B4U-ACT held its eighth full-day workshop, entitled “Mental Health for Minor-Attracted People: Keeping Wellness First,” on Friday, April 22, 2016, in Baltimore, MD. Approximately 35 people attended, including minor-attracted persons (MAPs), MAP family members, mental health professionals, graduate students, and professors.
B4U-ACT co-founder and board chair Russell Dick began the day with a brief history and overview of the mission of B4U-ACT, including a recognition of the contributions of dedicated board members Paul Christiano and Denise Sawyer who died this past year. Psychodramatist Steve Kopp then led an introductory activity which helped attendees get to know each other and become more comfortable discussing MAP issues.
During the first session, Richard Kramer, B4U-ACT’s science and education director, moderated a presentation and discussion of MAPs’ experiences of coming to an awareness of their sexuality and seeking wellness. Richard and another MAP told their personal stories, followed by a time for questions and comments from the audience, and discussion of factors that promote or inhibit attempts to achieve wellness. Some barriers to wellness identified by attendees included the risk averseness of the mental health profession (reflecting tendencies found in society in general) and the tendency to inaccurately think of MAPs and issues they face as being in a different category from those associated with other populations.
The purpose of the next portion of the workshop was to identify components of wellness and discuss how they applied to MAPs. Russell provided an overview of wellness from a mental health perspective, defining it as a healthy balance of mind, body, and spirit that leads to a sense of well-being. He described eight components of wellness: emotional, environmental, financial, intellectual, occupational, physical, social, and spiritual. Then he described how he addressed these components in his own practice with clients, including MAP clients. This was followed by lively discussion.
After lunch, Richard provided an overview and update of B4U-ACT’s recent activities and accomplishments in four areas: MAP outreach, professional outreach, collaboration with researchers, and interaction with media.
The rest of the afternoon was devoted to actions attendees could take to address the wellness needs of MAP clients, as well as possible initiatives that could help move the focus of the profession toward these needs. Steve led an exercise to help attendees identify their strengths and discuss how they could use them to address the wellness of MAPs through therapy or in everyday relationships. Attendees identified several things that MAPs and practitioners could do. For example, MAPs could tell their stories in a way that took account of their audience’s understanding, realize they can walk away from therapists who don’t seem to be a good fit, and work on self-acceptance rather than dwelling on the unhelpful ways that society responds to them. Mental health professionals could provide acceptance, listen and meet the MAP client where he or she is, help the client define wellness and determine areas where work is needed, and inform clients about the limits of confidentiality.
The final portion of the day was devoted to identifying initiatives to which attendees could commit in order to move the profession toward a wellness focus for MAPs. Participants brainstormed a list of about 15 ideas, then narrowed the list down to four initiatives that seemed to generate the most interest: presenting at conferences held by professional organizations, developing a handbook for therapists working with MAPs, creating a therapist referral system, and carrying out an anti-stigma/publicity campaign. Attendees divided themselves into groups corresponding to these initiatives and developed initial goals and action plans. Those who were able signed up to commit to working on these initiatives and selected one person to be the initial facilitator for the group’s continued work.