Transitioning out of wilderness therapy is a big shift. Whether students are transitioning to home, school, or an aftercare program, it’s important for families to have the tools to help create and support a healthy environment for the student to continue thriving after the progress they’ve made at Open Sky. Below, Clinical Therapist Chris Blankenship offers some key strategies that will help families navigate this transition and confidently step into life beyond Open Sky.
The first and most simple thing to keep in mind is to think about the transition out of wilderness therapy like the transition into it. Parents and children both need to take their time, find their footing, and reorient themselves in the world. A helpful comparison is to think of this transition like healing from a physical injury or setback. If someone has surgery to repair a torn ACL, they won’t return to running immediately. Similarly, the post-treatment transition will require new practices and routines; patience and compassion as families adjust to their new dynamic and regain trust and confidence in one another.
About halfway through their time at Open Sky, students are encouraged to start thinking about how to apply the skills they’ve been learning into their lives at home. Throughout the last few weeks, we start planning for the transition so that students feel like they have a concrete plan for success after leaving. This includes planning for big-picture goals and preparing for detailed scenarios that could occur. For instance, I help my students navigate a conversation for when a specific argument with parents arises, or how to say no if someone offers an unwanted drink at a party. We might actually work out a script and role play with others in the team. When these things inevitably happen in life after Open Sky, students will be ready to respond because they’ve already walked through exactly what to do.
Having a plan is a great strategy, but it is also important to be flexible enough to look at the bigger picture when the plan goes off-track. For example, someone’s plan may include a curfew, daily exercise, a certain GPA, etc. If that person misses curfew by a half hour, or slips on their grades, both child and parents should keep their eyes on the bigger picture. Despite the slip-up, how has the child made progress from where they were before Open Sky? What might be the factors that contributed to missing the mark on their goals, and how can those be addressed?
Holding boundaries is often easier said than done, but ultimately, these boundaries support deeper relationships and trust. Students leaving Open Sky are used to the structure of the program, so maintaining appropriate levels of structure can be helpful for them to apply what they’ve learned in wilderness therapy.
Another key to a successful transition is to apply the coping, mindfulness, and emotional regulation skills that both the students and parents have learned. Both parties have done their work and have common language and skills that will benefit healthy and assertive communication. By checking in with each other, being intentional in relationships, and utilizing skills like the 4-line feelings check, it is more likely that everyone can understand themselves and each other better.
Transitioning out of wilderness therapy can be challenging. By integrating the tools, learning, and growth they’ve gained at Open Sky, families can face their next chapter with confidence and hope.
For a deeper dive into the topic of the post-treatment transition, tune into SKYlights Podcast episode 21.