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Questions about Gay Conversion Therapy

November 27, 2012

Dear Reader:

In order to fully appreciate and respond to my observations below, it is essential you go to the New York Times article titled “Gay Conversion Therapy Faces Test in Court”. Read it and return.

My questions and  evaluations of this article are numerous. I don’t desire to get into the feedback loop on whether someone is born gay or chooses that option. I am not arguing over the philosophy or theology of homosexual marriage. I just want to respond to this article with a number of questions and interrogative statements.

1. From what I can tell, these four plaintiffs are suing because their gay conversion therapy didn’t work. Is that truly grounds for a lawsuit? Do we sue governments when they don’t keep their promises, record companies when their music sucks, doctors when the virus returns or physiotherapists when we still have back pain? Not all therapies work (more on that in a second)…does that make someone legally culpable? If it does, then this opens up a host of retributive lawsuits that will never end.

2. Does the success rate of a therapy measure its effectiveness? For instance, in this article in the New York Times, the authors correctly point out that sex offenders are more likely to re-offend if they go through Relapse Prevention Therapy than if they do nothing. Patrick Carnes, a noted sex offender/addiction therapist claims a success rate less than 5%. But no one is proposing we stop all therapy to sex offenders. What is encouraged is a better approach to therapy. But in this article regarding people who have asked to be treated for their homosexuality, the legal team (with backing from the Southern Poverty Law Center), is assuming that there is no reason to treat homosexuals for something that is not a disorder. Just because the APA removed homosexuality as a psychological disorder from the DSM-IV does not mean they are correct. As far as this article is concerned, these men asked to be treated for their homosexuality. Isn’t the answer for this an approach that looks for better treatments rather than say “make all treatment illegal”?

3. Isn’t this just a straw man argument? This particular therapy method is so ludicrous it made me laugh out loud. This is not what the majority of Homosexual conversion therapists do. Not even close. Picking out this marginal Jewish methodology to champion a court case is like showcasing a serial killer to prove why we shouldn’t allow people to lose their tempers.

4. The gentleman proposing the lawsuit says ““It becomes fraudulent, even cruel,” he said in an interview. “To say that if you really want to change you could — that’s an awful thing to tell somebody.” Excuse me?? Isn’t that what we tell everyone who comes for therapy? In his book “The Brain that Changes Itself” psychotherapist (and APA member) Norman Doidge relates case after case of people that can change every aspect of their brain. People can see with implants in their ears, can scratch phantom limbs. Our brains are plastic and therefore, there is no innate belief or function that cannot be changed. This has been scientifically proven. What this article is actually saying is that it is wrong to promise people they can change or to expect someone to change something that others don’t want them to change. Isn’t this simply a case of society wanting something to be acceptable (homosexuality) so badly that they reject any thought that someone might be able to change it?

5. In the article, a UC Irvine professor is quoted as saying ““The law is clear that the government can prohibit health care practices that are harmful or ineffective.” Really? Then why aren’t we prohibiting sex offender treatment, treatment for meth addiction, couples therapy (statistics prove that you are no better off getting marriage therapy than not), accupuncture for depression, Rolfing for anxiety attacks, prescriptions for Elavil and Amatriptoline, fad diets – all of which show little or no scientific proof that they work? The reason is that we want something to work for those problems, but society doesn’t want to admit there can be a cure for homosexuality.

6. One patient in the lawsuit, a mormon claimed “He tried to battle his homosexuality, he said, when he was a practicing Mormon who believed that only those in a heterosexual marriage could achieve eternal bliss.” Since when do the beliefs of Mormonism form the basis for a lawsuit? Just because the Mormons convinced him that a heterosexual marriage was better than a homosexual tendency, does this make it illegal to do therapy?

7. I personally believe the focus for treatment of homosexuals should focus on what a person believes about himself and not about who he/she is attracted to. I think that most conversion therapies miss the point. But I don’t think they are breaking any laws in doing so.

8. Why is this California Law only being enacted against members of the APA and does not apply to religious therapists? If something is illegal, it should apply to everyone? If it only applies to APA therapists, then shouldn’t this be an action by the APA and not the courts? I believe this is being brought to the courts to maximize public attention not to correct a legal wrong.

These are my observations as a counselor and as a member of society. Since I don’t practice conversion therapy I have no horse in this race.

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3 comments

  1. Your link links to the second page of the article, not the first.

    Your point 3 answers your point 1; this was truly terrible “therapy”. While the NYT article says it is a suit against gay “therapy”, it is actually a suit against JONAH’s “therapy”.

    Your point 8 is incorrectly expressed: it is the statute rather than the lawsuit which is against medical therapists only, not religious “therapists”. If someone in a religious context, even one to one counselling, says that homosexuality is wrong, that is possibly the Free Speech expression of a religious view. But if a “therapist” uses methods designed to cure homosexuality, that is the ineffective and harmful “medical treatment” which the law is entitled to prevent.

    Why this case and not Rolfing? Because “reparative therapy” does far more harm. Rolfing at least provides a placebo.


  2. Thanks Claire…I changed the link. I also changed point 8 which reflects the new California Law.

    As to your point about Rolfing…there are many therapists who do not believe it is a placebo and may actually be toxic. My point was that there are many therapies that have been shown to have little or no effect, but they are still legal and not subject to lawsuits.


  3. Mike one of the best posts ever.



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