Reparative therapy, which seeks to “cure” homosexuality, is a destructive form of consumer fraud, where avaricious practitioners try to profit off their victims by instilling a deep sense of shame and guilt. There is not one shard of evidence supporting such efforts, while there is a long trail of blood and tears from the human casualties who bought into the lie that they were abnormal and needed to be converted into heterosexuals.
Traditionally, efforts to curtail this scam have focused on decreasing demand. Vividly highlighting the shattered lives and crushing heartbreak that results when people try to live a lie has helped keep some gay people out of such clinics. This is important because reparative therapists not only hurt their clients but they often upend the lives of spouses. These unfortunate individuals marry so-called “ex-gays” who mistakenly think they have been converted – but later find that their “progress” was a mirage brought on by wishful thinking and pressure from their therapist. This form of therapy also encourages clients to blame their parents for allegedly causing their homosexuality, leading to resentment, broken bonds, and the disintegration of previously close families.
With overwhelming evidence that reparative therapy is a fraud, legal organizations and legislative bodies are finally beginning to focus on cutting off the supply. In California, Sen. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance) introduced a bill that would prohibit children under 18 from undergoing “sexual orientation change efforts.” The measure would also require adults seeking such treatment to sign informed-consent forms indicating that they comprehend the possible dangers inherent with this kind of therapy, including depression and suicide.
Furthermore, The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) sent a complaint last week to two professional psychiatric associations urging them to investigate the unethical use of conversion therapy by a Portland psychiatrist. The complaint was sent to the Oregon Psychiatric Association (OPA) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA) charging that the Portland psychiatrist unethically subjected Max Hirsh, a 22-year-old University of Oregon student, to conversion therapy.
It is difficult to understand why such quackery is still legal. The American Psychiatric Association claims, “The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self hatred already experienced by the patient.”
Yet, despite the warnings, a handful of opportunistic therapists are still profiting from their clients’ pain and enriching themselves by trafficking in junk science. It is a pockmark on modern psychiatry and a disgrace to the medical profession that these quacks are allowed to operate in the 21st Century.
Reparative therapists should be stripped of their college degrees, expelled from professional associations, and banned from practicing. In 1973, the American Psychiatric Association declared that homosexuality is not a mental illness. So how does the American Psychiatric Association or the American Counseling Association or the American Psychological Association justify the existence of a rogue cottage industry that promises to heal people who are not sick and fix clients who are not broken?
At its core, reparative therapy is about making money off desperate and vulnerable people and confirming the religious worldview of the therapist, instead of helping the client. This was made clear by Charles Socarides, the late co-founder of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), who once told the Washington Post: “Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it. It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society.”
Does this man sound like a serious practitioner that cares about his clients?
In lieu of respected doctors with scientific backgrounds, most reparative therapists are aggressive entrepreneurs with products to sell. Exhibit A is David Pickup, who until recently ran a counseling website that offered a $250 a month program called The Workout. Pickup described his con as “a unique program that helps a man who is dealing with homosexual issues to go deep and to understand that below the homosexual issues lies a lack of his own inherent masculinity.” Pickup now represents NARTH as an outspoken foe of the California bill. He said it would prevent therapeutic help to young rape victims with sexuality questions.
Pickup should be disbarred for wrongly conflating homosexuality with sexual abuse, deliberately confusing stereotypes with science, and falsely advertising that he has the ability to influence a client’s sexual orientation.
Psychological organizations need to stop trying to have it both ways. On one hand they claim that homosexuality is not a mental illness, while on the other hand they give a green light to ideological charlatans who treat gays as if they are pathological. This is an irrational and incoherent position that is not based on evidence, but cowardice. The mental health establishment’s leaders appear terrified that Rush Limbaugh or Focus on the Family might call them names if they ban this obvious form of malpractice. However, it is their solemn duty to “do no harm” and the false practice of reparative therapy is harm by definition.
Wayne Besen is a columnist and author of the book “Anything But Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies Behind the Ex-Gay Myth.”