Speaker Series: Full Episode Page

Part 2: The Path to Success


Sky's the Limit Fund (STLF) Coaches:

Stephanie Smith, LCSW, LAC - STLF Family Coach

Heather Menzie May, MA, LPC - 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 is Part 2 of a panel discussion featuring our Sky’s the Limit Fund Coaches. Heather and Stephanie will talk about the transition home and take a deeper dive into what progression may look like, a discussion about falling back to an old pattern for the youth and parents, what happens when there’s a crisis, and holding boundaries.

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Brenda 0:01
Hello, welcome back. We are here for another episode of the Sky’s the Limit Fund’s Speaker Series. I am Brenda Zane and I am the lucky board member who gets to have these conversations with various people in the wilderness therapy realm. And if you’re not familiar with Sky’s the Limit Fund, we are a nonprofit organization that helps families fund wilderness therapy and the surrounding services that go with that. So coaching for parents and for young people, because wilderness therapy really is such a phenomenal treatment for kids who are in need of that. It is also incredibly expensive. And so Sky’s the Limit Fund is a really rare and unusual organization fully supported by donors, that is able to give families grants in the time of need when they’re young persons in crisis and really needing to get into a safe and healthy space. So I’m really honored to be on the board of directors for sky’s the limit. We thank all of our donors so much for supporting us. And this speaker series is our way of just getting information out there for you as if you’re a parent who’s listening, and you’re considering wilderness therapy, it can be a really overwhelming decision to make. And also if you’re a potential donor, you might be wondering what exactly do these people do? So we’re here to talk about all of that. And I’m really excited today to have Stephanie and Heather with me, they are two of our parent coaches, who do the hard work of really supporting and wrapping families with care when their young person is coming home for wilderness therapy. And it can be a really tumultuous time. It’s very exciting. It’s also can be very nerve wracking. So welcome Stephanie. And Heather, we’re gonna have a great conversation today. And I’m I’m glad that we get to give you a little break in your day so that you can kind of step out of what you’re doing in your coaching role, and be with us just to share with parents who may be really curious about what you do, or what we do as guys when the funds. So welcome, and thanks for taking the time. Thank you.

So why don’t you just do a quick introduction of yourself, just sort of give people an idea of who you are, and what your kind of typical day to day looks like, briefly, because we have a ton of time. But I think that helps people kind of get an idea for who it is and where you’re coming from. Heather, do you want to start out?

Heather 2:31
Sure, hi everybody. I’m Heather Menzie-May and I have a background in wilderness therapy originally was a guide, and then moved into becoming a wilderness therapist. And now I am a family parent coach with Sky’s the Limit Fund. At this point, I’m offering a lot of mentoring to the other coaches and support.

Brenda 2:52
Great, and Stephanie.

Stephanie 2:54
Hi I’m Stephanie Smith, I’m also a family parent coach with Sky’s the Limit Fund. And I do come from a wilderness background as well. I actually worked as a guide and an admissions counselor. So working with parents in that kind of very vital time of thinking through wilderness for their their family and their child. So really glad to be here.

Brenda 3:14
Awesome. Well, we’re excited. And if you are listening, if you had listened to the first sort of part one of this longer episode, I spoke with our other coaches earlier, and we talked about a few things. And so we’re sort of picking up on that. And, Heather, if you want to sort of just ground us in where we left off with that conversation. If you’re listening and you haven’t listened to that I would recommend going back because we’re taking a little bit of a journey with a family of what this could look like. So Heather, if you want to ground us in kind of where we left off, and then we’ll pick up from there.

Heather 3:49
Sure, absolutely. So really, the the other coaches talked about how hard the families have worked to get to this point. So during the wilderness therapy, treatment, there’s so much going on. Parents are super involved. The child, the young person is involved in their work in the wilderness. And so this transition back home is how do they carry those skills back home with them and be successful at home? In the parent. The coaches talked about the difference between psychotherapy and coaching, and the importance of creating structure when their young person comes home, because it’s a very different container that the in wilderness, it’s a super tight container, 24 hour support. And so when they transition home, there’s a lot that needs to go into setting them up for success at home. The coach has also talked about normalizing setbacks that are going to happen that’s very natural. So how to talk about that as a family and then move forward with a plan. So those are some of the key pieces that the coaches before us talked about.

Brenda 4:59
Great Yes, it is, it is just being an alumni. Wilderness parent myself, I know that feeling of you’re excited. And you know, you’ve learned a lot and your student or your child has learned a lot. And it’s also a little bit terrifying. And so it’s so awesome that you are there as really a guide, because you’ve seen all the different iterations of this can go. So I just love that we’re able to provide our parents with that wraparound support, and to have someone like us sort of as your anchor, they’re awesome. So our family’s now home, the young person has been home. And what does a progression typically look like? I know there is no one direct path and everybody’s journey is a little bit different. But what does this sort of look like from there? Once our winter young person, this could be a teenager, it could be a young adult? What what happens? Typically, what are you seeing?

Heather 6:05
Yeah so as I was talking about kind of this idea of the container is totally brought in, right from what they have experienced in the wilderness. And so they’re returning home, they’re getting back into friends, you know, seeing friends, going back to school, if we’re talking about a young adult, they’d be going on to college, possibly going into the workforce, just trying to trying to use the skills that they learned in wilderness to bring it back home, and how to how to address the challenges that they’re going to face. So as family members for this young person thinking about, what can that container look like, it’s going to be bigger, but it also still needs to be as tight as possible for the young person to really have success. So we work with families on writing out home agreements, and as much as we can we have the young person involved in that so that they’re feeling confident, this is what I need. This is what I learned in the wilderness. And so we’re putting that in place, we’re helping them hold boundaries, or learning how to hold boundaries with with their child. And thinking about, if we fall back into old patterns, how are we going to address that. So staying in community communication with each other around that and not being scared to say this feels really old, I want to do I want to do this differently with you, let’s apply some of these things that we we learned in in wilderness therapy, the structure at home is super important. And people being there, like a therapist setup ahead of time making sure they have that support, or a mentor activities that are going to be supportive for the young person, all of those things need to be set up in advance. So there’s a lot of work between like working with the wilderness therapist, the young person, and then who’s at who’s there in the home environment that’s going to be able to support them in being successful when they get there. So those are some of the key pieces of the progression is like who, you know, how, how are they landing in their life and moving forward? And then setbacks are gonna happen. So being able to discuss that as as a family. And I think, Stephanie, I’ll touch on this a little bit more thinking about, you know, just family, family gatherings meetings to talk about, how is it going together as a family, you know, where are we falling back? And how do we pick ourselves up and move forward?

Brenda 8:33
I was just gonna say, it sounds like you’re being really proactive, which I love. Because it you’re not just sort of leaving it to chance of like, okay, well, now that experience is done in wilderness. And now we’re sort of winging it, you’re really being intentional about saying, okay, here are some of the things you learned while you’re in wilderness. And for the parents who were not in wilderness, but also learning? How are we going to apply some of that. So I think that’s really helpful to know that there can still be some structure, like you said, even though it’s broader structure, it’s still there and in place and planned.

Heather 9:07
And some of that structure is within our curriculum. So we have some, we have full weeks of curriculum for the parents to kind of pour through and work with, and in there are wellness plans. So the student in the wilderness is already thinking ahead. What do I need to do when I get home that that’s going to help me feel good in my body and in my heart, in my mind, what do I need to do to make sure that I don’t fall back into those old patterns? And when I do, how do I pick myself up and move forward? So a lot of responsibility needs to be placed on the on the student, but also the family to support them and to be taken care of themselves as well. So the parents will find that support in our curriculum and and in us as coaches. We’ll walk them through that step by step. Awesome. Sorry, Stephanie.

Brenda 9:59
I I interrupted you, what were you gonna say?

Stephanie 10:02
I was just gonna say, I think a big piece of that process as we get like farther away from the wilderness experience is that so much is so much of the focus is actually on the child that there needs to be a reminder of focus on the parents or other siblings that are in the home, and how are they tending themselves? How are they showing up? How are they using their tools? So making that a part of the conversation as well, is just as important as what is the responsibility on the student that went through wilderness or went through treatment is returning home?

Brenda 10:36
Yeah, that’s a really good point. And I know that it’s every parent’s worry, I think, you know, we’re probably past the illusion that this is a situation like wilderness that just fixes young people, because we know that that’s not really true. But I think there’s also a hope that there’s been a lot of progress and that things are now going to continue on that upward trajectory. But I imagine and I know from personal experience, that that’s not always the case, there can be set setbacks, and people can, especially if you’re going back into the same school, potentially, that that you came out of the same group of friends, it can be really hard not to fall back into those old patterns. So when you see that, what kind of what conversations are you having with parents at that point?

Stephanie 11:29
Yeah, I think it goes back to what Heather shared is like naming it that it’s old, this feels old. And then Heather also mentioned the curriculum, I think there’s something nice and tangible about the curriculum is it’s something that it’s a guy that they can go to and look at, to help, you know, maybe sort out their thoughts helped maybe ground them in some way. And there’s tools in there of like, hey, what’s my, what’s an old behavior my child had that activated me, what did I used to do when that happened? And what do I want to do different? And so sometimes doing those homework assignments can help us plan for when this happens, because it will happen? I think that is probably the one thing we can guarantee is it probably will see an old behavior or an old pattern arise. And then I go to how is the how is the parents guardian family member checking in with themselves? How are they acknowledging what’s happening for them? Am I in Am I freaking out right now? How am I acknowledging that? How am I showing up in that way? And it’s okay, that’s okay, acknowledge it, validate it. But I think pressing pause and slowing down and taking a step back before you then jump in. Because what we’re looking for is we want to be responding to the situation, not reacting and reacting from that place of impulsive, it’s impulsive, it’s emotional. And we’re looking for responding, which is more thoughtful, more intentional. And you can only really do that if you know where you’re at, when these things are happening. And then how do you remain consistent and how you’re how you’re responding to that. And I go back to the tangible piece, revisit your home agreement that you have in place, that’s the importance, this is how this all ties in together, the importance of creating that structure so early on, will support these conversations and these challenges happening, and being able to connect and communicate about them.

Brenda 13:29
Yeah, I think a really important insight that you just mentioned, that we might not think about is it’s not that just our child and when I say child, that could be a 23 year old. So they, they can return to old patterns, but still, can we. And I think that’s a really important insight that you share that we contend to fall back into the yelling or the screaming or the fear the anxiety, instead of using the tools. It sounds like you you’re giving parents to say no, no, we have a way to deal with this. So I think that’s, that’s really important, because it’s not just it’s a whole system, right? Where we’re as a family, we’re all doing this together. So I love that you said that. And that there can be a fear too. I think that if we even speak about a setback or or you know, taking steps back, that we’re gonna make it happen. That sounds like what you’re doing is you really are getting ahead of it and say, Okay, let’s plan for this. What is going to happen if we have a setback either means the parent or you what are the tools that we’re going to use going back to the home plan sounds like a really good idea. So really, really good points that I think we just don’t think about, you know, because it can get like a big blur, like, oh my gosh, all of this is happening. But I love that there’s just some really specific and concrete tools that you put in place that a parent can go back to, and especially if there is I’m just thinking that it’s not in common that there is sometimes a crisis situation even that might come up. And how do you deal with that? Because it feels like that can be very different than just maybe a setback like, oh, gosh, you ended up at a party where there was a lot of alcohol, I would think that might be a setback versus a true crisis situation. So what does what does that look like?

Heather 15:21
Yeah, I think first and foremost, you know, if there is a crisis that’s occurring, we’re wanting to make sure that the family is, you know, they very well may be accustomed to that in their hometown, where do they go? Is this going to involve hospitalization? Is it at that level? Or do they just need to, you know, get in touch with the therapists there, but more so what I’m trying to explain is, is they really need a team, they’re in their hometown, for a crisis. So they need to know where to go to who to talk to increasing therapy, and also potentially psychiatric support. So thinking through like, what are the steps if we get to that place, and again in advance, and that’s something we’ll talk to them about, as we get to know the family? What if this happens, so how to respond, who to go to for support, and really our role as coaches is to then process that with them what happened, we’re not going to be the person that they’re going to call immediately, if there’s a crisis, they need to get, you know, get on boarded with this support in their area. But we’re there to really support what was this, like, what happened, what was leading up to this, and move through and really support the family and sharing their fears. This is a safe place to talk about your fear and overwhelm, versus sharing that directly with your young person. So being able to have have the space and then make a plan around it to strategize together of what needs to be put in place to help their young person move forward. That feels really important to

Brenda 17:00
Yeah, and in probably what I’m thinking is, just to know that a crisis doesn’t mean that all the work that was done in wilderness is just erased, that there is a lot of tools that still were learned a lot of knowledge, and it can feel like that. Sometimes when there is a major setback or crisis, where it’s like, oh, all that work. So is that part of your conversation to sort of try to put that in context?

Heather 17:34
Yeah absolutely. And we’ve heard so many families feel even with more minor things that come up, we feel like we’re back to square one. You know, did wilderness even work? So part of it is trusting that there is a lot of knowledge that this young person learned inside and that the parents also learned to move forward, and that there are going to be the setbacks that happen, and how do you discuss them as a family and start to move forward, trusting that inside there is a lot of work that’s been done, but they might not know how to get to access that yet. So you know, being hopeful, I think maintaining hope is incredibly important. And certainly the coaches are going to bring that to the families, but helping them then get back on track and understand what happened. How did I fall away from really myself? In the midst of that scary moment?

Stephanie 18:30
Yeah. And I it’s, it’s a funny thing to think about what what constitutes worked, you know, when you said, Did wilderness therapy work? Because it’s such a time of so much transition, so much change that, I think it’s, it’s, it would be better just to say, you know, what are the elements that we have learned along the way? Like, what have we picked up along the way, because there is no marker that is called worked, it worked. And so I think you’ve probably seen that, you know, you both have been in the wilderness field for a long time. And there, it just think, you know, if you’re new to this, I’m imagining somebody who’s listening. They might be wondering, well, how do I know if this is going to work? And I fell into that trap as well. And so what are some of the indicators? I guess, from your, your experience that would say, these are things that that show progress? Maybe not? That checkmark of Oh, yes, it worked. But is there progress along the way? And then I want to circle back because Stephanie, you said something about boundaries. And that’s one of my favorite topics, and I want to make sure we get to that. But I think it would be helpful if if you think through the families that you work with, what are some of those indicators of progress that that might tell a parent okay, it’s okay. We’re on track even though we’re seeing some setbacks. These are some of the things that say, Yeah, we’re seeing progress. I’m not throw that out to either one of you. Yeah, it feels,

It’s so individual to each family based on what their, you know, what their challenges were prior to wilderness. And I think the coaches talked about this in the previous session was, you know, structuring that home agreement, and what does that look like creating the container. And then the importance of check ins, I think, those check ins create those opportunities to continuously acknowledge the successes that you’ve had, as a family as an individual. And so then when it when, when and if a crisis happens, that’s something you can revisit of like, hey, like I these are the things that we acknowledged, prior to this, that were progress for us. And so that’s why and boundary talking about boundaries and the check ins, we can talk about that in a minute. But I do think that the check ins are so valuable to this process, because it’s keeps us a tune and aware to when patterns are changing, when we’re maybe experiencing something more escalated, more activated for us, and we can check in about it. And then I think that’s a great place to honor the progress that’s been made. So revisiting those those conversations that you had, after a crisis, I think can be, can be really invaluable.

Brenda 21:32
Yeah, you’ve just the the idea of keeping lines of communication open, sounds really important. Because it can be easy to just fall back into busyness and work and all of that. And then all of a sudden, we’re not talking about some of the progress that we have made and saying, hey, you know what, let’s celebrate that this is huge, that we’re having these conversations. Okay, so boundaries, I would love to just touch on that. Because I have to imagine that something that you spend quite a bit of time talking with parents about, because it is tricky when they get home and what you know what’s Okay, and what’s not. Okay, everybody’s changed a little bit. So maybe share some of your wisdom with us on that.

Stephanie 22:19
Yeah, boundaries, probably one of the more popular topics, by coaching sessions, it goes back to, you know, creating that container, so to speak, creating that structure from the very beginning. So boundaries will be tested, it’s just natural for young people they’re experimenting, it doesn’t mean that things are going awry. Oh, gosh. And having that container in place can be really helpful. So from the beginning scheduling of regular weekly check in, and the check in doesn’t necessarily have to be just about the home agreement. That sounds like drab and just exhausting for everybody is that there can be variety, what were your successes this week, what were your challenges, what’s an attribute that you like about yourself and somebody else that’s sitting in, you know, our circle here with us, you know, those kinds of things is just bringing some creativity to it, but making it a regular thing, and not something that you do at dinner time dinner times for just conversation connection in a different way. So having a specific time that you’re sitting down and connecting about progress. And that is the time to to revisit the home agreement. The other reason that I like the check in peace is that when boundaries are being pushed, you can say, you know, we have a check in on Sunday, let’s talk about it, then. And they have to remember to bring it they have to either write it down to remember it. And then the hope is is that reduces the amount of daily pushback that’s happening is like this is when we’re going to talk about it, we’ll revisit the home agreement, you know, at that time and see if it’s something we can adjust or not adjust. Like, I think that’s the other thing is sometimes with the home agreement, there’s a tendency to packet full of things, I get it. Like there’s so many things you want to be addressing. And I think it’s important for families to step back and, and take stock of their values. Like where are these boundaries? in the sense of what actually is most important to your family? Is them not using technology, the most important thing versus them cleaning their room. These are conversations I’ve had recently with a lot of families. And it’s like well, maybe I can let go of the cleaning the room you know, as long as they’re keeping the main area clean. But the important thing is technology, and then focusing on what you want to see. Not what you don’t want to see. I want to see you engage with the family more right versus I don’t want you to be on your phone. I want you to participate in dinner versus I don’t want you eating by yourself. So changing that language a little bit more more towards the positive, versus what you don’t want to see. So we want to focus on and also focus on things that are going right versus what’s not. So it’s a change in language and perspective, which is really hard, because our families are coming from places of challenge and difficulty, and they’re so just on the edge of their seat, like something’s gonna have like, something bad’s gonna happen. And so it’s a hard shift, but it takes so it’s being gentle and taking time.

Brenda 25:31
No, that’s great. I’d love the concept of focusing on what you do want to see because you’re right, as soon as we just go straight to the, I don’t want to see this. And I don’t wonder. And it’s, that doesn’t feel good to anybody to have kind of that negativity placed on you. So really focusing on what you do want to see I think is a great tip to keep things more on the positive. And also probably role modeling some of that what you want to see, so that it’s not just me saying, Well, you know, you need to be doing this, you need to be doing that, to make sure that we’re doing it ourselves. Heather, what are your thoughts on boundaries? And maybe what are some of the what are some of the more common ones that you guys see getting pushed when somebody comes back from wilderness?

Heather 26:24
Sure, well, I love where you were going with that, Brenda, because a big piece, I think is coming alongside your young person and being part of, you know, part part of the household cleaning and the chores and the things that parents were like, Why aren’t you doing this yet I told you to, you know, do the dishes and, you know, those those things that that can get really frustrating for families. The idea of not pointing fingers, but really coming alongside and teaming together and remembering that this is, this is a family this is a dynamic that they’re in this dance of being in a family and how to how to all be part of it, and include siblings as well. And just to touch back in with what Stephanie was saying about the family meetings, or the check ins, sometimes, you know, the siblings are like, I don’t know what happened in wilderness, like, I’m just I was just, you know, my, my brother was here, and then he was gone. And, and so incorporating, incorporating the sibling in to those activities feels really important. Because when we think back into the wilderness, that’s what was happening, there was a team out there cleaning up the dishes, hiking, you know, leading the leading the group in a conversation, everybody was involved. And so capturing that aliveness and bringing that back into the family system is super powerful. But we do see, like a lot of the you know, those power struggles happen around, you know, cleaning the house or looking for a job or, you know, it’s easy to just go head to head with that. And so slowing down and, you know, speaking to what the young person is wanting for themselves, like when they say I want to get my license, you know, but aren’t doing they’re not doing the steps to follow through with that. Reminding them like we see you wanting to move ahead. Like that’s, we want to support you in doing that, what are the steps that you see that you need to do to make that happen? Versus pointing out what they’re not doing.

Brenda 28:25
Yeah. And getting them involved in that it sounds really, you know, instead of just well, you need to do these 12 things before you can get your license, say, well, what are the things that you need to do to push that forward? So it is a shift in language and a little bit of a shift in our mindset. So before we wrap up just from the seat that you both sit in daily in talking with families, is there a word of encouragement or not advice? Because I hate advice, but I guess a word of encouragement that you would give to a family who’s considering wilderness or maybe they’re young persons there right now. And they’re anticipating the coming home process.

Stephanie 29:06
I guess the first thing that comes to mind for me is

Heather 29:08
actually what I was like, How long do we have?

Stephanie 29:12
I was just take a deep breath and press pause for a minute. Yeah, we’re just it’s just there’s so much happening, that it’s overwhelming. And so I think if you can just and then continue, sometimes it can be just really helpful to kind of slow the, as Heather was saying earlier, it’s just kind of slowing things down a little bit.

Heather 29:38
Yeah, yeah. And I’m just thinking about how much love there is in me and the importance of just, yeah, just tapping into that, that to and appreciating, you know, really acknowledging the work that everyone in the family system is doing and how disruptive this whole experience is right to the day to day but how powerful it can be and maintaining, you know, just maintaining that curiosity that love and that that hope. Yeah.

Brenda 30:11
Beautiful. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking a little time out to spend with us and sharing with families a little bit of the insider view that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise. So we really appreciate everything that you’re doing for our schedule and that fund families and just kind of Sherpa in them through the the experience. So glad you could join

Heather 30:33
Yeah, happy to be here. Thanks for having us.



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