Fear Facers is a different kind of summer camp where, instead of playing kickball with normal bases, kids get a home run by squishing into pools of spaghetti, chocolate syrup and fake vomit.
Fear Facers Summer Camp, organized by UF’s Center for OCD, Anxiety & Related Disorders (COARD), is for children ranging from ages 7 to 15 with phobias, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. The camp is an alternative way for children to receive therapy and challenge themselves to overcome daily struggles.
Last year, the program had 11 campers. This year, 17 campers participated in the first session at Kanapaha Veterans Memorial Park on June 18. The second session will run from July 30 to August 3 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The increase in participants allowed UF Health to use Fear Facers for follow-up research in an ongoing study in OCD and anxiety, according to Dr. Joseph McNamara.
McNamara, clinical director of Fear Facers, said the new research component of the camp tracks how effectively the treatments are for kids and how effectively the counselors are trained in treating them. He said activities at the camp imitate what the kids’ fears look like and how to overcome them.
“We’ve had an extensive program for treating OCD for over 20 years at the University of Florida,” McNamara said. “But now, rather than just a therapy session with somebody every day, we’re getting the therapy session every day here, but then the children are here for another six hours after that where we can do fun things that are also really good challenges for them.”
Each person’s anxieties manifest in unique ways, and counselors uses group activities as well as individual therapy sessions to help each child specifically.
Some children have social anxiety, some fear spiders or separation from loved ones, some struggle with counting while others have concerns with symmetry, McNamara said.
Robyn Nelson, assistant administrative director of COARD, said campers attend individual therapy sessions each morning where they discuss fears and anxieties with their therapist. Therapists then help kids face these fears in activities throughout the week.
“We do some group sessions, so that the kids get to hear what each other are struggling with, so they can provide that encouragement they need to just keep going,” Nelson said. “It also helps them to see their counselor and therapist in a different way and to see them outside of their office.”
Lacie Lazaroe, Fear Facers outreach director and therapist, said the second annual Fear Facers is creating possible alternatives to traditional methods of anxiety and OCD treatment for health care providers, researchers and clinicians.
“The school year is really hectic for kids,” Lazaroe said. “So at camp, during the summer, maybe they’re more free, and they have time to be able to engage in this kind of stuff. I think it’s good to come up with alternative modes of treatment delivery.”
Not only do the kids play hot potato with slime and have fake vomit water-balloon fights, but they share their stories and complete assignments at home to practice what they have learned about unhealthy anxieties and are prepared for future situations.
“I can not be sure of something, but I’m going to put in the effort. And it may or may not work out right, but I’m putting in the effort and accepting some of that unknown,” McNamara said on behalf of the kids. “Because so many different things are unknown in life.”