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The Power of Therapeutic Camps for Children and Teens: Unlocking Growth and Healing

The Power of Therapeutic Camps for Children and Teens: Unlocking Growth and Healing

Over the past quarter century, the world of psychotherapeutic services has expanded with innovative options to accommodate the growing interest and need for behavioral therapy support for families. 

One of the most successful innovations has been the rise of therapeutic camps for children and teens. Providing specialized therapeutic care through therapeutic camps has become a proven way to diversify and augment your child’s therapeutic treatment program. 

What are therapeutic camps?

A therapeutic camp (sometimes called behavioral therapy camp) is a specific type of camp that caters to the exact therapeutic, physical, and psychological needs of your child or teen. At a therapeutic camp or behavioral therapy camp, your child or teen will experience a structured environment that has been curated to their exact needs, interests, abilities, and requirements. 

How are therapeutic camps different from regular camps?  

Regular camps prioritize a specific interest and are usually designed with a one-size-fits-all approach which often does not provide inclusive opportunities for youth in need of specialized care and attention. At regular camps, leadership is typically selected based on qualifications pertaining to the camp’s primary activity or theme.

Alternatively, therapeutic camps specialize in children and adolescents who have a specific mental, physical, or psychological healthcare need or condition. As a result, the camp leaders at qualifying therapeutic camps have specialized training specific to your child’s needs. At a therapeutic camp, children and teens are provided with safe opportunities to engage in meaningful experiences while simultaneously providing part-time therapeutic treatment and/or rehabilitation. 

Types of Therapeutic camps 

There are many different types of therapeutic camp, and they are usually categorized by duration, location, interest, and need:

1. Therapeutic Day Camps

At a therapeutic day camp, your child/teen will attend the camp for half or the entire day for a set number of days each week. This is a great option for parents who work and are looking for alternative childcare solutions besides daycare or babysitters.

2. Therapeutic Sleep Away Camps

Sleep away camps allow children with needs or troubled teens to sleep overnight in a supportive environment onsite at the therapeutic camp location (usually in a dorm, cabin, or tent). Sleep away camp duration varies, but typically a sleep away therapeutic camp lasts for a week or in some cases, the whole summer. Sleep away therapeutic camps are very popular, and there are many American Camp Association (ACA) accredited camps in most of the U.S. states as well as around the world.

3. Therapeutic Online Virtual Camps

Virtual Therapeutic Camps have increased in popularity in recent years and are offered online for partial day or full day duration. Virtual Therapeutic Camps are a good option for many parents who need a meaningful way to support their child’s needs but are not able to participate in onsite therapeutic camps.  They have become increasingly popular during the pandemic as many families consider creative alternatives to traditional camps.

4. Therapeutic Seasonal Camps

Some therapeutic camps (such as select after school programs) are only seasonally available. Therapeutic seasonal camps offer the child in need or troubled teen meaningful experiences in a safe and therapeutic environment that bolsters confidence through safe, social interactions and cognitive inspiration. Simultaneously, Therapeutic seasonal camps provide caregivers with some much-needed respite over fall, winter, spring, and summer breaks.

5. Niche Therapeutic Camps

Many therapeutic camps are custom conceptualized so that children and adolescents can focus on a specific interests and preferences such as:

  • Gender specific, non-gender, co-ed
  • Age groups
  • Academically gifted children
  • Marine biology
  • Linguistics, language, speech, etc.
  • Adventure (wilderness, international travel, etc.)
  • Arts (music, art, painting, etc.) 
  • Athletics, fitness, sports, etc.
  • Technology, STEM camps, etc.
  • Healthcare based (weight loss, general health, etc.)
  • Religious or faith based
  • Individual, sibling, or family camps

Specialized therapeutic camps geared towards niche behavioral circumstances and requirements such as autism and non-talking are also available, and there are even therapeutic camps to accommodate children, adolescents, and teens coping with emotional grief, adoption acclimation, eating disorders, medical diabetes, cerebral palsy, and other special needs. 

Benefits of Therapeutic camps 

There are many benefits to therapeutic camps, and many caregivers have incorporated therapeutic camps as part of their special needs or troubled child’s overall healthcare plan. Some of the most common benefits that both caregivers and children/adolescents report include: 

  • Positive peer interaction in a safe and structured environment
  • Confidence building through the independence of being away from caregivers
  • The delight of trying new things, learning, and having positive interactions in an environment curated for the child’s exact needs
  • Respite from the mental, emotional, and physical strains caregivers may experience with a special needs child or troubled/distressed teen 
  • Improved relational perceptions between caregiver and child following therapeutic camp completion
  • Stress relief for both caregiver and child
  • Allows caregivers to balance attention and spend more quality time with other children or in other relationships while child with the higher level of need is safely enjoying a therapeutic camp

 How to choose the RIGHT therapeutic camp: 

With nearly 4,000 ACA accredited camps and over 13,000 ACA accredited programs currently available, it is important to ensure that you choose the RIGHT one for you and your child to ensure both you and your child have a positive experience.

First, before vetting a therapeutic camp program, consider your child’s needs and preferences. Ask yourself what they would like or need at a therapeutic camp in order to have the safest and most positive experience possible. 

Next, it helps to decide the location. If there is a chance that you will have to pick up your child early due to sickness, injury, or emotional distress from homesickness, then you might choose a location within driving distance. 

Third, decide if a sleep away or overnight therapeutic camp is an option that you and your child are both amenable to. 

With the above three considerations in mind, you are ready to begin searching for the best therapeutic camp option for you and your child. 

  • STEP 1: Consider ratings, read online reviews, and make a list of options that you think might match your child’s specific needs well. 
  • STEP 2: Call and interview each camp administration office on your list. (See below for what questions to ask)
  • STEP 3:  Make site visits, attend therapeutic camp open houses, or take virtual tours.
  • STEP 4: Request referrals from other parents, schools, counselors, therapists, healthcare providers, etc.

Therapeutic camp considerations: What questions to ask therapeutic camp providers

Especially for onsite and overnight therapeutic camps, it is important to carefully vet each therapeutic camp opportunity to ensure that the camp can accommodate your child’s specific requirements.  

Refer to these questions during your therapeutic camp vetting process: 

  • What is the child to counselor ratio?
  • What is the therapeutic camp’s COVID-19 policy?
  • What is the therapeutic camp’s incident history? 
  • What training did the therapeutic camp counselors receive based on your child’s specific issue/need?
  • Who supervises the counselors? (IE: Who are the directors or “others” in chare and onsite? Will there be specific emergency medical professionals, safety officers, etc.)
  • What is the medical accessibility in the event of an emergency, injury, or allergic reaction?
  • How are medications dispensed if your child is on medication? Will there be a nurse or qualified staff onsite to administer medication?
  • How are food allergies and food sensitivities handled? Can the therapeutic camp accommodate specific dietary needs?
  • Are there accessibility accommodations for any physical disabilities?
  • What are the sleeping arrangements?
  • What is the discipline policy? And what are the rules related to parents being called for an early pickup? How will behavioral issues be handled (such as sexual acting out, stealing, lying, etc.)?
  • How will LGBTQ+ needs be handled, particularly if a child does not identify with a specific gender? How will these needs be accommodated in the sleeping arrangements?
  • What are the rules related to contact/communication between parent and child while at camp?
  • What is the daily schedule and activities involved?
  • What are the therapeutic component goals of the camp?
  • What is the cost, payment due dates, and payment plan options?
  • If it is an overnight camp, does the child have the option to attend as a day camper and not sleep over (due to anxiety, trauma, etc.)?
  • Does the camp have any accreditations such as the American Camp Association (ACA) accreditation? 
  • Can the therapeutic camp accommodate your child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP), if applicable?

How to prepare for a therapeutic camp

It is very important to help your child transition to a therapeutic day camp or sleep away camp in a way that is positive and helpful. If you have the opportunity, take your child with you to a camp open house or visit the campsite with them in advance, this will allow your child the opportunity to become familiar with the camp environment. Show your child the camp’s website which usually contain pictures and videos. Allow time for questions and idea acclimation and start small. Create a small picture book of family, pets and home and include encouraging notes for your child to take with them to camp.  If your child has never attended any camp before, consider starting with a day or a seasonal camp before working up to an overnight or extended duration camp.  

The bottom line

Therapeutic camps can provide tremendous value in your child’s overall mental health and development growth, and there are many types that specialize in a variety of niche needs. Many psychological studies over the past 25 years have concluded that therapeutic camps can have a very positive affect for both caregivers and children/teens in need. If you have a special needs child, a troubled teen, or simply a child in distress, therapeutic camps can be a wonderful way give your child the therapeutic support they need while providing them with the opportunity to create positive memories.

Need support? 

Visit www.KidsTherapyFinder.com and search our directory to find a therapist for your child today. 

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