Traditionally an on-site experience in Durango, Colorado, Wellness Weekend recently moved to a live, interactive video-conferencing experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As wilderness professionals, the Open Sky team is highly accustomed to adapting to change. Our Wellness Weekend programming has been successfully adapted to an online platform, without compromising the quality professionalism, community, and outcomes our families experience.
Family involvement plays a vital role in treatment at Open Sky: a student’s likelihood of maintaining positive change increases dramatically when the entire family system is engaged in the therapeutic process. Since its inception in 2006, Open Sky’s family programming has offered parents powerful tools and opportunities to support their family’s journey to health. One of these services is Wellness Weekend.
Wellness Weekend, which lasts from Friday through Sunday, provides parents an encapsulated experience parallel to that of their child’s journey at Open Sky. Guided by a team of Open Sky professionals, parents learn about real-life applications to support overall health of the body, mind, heart, and spirit. Outlined below are the powerful defining features of Wellness Weekend and how each one supports the overall health of the family system.
One of the central messages of Wellness Weekend is that the best way for parents to support their children is for them to reconnect with and care for themselves. Throughout the weekend, families participate in healing and rejuvenating activities, such as psychoeducational presentations, group discussions, yoga, and meditation. These mindfulness practices, which are the same ones that students learn and practice in the field, offer a variety of benefits for mental health and personal growth.
“When you have a child that goes to wilderness therapy, the parents and the family are so impacted. At Open Sky, not only was our child being attended to, but our family was as well. The experience, for us, was tremendous.”
– Trish, Alumni Parent
Upon arriving at Wellness Weekend, parents may feel awkward, uncertain, or even isolated. These emotions are similar to what students often feel when first coming to Open Sky. Over the course of the weekend, however, parents begin to open up, share their experiences, and form connections with other families facing similar challenges. They build a sense of community and belonging and come to understand that they are not alone in this journey.
“I’m running on an emotional high from this experience, but it’s a feeling of love, understanding, acceptance, and knowing you’re not alone. I think a lot of parents felt alone coming into this weekend. The sense of community and feeling emotionally safe and able to express the highs and lows of what we’ve experienced to this point was so cathartic and healing that I think that everybody needs to give themselves that experience.”
– Christine, Alumni Parent
Another core theme of Wellness Weekend is that parents must be able to role model any behavior they expect from their children. With the guidance of Open Sky professionals, parents learn and practice crucial therapeutic skills, such as how to build self-awareness, regulate emotions, and effectively communicate. Wellness Weekend is an emotionally safe space for parents to practice sharing “I feel” statements, completing four-line feelings checks, and engaging in reflective listening. These are all requisite skills for repairing family relationships and maintaining boundaries.
“Open Sky taught me how to communicate better and more importantly, how to listen to my daughter’s needs. Our family’s communication has grown and because of this, I believe that we will become stronger”
– Leslie, Alumni Parent
The power of family-centered wilderness therapy is that it takes a holistic approach to treating the entire family system, rather than placing all responsibility to heal on the child. When students understand that their parents are also doing their part in the process of family healing, it motivates them to engage more deeply with their own therapeutic work. Reading a parent’s “I feel” statement in a letter or hearing a parent do a feelings check later during Family Quest ignites a tremendous amount of confidence and appreciation in a student.
“Come and be open to it and I can almost guarantee you that you’ll come out of it feeling profoundly appreciative, understood, and with a much deeper understanding of what your child is going through.”
– Tom, Alumni Parent
The tools and skills learned during Wellness Weekend stay with parents long after the weekend is over. They prepare families to meaningfully reconnect at graduation and, for those who choose to participate, enhance the experience of the Family Quest™ intensive. They also support families through their transition out of Open Sky and into their lives back home. Many parents report that the communication and self-regulation skills they learned during Wellness Weekend enhance both their personal and professional lives. Many see their marriages, partnerships, and relationships with other family members improve, as well as find these skills useful when having challenging conversations in the workplace.
Wellness Weekend, which is included in Open Sky’s tuition, is a powerful service that empowers parents to cultivate personal wellness, model healthy behavior, and commit to their own healing. When this happens, the entire family system thrives.
“I feel like I learned so much about communication skills that will benefit our family, our marriage, every relationship in my life.”
– Katherine, Alumni Parent