There’s S’more to Learn about Music Therapy at Camp

By Sarah Murrin, MusicWorx Intern


Are you a student music therapist searching for the perfect summer job? Are you feeling insecure about your skillset going into internship? A camp counselor job just might be the perfect fit for you. They encompass a humbling array of responsibilities and facilitate growth and development in a fun, demanding, and rewarding environment.

Working as a camp counselor for the past two summers provided me with invaluable skills, experiences, and knowledge that I could not have gained exclusively in the music therapy setting. A notable highlight for me was discovering a need for music therapy in the camp setting, creating and presenting a budget proposal for a music therapy position, and watching the implementation process unfold over the course of a little under a year! I am thankful for my camp background as a music therapy intern; it has served me well.


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I had the pleasure of working at these two fabulous summer camps:

  • Camp Courageous of Iowa is a non-profit, year-round camp that serves 8,000+ individuals of all ages with disabilities each year. The summer season serves 40-100 campers/week for 12 weeks. Camper sessions include physical disabilities week, visual impairments week, brain injury week, muscular dystrophy association week, three adult week sessions, four youth week sessions, and a ‘Just-For-You’ session, where each camper is paired up with one or two camp counselors for individual attention all week.
  • Highbrook Lodge is a summer camp specifically designed for individuals of all ages with visual impairments. Infants, children, adults, and families with low vision to complete blindness can experience the benefits of camp activities like arts & crafts, music & drama, nature, outdoor living, sports & recreation, swimming, and more in a safe and accessible environment.


Camp Courageous – Year-round camp for people of all ages with disabilities

  • Mealtime assistance
    • We learned how to help campers select and eat their food by practicing on each other during training.
    • We gained more insight into the camper’s mealtime experience by eating pureed foods, like turkey and hamburger, and drinking thick-it water.
    • Staff members gained skills in using appropriate pacing and proportions with more practice.
  • Hygiene
    • Staff learned how to help campers brush their teeth by having someone brush ours first.
      • We practiced on each other not only to get feedback on areas missed/whatnot, but more importantly, to normalize the act of brushing someone else’s teeth.
    • We participated in training on showering and toileting.
      • I was nervous to help at first until I realized that campers were not necessarily uncomfortable. They needed me to be confident and knowledgeable so I could do a good job protecting them from skin rashes, etc.
      • I questioned how the knowledge and skills from this training would benefit me in music therapy until I realized how much time and energy goes into these routines each day for campers and caretakers alike.
  • Awareness of medical care
    • All staff members participated in a basic overview of camper medical routines:
      • We were taught how to decide which lift method would be most appropriate for campers (one-person, two-person, three-person, Hoyer lift)
      • We gained insight into what life is like for campers who utilize:
        • Different types of feeding tubes
        • CPAP and BiPAP machines
        • Different types of catheters
        • Different types of colostomies
        • High-frequency chest wall oscillation (shake vest)
        • Many more!
  • Safety precautions
    • We learned about systems in place for campers who could potentially harm themselves, fellow campers, or staff (behaviorally, sexually, and physically).
      • We were trained what to do when someone is having a seizure, how to safely restrain violent campers, and the importance of healthy sexuality for campers.

Highbrook Lodge – Summer camp for people of all ages with visual impairments

Professionals from the Cleveland Sight Center came in to train staff on general etiquette when addressing or working with people with visual impairments:

  • Announce when you are entering/leaving a room
    • This should not be be grandiose. Subtly describe where you are and what you’re doing so as not to be rude. Mention what others may be doing too, and include their names.
  • Mealtime etiquette
    • Using a clock face to describe the location of food on the plate (ie. “Becky, you have three pretzel sticks at 10 o’clock and mashed potatoes with gravy in the middle at 3 o’clock.”)
    • Experiential learning: Put on a blindfold and eat your meal without peeking. Try passing and serving food. Don’t make it too easy on yourself with your food choices. We practiced with green beans and spaghetti.
  • Guide dog protocols
    • When it is okay/not okay to pet guide dogs
      • Do not look into a guide dog’s eyes or attempt to pet them while they are in harness. Distractions put both the guide dog and their owner at risk.
    • Specifics of their training and responsibilities
  • Providing sighted guide
    • We learned the basics of providing sighted guide by experiencing it for ourselves using blindfolds and guiding each other around camp.
    • By using sighted guide myself, I learned very quickly just HOW much trust and the level of training is required for this to be safe for those with visual impairments.
    • Describe doorways by explaining which way the door is going to swing and at what direction
      • “I’m going to pull the door open toward us from left to right”
    • Describe changes in terrain (especially stairs and obstructions coming up!)
      • “We’re about to switch from concrete to grass. Let’s take a small step down right here.”
  • Language and instructions
    • We were offered chances to practice providing clear instructions for task completion. I’m still learning how to better offer clear instructions everyday.


Full immersion in the secluded camp setting for three months changed my outlook on the world just a bit. One full summer of reflection made me more appreciative and angry, too.

I am more appreciative of the beautiful intricacies of life that I learned from a community of people living with disabilities and individuals striving to support and learn from them:

    • Moving through life at a slower pace can be absolutely precious.
    • Don’t be afraid to engage with someone who appears different than you.
      • Taking the time to learn someone’s language is essential.
      • I learned the some of best strategies by sitting back and watching campers interact with each other.
        • Campers didn’t appear ashamed or discouraged by ineffective attempts at communicating with each other. Often, they’d keep trying new strategies until their new friend was able to respond.
        • Campers were typically excited to learn more about each other and their disabilities. These conversations were empowering, and they help me move past any discomfort that comes up when I meet someone that initially seems unlike anyone else I’ve met before

We are more alike than we are different

I am disappointed that this world was constructed for one type of person. Everyone that doesn’t fit in the typical mold has to battle unbelievable roadblocks. In both camp settings, I learned about simple adaptations that make all the difference:

  • Orange handrails line the sidewalks of Highbrook so campers can navigate independently across camp.
  • Camp Courageous provides wheelchair accessible options in spelunking (exploring caves), climbing trees, entering and exiting the swimming pool, riding bicycles, flying down the zipline, riding the train, and much more.
  • Using beeper balls can allow people with low vision to hear where the ball is, which allows participation in otherwise inaccessible recreational activities.
  • Taking breaks in a sensory room or having sensory toys ready to go can make busy schedules, transitions, and overwhelming situations reassuring and passable.


Working at Camp Courageous helped me learn the ins and outs of caretaking needs: daily rituals, medications, feeding, showering, toileting, and so much more. More importantly, I experienced firsthand how much of a toll, or lack thereof, those needs take on campers and caretakers.

Through 24-hour work days and demanding scenarios, I developed a new level of understanding and empathy for caretakers that I couldn’t have possibly gained in the music therapy setting. On nights when I had cabin duty (up to three times a week), I felt extremely grateful if I ended up having more than two hours of sleep. I learned how exhausting it is not only for the campers, but their caretakers to wake up three scheduled times a night to be turned, attend to toileting needs, and/or take medications.

During the 3rd week of the three-month summer camp, I was pushed to a breaking point I didn’t know I had when working with a camper who required constant attention and assistance. Toward the end of a full week, I was trying to encourage this camper to get dressed by himself before breakfast. I ended up radioing the camp director for assistance, and it took us two hours to help the camper get dressed and leave the cabin. I took a break and walked outside when I hit my breaking point because I was overly frustrated at myself and the situation. This experience helped me gain insight into:

  • My own boundaries
  • The toll this type of work can take on people that do this for a living
  • The limitless world of behavior management skills


When I worked at Camp Courageous, I was the one training to be a music therapist out of 40+ camp counselors. As a result, I soaked up information from my peers about their work in physical therapy, recreational therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, speech and language pathology, social work, among others. Each camp counselor brought unique strengths to our team. I learned about their philosophies, outlook, behavior management skills, downtime activities, rapport-building strategies, and more.

I was WAY out of my element in my first summer as a camp counselor, and that allowed me to absorb enormous amounts of knowledge for my professional and personal self.


An inevitable aspect of camp counselor jobs is that you get to discover and embrace many versions of yourself: the silly, goofy, responsible, resilient, creative, sensitive, energetic, patient, role model, and flexible self. AND SO MUCH MORE.  

For me, I learned more about my style of music therapy in my two summers as a camp counselor than I did in my two years of music therapy practica. I suspect this is a result of the nonstop, introspective nature of camp counseling. Alas, I entered internship with confidence in leading groups, a hefty toolkit for managing behaviors, and a boomin’ level of self-awareness.

Shaving Cream Fight

Campers pop paint-filled balloons in Arts & Crafts

Camper makeup lessons


I saved the best for last! Camp songs will stick with you for life. They are catchy, adaptable tunes that will serve you well with all populations.


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