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Wilderness Therapist, Chris Moeller, MS, MSW: 1,850 Field Days (and Counting!)

Chris Moeller, MS, MSW | Program Mentor

Featured Team Members: Christopher Moeller, MS, MSW

Q: You have been with Open Sky for 12 ½ years! You’ve been a field guide, a program mentor and now…a wilderness therapist. How have these roles shaped your experience at Open Sky?

 A: I have accumulated over 2,250 days in the field in my guiding career so far, 1,850 of which have been at Open Sky Wilderness Therapy. That is 1,850 days of living and walking the experience with Open Sky students! I value the special trust and openness that develop from time spent walking the trails and being in the dirt with students, day in and day out. Through that trust, students begin to grow in new and unique ways.   

After many years as a senior guide, I stepped into the program mentor role as it allowed me to have a larger impact within the guide community. Instead of just interacting with one group of guides, I could raise the bar for the guides in all the teams, through training, through meaningful experiences and ceremonies, and through elevating staff through mentorship. This type of mentorship produces more consistent and effective care for our clients.

Throughout my 12+ years here at Open Sky, I’ve been intentional about creating congruency between my personal life and what I do professionally. I’ve deepened my wilderness therapy and programmatic skills in my work and have integrated them into daily life. This has been really powerful for me. It takes commitment. Having been committed to Open Sky for so long, I’ve been able to grow in knowledge and wisdom, and strive to embody that wisdom in and out of the field.    

Q: What led you to pursue a Masters in Social Work and take that next  step to become a wilderness therapist?

A: Becoming a therapist was the next step in my effort to continue expanding my knowledge and grow both professionally and personally. Throughout the years, I’ve constantly looked for ways to push myself outside my own comfort zone. I seek ways to learn more, have a greater impact, and reach more people. I’m continually refining my craft and seeking new perspectives, always with the goal of helping people create positive change in their lives.  

It’s exciting to implement my wilderness therapy skills and experience into my clients’ treatment goals. A huge part of this process is the community that is built between the guides, students, and the therapist. This community is at the core of my gratitude for what I do—to be a part of something so impactful with so many wonderful people. Every day I feel grateful, even for the challenges. I hope this gratitude affects others as well.

Q: As you reflect on your rich experience at Open Sky, what do you feel are your greatest strengths in working with young adult clients and their families?

A: I believe my greatest strength as a wilderness therapist is my ability to identify the strengths of my clients and use those strengths as the foundation for treatment. The first thing I do is focus on meeting my students where they are. Everyone comes to wilderness therapy in a different place and each person’s journey is unique. Each student that comes into my team is a new and unique individual. I begin by seeking to understand them. This allows me to build empathy and connection so that we may build off of their strengths. Many people often look at illness whereas I like to look at health. I strive to see possibilities instead of just issues.

Q: What is it about wilderness therapy that really resonates for you, vs. working in a more traditional counseling setting?

A: With more than 14 years working in the field—12 of which have been at Open Sky—I have witnessed firsthand the power of wilderness therapy. There is no better setting to get an accurate assessment with so many opportunities for effective intervention and constant feedback. It’s impossible to hide from others or yourself. In wilderness therapyyou’re held accountable to walk the talk. 

I love that wilderness allows people time away from normal distractions and unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is an environment where people can begin to create lasting change. Wilderness therapy fosters simplicity and deeper connection to self and others. 

I think my passion really comes from my strengths-based approach. I also focus on routine and structure. Once these basics are solid, my clients are able to focus on their work more deeply and effectively. Consistent practices such as yoga and meditation, an emphasis on the framework of Glasser’s needs, conversations surrounding core values…bringing together these elements helps my clients to understand that they can create a healthy life with the conscious choices they make. This structure empowers them to use these practices and routines to live in line with their values, rather than feel like life is happening to them.  

As a wilderness therapist, I’m also able to customize treatment for each student, implementing different wilderness skills into treatment plans and utilizing the peace, challenge, and unpredictability of nature to prepare my students for life ahead.  

And of course, I love being able to work with my canine co-therapist, Pippin. He has more field days than any other “official” field guide at Open Sky. The progress my clients make out here doesn’t occur simply through talking. It’s about building connection without judgment so that they may simply be themselves. Pippin allows students to connect in that way. I care for my students without judgment and Pippin accentuates and embodies that so beautifully! 

July 9th, 2019

Chris Moeller, MS, MSW | Program Mentor