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 Â£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 â€“ 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 KingÂ 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.Â 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.