice theory. Regardless of which therapeutic modality I use with each student, I believe that relationship is key. What I want students to know first and foremost is that I see them positively and that I am on their team. I like to be playful, fun, and creative with students while also holding them accountable and challenging unhealthy patterns. I help students learn and practice a variety of emotional management skills and communication skills.  

Additionally, many students who struggle socially benefit from social coaching. I help all students I work with explore their values and live in accordance with them. I frequently work with students who struggle to verbalize their internal experiences. Helping students to build their emotional vocabularies helps them increase their connection to others, feel understood, and advocate for their needs. 

What makes wilderness therapy so powerful?

The combination of wilderness- and relationship-focused treatment is what makes wilderness therapy powerful. The distractions that are present at home are not present in the wilderness. There is no social media, no internet, no isolating in your room. Students are pushed to connect with their peers in authentic ways, and many Open Sky students connect with their peers more deeply than they may have been able to at home. Their peers understand what they are struggling with and because of that, there is both support and accountability. When peers inevitably experience conflict with one another, they have to figure out how to work through it instead of cutting the person off, as many have done in past friendships. We get to see unhealthy patterns happening in real time and our guides are there day in and day out to help point out the moments for students to try doing something different.  

Living in the wilderness is challenging. While too much challenge might cause someone to shut down, the right amount of challenge provides opportunities to build confidence through overcoming those challenges. I think that wilderness therapy is excellent at providing appropriate challenges to our students while supporting them to learn how to overcome them. Gaining success in the face of challenge is a key ingredient in building confidence.  

What excites you about working at Open Sky?

So many things excite me about working at Open Sky! I love that we have a team approach to ensure each student is getting the best possible care. There is a wealth of experience and knowledge on our team, and it is so important to me that we all come together as a team to learn from one another. Open Sky has a robust family program that helps to support change within the whole family system. I believe that this is a key ingredient to lasting change for the young person who is engaging in treatment. I am excited by Open Sky’s commitment to innovation, learning, and excellence.  

What are your passions outside of work? How do they help you learn and grow both personally and professionally?

Although I am originally from Washington state, I feel like a Coloradoan through and through. I enjoy spending time outdoors doing activities like biking, rock climbing, and whitewater rafting. Each of these activities takes me to beautiful places. Additionally, spending time outdoors often includes challenges: a tricky move on a rock climb, an unexpected storm rolling through, or a hill that is a little intimidating to ride my bike down. It forces me to constantly challenge myself, learn about myself, and ask for help when I need it. 

Another one of my passions outside of work is tapping into my creativity. Trying to bring a creative idea to fruition often requires figuring it out through trial and error. While this process can certainly be frustrating, when the end result finally comes together it makes all of the effort feel so worth it.  

Lastly, I cherish the time that I get to spend with my family and friends. We all need meaningful connection in our lives, and I am forever grateful to the people who provide that for me.  

November 14th, 2023

The Open Sky Team