Rejoice in the Warm Glow of Winter...

The holiday season is truly a special time at Open Sky. The camaraderie, traditions, warmth, and joy of the season permeate each day. In this issue of SKYlights, learn more about enrollment during the winter months and how Open Sky makes the holidays meaningful (and delicious)! Check out new articles and podcasts from our clinical experts. Take some time for self-care with our 3-part podcast meditation series and learn more about our expanding Alumni services department. Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Questions About Enrolling in the Winter? We've got you Covered!

Danny Frazer, Program Director

Article Excerpt: Winter is a particularly powerful time to enroll in wilderness therapy. Living amidst the winter elements provides students with unique opportunities to increase competence and resiliency. When students complete a winter stay at Open Sky, they leave with a tremendous sense of pride, empowerment, and confidence – attributes that will serve them well as they navigate life’s future challenges.

During the winter, Open Sky implements specific winter wilderness risk management practices and protocols that encompass all aspects of programming, including course area management, guide training, staffing, student education, gear, nutrition, activities and program accreditation.... 


Wilderness Therapy and the Nervous System:
How Slowing Down Promotes Healing

Mariah Loftin, MA, LPC, Senior Clinical Therapist (Young Adults)

Article Excerpt: Students at Open Sky slow down and connect with the scents, sights, sounds, and clean air of the wilderness. Researcher Lea Neuberg conducted a meta-analysis in which she compiled studies on how nature impacts the nervous system. Essentially, her findings highlighted that people who spend time in nature have positive physiological responses, such as a decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure and significant reductions in certain stress hormones. Spending even two hours in nature resulted in positive effects on people’s nervous systems.

Now imagine spending far more than those two hours in nature in the context of wilderness therapy. Consider the impact that has on a student’s nervous system. Research has found that...


Understanding EMDR Therapy

With Senior Clinical Therapist, Kirsten Bolt, MEd, LMFT (Adolescent Girls)

In episode 13 of the SKYlights podcast, we talk with Adolescent Girls Therapist Kirsten Bolt about the process and effectiveness of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy. EMDR is a treatment that has been used to address a wide variety of clinical issues and the underlying negative core beliefs about oneself. The work of EMDR is to fully process difficult or traumatic experiences through bilateral stimulation in the brain. This helps to desensitize these memories so that they feel less overwhelming in the present moment. 


De-stress This Holiday Season with our 3-Part Meditation Podcast Series 

Facilitated by Family Wellness Counselor, Norman Elizondo

Open Sky has released a guided meditation series on the SKYlights podcast to help mitigate holiday stress. The series includes a 5-minute, 10-minute and 20-minute guided meditation, led by Family Wellness Counselor Norman Elizondo.

“The holiday season can bring up stress and difficult emotions for a lot of people. When you have a settled mind through meditation practice, you start to gain valuable insights into these deep, emotional patterns,” said Norman. “When we calm ourselves down and sit still, there’s a chance for the unconscious to actually show itself and speak. Mindfulness practices are about developing the capacity to listen more and integrate it into our conscious lives.”


Congrats to Education Director & Clinical Therapist Melia Snyder, PhD, LPC, REAT for marking one year at Open Sky!

"The warmth and expertise that Dr. Melia brings to this work is incredibly inspiring," shares Clinical Director Sebastiaan Zuidweg. "Her approach to working with students by building on their strengths and incorporating nature-based expressive arts is a huge asset to the mission of Open Sky."

Open Sky clinicians are committed to research-driven treatment and continued education. In line with this commitment, Clinical and Family Services staff recently attended training on the subject of cannabis use. Attendees were updated on the latest research on cannabis use and the associated risks amongst a clinical population and for those with comorbid diagnoses. The training also addressed common client arguments for cannabis use. Stay tuned for a follow-up blog on this topic for parents!

Open Sky's Alumni Relations department is expanding its support of our alumni community. Twelve-year Open Sky veteran, Tanya Dalebout has joined Alumni Relations in the role of Alumni & Family Liaison. In this role, Tanya will have the opportunity to stay connected with Open Sky alumni and their families pre- and post-graduation.

In addition, Tanya will play an integral role in launching new alumni activities such as the Parent Mentor Program and the Alumni Ambassador Program.
Together, Tanya and Alumni Relations Director Rochelle Bochner (above, left), will carry out their mission to engage, connect, and foster continued relationship with Open Sky alumni students and their families. 

We are excited to announce an expanded calendar of alumni reunion events for 2020! Check this space, our website, and Facebook for additional details, including registration information for each event. Don’t hesitate to reach out to Alumni Relations with ideas and suggestions for alumni events and activities (

We look forward to connecting with you in the cities below!

  • April 15 - New York City
  • May 7 - Walnut Creek, CA
  • June 23 - Los Angeles
  • September 17 - Denver
  • October 21 - Chicago
  • November 18 - Atlanta

HUGE shout out to all staff who made Thanksgiving such a meaningful and fun holiday for our students! And to those heading into the field for the upcoming holidays! We are grateful for a team that brings connection, joy, and grit during the holidays and throughout the year.

Alumni Student Laney C. recently reflected on spending the holidays at Open Sky: "The spirit of gratitude, sincerity, playfulness, and togetherness that was so integral to the holidays at Open Sky is something I cherish with my family and relationships back home. It is because of Open Sky that I am able to feel the joy and connection with my family that I do today."

We look forward to seeing you at the upcoming NATSAP Annual Conference in Indian Wells, California, February 5-7!

Join us as we co-host Friday morning yoga and meditation led by Family Wellness Counselor, Norman Elizondo. And, be sure to stop by cabanas 1 and 2 (outside, near the pool area) throughout the conference to visit with us.

We'd love to connect with you!

Don't Miss New Podcast Episodes Coming in 2020! 

Tune in as Open Sky Executive Director & Co-founder, Emily Fernandes, LCSW converses with experts in the field of wilderness therapy on a variety of important topics. Here's a small sample of upcoming SKYlights episodes:

  • Health and Wellness in a Wilderness Therapy Setting with Health Director, Margaret Kelso, W-EMT
  • Heroes & Legends of the Field with Transition Mentor & Family Quest Guide, Robin Wolthausen
  • Exploring the Connection Between Trauma and Addiction with Young Adults Therapist Brian Leidal, MA, LPC
  • How Healthy Expression Fosters Healthy Masculinity with Adolescent Boys Therapist, Morgan Seymour, LCSW
  • Emerging Adults: Supporting the Unique Needs of 18-21 Year-Olds with Transition Age Young Adults Therapist, Chris Blankenship, LCSW
Check out the SKYlights Podcast on our website, iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts!

December 7th - Snapshot from the Field: Field guides lead Team Eagle (transition age young adults) in a sunny morning meditation during expedition.