Conquering More Than the Usual Worries at Summer Camp

“We all have occasional fears that go away without treatment, like being afraid of the dark, or the fear that someone is going to break into your house and kill you,” Dr. Mathews said. “O.C.D. is not the existence of these illogical thoughts, it is the inability to suppress them. The brain doesn’t shut down these thoughts, so if the thoughts keep coming back, your brain starts signaling that I might really need to worry about this.”

Well-intentioned parents often try to help calm their children’s fears by helping them avoid the triggers — such as allowing a child who is afraid of the dark to sleep with a lamp on — but experts say that exposure and response prevention, a form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), is a better way of learning to deal with the fear.

The camp days are divided into taking part in group activities and one-on-one therapy and counseling. Each camper is assigned a therapist and a counselor for the week. The counselors stay with their campers the entire day.

The families pay a registration fee of $200, which helps to cover the costs of the space and supplies. The campers’ insurance is billed for therapy; the camp counselors, who are mostly undergraduate students, volunteer their time.

On the first day of camp, the children come up with “fear hierarchies” with their therapists, which is a standard treatment for O.C.D., Dr. Mathews said.

“You write down all the fears you have and then you rate them from 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, meaning there is no way you are going to make me do that,” Dr. Mathews said.

The children who attend the camp often have several fears they are trying to overcome.

Ella said she is terrified of tornadoes and getting sick. She and her mother, Katie, traveled from their home in Nashville to attend therapy sessions in the clinic, and to attend the June session of the camp, which had been recommended to them by one of Ella’s therapists.