DU Alumni / Uncategorized

Sarah Hunt, MSW 2006

Sara Hunt is a substance abuse therapist at New Day Counseling in Durango. She’s Navajo, Choctaw and Taos, and although she grew up on the Fort Defiance Navajo reservation in Arizona, she wasn’t raised with a traditional Native upbringing. Through DU’s Four Corners program, Hunt learned more about her heritage and about herself.

Substance abuse therapist Sara Hunt says a "wider social work perspective" helps her find resources for her clients. Photo by: Marc Piscotty

Substance abuse therapist Sara Hunt says a "wider social work perspective" helps her find resources for her clients. Photo: Marc Piscotty

“One of the things that surprised me was that during the classes you could see not only the professor, but our classroom. It was one of my best clinical tools because I realized that when I listen intently sometimes I cock my head or I nod. I never would have seen that if I hadn’t seen myself in the classroom,” Hunt says.

Generational or historical trauma and its impact on family structure and current functioning are among the topics covered in the Four Corners program. One of the tragedies of the boarding school era was that American Indians weren’t allowed to speak their native languages, Hunt explains. That created a gap between grandparents who spoke only in their native tongue and grandchildren and great grandchildren who could speak only English.

Hunt is painfully familiar with the language gap. Her grandparents, having been sent to boarding schools, decided not to teach their children the native language for fear they’d face discrimination.

“With my great grandmother, we had to take one of my aunts or family members to translate because my mom didn’t speak Navajo,” Hunt says.

And since Hunt never learned Navajo, she can’t teach the language to her children. But she can tell them about their great-great grandparents — a Navajo rug weaver and a traveling medicine man. She can tell them about growing up on the Navajo reservation, about being shunned by the Navajo students because she wasn’t dark enough and didn’t speak Navajo, and about being shunned by the white children because she wasn’t white.

“It’s an odd identity to sit with,” she says. “I think that my cultural outlook, ethnicity and cultural background are different from someone who grew up in a traditional home. I can offer some ideas on balancing that. We practice or honor it in different ways.”

Hunt says she picked DU’s program because it was comprehensive and the resulting degree is versatile. Her clients’ biggest concerns are addictions, but they may have other pressing problems. Housing and employment often are high on the priority list, so Hunt says she has to look “at more than just their substance-use issues.” She asks, “‘How do I help my clients get the things they need to stay sober?’

“That wider social work perspective is a huge advantage to helping find my clients resources,” Hunt says.

There are fewer resources in rural communities, Hunt says, but some of the region’s social workers were her DU classmates.

“A number of people I graduated with are here providing services that are useful for my clients,” she says.

She counsels 20-50 clients, many in group settings. The organization’s programs run three to 14 months, and Hunt says for some clients it’s “one of the few places that they feel welcome.”

Hunt says she loves what she’s doing, but if she decided to work on policy changes in Washington, she could.

“It’s very exciting that while I’m enjoying doing clinical work, the education and the degree from DU pretty much let the sky be the limit for me.”

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