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Bearing Witness: A Conversation with Clinical Therapist Maura Nolan

FEATURED AUTHOR: Maura Nolan, LPC, ACMHC, NCC

Open Sky Wilderness Therapy is excited to welcome Clinical Therapist Maura Nolan, LPC, ACMHC, NCC to the clinical team! Maura has vast experience in crisis intervention and trauma-based psychotherapy. She received her bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Maryland, where she studied psychology and criminal forensics. She received her master’s degree in mental health and wellness from New York University. Get to know Maura in the Q&A below! 

What are you most passionate about in working with young people in a wilderness setting?

I love working with young people because of the formative nature of where they are in their lives. At this stage, we can address their issues early and act accordingly. I also appreciate the creativity, playfulness, and fun in working with teenagers. Because of their openness, it is easy to bring humor to the work that we do together. I also love incorporating the experiential nature of wilderness in treatment. In wilderness, challenges naturally come up, requiring students to address their issues in the moment. When a student is struggling to start a bow-drill fire, they are compelled to deal with their emotions in the moment, which offers a much richer experience than an in-office therapy situation. These circumstances are foundational in promoting change for students.

What inspired you to work at Open Sky?

A culmination of my family experience, work experience, and personal experience in nature led me to Open Sky. I grew up with a sister who had mental health issues and saw firsthand how this can affect a family. This experience led me to pursue a career in mental health with a focus on the family system as part of my studies. I spent several years in New York City working in large hospital systems, large private practices, and correctional settings, including Rikers Island. I was interested in finding something different from working within the four walls of an office and had heard about the powerful impacts of wilderness therapy. I have personal experience finding peace, solace, and healing in nature from my time exploring the woods where I grew up in Pennsylvania and taking solo backpacking trips when I was older. I did some research, learned about Open Sky, and here I am!

What is your treatment approach, and what modalities are part of this approach?

Specifically, I have been trained in rational emotive behavior therapy (REBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and internal family systems modalities. My treatment approach is solution-focused, trauma-informed, and holistic, with a particular emphasis on mind-body approaches to patient care. I was drawn to Open Sky because of the strong focus on engaging families in the therapeutic process. Working with the whole family system and not just the individual presenting allows for positive change within the larger family system.  

Solution-focused therapy is pivotal to the work I do at Open Sky. Looking at triggers, learning how to cope effectively, practicing how we can take care of basic and advanced needs, and understanding how the brain is wired is all part of my psychoeducational approach. In relation to the mind/body approach, our emotions get stored within us, yet many who are struggling rarely slow down enough to attune to emotions stuck in the body. I love using movement, dance, and yoga to help students release uncomfortable emotions. Also, I think it is important to be mindful of how trauma has affected the students Open Sky sees and learn how this impacts their approach to day-to-day life. I then try to create a safe space to delve into that as part of their treatment here.  

What do you believe is your strongest attribute as a therapist?

I believe that my ability to facilitate deep conversations with compassion and support is a strength. Doing this provides a space for the young people I work with to feel authentic, vulnerable, and genuine. Holding compassionate space allows me to build rapport with students and go a step deeper to encourage accountability or provide a necessary intervention. In crisis situations I have a unique ability to stay calm and collected and manage the situation as needed.
 

How do you cultivate relationships with Open Sky families?

Working with families is my favorite part of the work I do at Open Sky. In my time here I have had unique opportunities to interface with parents in a variety of ways, including facilitating Family Quests, leading Wellness Weekends, running the Parent Pathway call for family members of young adults, and providing parent coaching. I love facilitating parents in sharing feelings with one another, supporting each other, and practicing new skills. It is such a gift to bear witness to the work of parents, whether it is a Zoom call or watching a group unfold on Family Quest.  

What drew you to live and work in Southwest Colorado?

It is so beautiful here! I’ve always been drawn to Colorado and visited with family as a teenager. I also did a solo road trip in Colorado a couple years ago and was sold on the beauty of both the mountains and the desert. I knew I had to get out here. I love hiking and checking 14ers off my list, and I’ve recently taken up skiing.  

We hear you are very artistic. What are some of your creative interests?

I have a huge creative side. I love dancing (modern, lyrical, and ballet), writing poetry, painting, and singing. I train with a classical voice coach in New York City over Zoom. My mother managed an off-Broadway theater while I was growing up, so theater is big part of my life as well. 

FEATURED AUTHOR: Maura Nolan, LPC, ACMHC, NCC