Barretstown’s unique model of Therapeutic Recreation is taken from elements of a number of disciplines including; Occupational Therapy, Psychology, Recreational Therapy, Adventure Based Counselling and Education. At it’s simplest Therapeutic Recreation is all about giving control back to campers.

Barretstown offers a child centred programme designed to meet the individual needs of each child/family member. The goal is to ensure that individuals gain, or regain, skills and an understanding of their own abilities that can enable them to make informed choices in other aspects of their lives. The loss of control that many children and their families experience as a result of a serious illness can gradually erode confidence, diminish self-esteem, body image and coping skills.

By using Therapeutic Recreation we have the ability to empower and encourage each individual to step out of their comfort zone and begin to re-build their confidence, trust and self-esteem and discover something new about themselves and their ability. Through careful guidance and encouragement from staff and each other, they learn to challenge themselves, to try something new in a safe, fun and supportive environment. These challenges are met with success as Therapeutic Recreation is experiential learning through fun.

Therapeutic Recreation Model

This programme is backed by the medical world which helps children affected by serious illness regain their confidence and self-esteem and which has become internationally recognised as having a profound and positive impact on their lives. Therapeutic Recreation is Intentional Programming in a fun manner.
The aim of each activity at Barretstown is the process of trying something new rather than the end result i.e. archery is not about hitting a bullseye/fishing is not about catching a fish.


Understanding the individual nature of challenges is an integral part of planning and facilitating activities. Personal challenge comes from within. There are many different zones used in Barretstown to help understand the range of challenge for an individual.

  • Comfort Zone (comfortable in activity)
  • Stretch Zone (Comfortable enough to try the activity and will learn something new about themselves as they are not overly comfortable)
  • Panic Zone (very stressed by the activity and panicked, this is where we want no one to be in Barretstown).

“Challenge By Choice”

It is important to recognise that each person is different and individual and has different levels of ability and comfort. We set attainable individualised challenges suitable to each individual to help them succeed. Allowing each person to choose enables them to control the pace at which they progress. In this way tasks and challenges never become daunting because we break tasks into a series of simple steps, this way they are empowered to move forward with success, each small success providing the inspiration and motivation for the next, in turn enhancing confidence and self-esteem and trust. The important thing is that each camper challenges themselves in a way that is physically and emotionally safe and that they are supported in their challenges. Challenge by Choice does not mean that a camper can choose whether they will be involved at all in an activity but rather how they will be involved.

We don’t expect every camper to do every activity. Our expectation is that every camper participates in the programme, each in their own way.


Every challenge at Barretstown is met with success.
We guarantee success by;

  • Creating a physically and emotionally safe environment.
  • Adapting activities.
  • Removing obstacles of participation e.g. non-verbal communication and effective translation
  • Being observant.
  • Communicating with your team mates/Co-Cara’s.
  • Seeking support whenever needed.
  • Creating an atmosphere of no competition.
  • Role-modelling all Barretstown policies & procedures.
  • Ensuring a high camper to staff ratio {2 : 1}


Positive Labeling
A tool we use at Barretstown to highlight individual success during an activity is positive labelling. If somebody was to ask you to describe yourself what words would you use? Would you say things like I’m musical, funny, energetic, patient, encouraging or artistic? Would you consider yourself to be brave, helpful, supportive or even creative? These are all examples of positive labels. We are given positive labels by peers, co-workers, employers, friends, teachers etc. These labels have come from people we admire and who’s opinion we value. The experiences we have had in the past have also enabled us to gather some of these labels and internalise them. Now we use them as characteristics to describe ourselves. That is essentially what we are trying to do for the campers. We are not giving them new characteristics, we are simply highlighting the ones they already have so they can realise they have them. To campers, camp staff have the best jobs in the world. We are role models for them and the labels we give campers will carry a huge amount of importance. When campers leave camp they can go home with all these labels and a new self-confidence. They have realised their skills and characteristics and now you will see a change in their perception and attitudes.

Examples are:

That artwork is amazing; could you show me how you made that?”

“Great teamwork, it really is so cool to see you help and encourage your friends, they really look up to you”.

“Nice work with your pottery, your hard work and patience really paid off, would you like to try making another? Your cara’s/family/friends will be so proud of you”.


Reflection is making a success a positive experience in a child’s mind. Reflection is time set aside to internalise personal success and associated feelings.

Reflection is clearly evident in our schedule through with structured and unstructured reflection times. Reflection is key to self discovery and increased self confidence.
It is also an important tool used to link experiences at camp to real life outside of camp.

Our role here is to discuss with campers the successes they have had and validate them. We want to make campers aware that it was ‘they’ who succeeded and ‘they’ who accomplished something.
Structured activities of de-briefs, Cottage Chat and Teen Talk are for promoting positive group interaction and team work. Unstructured reflection takes place by initiating conversations whilst moving from one activity to the next, sharing magic moments with co-caras or across the dining hall table. Reflection can happen anywhere and everywhere on camp.


Discovery like all aspects of Therapeutic Recreation is personal and individual. Barretstown is an environment where children and adults learn something new about themselves and their abilities.

Campers can go home and tell their peers and family members that, at Barretstown, they realised they were musical in the cabaret or that they were brave and courageous climbing the ropes course. Here is where the discovery lies. Discovery is the one part of therapeutic recreation which may not happen at camp. You cannot put a time limit on discovering something about yourself. The same applies to campers.

Hopefully, you will see camper self esteem growing. You will see a change in confidence from arrival day to departure day. If you don’t, that’s ok. Simply by going through the other three steps; discovery is inevitable. All the feedback that has been gathered from parents and guardians telling Barretstown that a different child returned home from camp then the child that left for camp is proof.


Each and every activity at Barretstown is centred on fun! Fun can be adapted for every camper. Camp is fun!!! Incorporating FUN into activities is crucial in ensuring campers are involved and engaged. Be as random, wild and weird as possible to keep things fun and unexpected!!

Therapeutic Recreation is experiential learning through fun. The more someone is engaged and enthused about an activity the more likely they are to participate and be open to a challenge. Therefore, as staff, it is important to role model the positive, supportive culture of Barretstown and guide participants through enthusiasm and fun!
Remember that fun can be a high or low energy activity and it is our role to adapt to the energy levels of the group we are attached to whenever needed.

Therapeutic Recreation Programme Impact

After taking part in one of our programmes, children go home with more confidence, self-esteem and more importantly, the reassurance that happiness is not just for healthy children.

Barretstown adopts a holistic approach to its programme recognising the impact of serious illness on the family. That’s why we also run sessions for siblings, for the whole family and bereavement programmes.