Date of Defense:
April 28, 2017
The State of Minnesota provides protections for young people to discuss sexual health concerns with medical and mental health providers without requiring parental involvement. The Minor’s Consent Law (2016) allows for confidential dialogue, yet many mental health providers never receive formal training on how to have these discussions. While teen pregnancy rates have been declining over the past few years in Minnesota, sexually transmitted infection (STI) rates have been steadily increasing (Farris & McKye, 2016). Mental health providers have a unique opportunity to provide psychoeducation around sexual health topics when their adolescent patients disclose risky behaviors or have questions about safer sex practices. Through my field experience with P.O.R. (Power of Relationships) Emotional Wellness, I provided training and guidance to mental health providers on adolescent sexual health and wellness best practices in a therapeutic setting.
The training program consisted of an hour-long interactive presentation to mental health providers including therapists, case managers and skills workers given on three separate occasions. Participants self-selected to join the training as one option for completing required continuing education hours. There were 31 participants total over six months. I created the presentation using various evidence-based sexual health curricula including O.W.L. (“Our Whole Lives”, n.d.) and FLASH (Reis, 2012) and discussed the MN Minor’s Consent Law (2016) and ethical guidelines for the agency. Training activities included PowerPoint slides, an interactive discussion around comfort with condom discussions and a take-home packet of resources for each participant. The learning objectives for this training included: 1) Listing updated pregnancy and STI statistics for service areas, primarily Hennepin County 2) Describing evidence-based practices for addressing sexual health topics with adolescents and 3) Engaging in case consultation to help providers work through clinical examples where sexuality or sexual health has come up during sessions. This training was created for the P.O.R. team and was not formally evaluated.
A formal evaluation to determine the effectiveness of mental health professionals providing sexual health information to adolescents is needed. This project should identify pre- and post- variables related to condom use at last contact, hormonal contraceptive use, initiation of sexual intercourse and pregnancy and STI rates. Many professionals come into the field with an abundance of knowledge about mental health disorders and human development, but little practical experience engaging with adolescents and their sexual health needs. Trends, social norms and the rapidly changing social media platforms create a challenging and ever-changing culture around sexual health. Professionals being informed and knowledgeable about sexual health is critical to providing accurate and current information to young people.
Research has shown that youth who have a positive relationship with a trusted adult in their lives engage in less risky behaviors and produce positive developmental outcomes (Rhodes & DuBois, 2008, p.254). A mental health provider can often provide that positive relationship, and be a safe and consistent place for adolescents to receive accurate and current sexual health information. Sexual health education and knowledge is something the United States continues to struggle with as the stigma continues to reverberate in all aspects of our culture. The ability for mental health providers to have open, honest and safe conversations with young people about their sexual health is critical to not only their emotional and mental health but also their physical well-being and future relationships. By providing trainings to mental health providers, we can continue to bridge the gap in knowledge and create a more sex-positive culture for young people.
- Farris, J. & McKye, B. (2016) 2016 Adolescent Sexual Health Report. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Health Youth Development Prevention Research Center.
- Minor’s Consent Law, Minnesota Statute 144.343 (2016)
- Our Whole Lives: Lifespan Sexuality Education (n.d.) retrieved from: http://www.uua.org/re/owl
- Reis, E. (2012) F.L.A.S.H. a curriculum in Family Life and Sexual Health. King County, Seattle, Washington.
- Rhodes, J. E. & DuBois, D. L. (2008) Mentoring Relationships and Programs for Youth.
- Association for Psychological Science 17(4), p. 254-258.