Supporting Mental Health At HMI

A conversation with Emily Wheeler, HMI’s new school counselor.

What is your position at HMI? 

I am HMI’s new School Counselor, a position that was created this year to better support the mental health of students in the Summer Term, Semester, and Gap programs as well as the staff, faculty, and apprentices. In creating this position, HMI is acknowledging how important our mental health is and wanting to be more supportive both during and after a student’s time at HMI.

Tell us a little bit about yourself, what brought you to HMI? 

I grew up in the northeast corner of Vermont where my love of wild places began. Since that time, I have been working in experiential education with adolescents for over fifteen years in a variety of contexts including wilderness, environmental education, farming, and even another semester school based in California! When I graduated from my counseling psychology masters program in 2020, I decided that I was ready to get back on skis and be in the mountains, which prompted a move to Colorado. I connected with the HMI community this past spring and began working with HMI over the summer.

What do you love about your new job? 

I love a lot of things about my new job—that I am getting to experience life at 10,000 feet, that I am surrounded by other people who are excited about this work, and that I get to continue working with teens!  I also feel both grateful and proud of HMI as an institution for making a commitment to the emotional wellbeing of its community members. 

What do you hope to bring to the HMI community through this new position? 

I hope to bring an integrated perspective of how mental health is impacted by our past and present experiences and the importance of how we frame and process those experiences. The saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” was something I grew up hearing and can be prevalent in athletic and outdoor programs—but I could not disagree with it more. Research and experience has shown that both acute and ongoing stress can lead to very unhappy and unhealthy situations. The idea that the mind can be stronger than the body (the mind/body distinction) is actually false, afterall, they are part of one system! I appreciate that HMI’s programs are more holistic, with a focus on healthy relationships, mindfulness, ongoing reflection on how our experiences and our identities shape us, and critical analysis of how individuals in our community might be impacted differently by our programs. There is already a strong foundation in place to support the emotional wellbeing of our community members and I look forward to bringing new ideas to the table.