Shifting the Treatment Paradigm:
Protecting Children and Meeting the Broader Needs of Minor-Attracted Persons 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.