The Barretstown experience

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Kearney, Peter James
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University College Cork
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The thesis was prompted by a simple clinical observation. Seriously ill children returning from Barretstown Holiday Camp appeared changed. Barretstown ‘magic’ confuses the issue but indicates real and clinically evident transformations. The project sought to understand the experience and place it in a recognisable framework. The data was collected by interviews, observations as camp Paediatrician, memberships of the Child Advisory Committee and the Association’s criteria assessment team, participation in volunteer training and visits to international camps. The research presents evidence that the concepts of rite of passage, graceful mimesis and salutogenesis clarify operative social processes. The passage stages of separation, transition and reaggregation can be identified. Passage rites reorder personal and social upsets to fresh arrangements that facilitate change. Interviews confirm the reordering impact of achievements in play activities. These are challenging experiences closely guided by their Masters of Ceremonies – the Caras. The Cara/camper relationship is crucial and compatible with Girard’s theory of external mimesis. Visits to four camps confirm an inspirational process in contrast to a reported camp with a predetermined formative influence. Charismatic Caras/Councillors inspire playful mimesis and salutogenic transformations. Health is more than correction of pathogenic deficits and restoration of homeostasis. Salutogenic health promotes heterostasis – a desire for optimal experiences underpinned by a sense of coherence and adequate resources. Some evidence is presented that children have an improved sense of coherence after camp, which enables them to cope better with the demands of ill health. The camps enable sick children to up regulate risk taking towards more heterostatic experiences rather than down regulate their expectations. The heterostatic impulse can explain the disability paradox of good quality of life in the presence of severe disability. The salutogenic power of Barretstown can trump the pathogenic effects of childhood cancer and other serious illnesses.
Rite of passage , Childhood cancer , Salutogenesis , Heterostasis
Kearney, P.J. 2011. The Barretstown experience. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.