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Integrative mental health conference connects mainstream and alternative therapies

“From the moment they walk in, participants will see and feel that this conference is about healing and looking at mental health from a new perspective,” says Kathy Flaminio.

A kindergartener demonstrating a Hoberman sphere, an expanding toy often used to teach breathing techniques to children during yoga and mindfulness activities.
Photo by Katie Kenefick

Two decades into a career as a school social worker, Kathy Flaminio decided to integrate holistic practices like yoga and mindfulness meditation into her work with children facing trauma and mental health issues.

The impact the practices had on her students was swift and significant.

“I saw kids learning self-regulation, or the ability to manage big feelings and find calm within total chaos.” Flaminio said. “These were kids who were not responding to mainstream therapies. After I introduced yoga and mindfulness practices in my work with kids, I saw more improvement in two months than I’d seen in 10 years.”

Flaminio found the impact of this shift so significant that she took paid leave from the Minneapolis public schools and traveled the country, learning more about integrative practices and how to apply them to children’s mental health care. Along the way, she met Marit Appeldoorn, a Minneapolis-based family therapist and certified Yoga Calm instructor; and Carol Siegel, a Minneapolis-based child psychologist. All three women were interested in promoting connections between traditional therapies and integrative, holistic practices.

Creating a forum

“It became really clear to me that there’s a whole community of holistic practitioners and a whole community of mental health providers out there and there hasn’t been a forum for them network and collaborate.” Flaminio said. Connecting with Appeldoorn and Siegel was energizing: “We were all saying, ‘Isn’t this great? What if we could have a whole conference where everyone is sitting together and learning from one another?’ ”

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The three put their heads together and came up with a plan, Flamino recalled: “We wanted to introduce as many people as possible to these powerful integrative modalities.”

The result of Flaminio, Appeldoorn and Siegel’s collaboration was Integrative Approach to Mental Health Conference and Expo: Moving Theory Into Practice, a gathering designed for mental health professionals, educators, parents, yoga instructors and members of the public interested in integrating mainstream and holistic therapies.

Conference will be held Oct. 8-9

The first conference and expo was held in 2014, and drew about 150 participants. This year’s event will be held Thursday-Friday Oct. 8-9 at Amherst H. Wilder Foundation in St. Paul.

Kathy Flaminio
Courtesy of Kathy Flaminio
Kathy Flaminio

Opening-day activities will begin at 5:30 p.m. Thursday, with a free wellness expo featuring vendors, local nonprofits, music, light refreshments, workshops and an evening welcome reception. On Friday, the conference runs from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., opening with a keynote talk from Nimi Singh, M.D., M.P.H., M.A., assistant professor and division head of adolescent health and medicine at the University of Minnesota’s department of pediatrics. The rest of the day will feature “experiential workshops,” Flaminio said, designed to introduce participants to new methods of treatment and interaction with clients.  

Conference organizers are hoping to meet or exceed last year’s attendance numbers, Flaminio said. Response to the event has been positive so far, and she and her co-founders feel excited about the opportunity to expose more mental health workers and educators to new ways of healing, new understandings of the body-brain connection can promote greater mental health.

“Our passion is to provide this beautiful event,” said Flaminio, who also runs 1000 Petals, a well-being consulting company. “From the moment they walk in, participants will see and feel that this conference is about healing and looking at mental health from a new perspective.”

Conference registration is still open, and continuing education units will be provided for educators. For registration information, go here