Ex-Gay “Expose” in the Independent

I have a dictaphone taped to my stomach as I arrive at Lynne’s large house, north of London. She had told me beforehand that she would charge me £40 per session and that she always prayed at the beginning and end of the sessions. I’m shown into a spacious living room.

“I love my work and in particular this whole area of SSA [same sex attraction],” she says, as we sit down. “It’s such an important area to work in.” She has a wholesome face and the suburban air of someone who, when not trying to convert you to heterosexuality, would probably be rustling up a jolly good Victoria sponge. Like those at the conference, she doesn’t say “gay”; she only uses the term “SSA”.

I ask how she views homosexuality – as a mental illness, an addiction or an anti-religious phenomenon?

“It’s all of that,” she replies.

And then we pray. “Oh Father, we give you permission to work in Matthew’s life to bring complete light and healing into every part of his being.” After asking God to heal me, she opens her eyes. “I know the boundaries to keep within,” she says.

She begins by asking me about my psychological history. I tell her that I was depressed as a teenager because I feared I would face prejudice for the rest of my life.

Can I learn to not feel attraction to men?

“Yes,” she replies, “because that attraction is connected to a deep need that needs to be met and responded to and healed.”

But how do I instead become attracted to women? Lynne explains that it’s about “reprogramming” and going back into my early developmental stages. “Parts of you have developed but there is a little part of you that has stayed stuck,” she says.

Oh, like being retarded?

“It is a bit like that,” she agrees.

Lynne asks why I have come for treatment. I tell her that I’m tired of meaningless sexual encounters and that I have rediscovered my faith. She gets a whiteboard out and starts writing my words up on it. “I can’t deal with the meaningless anymore,” she says as she scrawls. “Hmm. Good sentiment.”

As usual with these pieces it’s an interesting mix of insight and prejudice. For example he quotes Prof King  of UCL criticising one of the therapists for praying at the beginning and end of the session, but Patrick has gone to that therapist on the understanding that she is a Christian and will take a spiritual approach to the encounter.  Equally, while I’m quite public in stating that reparative therapy isn’t for everyone (and interestingly one of the psychiatrists Patrick sees intimates as much when he talks about success and failure rates), one wonders how a few sessions can in any way be used to validate the usefulness (or otherwise) of this approach to same-sex attraction. And on this subject, notice the bias in the summary.

The purpose of this investigation was to find out how conversion therapists operate. What I didn’t expect was that I would learn how their patients feel: confused and damaged.

I began to constantly analyse why I found particular men attractive. Does that man represent something that’s lacking in me? Do I want him because he looks strong which must mean I feel weak? Did something happen in my childhood? The therapists planted doubt and worry where there was none.

My experiences, I learn, are typical. I speak to Daniel Gonzalez, one of Nicolosi’s former clients. “Conversion therapy is a very complicated form of repression,” he says. “It’s a way of convincing yourself that your same sex attractions have some alternate meaning. It continued to haunt me for years.”

I also speak to Peterson Toscano, who spent 17 years in Britain and the US trying every different reorientation treatment available. He says simply: “It’s psychological torture.”

Did you spot the quotes in there from those of us who found some of these reparative insights useful and have seen changes in our sexual orientation and desires? No, I didn’t spot them either because that would have ruined his entire piece. After all, why let a full body of evidence, not just the bits that support your presumptions, get in the way of a good story.

That’s not to say that Patrick’s piece doesn’t raise some issues around what is good and bad counselling practice, but ultimately it’s just another “I spent 60 minutes with a fundamentalist nutter” piece that doesn’t really do any serious examination of the long-term effect of such therapy. For that kind of approach Jones and Yarhouse’s longitudinal study is much more useful.

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8 Comments on “Ex-Gay “Expose” in the Independent

  1. It’s odd that the standard for success for all programs regarding sexual orientation lumped together has to be 100% or they’re all rejected. So much of the success depends on the individual, his or her desire to truly follow God’s direction for their lives through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, enact meaningful boundaries, initiate safe relationships, and do the work involved in seeking change. I don’t think these types of exposes discourage many who are truly seeking. They may serve as excuses for those who need them. I know I have never been subjected to psychological torture by those who sought to help me with my struggle. I’ve experienced a bit of spiritual tyranny from those who profess to be Christians but stop short of believing Christ has the power to mold our desires and change our wants. I am thankful for trained individuals with great insight and for well-developed programs, but it is truly Christ who sets us free from whatver is dominating us. And you can’t disprove that with a dictaphone taped to your stomach.

  2. Well, one could take the view that this report isn’t helpful because he didn’t really give it a chance or one could look at what he did find and ask if this makes any sense at all.

    If true, these accounts are quite disturbing are they not? Telling clients what they experienced because they had to, else they would not be SSA is a large error. Whatever truths might be so for some who come upon themselves aside, this reporter alleges something that should cause Christian therapists to investigate rather than defend, IMO.

  3. I would agree that there are reasons to look closely at the various techniques that counselors and ministries use, particularly if they are, in a sense, “leading the witness.” I know they’re not perfect. If they were, I would not have struggled for as long as I did. I believe I received some poor help.

    However, one thing that Patrick or even Peter Toscano cannot effectively measure is the sincerity of the seeker. Are we simply wanting to feel better about where we are? Are we just wanting an explanation for why we do what we do? Or, are we truly wanting to change because we believe we’ve missed God’s intent for us? The floorplan for freedom might be in place, but it takes a lot of work to build on it. That’s not completely in the hands of the counselor, no matter how well-trained.

    Clearly it takes a bit of discernment on the part of the one seeking help to find the right helper.

    • Thom, it does sound like you are “blaming the victim” a bit, though. Doesn’t it? The things described in this piece are quite horrible, and even if they happen to one person, they are atrocious. I think it’s quite flippant and disrespectful to say that the people who experience harm from these ministries aren’t really seeking healing. Who are you to judge?

      I know people who have come to believe various things about their childhood that they later come to realize were totally untrue. They believe these things because their counselors pressured them to believe it, and the motivation to become heterosexual is that strong, because they do not feel they will be happy otherwise. I think all counselors here need to be very clear. One, being gay is not a sin; acting out on it is. Two, a celibate life is not one of misery. Three, there is no evidence that homosexuality is caused by certain childhood factors. All the information should be given to clients, and it’s clear from this article that that doesn’t happen.

      • Jay,

        I really don’t believe I was flippant or “blaming the victim.” I commented from the perspective of a person (myself) who has struggled with homosexuality for a long time. I do have insight and I acknowledged that some who minister or counsel do not do it very well and can cause harm. I don’t disagree with you there. However, just as we would carefully choose our doctors for a physical problem, we need to carefully choose those to whom we turn for a spiritual problem. Hence, the need for discernment.

        Counselors should not “pressure,” but should help people reveal and understand factors in their lives that have lead them to ask for help. Childhood events do influence our sexual development, whether heterozexual or homosexual. I did not say childhood factors cause homosexuality. But I believe you’re being a bit flippant to disregard childhood factors entirely.

        It may just be semantics, but I do believe that you can be attracted to the same sex — as opposed to “being gay” — and not sin. I agree with you that it is the acting out that is the sin. Still, I think if we truly want to reflect God’s intent, we will seek to live a life free even of the thoughts, learning to take them captive. Will we make it to that point? Perhaps not. That’s what grace is for.

        Celibacy, if that is what God calls a person to or if that is where circumstances or personal choice leads you, indeed may glorify God. I have no issues with celibacy if the person determines it is God’s will for him or her.

        One thing is very important, whether you are the counselor of the the one being counseled. Honesty. No tricks. A person who seens himself as broken needs to be treated respectfully and carefully. The agenda should be freedom and wholeness.

        • I did not mean to sound disrespectful, Thom. I was simply saying how you were coming across. I know you’re a nice person and I like your blog, so I wasn’t trying to say you were being mean. There are a lot of emotions involved, here, and I think a lot of people who have been hurt by ex-gay ministries are tired of hearing that they didn’t try hard enough or love Jesus enough, which seemed to be the essense of what you were saying.

          You’re right. Honesty is very key. The agenda should be freedom and wholeness. However, the trick is that some people have very narrow definitions of what freedom and wholeness are. To many, I am not free or whole because I am gay. The question is, do we let people define what freedom and wholeness are to them? Or do we give them all the options, and show them how all different people find freedom and wholeness, even if they may not look like the rest of the ex-gay mainstream.

  4. Jay,

    I didn’t sense disrespect, just disagreement and perhaps a little bit of misunderstanding. I’m not familiar with all of the ex-gay ministries. I have been fortunate to be involved with a very good one myself, a ministry here that is affiliated with Exodus. I was never be-littled or condemned or made to feel like less of a person because of my past experiences in homosexuality. I came forward with a desire I believed to be God-driven to find freedom from what I believed from His Word to be a sinful presence in my life which was dominating me. I sought help and received it and my experience has been a good one.

    God will establish wholeness for you, as clearly as He does for me. It wasn’t so much that I saw myself as not being whole, as that I saw myself as being broken. All there, but not quite where I believed I was created to be. Certainly ministries are helpful — in most cases far more helpful than the ocal church at this point — but it is still a personal pursuit of God’s will that determines our wholeness.

    Meanness doesn’t do a lot for anyone. Honesty does, however, and that can sometimes be painful.

    Thom

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