Love in Action on Good Morning America and beyond: Distortions in the current coverage

I didn’t see the segment but the article about it is on the ABC website. Love in Action is getting much attention lately but the media are making generalizations that are staggering. Here are the four major ones that come to mind.

1. LIA is lumped in with all reparative therapies. This is inaccurate. LIA is not a therapy program but a ministry model to assist clients to identify with Christ and Christian teaching. As such, not everyone will agree with all their practices (I don’t) but I will defend their right to practice their Christianity in the peaceful manner that they do so. Reporters need to distinguish between ministry based programs and therapists.

2. Reparative therapy is an umbrella term for change programs and therapy. Not true. Reparative therapy is based on psychoanalytic ideas and is associated with Elizabeth Moberly and Joe Nicolosi. Umbrella terms might be reorientation therapy or sexual identity therapy. For instance, I believe that sexual orientation is a murky concept and fluid but I am not a reparative therapist. I would label what I do as sexual identity therapy since I attempt to help a person integrate a sexual identity that is consistent with their total personal identity.

3. The APA, AMA, ACA, you name it, have all said reparative therapy doesn’t work. Not really. What they oppose are therapies that take the stance that all gays must enter treatment because homosexuality is mental disorder to be cured. This broad statement implies that seeking to live in accord with one’s beliefs does not work and all change approaches have been proven ineffective. Not true. I challenge readers to produce such studies.

4. Belief in change is a conservative Christian thing. I agree that many who are conservatively Christian believe in change in sexuality but there are those who are pretty far from CC who believe change occurs as well.

Going forward, I hope reporters not only seek to produce a “news product” but also learn about the diversity of views on this issue. Otherwise, they are simply reinforcing distortions.

Paula Zahn, CNN and Love in Action

I watched the CNN/Paula Zahn show regarding Love in Action. Good reporting is allowing the principle characters to tell their stories and to report both sides of related controversies. This program came close but fell short. Director John Smid was interviewed. Fair enough. A satisified graduate and a dissatisfied graduate were interviewed. Fair enough. But then the bias was in interviewing APA’s Jack Drescher as the lone representative of the professional class. Fair reporting would be to interview a professional who has no dog in the fight (Drescher does not qualify) or balance his perspective with another professional who takes another view. Humorous, however, was Paula Zahn’s closing when she referred to the concept of change as if it were an idea from another planet.

PFLAG wants discussion on reparative therapy?

PFLAG (Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) released a statement yesterday saying they want a discussion about “reparative therapy.” Well, that is interesting news since they have already decided they don’t like it. I wonder what they want to discuss.Here is the statement with commentary from yours truly.

Statement on Tennessee Teen’s Release from “Ex-Gay Camp”

July 26, 2005 – Washington, D.C. – As Zach Stark, the Tennessee teen who recently gained national attention after blogging his fears of being sent to Love in Action, is released from the program this week, Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG) calls for an ongoing and substantive discussion about the effects of “reparative therapy” on young people and their families. “As families who have faced these very issues in our own lives, we must give Zach and his family the space and privacy they need to deal with this situation,” said Jody Huckaby, PFLAG’s executive director. “We also must insist, as allies and advocates for our gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) loved ones, that ‘reparative therapy’ programs are not allowed to prosper unchallenged at the expense of our family members and friends.”

=”Our families and friends?” I thought this was about giving Zach and his family space. They say they want discussion but they really don’t want to discuss, they want to pass judgment. In Columbus, at the PTA convention, we wanted to discuss what reorientation counseling is about but they did not support the presence of Parents and Friends of Ex-gays and Gays. If two sides to an issue are not present then it is not an “ongoing and substantial discussion.”

The “reparative therapy” industry uses disproved medical theories to “cure”GLBT persons and preys upon those in pain and confusion about matters of sexualorientation.

=There is no “reparative therapy industry.” If there are therapists who prey on people then they should be out of business. No one I know who believes in change as an option believes in preying on anybody. I don’t know what theories are referred to here but change in sexual orientation has not been disproven. This news release comes from the PR firm of “Hyperbole R Us.”

Their claims and methods have been roundly denounced by the American MedicalAssociation (AMA), American Psychiatric Association (APA) and other medical professionals.

=Who are “they?” Have my claims been denounced? Spitzer’s? Nicolosi’s? Repeat: There is no reparative therapy industry. Those who believe change occurs are a pretty diverse bunch. A real discussion which I welcome would reveal that. But revealing accurate information is not what PFLAG has in mind here.

PFLAG applauds greater scrutiny of “reparative therapy”, “conversion therapy” or “ex-gay” programs.

=So do I.

Because of the attention surrounding Zach’s story, the Tennessee Departmentof Health began an investigation and notified the unlicensed Love in Action thatit was functioning illegally by claiming to offer therapy and could faceprosecution by the district attorney.

= Read the Memphis Commercial Appeal on this story. I spoke to John Smid at the Exodus conference and they are cooperating with the state. Further, as the result of an earlier conversation he and I had, LIA has clarified that they are a ministry and not a treatment or therapy program. Given the level of cooperation and the fact that they are a ministry program, it is extremely unlikely that they will face any legal difficulties.

Immediately before entering the program, Zach wrote, “I’ve been through hell. I’ve been emotionally torn apart for three days” and “Honestly how couldyou support a program like this? If I do come out straight I’ll be so mentally unstable and depressed it won’t matter.” Zach’s fears were well-founded. According to the AMA and APA, “reparative therapy” does not work. But the dangers of these programs are real. At a minimum, those in “reparative therapy” must cope with the emotional damage of being relentlessly badgered with fear tactics and being told to change who they are. At worst they are at risk for self-destructive behavior including suicide. Mary Lou Wallner and her husband Bob know the damage of “reparative therapy” all too well. Speaking at a recent PFLAG conference in Bothell, Washington, Mary Lou told the audience that herreaction when her daughter came out was based on the teachings of Dr. James Dobson, a leading “reparative therapy” proponent. “I raised my kids on Dobson. I read his books and listened to his radio broadcasts for years. ” In December of1988, when she was about 21 years old, my daughter wrote us a letter and told usthat she was a lesbian. I flipped out and the next nine years were pretty stormy. Then in February of 1997, at age 29, she committed suicide.” “Lookingback, I think a lot of it had to do with the way I taught her about homosexuality. I have since come to understand that almost anybody gets depressed if they can’t be who they really are.”

=I think this may be the most destructive and distorted part of the press release. No one knows how this boy feels now. I read his blog, he sounded like he needed counseling independent of any issues with same sex attraction. PFLAG never even considers the evidence about suicide and mental disorders. The Wallners did not say that their daughter said she was depressed because of her parents beliefs but they now think part of it was their beliefs. I feel so bad for people who have children who are troubled. I have first hand knowledge of these things and to use the suffering of people to sensationalize the matter is irresponsible. No ethical therapist would ignore depression and suicidal ideation in clients.

Like the Wallners, Zach’s parents and other parents considering “reparative therapy” only want the best for their children. However, PFLAG families and ourallies must re-double our efforts to educate about the dangers and alternatives to this soundly discredited “treatment.” “Ultimately we want Zach to be who he is and we accept whatever decision he makes,” said Dr. Arnold Drake, president of PFLAG Memphis. “We also want Zach and his family to know that we’ve been through this before and we are ready and able to support them.”

=This statement of acceptance doesn’t sound very genuine but it will be interesting to see what the reaction will be if Zach says he is ok with the program now.

Next up – I am fixing to watch the CNN Paula Zahn program on the LIA program.

Judge Roberts will be confirmed

I am way outside my area of expertise when I wax upon things political. However, my opinion is that the liberal opposition to Judge Roberts is mostly about rallying the troops and fundraising. On what basis would he not be confirmed? If Ruth Bader Ginsberg can be confirmed with her history with the ACLU then questions about former clients and charities and personal beliefs should be off the table.

Immediately, PFLAG and HRC are out in front along with NARAL in opposition to the nomination. Interesting connection, gay rights organizations and pro-abortion groups – it appears they believe Judge Roberts may not find an implied right to privacy in the constitution when he officially looks. Said better, he may not find that an individual right to privacy is an absolute truth to which all other rights and morals bow.

Having said that, let me predict the following: Roberts will be confirmed, he will not vote to overturn Roe, he will not vote to overturn Lawrence v. Texas, but he will strengthen parents rights, including over abortion and contraception for minors, he will allow states to place restrictions on abortion and he will vote with Scalia and Thomas on church – state relations.

Fayetteville Arkansas controversy over sexually explicit books

This is a developing story and is already pretty big in Arkansas. As I said in the article, I cannot understand what educational value these books have. I remember in helping with child abuse investigations in Southern Ohio, perpretrators would give material such as is in these books in order to groom kids for a sexual advance. I don’t care what your political ideology is, I would hope we could get to some common ground on removing sexually explicit material from public schools.
—————————–

Arkansas Parents Uncover Volumes of Vile Literature in School Libraries
By Jim Brown July 22, 2005

(AgapePress) – An Arkansas mother who succeeded in getting three sexually explicit books removed from Fayetteville school libraries says she has found there are more than a hundred books of that nature in the school district. Now a mental health counselor is recommending a parental audit of all the books in the city’s school libraries.

According to a search conducted by Fayetteville mom Laurie Taylor, out of 502 books listed under “sex” in the city’s middle, junior high, and high school libraries, there are 66 books on sex instruction, and 32 of those are on child sex instruction. Another 75 of the books deal with homosexuality, 23 fall under the category of lesbian fiction, 16 are on rape, 9 on incest, and there are even some books on bestiality.

Taylor and other concerned mothers and fathers are calling area school officials on the carpet for allowing books filled with profanity and gratuitous sex to remain on the shelves in the city’s schools. The group has asked Superintendent Bobby New and school board members to restrict students’ access to the materials. Meanwhile, Taylor and other parents have begun reviewing the libraries’ collections and are providing a summary of some of the shocking and offensive content they have found on the “http://www.wpaag.org/” website.

“The majority of these … are fiction books,” the Arkansas mom notes, “so there’s no educational
value in them outside of the fact that they’re literary — and I hesitate when I say ‘works’ — but they’re literary works that have been put into our library system to, in my opinion, desensitize and indoctrinate our kids to thinking that sex with whoever, whenever, whatever you want to is okay.”

Taylor points out that, although the bulk of these books are actually in the middle school and above, in Fayetteville any child in the entire county — which covers several school districts — can access any book from the library. “And here’s the terrible thing,” she adds; after choosing a possibly inappropriate book from any of the libraries, boys and girls can “have it delivered to their home school without their parents’ consent or knowledge.”

So far, Taylor says, “irresponsible” Fayetteville school officials have refused to address the issue, at least until school resumes. The National Coalition Against Censorship and other left-wing groups have written a letter to Superintendent New and the school board, urging them to resist removing or imposing a parental consent requirement on the sexually explicit books.
Mental Health Expert Appalled by School Libraries’ Explicit LiteratureGrove City College professor and psychologist Dr. Warren Throckmorton says he, too, is appalled by the content of scores of books on human sexuality in Fayetteville’s school libraries. After reviewing just a portion of literature, the noted sexual orientation researcher and mental health counselor says he found the literary value of many offensive books to be of insufficient weight to overlook their sexually explicit content.

“We’re talking not just about descriptions of sexual thoughts or feelings,” Throckmorton says, “and certainly we’re not talking about any kind of sexual education material. What we’re talking about are things that are problems in schools, such as adult-child sexual relationships.”
The psychology expert notes one particularly egregious example in particular, a book called Doing It by Melvin Burgess. In it, he says, “there’s a description of a boy who has a sexual relationship with his teacher. He doesn’t tell the authorities.”

Another book to which Throckmorton took especial offense was Rainbow Boys by Alex Sanchez, which features a threesome of boys who believe they are homosexuals. “One of them has unprotected sex with an adult that he met through a Gay-Straight Alliance [club],” the mental health counselor says. And these kinds of books, he points out, “are touted as being recommended books by groups like the Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network, or GLSEN. And they’re in these libraries. I don’t understand what educational purpose [books like] this could possibly have to be in a school library.”

Dr. Throckmorton says it is important to remember, researchers warn that kids who are exposed to sexually explicit material — whether it be in books or on television — are more inclined to engage in sexual activity. He feels an audit should be made of the books currently included in the Fayetteville School Libraries, to be conducted by a broad committee of parents in the school system.

Clarification regarding study quoted in essay about Exodus founders

In my recent article regarding the founders of Exodus, I made the following quote referencing a study of counseling with gays and lesbians:

“For instance, in a recent study of 2000 episodes of counseling with 600 gays, only 13 episodes were identified as involving sexual reorientation therapy.”

The reference for the study is: Jones, M.A., Botsko, M., & Gorman, B.S. (2003). Predictors of psychotherapeutic benefit of lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients: The effects of sexual orientation matching and other factors. Psychotherapy: Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 40, 289-301.

There were a number of factors examined but the authors asked 600 glb people who had been involved in any kind of counseling to report on their experiences with their counselors. The word episode refers to all the sessions with one counselor. So roughly we are talking about 600 people who consulted nearly 2000 counselors for an average of 3.3 episodes (counselors) each.

Of the nearly 2000 episodes of counseling reported on by these 600 clients, only 13 were with counselors who engaged in reorientation counseling. Remember this is more than 13 sessions but thirteen different counselors out of nearly 2000 reported on. So less than 1% of the episodes involved counseling situations that the gay and lesbian clients now see as being at odds with their current orientation. Remarkably, 48% of the clients were confused about their orientation at the time they went into counseling. These are the kind of clients that would seem to be vulnerable to therapists offering or attempting to impose reorientation interventions. However, less than 1% the counseling episodes included reorientation therapy. This does not sound like evidence of widespread harm done by counselors to vulnerable clients.

Also, on the point of widespread harm, the one other study (Shidlo and Schroeder) that surveyed clients who said they had been harmed by reorientation counseling took 5 years to find 176 people that experienced harm. This is a long period of time, despite the fact, that the effort was sponsored by gay and lesbian organizations and publicized widely in these circles. In contrast, Spitzer took less than 2 years to find 200 people who met his stringent criteria for change.

Those who have been harmed I do not doubt. What I think this evidence supports is that there are people doing things in the name of reorientation that are harmful and they need to be stopped. However, as evidence of widespread harm, I do not think the case is made.

New Essay: Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?

Are Sexual Preferences Changeable?
Warren Throckmorton, PhD
July 19, 2005

”(Wayne) Besen tracks down a dizzying array of former ex-gay leaders who later came out of the closet for good, including the two founders of Exodus.” From an article by Mark Benjamin on Salon.com, July 18, 2005.

The article containing the above quote is entitled, “Turning Off Gays” and is the first of a four part series on the Internet site, Salon.com. The series is billed as “an investigation into the Christian netherworld of ‘reparative therapy,’ a disputed practice to convert gays and lesbians into heterosexuals.” The topic is important to many due to the current curiosity, both scientific and popular, regarding the nature of sexual orientation.

Are sexual preferences changeable? Activist Wayne Besen, quoted above has made a career out of claiming that such change is impossible. As evidence, the Salon article, referencing Mr. Besen, claims that there were two founders of a prominent organization of former homosexuals, Exodus International, and that both of them reverted to homosexuality.

Are these claims accurate? Let me cut to the chase. Mostly, they are not true. In fact, after investigating the matter, I found that there were more than two people on the founding board of Exodus. Of these founders, only one reverted to homosexuality. Furthermore, one of the two men referred to by Mr. Besen was never in leadership with Exodus.

Here are the details….

To read the rest of the essay, go to DrThrockmorton.com.

Salon Goes Undercover to Investigate a Reparative Therapist

In part two of their series on reparative therapy, Salon’s Mark Benjamin lies to Maryland therapist, Barry Levy to get his story.

The session with Mr. Levy sounds believable enough, although I would want to hear from Mr. Levy as well. Several aspects of the commentary on the story however are questionable. Benjamin writes:

The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right’s crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools.

This is a theory that is based in the reaction of European psychiatry to the idea that homosexuality is a condition and not a behavior. Kertbeny and Ulrichs defined homosexuality as an inborn trait in the 1860s in a political effort to prevent the maintenance of sodomy laws in Prussia. European psychiatrists grasped this concept but looked for environmental causes. Freud came along and in the spirit of the day located the cause in the first six years of life. Freudian thinking about homosexuality dominated psychiatry for decades as it did on most other psychiatric issues. In the Salon article, Levy is not exactly off when he says psychoanalysts still consider homosexuality a treatable condition. Not officially, mind you, but there a number of them who were trained in this way and maintain that approach to practice. It should be noted that homosexuality is not the only issue they view this way. They are being consistent in their theoretical outlook when they consider homosexuality through Freudian lenses.

I wouldn’t call this theory the moral underpenning as Mr. Benjamin does. I don’t think the political opposition to gay marriage, for instance, is conditioned on the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

Benjamin writes:

One study, often cited by conservative groups like Focus on the Family, shows incremental success from reparative therapy. But critics point out that the study was based solely on interviews with subjects arranged by ex-gay ministries; in fact, many of them worked at the ministries.

He is undoubtedly referring to Spitzer’s work. And the charge that the study was based solely on interviews “arranged” by ex-gay ministries is false. Spitzer says where his participants came from. About half were referred by a combination of NARTH and ex-gay ministries, but even then the interviews were not arranged. These groups put out the call for research participants and people answered.

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Levy cautioned Mr. Benjamin that change may take some time and that it didn’t work for everyone. While I personally go into much greater detail (and he may have as well, we don’t know), I think it speaks well of him that he was not coercive and did not over promise as reparative therapist are often accused of doing.

I think this article is detrimental in that it portrays reparative therapy as the only approach that holds that sexual orientation is flexible and that people can get real benefit from seeing a counselor for sexual orientation distress. I am not a reparative therapist but I do see clients that do not wish to integrate same sex attraction into a gay identity. And I do find that over time (not the same for all), some of the clients find that the same sex attractions go away and are replaced with opposite sex attractions. My approach is not to tell the client what might have caused their feelings but to allow the client to tell me via history taking. Not all same sex attraction is association with the reparative history as described by Mr. Levy in the Salon article. Many ex-gays have that background and the reason for this should continue to be researched but I have seen many who do not fit that Freudian based theory.

Feedback on Salon article: 80% of Exodus Founders are still straight

Here is a quote from the Salon article regarding the founders of Exodus International:

“Besen tracks down a dizzying array of former ex-gayleaders who later came out of the closet for good, including the two founders of Exodus.”

This is not true. Only one of the founders are gay today (Michael Bussee). His partner (Gary Cooper) was not a founder and died of AIDS several years ago. 80% of the founders are still ex-gay. I know; I have talked to all of them personally to research it. This should be corrected. Wayne Besen knows there were more than 2 founders of Exodus and he knows that Gary Cooper was not a founder but he still claims these things to anyone who will listen.