Founded in 1996, SunHawk Academy is a 74-bed program licensed as a residential treatment program. The program is located in a large self-contained building located in a commercial section of St. George, UT.
The program head is Ben Harris, former national director of Alternative Youth Adventures (AYA, formerly Aspen Youth Adventures). As director of AYA, Ben was in charge of programs in Utah, Montana, Colorado and South Carolina. Ben also has considerable experience in outpatient and residential programs. I met with the Program Director, Reene Lyman, and Clinical Director, Joe West, LCSW. Joe's experience includes operating dual-diagnostic outpatient programs as well as dual diagnosis programs for group homes.
My most striking impression is how excited the two individuals I met with were about the program's development over the past couple of years. The staff's excitement over the program's growth revolves around the hiring and training of staff as mentors to the students. The mentors participate in all groups and other activities, assuring that treatment goes on throughout the evening and weekends. The program follows the 12-Step model very closely and encompasses all treatment issues that the students have, combining substance abuse with mental health issues.
SunHawk treats adolescents with substance abuse disorders, but it is also a dual diagnosis program that treats mental health and family issues as well as learning differences. The specialty of substance abuse treatment is a significant emphasis for SunHawk. Although SunHawk takes students with a wide range of diagnoses, they avoid students with an active eating disorder or a person who has any significant conduct disorder problems. Joe, the clinical director, said SunHawk is incorporating evidence-based programming and integrating it into the cognitive behavioral and psycho-educational approaches used by their seven clinicians. Additionally, the therapists break the traditional group format by participating in several other group activities with the students such as intramurals and high and low challenge courses.
The program no longer accepts students without substance abuse issues; the focus is on understanding and treating all issues and helping students understand the interplay between mental health and substance abuse problems. Students participate in individual, group, family and recreational therapies as well as 12-Step groups and meditation groups in the morning and evening. The staffing pattern required by licensing is four students to one staff during the day and eight students to one staff during the evening shift. Fifty percent of SunHawk's staff is in recovery.
SunHawk uses a condensed five-level system that closely follows the 12-Step format. This level system is unique in that it requires students to go before the student council to formally request moving up in the levels, thus increasing the positive influence of the peer group.
While visiting SunHawk, I spent time with a class of five boys, and when I asked them what part of the program they felt was helpful to them, the resounding response was, "The Therapists!" The boys added that they had learned a lot about themselves through the seminars. Before graduation, the students attend three different seminars, awakening, awareness and purpose. I believe the seminars directly facilitate the positive development of relationships between students and staff. SunHawk expects the parents to complete two of the seminars because they serve as a tool in the development of a common language between the parents, staff and students. The boys were energetic and obviously having fun telling me about the school.
As we moved on to a classroom of girls, the atmosphere was positive and friendly, with the girls quickly engaging me in conversation. SunHawk believes its strengths include the substance abuse focus, shorter lengths of stay and its ability to assist students in making up credits. I have used SunHawk for these very reasons, and have found it very helpful for many students 17.5 years of age. Placing a student in a wilderness program to address primary care issues and transferring him/ her to SunHawk for another three to four months, not only helps the student earn credits, but also reinforces his/ her potential for continued sobriety.
February 18, 2007
Just of interest...our daughter went to Sunhawk in 2001, when she was in deep trouble and danger to herself. They literally saved her (and us as a family). Tom Eno was her therapist and his straight-forward, no -nonsense appproach was perfect for our daughter and us. I don't know if he's still there or not, but my message, I guess, is that Sunhawk was outstanding (I also had a son at CEDU in north Idaho -- not so good by comparison.
I now work in the juvenile corrections field and am sometimes asked about private programs. While I can't make recommendations in particular, I do offer my ownn personal experiences.
Sunhawk is a good program. BTW, my daughter is now 22, married and has a baby due May 2.