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Consulting to summer camps isnít just a summer job

With camping season behind us, you might think the action in this area is over until next summer. But as the three clinicians we speak to below explain, this isnít necessarily a summer job at all. Camp directors are working on camp business year-round, and autumn is the time for consultants to begin marketing to them.

There are 12,000 summer camps and day camps in the United States, with 11 million children attending each year. Camp directors deal continually with mental health-related issues--including homesickness, bullying, and staff burnout. It shouldnít be surprising, then, that therapists are exploring the niche market possibilities.

ē  Pre-camp therapy for kids and families: Hanna Fogel, a Brookline, MA, therapist works with families who are uneasy about an upcoming camp experience. She explains: "People are investing a lot of time today--not just in finding the right camp for their child, but in making sure itís a successful experience...Parents have two main concerns. One is their childís safety. The other is that their child has emotional peace, and can enjoy camp in a relaxed way."

The second issue is the meat and potatoes of Fogelís camp-related work. "I deal with the emotional piece of it." Parents often push their kids into certain kinds of camps that may advance them academically or socially, and Fogel tries to help take some of the pressure off.

"When I talk to parents, I give them a short list--things they can do to ease the adjustment of the child to the camp. The little things to send with them, writing letters, things like that. Two or three sessions generally does the trick." She usually sees the parents and child separately, and then together as a family. The kids are likely to be preadolescent--11, 12 or 13.

During the pre-camp season--usually early spring through early summer--up to 15% of Fogelís practice is camp-oriented. This tends to be paid in cash--$130 per session. Insurance wonít pay for "pre-camp woes," of course, but she will take insurance when thereís a legitimate clinical diagnosis.

"Sometimes a parent may say, ĎI want to bring my child in because heís been acting a certain way over the last couple of weeks and I have no clue what itís about.í Then if summer camp issues happen to come up, thatís part of the process." For the year as a whole, Fogel averages 25 to 30 sessions a week, about half of which is paid out-of-pocket.

As far as marketing goes, Fogel stays in touch with school counselors and school psychologists. "I get a lot of referrals through them." She also gets some attention from the writing sheís done about camp issues. (See an example here:

ē  Staff training: Christopher Thurber is a school psychologist at Phillips Exeter Academy, the elite prep school in Exeter, NH. Early in his career he conducted research on homesickness and other topics of interest both to boarding schools and summer camps. It wasnít long before he was giving presentations at conferences set up by the American Camp Association (ACA).

"When I presented at these conferences, camp directors would come up and say, ĎWow, that was great. Can you come and train our staff?í Now Iíve worked directly with more than a hundred camps."

That keeps Thurber busy from Memorial Day through the Fourth of July. He does about four workshops per day on various topics, at $2,000 per day.

He precedes each session with a long chat with the camp director to find out what the campís specific needs are.

"Thereís a lot that they have to accomplish in their staff training week," he explains. "Everything from CPR to aspects of child development and leadership--and those last two are my specialities."

Thurberís standard workshop topics are: 1) helping campers cope with separation and homesickness; 2) helping camp counselors--who are typically aged 17 to 25--adjust their leadership styles; 3) how to promote good communication with kids at different ages; 4) the difference between safe and unsafe touch.

In addition to occasional speaking engagements for the Camp Association, Thurber promotes his training specialty with articles written for Camping Magazine, the trade publication for camp directors. "That way I share some of myself and what I do. Itís not like an ad--but it includes a little paragraph saying that I do staff trainings."

He also wrote a book called The Summercamp Handbook, aimed at helping parents select a camp. And he collaborated with the Camp Association on a DVD/CD set called "The Secret Ingredients for Summer Camp Success." He explains, "This is something camp directors buy to give to new camper families."

Word of mouth and his website do the rest: "One camp director may hear about me from another camp director, then go looking for me online. Heíll call and say, ĎOh, I heard youíre going to be in Maine in June, so I was wondering if you could do a day at our camp.í"

Who can do camp trainings? Anyone with a background in child development, or experience working with kids in school, camp, or clinical practice. Itís also important to know something about camps and how they work, Thurber adds.

A lively presentation style is essential: "Consultants are not invited back or referred to if their style is bland. Youíve got to keep it interesting." For example, he uses lots of audio-visual material and role playing. "I try to stay away from lectures as much as I can."

Contacts: 1) Hanna Fogel, Brookline, MA, email: fogel@; 2) Christopher Thurber, Exeter, NH,



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