Each year, B4U-ACT holds a workshop in Maryland for mental health professionals (MHPs) and minor-attracted persons (MAPs). Led by members of both groups, the goals of the workshops are to promote communication and mutual understanding, and to raise awareness of various issues related to the attraction to minors.
Each workshop has a particular focus. The first one, held in the spring of 2008, concentrated on the barriers to communication between MHPs and MAPs and the consequences of these barriers. The second one focused on the professional and popular language that is used to discuss MAPs, and how it can be a barrier to communication and to access to mental health services. The third workshop addressed issues related to therapy with MAPs. The fourth workshop, held in the fall of 2009, focused on stigma and fear and their harmful consequences.
Summaries of Past Workshops:
Shifting the Treatment Paradigm
Protecting Children and Meeting the Broader Needs of Minor-Attracted Persons
Friday, March 30, 2012, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Fourteen mental health professionals, eleven graduate students, and a record thirteen minor-attracted people assembled in Baltimore, Maryland for B4U-ACT's 6th annual workshop. After a brief introductory exercise, participants divided into small groups and spent the early morning identifying what MAPs and mental health practitioners/students required of one another to foster stronger, more trustworthy cross-community alliances, and what resources each participant brought to the table to serve these efforts.
The morning session concluded with a riveting presentation by Spencer Kaplan, a 28-year-old MAP whose ten year quest for compassionate therapy spoke to the unrequited mental health needs of untold numbers of minor-attracted people. With searing candor, surprising humor, and a thoughtfully-woven montage of photographs and video footage, Kaplan retraced his early teen years as he grappled in isolation with the implications of a tragically inconvenient sexual attraction to younger boys. He recounted his high school/early college years during which he strove to graduate while battling unsuccessfully treated depression. He described frequently turning to marijuana in an attempt to stave off the metamorphosis from "Upstanding Citizen" to the "Child Molester" he was convinced was only a matter of time -- a vicious cycle that culminated in a marijuana-induced psychosis and the first of many botched clinical consultations.
As Kaplan described bouncing from therapist to therapist in search of a "good fit," he remarked how easily he could've imagined thriving in a doctor/patient relationship with most any of the clinicians he'd contacted had the issue of minor-attraction not revealed a virtually unanimous therapeutic blind-spot, prompting otherwise compassionate professionals to turn instantaneously cold and suspicious, at times volunteering lengthy admonitions which served only to reinforce Kaplan's anxieties. Despite his ability to self-actualize (i.e., embrace himself as a decent person) in the absence of encouragement from family members or the mental health community, Spencer persisted in his quest for non-adversarial therapy to cope with recurrent bouts of anxiety and depression, noting how his growing confidence in his self-image proved especially unnerving for therapists. He explained in exasperation that during his stay for clinical depression in one of the most reputable psychiatric institutions in the U.S., he was given an ultimatum -- submit to sex offender risk assessment or immediately leave the program -- despite the fact he'd never committed a sexual offense. Refusing to be treated as criminally suspect, Spencer declined and was expelled from the program. Spencer's run-ins with treatment providers illustrated an alarming pattern: That even highly trained mental health professionals were woefully ill-equipped to prioritize the needs of MAPs over their own culturally instilled, yet scientifically unfounded fears.
After a tumultuous journey lasting into his late twenties, Kaplan returned to college to receive his B.S. in -- interestingly enough -- psychology; he even found a therapist who was a good fit. He has since devoted much of his spare time to educating the public about the mental health needs of law-abiding minor-attracted people. Kaplan's testimony, alongside the twelve other MAPs present to volunteer personal anecdotes, confirmed what B4U-ACT workshops have consistently illustrated for six years running: An MAP's strongest case against the characterizations that disenfranchise him turns out most frequently to be his own story.
After lunch, attendees reconvened for a comprehensive analysis of the Good Lives Model, a "strengths-based" alternative to traditional relapse prevention programs for people who've committed sexual offenses, presented by Kevin McCamant, Ph.D., Program Coordinator for the Special Offenders Clinic at the University of Maryland Medical School. Where standard cognitive/behavioral models for rehabilitation tend to fixate on patients' negative social impact, eclipsing basic human rights as a consequence of bad behavior, the Good Lives Model, as McCamant explained it, stresses the essential humanity of the client, re-framing "bad behavior" as impractical responses to fundamental human needs and desires, and assisting patients to draw on personal strengths to appropriately channel those responses. While some participants praised this holistic approach for emphasizing mindfulness over "deviance" and deemed the implementation of the Good Lives Model by a handful of clinics in the U.S. and abroad as evidence of a shifting treatment paradigm, others found it difficult to appreciate the Model's progressive aspects given the program's forensic underpinnings, drawing attention to the Model's seemingly irreconcilable contradiction: Appearing patient-centered on its face, all the while serving a court-mandated mind-set which has historically positioned the parolee as the ailment and society as the client.
McCamant's analysis ignited a much broader discussion about the drawbacks of the current treatment paradigm and how to overcome them. Several MAPs shared misgivings about whether current treatment protocol truly permits therapists to treat their issues -- sexual or otherwise -- without bypassing their immediate needs for the sake of some imagined risk they pose to the public good, and implored all mental health professionals present to utilize the day's positive interactions with MAPs to help manage future anxieties over counseling such people. The mental health contingency, in turn, resolved to appraise their own training/education for biases transferred from clinical supervisors which threaten to block empathy in these situations. In acknowledging the risk of collegial excommunication posed to clinicians who promote the well-being of minor-attracted clients, practitioners converged on the idea of forming a professional support network to assist them in broaching the "unspeakable" with colleagues and the general public. MAPs and mental health professionals mutually noted how the criminal justice system's monopolization of MAP-oriented programs restricts access to services in advance of crisis situations, placing emotionally vulnerable MAPs at risk to violate the law or engage in self-destructive behaviors. Participants unanimously agreed that compassionate, readily accessible mental health services are far more equipped to cultivate a proactive spirit amongst prospective clients than reactionary forensic programs, thus protecting the welfare of MAPs and children alike. While most MAPs present had yet to personally realize the benefits of a compassionate therapeutic relationship, many were emboldened by their own abilities to shift the emotional and intellectual paradigms of attending clinicians and students simply by being themselves, and appreciated being given the confidence to continue serving as their own advocates.
Attendees lingered in discussions for nearly three hours after the workshop formally adjourned, generating ample objectives for future conferences.
Valuing Our Stories
Growing Up as Minor-Attracted Persons
November 19, 2010, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Eighteen professionals, educators, and graduate students in the social sciences and mental health, and twelve minor-attracted people (MAPs) participated in B4U-ACT’s fifth workshop, devoted to telling the personal stories of both minor-attracted and non-minor-attracted participants. Goals included helping those in the social and behavioral sciences to understand MAPs' struggles to understand themselves and their place in society, introducing them to new areas of practice and research, and helping participants to recognize the strengths that all groups in attendance bring to the situation. Probably the most important goal, however, was for participants to get to know the human subjects at the heart of complicated and difficult-to-discuss issues, thus breaking down stereotypes held by the groups about each other.
Over the course of the day, six minor-attracted people volunteered to speak openly about negotiating emotional and sexual attractions to children in a society prone to inaccurate generalizations and hasty, fearful reactions. Some speakers described wallowing in self-hatred for years – even decades – and sometimes considering suicide after discovering their attractions; others recounted well-intentioned acts of self-disclosure resulting in their alienation from family members and close friends. Some MAPs present – both those who shared formal testimonials as well as those who contributed shorter personal anecdotes during subsequent discussion – marked this workshop as a milestone in their journeys toward self-acceptance, many of whom labored to understand themselves up to that point in the absence of reassuring social messages about their decency or potential value in society. MAP participants remarked how simultaneously liberating and terrifying it was to speak so frankly about their sexuality in mixed company, considering the lengths they routinely go to understate these aspects of their identities in their everyday lives. All workshop participants received a packet including additional written accounts from MAPs who either couldn’t attend the conference or preferred not to speak.
Mental health clinicians and graduate students also spoke about issues related to minor-attraction which personally and professionally impacted their lives. One professional drew parallels between some of his own experiences and those of minor-attracted people, and credited his attendance at a previous workshop with profoundly changing his therapeutic approach toward people who are attracted to minors. Another participant told of her astonishment to learn of the possibility of a “law-abiding pedophile” – as one participating MAP had so described himself – and resolved to receive minor-attracted clients with compassion. Participants demonstrated astounding level-headedness in the face of potentially crippling fears and emotional biases, a feat B4U-ACT seeks to elicit on an increasingly wider scale via more collaborative dialogues such as these. MAPs who likewise harbor biases toward the mental health community stand to benefit from B4U-ACT’s consciousness-raising efforts as well as they interact in workshop settings with educators and clinicians who, having transcended commonly held prejudices about MAPs, stand ready to provide compassionate support and guidance for issues both directly and indirectly related to minor-attraction.
Despite an emotionally exhausting day, all thirty people in attendance echoed the importance of continuing these unprecedented dialogues. The experience prompted some attendees to inquire with mental health agencies in their local areas about funding sources for B4U-ACT, to look into arranging for minor-attracted persons to speak to their classes, to contact their university about hosting a future B4U-ACT workshop, and to consider focusing their research on minor-attracted people. Conversations trailed on for an hour after the workshop formally adjourned, a hopeful sign that the fire B4U-ACT has ignited in the name of mutual understanding won’t be burning out anytime soon.
The Power of Conversation
Together at One Table
November 6, 2009, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
Nine mental health professionals (MHPs) and seven minor-attracted persons (MAPs) met to discuss the fear and stigma surrounding people who are attracted to minors.
The workshop began with small group discussion of three introductory questions: What do you hope to gain by attending? What consequences of fear or stigma have you experienced or seen? What can be done to reduce stigma and fear?
This was followed by a discussion of the terms “minor-attracted people,” “pedophilia,” and “hebephilia.” There were varied viewpoints on the definition of the second term, including disagreement on whether distress and/or sexual behavior with minors is necessary for the term to apply (as specified by Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)), and on the validity of the DSM definition. The point was made that attendees who are not attracted to minors probably have friends, loved ones, or neighbors who are, but don’t know who they are. In addition, minor-attracted people are more than their sexuality, and they experience feelings of being in love with minors.
Attention returned to the topic of stigma as a particularly talented minor-attracted person presented his personal story of having been publicly identified and demonized on the Internet by vigilantes, and the resulting loss of housing, jobs, and friends. He was also subjected to death threats. All in attendance showed tremendous empathy and appreciation for his story, and some offered to provide ongoing support.
Attendees agreed that his story, and those of other minor-attracted people, need to be told. B4U-ACT plans to compile such stories for its website, and it was suggested that a book be published. Attendees noted that such stories are tragedies not only for the minor-attracted people targeted, but also for others, including young teenagers who are minor-attracted, who learn they must remain secret. In addition, they represent a tragedy for society in lost talent and human potential.
A mental health professional then told her story of uncertainty when first confronted with the presence of people who are attracted to minors, then coming to understand the need for dialog and understanding, and the elimination of barriers to information and services. Other mental health professionals chimed in with similar experiences.
Other aspects and consequences of stigma were also discussed, including the fears of most minor-attracted to attend B4U-ACT workshops, fearing that they may be attempts to “out” them. They were even unwilling to submit audio recordings describing their reluctance, for fear that vigilantes or government agents would use them to track down the speakers, even using special technology if the speaker used voice-altering software.
Another consequence of stigma addressed was the unwillingness or inability of researchers to study minor-attracted people in society. Attendees laughed about the story of Sarah Goode whose university prohibited her from interviewing subjects on university property for fear that they would attack her or other adults on campus.
The workshop ended with discussion of work planned for the future. B4U-ACT expects to begin publishing a newsletter in the spring that will include contributions from both MAPs and MHPs. Two people from B4U-ACT have also submitted a proposal to present at a professional conference in the spring. It was also suggested that B4U-ACT eventually network with MHPs and MAPs in other states to develop satellites of B4U-ACT.
B4U-ACT also plans to facilitate one or more working groups to address particular issues. The following topics were suggested:
• Fundraising for the work of B4U-ACT
• Developing an educational program for university counselors or students in social work, psychology, nursing, etc.
• Developing a mutually educational relationship with a suicide prevention program in order to develop welcoming and understanding services within the mainstream of publicly available resources
• Supporting the work of Lifeline at Free Spirits
• Developing a public education effort
• Researching mandatory reporting laws and producing reliable information for both mental health professionals and minor-attracted people, so that both groups would be more knowledgeable and comfortable when interacting
• Publicizing the work of B4U-ACT
• Planning workshops in other parts of the state
One attendee offered her home for meetings of a working group. The Internet could also be used to hold meetings. The B4U-ACT listserv will be used solicit members for the working group(s), select topic(s), and make arrangements for meetings.
Goals, Assumptions, and Methods in Therapy with Minor-Attracted Persons
April 30, 2009, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
At this workshop, 17 mental health professionals and four minor-attracted persons met to discuss issues related to therapy with minor-attracted people. The workshop was organized by B4U-ACT with funding support from Baltimore Mental Health Systems. The following gives a summary of points presented and discussed by participants.
The attraction to children or adolescents usually becomes noticeable in adolescence or early adulthood and affects a significant minority of the population. It is likely that most people know or care about someone who is attracted to minors. MAPs face considerable stigma and condemnation from society, forcing them to remain secretive. This stigma, and a lack of information about attraction to minors, prevents professionals from providing services to MAPs. Fear, secrecy, and lack of access to inviting services can lead to a loss of hope and to harmful behavior. Thus, it is important to make services visible and available to those who seek them.
MAPs sometimes want therapy for issues unrelated to their sexual feelings and similar to those faced by other people (e.g., depression, anxiety, and addictions) and feel the need to be honest about their sexuality to receive effective help. On the other hand, some MAPs seek therapy to deal with issues that are related to their sexuality, such as stigma, stereotyping, societal hatred, the need for secrecy, and the desire to develop relationships and express feelings of love, intimacy, and sexuality without violating the law.
Both minor-attracted persons and mental health professionals bring several needs into a therapeutic relationship. Among the needs of MAPs are:
• Assurance of confidentiality regarding feelings
• Understanding of limits of confidentiality
• Respect, compassion, and acceptance by therapist
• To be seen as fully human and as individuals with as much worth as others
• Therapists who are knowledgeable about the attraction to minors and who are open to learning more
• Hope for the future
Among the needs MHPs have as they work with MAPs are:
• Clarity regarding reporting laws and liability issues
• Resources and information
• Availability of training to work confidently with MAPs
• Clinical supervision by professionals with relevant expertise
• An ability to generalize skills
• Exposure to MAPs to understand their humanity and their struggles
• An understanding that MAPs are not really different from other people
• Knowledge of ways to reach youth
The community also has several needs:
• Knowledge about attraction to minors
• Compassionate, knowledge-based services for those in the community who are attracted to minors
• Involvement of MAPs in defining and developing services
B4U-ACT suggests that therapy be based on the following principles:
• Individuality: MAPs vary in characteristics, beliefs, behavior. It is inaccurate to assume MAPs exhibit abusive behavior, violence, deception, or particularly compulsive or uncontrollable sexual feelings.
• Humanity: MAPs can and do contribute positively to society, and are entitled to respect and caring. Standard therapeutic and ethical principles apply.
• Needs: MAPs should have access to compassionate and confidential services that meet their needs and that help them feel safe.
• Confidentiality: A MAP’s sexual feelings should not be divulged to persons beyond a provider's staff, and the client should be informed who on the staff, if anyone, will be told about his sexual feelings. The client should also be informed of the cases under which behavior would have to be reported to authorities.
The therapist and client should develop goals of therapy collaboratively. This requires that the therapeutic relationship develops as the MHP and MAP get to know each other as people and as they build trust and comfort. This developing relationship has both cognitive/verbal and affective components. In developing goals, it may be helpful to:
• Consider goals of two kinds: things that the client wants to move toward, and those that the client wants to avoid.
• Consider both immediate and long-term goals.
• Make sure goals are realistic in order to promote hope
Important goals for the minor-attracted client may include:
• Developing a positive self-concept and rejecting the “deviant” image coming from society
• Overcoming fears
• Being a contributing member of society
• Meeting basic emotional needs such as affirmation.
• Developing a sense of control over one’s destiny (empowerment)
It is helpful if the MAP does not allow labels to define him or her, and if (s)he realizes that there are people who are accepting of MAPs. MHPs can increase the number of such people by challenging the attitudes of colleagues who prejudge MAPs. MHP can be aware of biases they have learned, often disseminated through the media, based on profiles of people under the supervision of the corrections system and who are not representative of MAPs in the general population.
Effective therapy means hope for both the therapist and the client; both change in the relationship. Success may occur when
• The therapist and the client focus on small, achievable steps
• The therapist helps the client talk to people (s)he can love and with whom (s)he can be vulnerable and intimate
• The therapist helps the client identify fears and break them down in manageable pieces
It may be that the approach used should be similar to that used in promoting hope with other people. On the other hand, stigma makes it much more difficult in the case of MAPs.
To make services available to MAPs, it may be important for B4U-ACT, core service agencies, or Network of Care to develop a list of therapists who are willing to work with MAPs. Regardless of whether such a list is developed, it is important for a MAP seeking therapy to get an idea of a potential therapist’s assumptions and approaches before actually beginning therapy. On its website, B4U-ACT has published a list of questions that is useful for this purpose.
Other recommendations included:
• Providing peer-support (keeping in mind that sometimes a professional’s expertise is needed)
• Holding workshops in other locations
• Getting more people involved with planning next workshop
• Offering substantive information for MHPs, including what MAPs want or need
• Teaching MAPs how to find a therapist.
• Tackling the fears of MAPs
As a first step, participants decided to use the B4U-ACT listserv to develop a list of what MHPs need from MAPs, and what MAPs need from MHPs.
How Do We Talk About It?
Developing a Language for Discussing Attraction to Minors
November 13, 2008, 9:00 am - 4:00 pm
During this workshop, twelve mental health professionals and six minor-attracted people critically examined some of the professional and popular language that describes minor-attracted people. The purpose was to identify problematic aspects of this language, note possible consequences, and suggest ways the language could be made more productive. The following is a summary of points on which most of the MHPs and MAPs in attendance seemed to agree.
Participants felt that the current language used to describe MAPs has the following characteristics:
• It uses clinical jargon.
• It suggests that all MAPs are the same and engage in the same harmful behaviors.
• It is value-laden and depersonalizes MAPs.
• It is not descriptive and it is not supported by unbiased research.
• It gives the general impression that any attraction to children is an illness.
• It uses terms that MAPs do not have the opportunity to help define.
Several consequences of this language were identified:
• It makes communication with the general public difficult.
• It creates fear, separation, secrecy, and shame, rather than promoting hope or understanding.
• It disenfranchises MAPs, resulting in their lack of access to services, and in their exclusion from research data.
Participants believed the language will be more productive if:
• An effort is made to more clearly define certain words (e.g., pedophilia and molestation) and to disseminate those definitions to other professionals and to the public.
• Language differentiates attractions from behavior.
• MHPs and MAPs are sensitive to the limitations and differing interpretations of words, and to the fact that some usage might be inaccurate or offensive to certain groups. Then they can use words that will not stop the conversation between MHPs and MAPs.
• MAPs accept themselves, reclaim words, and become involved in changing the discourse, in line with the concept of “Nothing about me without me.”
• The language is objective and example-specific.
• The language does not pathologize the attraction to minors.
• The importance of what is conveyed by non-verbal language is recognized.
Workshop participants also noted some specific terms that are problematic, and identified ways they cause confusion and inaccurate impressions:
• The word pedophile is used in ways that does not distinguish between feelings of attraction and behavior. In addition, clinical usage differs from cultural usage.
• The word predator is an animal metaphor that tends to be applied to all MAPs, suggesting they have a monstrous nature or animal instincts that cannot be controlled. The term is sometimes used with the intent to demonize.
• The word grooming fails to recognize that there is a continuum of behaviors from normative to harmful. If behavior is manipulative, then it should be called manipulative.
• The word molestation has different meanings according to the law, MHPs, and MAPs.
• In general, terms should recognize the spectrum of behaviors and avoid over-generalization.
Finally, participants suggested several possible actions that could be taken:
• Hold more workshops in different parts of the state.
• Look for opportunities to present at conferences and in classes.
• Publish articles in professional journals and letters in professional newsletters.
• Publicize the need for more accurate research.
• Connect with other relevant state agencies and involve them in the discussion.
Beyond Fear and Mistrust
Toward Open Communication between Mental Health Professionals and Minor-Attracted People
March 20, 2008, 9:00 am - 3:30 pm
The goals of this first workshop organized by B4U-ACT were:
• To define the communication problem that exists between mental health professionals and minor-attracted people in society;
• To promote understanding of the harmful consequences of this problem, and the benefits of eliminating the barriers to communication;
• To develop mutual empathy among mental health professionals and minor-attracted people;
• To help mental health professionals see minor-attracted people as diverse in their characteristics and behaviors;
• To form a working group that would develop and carry out plans to promote communication between the two groups over a period of time, and on a larger scale.
A total of 19 participants attended, including four minor-attracted people. Psychodrama was used to explore the thoughts and feelings that might be experienced by a mental health professional and a minor-attracted person when they meet for the first time, and when they meet in a therapeutic context. Participants discussed issues regarding finding a safe and supportive environment, disclosure of sexual feelings, ethical therapeutic responses, and mandatory reporting laws. The discussion brought out preconceptions, fears, and other factors that may act as barriers to communication and to effective therapy.
The workshop also included presentations refuting popular myths about attraction to minors and demonstrating the harshly negative messages and abusive treatment directed toward minor-attracted young people, along with these young people's reactions to severe stigma. Another presentation described what was missing from these messages, including stories of minor-attracted people who contribute to their communities, and opportunities for minor-attracted people to participate in the development of policies, laws, and programs that affect them.
The workshop concluded with an opportunity to brainstorm ideas for future work. A listserv was started for continued discussion, and additional mental health professionals and minor-attracted people were invited to join.
Throughout the day, there was respectful communication between mental health professionals and minor-attracted people, and some new friendships and partnerships were forged. The organizers hope that minor-attracted people and mental health professionals will work together to find ways to fight false stereotypes, to help others see minor-attracted people as contributors to society rather than as potential offenders who need to be controlled, and to make accurate information and compassionate services available for minor-attracted people who need help in finding hope and fulfillment in their lives.
Updated May 14, 2012