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News & Views - Feb, 1998 Issue #50

by: Kathryn Shannonhouse, Admissions Counselor
Reprinted from: SUWS NEWS, Fall 1997
Shoshone, Idaho

When considering length, a program must be long enough to accomplish the outcomes dictated at the start. The real force of quality is related to a program’s methodology, skill of implementation, and history of results. SUWS is a 21-day intervention program and has been treating adolescents since 1981. Our focus is to provide a safe and healthy placement for students who need a productive “time-out” period. While some may question the long-term therapeutic value of a three-week program, a recent study found that 87-90% of SUWS graduates were still doing well one year after their desert experience. Such results dispel the notion that to be effective, a therapeutic program must be lengthy. The results also attest to SUWS’ ability to significantly impact students and provide them with the necessary tools for continued growth and success. 

SUWS begins with specific outcomes in mind. When an application is received, it is reviewed to determine the appropriateness of the student for the program, and to ascertain if the desired outcomes are achievable. By pinpointing the presenting concerns and establishing agreed upon outcomes, it is possible to develop an initial therapeutic direction and focus, to modify this approach as the child does or does not respond, and to create a measure for determining a child’s readiness to graduate. 

Because of the limited time we have to work with students, SUWS is designed for intensity. Days are highly structured, and each activity is related metaphorically to larger, more personal objectives. SUWS uses the desert, the elements, weather, skill, and curriculum to motivate students to look into themselves and reevaluate their responsibility to self and family while asking them to understand their own personal “mission.” The unfamiliar, physically and emotionally demanding environment of the wilderness is crucial to eliciting responses from students that are often difficult to access. SUWS staff are able to reach a much deeper level in a short time and to begin the real therapeutic work sooner. 

SUWS’ 21-day program is also extremely effective in terms of timely intervention. Adolescent programs depart every Thursday, year-round; while the Youth Program for ages 11-13 goes out monthly. Responding and moving quickly makes it easier for students to relate their SUWS experience to prior events and they can hold themselves immediately accountable for their actions that brought them to SUWS. Accountability is a key component of the SUWS programs. The understanding and acceptance of personal responsibility for being here is the first step in a child’s desert journey.

The 21-day program also means that students will not lose an unacceptable amount of class time. Many schools accept journal and curriculum exercises for academic credits, further reducing the loss of scholastic hours. SUWS provides parents and professionals with the time, space, and recommendations to help make difficult placement decisions, and prepares the adolescents to accept and respect these decisions. 

At SUWS, we believe that success is best measured by the quality of the journey - and the journey does not conclude with the passage of 21 days. That is just the beginning. 

Copyright © 1998, Woodbury Reports, Inc. (This article may be reproduced without prior approval if the copyright notice and proper publication and author attribution accompanies the copy.)

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