Social workers learn from pedophiles
Richard Kramer, March 22, 2008
This past Thursday, B4U-Act held its one-day workshop entitled "Beyond Fear and Mistrust: Toward Open Communication between Mental Health Professionals and Minor-Attracted People" in Westminster, Maryland.
The workshop was planned by Mike Melsheimer and myself and two social workers. It was highly interactive, with four mental health professionals and four BLs [BoyLovers] taking leadership roles as presenters or discussion leaders.
Attendance was by invitation only and the number was intentionally kept small to encourage interaction and honesty. There was a total of 19 participants. Those who were social workers received continuing education units through Baltimore Mental Health Systems. The morning began with opening remarks by a board member of B4U-Act who is a social worker. He spoke about the goals of the workshop:
He explained how he became convinced of the importance of this work as an activist for peace and non-discrimination and as a result of getting to know Mike as a friend. Then a psycho-dramatist led Mike and the social worker in the enactment of a mental health professional and a minor-attracted person meeting for the first time. Attendees were asked to describe what they thought the each actor might be thinking or feeling during this meeting.
The discussion brought out preconceptions, fears, and other factors that may act as barriers to communication. Quite a bit of time was spent discussing the implications of mandatory reporting laws. Then I gave a short presentation on facts and myths regarding attraction to minors. The presentation made the following points:
The presentation used published research to refute the myth that all or most minor-attracted people are child molesters, use violence or deceit, have personality disorders, or "groom" children for sex. After a break, the psycho-dramatist led a social worker from Baltimore Mental Health Systems and Spencer Kaplan, a college student and BL, in the enactment of a therapy session where a minor-attracted person seeks help in finding a supportive environment where he can be himself.
Discussion addressed the awkwardness and fears felt by a minor-attracted person when he discloses his sexuality, the need for safe avenues for addressing concerns, the fact that minor-attracted people don't want to hide, and the therapist's concerns about how to respond in an ethical and helpful way.
We talked about how barriers can be broken down by both parties getting to know each other and understanding each others' humanity. We also discussed the therapist's conflict between wanting to know whether the client has interacted sexually with a minor in order to help the client, and not wanting to know since she would have to report it.
After lunch, we showed attendees a presentation I had put together on the stereotyped and often hateful messages the media, politicians, and sometimes professionals give the public about minor-attracted people, the abusive treatment programs we are sometimes placed in, and quotes from minor-attracted adolescents and young adults as they try to deal with the rejection and hatred.
A social worker then gave a presentation on what was missing from these messages:
He advocated mental health services that focus on self-worth, dignity, and a meaningful life. His presentation also
This led into a work session where participants brainstormed ideas for future work. It was decided that B4U-Act would plan another workshop for late summer or fall of 2008 and that each person attending Thursday's workshop should invite at least one colleague to attend it.
In addition, it was suggested that a listserv be started for continued discussion, and that additional mental health professionals and minor-attracted people be invited to join.
Other ideas included
The opinions and openness of the attendees varied from person to person, but it was clear that many had their preconceptions challenged and came to see minor-attracted as human beings who can live responsibly without external control and whose insights have value. Most seemed to respect what minor-attracted people were saying and were open to learning from us.
Some new friendships and partnerships were forged.
Probably the most notable thing about the workshop was that minor-attracted people and mental health professionals were working together as equals, without the minor-attracted people being required to label themselves or their sexuality as sick or identify themselves as potential offenders who need to be controlled.