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What Are Therapeutic Camps?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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Therapeutic camps provide a structured environment for adults and children with physical or psychological needs. The setting provides opportunities to work on specific issues, develop more skills, and experience more emotional balance. Campers can take their experiences with them when they leave and integrate them into their daily lives. A number of formats are available, including boarding and day camps, wilderness camps, and themed camps like horse camp.

Some therapeutic camps focus on people with psychological disorders or emotional distress. For example, troubled teens with behavioral problems might attend a wilderness camp. At camp, people learn to cooperate with each other on tasks. They may attend group and solo therapy sessions, work on activities with other campers, and develop social skills. These can be useful in the outside world, where campers may experience benefits like better emotional regulation in response to stressful situations.

Camps for people with physical and/or intellectual disabilities are also available. Some create a safe environment where people can react with people who share their disabilities and experiences. For example, a camp for blind and low-vision people might be a pleasant experience for campers used to navigating a world designed for sighted people. Other therapeutic camps might focus on intellectual disabilities like Down syndrome, or people with mobility impairments who might want to participate in facilitated physical activities like riding therapy.

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Some camps have a highly organized and structured schedule, which can be helpful for campers like people with brain injuries who have difficulty organizing tasks. Other therapeutic camps may be more free-form to facilitate the exercise of choice among attendees. Teens at a camp for people with emotional problems, for example, might be able to choose between multiple activities in each activity block, like attending a private therapy session, working on art projects, or handling animals. Information about camp programming is readily available and campers may attend an assessment session to determine if a camp will meet their needs and allow counselors to collect information to help them customize care.

Attending a therapeutic camp can increase self confidence for attendees. Such camps can also act as a respite care service for families, although they are not explicitly designed for this purpose. People struggling with caregiving may find it helpful to have access to a day or boarding camp to provide a break. Therapeutic camps can reduce the risk of caregiver burnout and may help people avoid difficult choices like institutionalizing family members because they are too exhausted to continue providing the level of care they may need.

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