Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Jewish Summer Camp by Monica Shapiro | Camp Ramah Northern California

Everything I Need to Know I Learned at Jewish Summer Camp by Monica Shapiro

Are you wondering what you will do this summer? Have you spent sleepless nights debating your options: either return to camp as a staff member or enter the working world and accept an internship or job in your professional area?  Perhaps this decision will be easier if you consider the ways in which a camp counselor experience will help you later in your professional and personal life.

As a therapist and as the Director of Camper Care I would like to share with you some skills a camp counselor or specialist will use everyday that will forever benefit you in a future professional job.  Dr. Marsha Linehan developed a form of therapeutic treatment called Dialectical Behavioral Skills (or DBT) used by many therapists to support positive behavioral changes. Some of these skills are essential in life and, as it happens, are skills you will use almost daily to support the success of a camper’s experience.

The first skill is that of “Effective Communication.”  Dr. Linehan uses the acronym DEAR MAN to remember the elements:

  • Describe the situation in a simple way. State only the facts without expressing your feelings or asking for anything.
  • Express how you’re feeling using “I” statements.
  • Assert your needs by asking for what you want in a clear and concise way.
  • Reinforce by making sure that the other person knows why they should grant your request.
  • Mindful. Remain focused on the task at hand.
  • Appear Confident. Regardless of how you feel on the inside, present yourself as confident.
  • Negotiate. Remember that you aren’t demanding anything, you’re asking for something.

Imagine as a camp counselor that you are need your camper to pack an overnight bag and your camper begins to argue and focus on prior situations; the camper becomes emotional and difficult to reason with.  Using the DEAR MAN skill, you clearly and concisely identify what is requested, focusing only on completing the task hand. Then years later in future job, you discover you’re reusing the skills you developed and practiced at camp!

The second DBT skill used by therapist is “Three States of Mind.”  Picture a Venn diagram in which the “Reasonable Mind” and the “Emotion Mind” overlap.  The Wise Mind is the coming together of, or the overlapping of, the Reasonable Mind and Emotional Mind.   It is at the point of overlap that the most effective communication occurs. As a camp counselor or other staff member you quickly focus on the task at hand, use this skill to de-escalate an emotional camper, and provide reasonable and rational thinking to support a decision made in the wise mind. Picture a camper who is signed up for an activity; the camper learns his or her friends are signed up for a different activity and the camper becomes emotional, beginning to cry and yell. As a camp counselor or specialist you quickly lower your voice, make direct eye contact, encourage the camper to breath; you listen to the camper and help that camper engage in a wise conversation. Using the “three states of mind technique” you understand that it is difficult to make a decision that will benefit the camper while in an emotional state. Without your assistance the camper may make a decision with negative consequence

So, when you are completing your pros and cons list about returning to camp, take a moment and think about the qualities of a good employee. Two qualities of a good employee are effective communication and the ability to make logical and clear decisions even in times of stress or crisis. The very qualities mastered almost daily as a camp counselor.