Part 1: Key Transition Strategies After Wilderness Therapy
Sky's the Limit Fund (STLF) Coaches:
Lauren Lollini, MA, LCPC - STLF Family Coach
Mackenzie Keefe, MSW, MS - STLF Young Adult Coach
Robin Wolthausen - STLF Family Coach
Brenda Zane is a Sky’s the Limit Fund board member, Founder of Hopestream Community, and podcast host of Hopestream
About the episode:
This episode features a panel discussion with the Sky’s the Limit Fund Coaches. Take a deeper dive into their process as coaches to help parents and young adults with transition after wilderness therapy. They’ll discuss the key strategies for setting up a path to success and how these strategies may be different for a young adult.
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Hello, and welcome to another Sky’s the Limit Fund Speaker Series, this is going to be a really special edition that we’re doing for you with some of our own folks. Normally, we have some partner, folks on with us. But today, you’re gonna get to meet a few people that work with our families. But before we do that, let me just let you know if you’re new to Sky’s the Limit Fund what we do, we are here to assist families who are in crisis who have a young adult or an adolescent who is really would really benefit from wilderness therapy. And wilderness therapy is an amazing, amazing treatment modality, it is also incredibly expensive. And so Sky’s the Limit Fund is here to help families be able to get their kids into wilderness therapy. And we are just so thankful for all the donors and supporters that we have, who helped us accomplish that. So today, I’m excited to get to spend a little bit of time talking with three people who you might not even know exist at Sky’s the Limit Fund. And these are the people who support our families post wilderness. And so we don’t just say, Here’s wilderness therapy, and then afterwards, good luck with that and send them back, send the kids back home, or the young adult back home, we actually wrap around that family and really support them through the experience of coming home and transitioning back home. So today, I’m going to introduce you to three very special people Kenzie, Robin, and Lauren. And these are Hello, hello. These are people who are working very, very hard behind the scenes that really keep that experience of wilderness going and help families transitioning because it’s not an easy time. There’s this wonderful time when kids are in treatment, and families are getting support and then they come home. And it can be really tricky. So thank you all for joining me for this very special edition of our speaker series.
Right on, thanks for having us.
Yes, yes, you give me your break from all the work you’re doing with families. Why don’t you just take a brief minute, introduce yourself and let people know what you do. Kenzie? We’ll start with you.
Sure. Hi, I’m Kenzie Keefe, and I’m Sky’s the Limit Fund’s young adult coach. So my role at Sky’s the Limit Fund specifically is supporting young adults on their journey posts, wilderness therapy, or aftercare. I often work with our family coaches, Lauren, and Robin. We also have a couple others who we might work together to support the family in their transition. And and smoothing out bringing some of those those skills back to their home.
So that’s awesome. Thanks for being here. Lauren. How about you?
Well, hello, I’m Lauren Lollini. And I am actually one of what we call a family coach, little misnomer. It’s really working primarily with a parent or guardian. As opposed to the whole family. We say family because there are a lot of different kinds of guardians out there. So we want to make sure that we’re all inclusive. As Kenzie said, it’s really about allowing for that safe transition home or that smooth transition home working on that momentum, that kid will get in the wilderness or young adult will get in the wilderness, and really allowing all of that goodness to translate into success at home. So I’m one of the folks who work with the parents and guardians really trying to allow them that space to strategize, to vent if they need to, to really work on some skills to hold those boundaries and keep Yeah, keep their their their young person safe.
Awesome. Thanks for being here. And Robin.
Everyone. Yeah, my name is Robin Wolthausen. I’m a parent coach or family coach, as Lauren said, here at Sky’s the Limit Fund as well. Doing kind of everything she just said and she just mentioned. Yeah, just helping you know, we we start, we hopefully start meeting with parents before they come home. And before the kids come home, and then move into and help with that transition all the way home.
Awesome. And I believe if I’m correct that you were a wilderness therapist.
Yeah, that’s right. My background. A little bit of my background is you know, I’ve done wilderness I’ve guided whole families in kind of intensives out in wilderness therapy, as well as been a guide as well as been a field director. I’ve had a lot of different roles in that world. Kenzie I also know that has been a has been a guide as well and a manager out there and Lauren, you still part of the company so we all have our roots deep In deep in the wilderness therapy industry, we’re very familiar with it, which really helps us and sets us up for success with knowing what these kids and what these families are dealing with as they, as they anticipate that kid coming home. Yeah,
I’m sorry about that. But as Robin mentioned, all of the coaches that we have on have a wilderness background. So I think that that’s kind of the the unique dynamic. So when we’re collaborating with a wilderness therapist or program, we really know what’s taking place in the wilderness. So since we have a lot of different partner programs, we may not know the absolutely specifics of every program, but we’ve been out there. So we really know you know, what, not only the young person, you know, you know, accomplished in the field. But we know what the parents went through, and the families went through to support them, and doing their own work.
That’s so so important. I think that’s just something really important to highlight, because it gives you the ability to speak that same language with the parents, because when kids come home, they’ve experienced so much, and it’s so unique. And if you didn’t have that insight, I think it’d be really difficult to make that bridge for parents to understand really, what their child has really learned in that process. I think that’s really important. And Lauren, maybe you can help us understand, because I think this is difficult sometimes to know the difference between what is coaching, versus what is therapy, because it kind of sounds like it might be the same thing. But I know there’s some unique differences. So maybe you can help us out there.
Absolutely. And I think that when you were talking about therapy, and what happened in the wilderness, it’s so so very, very intensive. And that’s that one on one diet dynamic. There’s that group dynamic. When we take it at home, we take it home, because we’re not there in that moment with the parents, when because we’re kind of we’re long distance we’re coaching, we’re not actually able to get as deep, we’re not actually able to get to that place where we can diagnose and treat that way, a coach is really much more solution focused, much more action based. So we’re going to be looking with a family looking to a family to set some goals for themselves, what would they like to accomplish in the 12 weeks that they have with us? What are the things that bring up some fears about having their son or daughter come home, we’re really going to want to work with them on a specific action plan. So we’re not going to dig deep into their past, we’re not going to go into that, you know, very vulnerable place with them where a therapist might have already gone, we’re really going to be looking about the future. And we’re really going to be more goal oriented at achieving, you know, what they really believe is maybe the most important part to the transition, very motivational, and really looking to be specific for each family. So there’s no really cookie cutter approach, because everybody might be, you know, in a different place. So we’re gonna meet them where they are, and actually start to bring them to those next steps in their journey.
Awesome, that sounds really great. Because I think there’s having having having had a child, go to wilderness, and then come home, you really are looking for what do I do, like, give me some things give me some action items that I can do. So that’s a good test, just a good understanding of coaching versus therapy. I think that’s really helpful. And,
Brenda, if I could just jump on. I think I can speak for all of us as coaches as pretty much every one of our families, leaves every single session with homework to do like that. That’s just an essential part of coaching is that it’s like there are tasks that we help people develop, and plans and then follow up on the next session. And that just happens session to session and doesn’t end the whole time. And then if someone didn’t complete a task, we then say, Okay, what was the barrier? Why didn’t that work? And then we re strategize the plan so we can help set them up for success to accomplish the original plan.
That sounds really supportive. Because I think sometimes she could feel like, Oh, I didn’t do my homework I’m gonna get I’m gonna get punished. But it sounds like you just take that and say, Okay, well, what got in the way, like, how are we going to be able to move this forward? So that that sounds really nice. Yeah, there’s
tag on to that as well. We’re a talkative coaching crew.
I love having a conversation with three coaches. We’re gonna we’re gonna talk for like eight hours.
But I think one of the things in addition to what Robin and Lauren have shared that makes sets us apart a bit from other coaches is that each of us have a mental health and therapeutic background. All of the coaches on our staff are are at least master level, educated in mental health worlds. So not only have we spent much, much of our time in the wilderness treatment world, we’re also mental health providers in other other parts of our careers, which is different from any life coach.
Absolutely. That’s a really good distinction Kenzie, I’m glad you made that. Because in today’s world, you can sort of go through some light, semi late training, and hang out a shingle that says I’m a coach. And I think that’s probably fine for some situations, but for what you all are encountering and advising on and coaching through is very, very intense. And it’s a very serious family dynamic when you have substance use involve mental health, you know, that that’s something that you definitely need that, that level of education for. So I’m glad you pointed that out. Anything else? Before we move on from coaching versus therapy? I would love to just know, maybe, Robin, you could give us a just a picture of what is it look like when a young person comes home from wilderness? I have experienced it. But for somebody who hasn’t experienced that maybe somebody’s looking at, potentially, you know, working with sky’s the limit fund and getting their young person into treatment. What does it look like when they’re coming home?
Totally. Yeah, thanks for asking that, Brenda. I think the the way to start to answer that question is to make sure we look at the whole picture of what wilderness therapy is as treatment and how it’s intervening in this family’s kind of like timeline of existence, because they’ve been a family before wilderness therapy, and there’ll be a family after. And usually, when a family chooses to send a kid, or the kid chooses to go to wilderness therapy, it’s at a time of potentially the most crisis that the individual or the whole family has been in in their entire lives. And then they make this choice, and they get a break from that crisis. The parents are not living in as much fear the whole time while the kid is in wilderness therapy. And the kid whether they’re resistant or not, also kind of gets a break from their parents, and get support in ways they may have never had before, from the people around them from the other kids in the program, an immense amount of therapeutic support from the paraprofessional guides, as well as the therapist out there. And then when they come home, that all changes that break completely ends for the parents, often there’s a lot of fear for the parents when the kid comes home. Because, you know, everybody’s afraid that it’s gonna go back to how it used to be. And again, very consciously, usually, for the parents that fear is, whereas for the kid, it might be a little more unconscious, that it’s gonna go back to how it was depending on kind of their relationship to their own behaviors before when they went to wilderness. A big thing for the kid when they come out of wilderness is grief. Not all of them. But most of them on some level had a healthier kind of living environment that may have ever had, while they were in wilderness therapy. They had, they had a crew of people around them that supported them no matter what 24/7 They had deep connection to nature, exercise, healthy food, access to therapy, 24/7. We all wish we had that. They’re completing things, they’re learning things. And these are actually the researched ways that wilderness therapy actually works. And suddenly they lose that entire structure when they come home. And so much of our job as coaches is to help the parents and the kid. But mostly the parents get to a place where we can kind of mirror a lot of that structure that was so successful for them in the wilderness and mirror it at home again, in some sort of structured way, so that it’s not such a sharp cliff coming out of wilderness, it’s more like a gentle slope back into a life that you and me kind of the normal amount of support that that a lot of adults enjoy.
That’s interesting. I’m glad that you mentioned that grief because I think that’s something that we wouldn’t necessarily think about. But you’re right when there’s so much and I think kids can be begrudgingly, you know, admit that there were aspects sometimes a wilderness therapy that they liked, and some some absolutely love it. So there’s a mix. But I’ve heard even just the disconnection from social media for that period of time, can be so Be healthy. It feels good to that like, oh, you know, I wasn’t looking at my phone 24/7. So that’s interesting. So Kenzie, you work with young adults, what is that like for a young adult to come home because they’re in a different position. They’re 18 or older. So they’re technically an adult, which means the life probably looks a little different, even if they’re going home. There’s kind of different rules. When you’re 18. What does that transition look like? I’m sure there’s a lot of that same, the grief and the change. But are there some other things that come to mind for you?
Absolutely, that’s a great question, Brenda. I think of the young adults that we work with really as emerging adults. And this developmental stage of emerging adulthood was coined by Jeffrey Arnett, who kind of looks at as we’ve industrialized as a nation, young adulthood, really isn’t achieved, from most young people’s perspective until they become financially viable, which might mean living outside of the home, being able to buy their own food support themselves, and specifically financially. And in our day and age, that span from eight teen to sometimes late 20s, as late as 29, and 30, for some folks, has kind of coined this new term around emerging adulthood, which is a developmental stage where young adults really are coming home and partially needing structure, but really yearning for some independence and trying to like say, I got this, I can do it all on my own. But in all reality, they’re coming out a wilderness where again, they’re, they’re in a really safe and structured environment, they’re being woken up every day, there are expectations to be a part of every, every activity throughout the day. And then they come home, and they’re looking to go back to school, possibly finish high school, maybe get a job, get started on a career path. And, and so there’s a whole wealth of different things that they might be working on. And, and so as a, as a young adult coach, I’m kind of like airing from executive functioning coach, helping them do day to day life tasks, to really trying to integrate what has happened in wilderness and how it can actually be plausible in their day to day life, as Robin spoke to the health that they’re experiencing, and wilderness, okay, you’re not going to, in fact, some kids come out. Kids, young adults say, I hated hiking, I go okay, but you felt good. So what else do we want to do? Do we want to walk the dog? Do we want to get to the gym and lift weights again? Are you a CrossFitter, and trying to support that, like creating that healthy lifestyle in a way that actually makes sense for a young adult? And feeds what their what their identity is as, as a young person kind of forging their way?
Yeah, that’s gonna be a really interesting role to play being coming alongside somebody like that, with losing all of that structure, and safety and, and sort of know all the knowns of the day, into a kind of a really wild west unknown of like, now, what do I do is there? I’m curious, is there like a common trend or need that you see young adults, when they come out of wilderness that you kind of see over and over? That’s a thing that you would like for parents to know, sort of like, if you could whisper in the ear of a parent? Is there something that you see that you’re constantly coaching your people with?
Sure, yeah. I would say, Mmm, hmm. Great question. What would I whisper to the parents?
If you had their ear, you could just have,
I think, I think I would, I would say, look, this is a different person than who left. And they really want to be seen for the, the strength that they have, and the formation that they’ve experienced. Yeah, and it’s going to be hard, but we’re going to need to work towards trusting that and allowing them to make mistakes, because we’re all gonna make mistakes. Yeah, we all have as young adults, and they want to be able to prove themselves
Hmm, that’s really great. Yeah, aka, they’re going to reverse it
Like, you know, what would you like to say to the kids, right? Because I think that when you talk about wilderness, if the parents are doing it, right, they’re doing a lot of work too. And even though there is so much more intensity with, with the young adults and adolescents in the woods, because they’re living it, the parents have changed as well. And so whispering in kind of the kids here, too, and saying, Hey, your parents were tired. And they may not be perfect yet. But this is a chance for you to come home and teach them a bit. This is a chance for you to be able to say, hey, here’s what worked, and maybe bring those pieces of the wilderness that really, really worked resonated with them back into the house. And so, as Kenzie said, Trust in the process. You know, we know that it’s going to be difficult. There’s going to be hurdles, but it’ll be okay. Yeah.
I just worked with a family yesterday, just to put this in very clear kind of illustration, whose kid just came home last week, and was already coaching their parents on No, like, thank you for that feelings check. But that’s not great. No, I touched the parents like, yeah, great, like, really say thank you, and say, Thank you for bringing this into our family culture. When he does, you know, stuff like that. So I just wanted to give that example.
That’s amazing. So they’re, what’s great, I think that wilderness gives young people is a construct for having those conversations to instead of just, we’re just winging it, and we’re yelling and screaming, it actually gives them a structure of how to how to structure feedback for their parents, or conversations, or requests. So I think that’s amazing. That’s a great example, Robin. I know, Lauren, that there’s, there are some strategies that we should have in place when our person comes home from wilderness, I’m wondering if you could talk about a couple of the ones that you think are the most important that you’re always working with families on it.
Absolutely. You’ve heard the word structure a bunch of times through this conversation, right. And I think that’s what we really want to make sure that when the young person comes back from wilderness, that there is as much structure as can be at home, whether that be with school, or extracurricular or different, you know, ideas that will allow that structure to continue. So they do don’t, they don’t have a lot of that idle time, but they don’t have in the woods, we’re looking at that coming through and being very, very black and light through home agreements, you know, what is? What are our list of expectations? What will it look like, once you come home, and it’s not really about the rules, it’s really about, hey, here’s what you need to do to be successful. And here’s what we’re gonna do to help you be successful. So that home agreement, those lists of expectations, that’s really, really important. Having a therapeutic team around them is really important. Being able to, you know, transition to a therapist, or go back to a therapist, they know, group therapy, maybe, you know, psychiatry, whatever that therapeutic need, you know, a student might need, like, we want to make sure that that’s in place, and that’s solid, and that those professionals know, the experience, they know the progress that was made, they know where this young person kind of ended up after their time in the woods. And then I think it’s really important to understand that if they’re going back to school, that there really needs to be a specific reintegration into the school, right? Allowing that child’s come back and not have a target on the backs and not be like, Oh, that’s the kid who was way right. And the idea of, you know, success, and what does that look like? What kind of learning styles do they have, you know, going kind of past the 504, IEP kind of thing and moving specific to that child, you know, will this school be able to hold them? Will there be a go to person if they’re having a struggle during the day? You know, is there a learning style or a difference that we identified in the in the wilderness really what’s going to be the plan for school success? That’s, I think, just as important as the success that they have at home or that plan that they haven’t home?
Yeah, that’s so important. I think those are things that you just don’t even think about, especially when you you know, if your son or daughter first goes off to wilderness, you’re just sort of like who there’s that time of quiet and some relief. And then it’s so great that they get a coach to guide them through all of those details because man there’s the school thing is so difficult and yeah, thinking through is this even the right school All situation, because I know there’s just a lot of fears like, oh, and I remember feeling this, can I just keep him in wilderness till he’s like 22? Because it’s such a great place. So safe. So those are great. And I love how you talk about a home agreement instead of like a contract, which, to me always feels kind of punitive. And like you are going to do this. And I think you said, I’m not sure if your exact words, but you know, here, here are the things that we’re going to agree to to. I don’t know, I’m probably misquoting you, but it seems very positive versus, versus restrictive? Like, you can’t, do this.
It’s all about success. Right? So what is the path to success, right? So what we’ll hope to do is be able to connect with the family prior to their graduation, and hope blee, work with them a bit on that agreement, in conjunction with the wilderness therapist or the the therapist they’re working with, you know, in the program, and really allow that agreement to go into the woods, allow that child to see it, maybe weigh in on it, maybe say, hey, you know what, I don’t think that’s going to work. Well, maybe this will work. So that it’s not a surprise when they come home, and that hopefully at that graduation, they’re able to all talk about it, discuss it, because there’s going to be points that not everyone’s going to agree on. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be in the agreement. But there is there really needs to be discussion around that.
Yeah, that makes a ton of sense. I’m wondering about other support that might be in the local community, because I know, we want to sort of wrap them I think of it as bubble wrapping like we want to bubble wrap them as much as we can when they get home with other kinds of support services. So I don’t know Kenzie or Robin, what? What do you see as sort of other strategies that we can put in place if we have a home agreement, that maybe they’re not even living at home? What if they are going in living somewhere else or an apartment or or back to community college? Are there other things that we should be thinking about as far as community support or self care, anything like that?
Yeah, I, I would, I would say, especially for these emerging adults, young adults, Lauren spoke well to connecting to the local continuum of care, which is connecting to a therapist that’s nearby, and likely someone that you can see in person or is in your community and knows the resources available. Connecting to a psychiatrist, PCP, your insurance agency, wherever that lands, and for young adults, especially a lot of their life, their parents have chosen those things for them, whether that be who their therapist is, or where they go to see the doctor. And so that can be a brand new experience. So the young adult walking them through, you have a choice here. And, and it’s an important one to to be choosing who, who you drive with, well, for your therapeutic care, and what your needs are. So that’s, that’s one of the things and I would say I’m working a lot with folks around wellness planning. So some folks might work in the field with their therapists around creating a wellness plan, which is what skills and my skills and activities things am I going to build into my day to day life that supports my emotional, social, physical and mental well being? And, and that’s typically where I start with folks and then say, Okay, how does this work now? Is it? Is it fitting into our daily life? Or do we need to be doing different things? And just as important for that self care? Things such as exercise, eating properly, taking time to ourselves, for a young adult is is just as important for the parents or family system that Robin and Lauren are working with? Because it’s it can be exhausting to be a part of this, this growth and this reintegration towards home.
Yeah, that’s great, because it sounds like it would be nice to be on the receiving end of that for somebody to be talking to me about wellness and about how am I going to structure my life around that instead of always focusing on don’t use substances don’t relapse like letters. It’s just such a different conversations. I think that sounds really great. In the last couple of minutes that we have, sir, anything that we have forgotten any, from insider tips, because you all are on the inside of these conversations every single day, and you see patterns and families. Is there anything else that a family can do to set themselves up for success? Whether that’s before their young adult or their adolescent comes home, or during that transition, any, any little secrets that you want to share with us,
I don’t think it’s so much a secret as a necessity. Communicating, being able to communicate, being able to talk through something, being able to set the expectation and follow through with it, if there’s a conflict, being able to step away, and come back and close the loop, so that communication piece is really, really big. And we see it in the wilderness, on so many different levels, you know, the individual check ins, the group check ins, the check ins, when we do something, well, the chickens when we do something that, you know, whatever, like there’s, that that’s happening in the woods. And so bringing that back home in a way that that family, that family dynamic, and work and hold that communicate those communication skills, solid, for the for the young person coming home, and continuing that because there’s that momentum, you know, so communication is huge,
I like that communication, anything else, Robin, or Kenzie that maybe a parent thinks they’re doing right. But it’s actually not super helpful, or something that they might completely forget about, that’s just a small thing that they could do to improve the transition home.
I just, I just always encourage people and just kind of adjust my philosophy to to really encourage the things that are already going well in each individual in the family system, or in the community or the kid, and then try to minimize and work on the things that aren’t going well. Like we can’t get rid of them. But we can go to therapy about them, like parents should be in therapy, oftentimes, they don’t think they should be but usually they should. Everyone gets developed in their behaviors in a system like a kid doesn’t come from nowhere. It comes from a family. And so that’s what I and then also thinking about what the other strengths are in the community, like churches, like sports, like jobs that kid could get, there’s, you know, whatever is going to motivate a person to move towards a more healthy way of being. And I think oftentimes, we just stay stuck in just the family system, when there’s a whole community around them as well. That often can include extended family as well. So that’s, that’s kind of like my last two cents of sometimes what what families don’t always think about.
yeah, no, I can see how it would be, you know, so many of our resources and our attention are focused on that one. Individual. And, you know, we send them to the therapist and the gym and the all of these things. And I agree, I think having parents in therapy is just invaluable. When you’re talking about trying to get to a healthier place as a as a team really like the family as a team and you’re wanting to to make everybody better, Kenzie, any anything come to mind for you of things that maybe there’s something that parents are doing, unknowingly that could be hindering the the coming home transition?
You know, I would say Brenda, I’m not sure what people are doing unknowingly. True. But what I will say is, I think that everyone on both sides, the the, the wilderness, it student, is what I’m thinking, the kid, the young adult, the parent, we all have expectations of what we think this is going to look like. And we’re usually really excited to see. And I remember sitting days before graduation hearing, it’s going to be like this, it’s going to be like that. And I’m sure the parents are doing the same thing on the other side going. And then we’re gonna go home, and it’s gonna look like this. And it’s gonna look like that. It’s probably not diverse the bubble, but I think it’s important to burst the bubble and say, Our expectations are sweet. And they’re, they’re amazing. They’re the, you know, the golden standard is usually what our expectations look like. But know that that’s not likely what it’s going to look like, and it’s going to look different for everyone. So when we meet you where you’re at, we know that this is a normal place to be, even though it’s different from everybody else. Because the journey posts wilderness therapy is difficult, and it has its really sweet moments, but don’t let our expectations guide or prove to you what your success is actually looking like because success is truly built from building more resilience as a family unit. And that’s not possible until or the family member comes home for the full circle, right?
That is really valuable insight that things may not look like you imagine and that that’s okay. And that you can get through that. And it’s normal because it can be very confusing as a parent when your young person comes home and there are bumps in the road and you think, Ah, did we do it wrong? Did we did we fail. And so I think that’s really, really valuable insight to hear. Thank you all for for coming on. And taking a little bit of time out of your day. I know you’ve probably got families that you’re needing to get back to. So thank you so much for for speaking out to people who are probably in a difficult place right now. Right? If you’re listening, you’re probably either considering wellness or maybe your maybe your child’s in wilderness and that coming home transition is in the foreground. And so this has just been really insightful and thank you so much. Thank you, of course. Yeah.
Thank you, Brenda.
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