In 1934, Robert A. Young, Ed.D. and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital created a therapeutic summer camp program as an integral part of their children’s psychiatric clinic. The camp, located on a rented site on Province Lake near the New Hampshire – Maine border, served clients of the clinic as well as children referred from other Boston-area agencies.
In addition to Dr. Young, who served as psychologist and camp Director, the staff included two psychotherapists, a psychiatrist/camp physician, and ten direct care counselors. The camp offered two sessions; one in July for boys and one in August for girls.
The treatment camp was “developed with a carefully conceived mental health focus rather than the more general benefits of recreational camping (Young, R.A., (1939) A Summer Camp as an Integral Part of a Psychiatric Clinic, Mental Hygiene, 23, 241-256).”
Dr. Young identified six primary groups of children expected to benefit from the program:
1. Children for whom therapy consists mainly of habit training and for whom camp affords an opportunity to learn and strengthen new patterns.
2. Children whose problems center around unsatisfactory relationships with others and for whom group living will help them modify these relationships.
3. Children who are too closely attached to individuals in their home and who need camp life to help them to become more independent.
4. Children whom it is desirable to observe 24 hours a day so that a clearer formulation of their problems may be made.
5. Children who need camp experiences to make them more aware of their problems and to help them understand how environmental factors are contributing to their difficulties.
6. Children who need the camp experience as a means of strengthening their relationship with their therapist.
After a temporary closure during World War II, Dr. Young, now a staff psychologist at Judge Baker Guidance Clinic and Assistant Director of the Manville Residence and School, reopened the camp. In the 1950s, the program rented an existing camp site on Baldpate Pond in Georgetown, Massachusetts (an area now known as the Camp Denison Conservation Area). Dr. Young and Dr. Richmond Holder, a child psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, co-directed the program which they renamed Camp Wediko.
Fun fact: Dr. Holder is the namesake for Wediko’s therapeutic playground!
The purpose of Camp Wediko was the “treatment of emotionally disturbed children in a camp setting, training of professional people in the dynamics and therapy of problem children, and research which will contribute to a better understanding of these children and their problems (Report to the Trustees of Guidance Camps Trust on the Treatment Camp, Summer, 1950. November 1, 1950).”
In addition to a focus on group therapy and psychodrama, four guiding principles defined the Wediko program.
1. A psychodynamic perspective is key to understanding the source of problem behaviors, which in turn is key to helping a child and helping staff members respond therapeutically to behaviors.
2. Permissiveness is beneficial; children need greater freedom for self-expression, without fear of adult retaliation or rejection.
3. Relationship is an essential component of the intervention; the relationship between the campers and the counselors as well as the child’s relationship to others, namely through identification with and membership in a cabin group.
4. Creating a “favorable mental set” helped set the stage for treatment so that each camper, prior to camp, understood that camp was not only designed to be enjoyable, but also to help the child work out problems and fears that brought him to his referral agency.
In the early 1950s, Camp Wediko served roughly thirty-five boys, ages seven to fourteen, seeing the largest referral numbers from Judge Baker Guidance Center, the Family Society of Greater Boston, and the Massachusetts General Hospital Psychiatric Clinic.
Dr. Young and Dr. Holder were frustrated by the hindered impact of a seasonal, short-term program. They believed an established organization would provide a source of year-round employment for professional staff and would furnish a headquarters for the camp. Adding to their woes were limitations with their current site; namely, it could not accommodate their growing program. They wanted a larger site that could accommodate the required staff as well as the girls they hoped to begin admitting. (Report to The Trustees of Guidance Camp Trust on The Treatment Camp, Summer 1951 submitted by Robert A. Young, Camp Director).
To address these concerns, they purchased 450 acres on Black Pond in Windsor, New Hampshire in 1954, where “Camp Wediko” remains today. The Wediko Summer Program is guided by some of the same principles and structures first introduced by Dr. Young; the importance of relationships, student freedom to become the best versions of themselves, training ground for emerging professionals, research to inform the field, play, and mental health treatment expertly integrated into a summer camp experience.
While it did not occur during his tenure, Wediko did carry out Dr. Young’s vision for year-round treatment and support for children and families. This expansion includes a year-round residential school for boys, as well as school and community-based supports in New York City public schools and the greater Boston area.