Facts and Fiction in the Jonah Case: Spitzer's Retraction

In November, 2012 on behalf of several former clients of  Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (formerly Homosexuality), the Southern Poverty Law Center initiated a complaint in New Jersey (Ferguson et al v. JONAH). The complaint seeks damages under New Jersey’s consumer protection laws and challenges JONAH’s claims to be able to help people change sexual orientation.
In support of JONAH, Michelle Cretella, a pediatrician, filed an amicus brief with various claims regarding sexual reorientation. There are many glaring problems with this brief. I hope to examine several of them over the coming days, including her selective citation of my work.
A huge problem for NARTH has been Robert Spitzer’s retraction of his 2001 study on sexual reorientation, and Cretella briefly addresses Spitzer’s recent statements:

cretellaamicus1

I hope Cretella does not do pediatrics as she suggests doing sexual reorientation. For her patients’ sake, I hope she relies on new studies and takes into account all relevant studies to inform her advice. On sexual orientation, there have been several important studies about sexual orientation since 2001 which are relevant.
And then regarding Zucker and the publication of a retraction: This is misleading. In Zucker’s journal, Spitzer did publish a letter to the editor which apologized for what he now believes are erroneous conclusions.  Regarding Zucker’s reasons for not doing something in addition to Spitzer’s letter, I will let him speak for himself. In a widely published May 20, 2012 email, Zucker stated:

Dear Colleagues:
1. As some of you know, Robert Spitzer has recently expressed his reservations/regret/remorse about the study he published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2003, in which he interviewed 200 men and women who had sought out some variant of “reparative therapy” to deal with their unwanted homoerotic attractions, desires, etc. This was first reported on in an article in American Prospect and then went viral the way all good things should do in the post-modern era…the story even reached the front page of the New York Times in an article by Ben Carey and then an Editorial in the NYT.
2. Because there is a lot of interest in the original study, the author’s regret, etc., I have asked the publisher to give open access to the original Spitzer article, the 26 peer commentaries that followed it, Spitzer’s reply, my Editorial that introduced the “target” article, and Spitzer’s recent Letter to the Editor in which he expresses his reappraisal of the study. The open access period will be for 2 months, where anyone from Australia to Zimbabwe can download these papers for free. I am grateful for this kind gesture on the publisher’s part.
3. I have one suggestion: read the Discussion of the original Spitzer article and the 26 peer commentaries.
Feel free to pass this message on to colleagues and relevant listservs.
Best regards
Ken Zucker, Ph.D.
Editor, Archives of Sexual Behavior

Cretella implies that Zucker took a stand on Spitzer’s original conclusions regarding change. Rather, Zucker honored Bob Spitzer’s request to publish a letter and made the original work available.
Cretella also cites my literature reviews from 1998 and 2002 but does not include my more recent views. I will address this in a future post.

NARTH's Tax Exempt Status: Do They Care?

Typical of NARTH, much of the world is talking about them and they haven’t made a public comment on the loss of their tax exempt status. I have heard from people who have written them and the response from NARTH is to claim there is a mistake and they anticipate maintaining their status.
Maintaining, of course, is not the right word since they don’t have it now. They would have to regain it which is possible but involves re-submitting applications and paying fees. If there is some reason why they did not file that would be acceptable to the IRS then they might get the status retroactively. However, I imagine it would have to be a pretty good story.
This means that donations made to NARTH are not tax deductible and there is pretty good chance that donations made now never will be deductible until they regain their status. However, they have offered no official recognition or advisory notice on their website so that donors are warned. Donors who attempt to deduct gifts to a non-eligible organization are subject to penalty.
Here’s another thing, thus far, I know of no religious media source who has written about this. While I can imagine that they might not want to write an embarrassing article, they are not helping their readers.
Last week, I asked NARTH’s Executive Secretary David Pruden for a comment or reaction but thus far, silence.
UPDATE: Surprisingly, One News Now (AFA) covered this story. And they quote someone who knows all about losing one’s IRS status – Peter LaBarbera. Not letting a crisis go to waste, LaBarbera makes the IRS action about government persecution. However, his own group which is even more anti-gay than NARTH got their non-profit status back after filing the necessary papers.
It still seems odd that NARTH did not comment on their status even in what is a friendly venue for them.

NARTH Loses Tax Exempt Status (UPDATED)

In September 2012, the tax exempt status of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was revoked due to failure to file Form 990 for three consecutive years. The notice of revocation was yesterday according to the IRS website.

narthrevocation

Even though the full name of the organization is not listed, the Employee Identification Number and address match up with the 2009 990 form. A call to the IRS also confirmed it.

NARTH’s website advises prospective donors that their donations will be tax deductible but it appears such deductions after September 15, 2012 may not be allowed.

It is difficult to know what this means. NARTH has never been a wealthy organization and conference attendance has declined in recent years. Members are hoping to maintain their ability to conduct reparative therapy with minors in CA via lawsuits against the state to overturn SB 1172 (see this article for more on SB 1172 and then NARTH’s perspective). NARTH has been actively soliciting donations to help support their legal actions. One would not be able to tell from the website that those donations are not deductible.

UPDATE (3/14/13) – I have heard from two commenters and other reliable sources that NARTH continues to tell those who inquire that donations are still deductible. However, according to an IRS representative I spoke with on Tuesday, their status is revoked and there has been no action from NARTH to attempt to reinstate that status. As is typical for NARTH, there has been no on-the-record comment on this situation, despite requests.

PATH Member PFOX Files Amicus Brief in the Prop 8 Case

Citing the “change is possible” mantra, PFOX has filed an amicus brief in the Prop 8 case arguing against marriage rights for gays. This is not surprising but I have some observations about their strategy.
In this brief, PFOX continues its odd logic of considering ex-gays to be a protected class while at the same time hoping to remove/prevent protected class status for gays. On page 4, the brief asserts:

Government authorities and other organizations recognize ex-gays as a group which undermines the assertion that sexual orientation is immutable.

The brief continues to cite dubious cases where PFOX claims that ex-gays are recognized as a protected class.
I have never understood why PFOX thinks this strategy helps them. Even if PFOX is correct about their interpretation of those cases, all of the organizations involved also recognize gays as a class. Furthermore, if ex-gays can be recognized as a protected class while they have a changeable sexual orientation, then the issue of mutability of sexual orientation is irrelevant. Taken to logical conclusion, this argument supports equal protection under the law for gays. Since ex-gays already have the right to marry, why shouldn’t gays?
Then, on page 6, PFOX unveils the list of sexual reorientation groups and includes Richard Cohen’s testimony. This makes it clear that the reparative therapists who say they just want to be able to work with unwanted SSA have taken their stand that they are about more than just a therapeutic approach.

Voices of Change – Are They Real?

UPDATE: The Voices of Change website managers (David Pickup and/or Arthur Goldberg) have removed the post referenced below. Here is a screen cap of the section which mentioned Andrew Marin. There is no explanation or note about  why the post from December 31 has been removed. What is also odd to me is that the other posts from AJAX are still up. Seems like doubt has now been cast on the other entries from that person.
Also, Andrew provided even more detail of his denial of the AJAX post on his site today.
ajaxvoicesofchange
One of the reactions by change therapist to recent challenges in court and state legislatures is a website called Voices of Change. VOC is managed by NARTH’s David Pickup and features testimonials of change and reparative therapy.  Many of the stories sound like textbook renditions of reparative drive theory and the most recent blog entry caught my eye as being unlikely. Someone named AJAX wrote on December 31, 2012:

The idea of therapy for straightening myself out didn’t occur to me till college, when I stumbled upon my roommate’s internet browsing history. Relief is an obscene understatement for my response to the revelation that I wasn’t the only man with unwanted SSA. When I confessed to my roommate that I shared his struggle, he referred me to The Marin Foundation, a Chicago-based organization who bring a Biblical, research-based message of hope and freedom to the gay community: http://www.themarinfoundation.org/
I met with Andrew Marin weekly for the duration of my college career. I appreciated his insight on owning my masculinity and getting over the triggering neurotic thought loops; I still use the techniques and exercises he taught me.

Andrew Marin, a reparative therapist? None of what AJAX says happened at the Marin Foundation rang true so I asked Andrew about it. Here is Andrew’s response:

Since its inception in 2005 The Marin Foundation, nor any of its past or current employees, promote, recommend, assist or have assisted any LGBT people in “reparative therapy.” The Marin Foundation does not believe in the merits of “reparative therapy,” and have seen first hand, including by some of our LGBT employees, the extreme shame and damaged caused by such “therapy.” Anything to the contrary of what I, Andrew Marin, have just stated is a lie.

As a bridge building organization between the LGBT and conservative communities, I, Andrew Marin, am in deep relationship on a daily basis with people from all different shades of faith and sexuality–including those who consider themselves LGBT atheists all the way to those who consider themselves ex-gay. But let me reiterate, I have never engaged anyone in a “reparative therapy” context with any goal of “changing from gay to straight.” I do not believe any amount of “reparative therapy” can change someone from “gay to straight.”
-Andrew Marin, President and Founder of The Marin Foundation (www.themarinfoundation.org)

Andrew confirmed that he did not meet with anyone regularly to bolster masculinity or work through neurotic loops.
While I don’t know who AJAX is so it is hard to make a definitive statement about the rest of what he says, I can say I believe Andrew’s statement. And if what AJAX says about Andrew is off, then what should we believe about the rest of it? How about on the rest of the site?
I recognize that AJAX is one unnamed person among many on this site, but the inconsistency in his account does not provide confidence in the other stories where the identity of the person is obscured.
My critics may dismiss this by claiming I disregard any story of change but that would be untrue. However, too many claims of change later turn out to be made up or embellished. Pointing this out should not lead to an attack on the messenger but a re-evaluation of the message.

I Have Updated My Post on Generalizing Research on One Type of Therapy to Another Type of Therapy – UPDATED

UPDATE 2: Yes, I changed my title to exclude reference to horse therapy. Read why here.

UPDATE: There is now a dispute over the facts reported in this story. On the Cowboy Church website, this alert was published. Bell appears to be saying that he never talked to the media about EAP and homosexuality. I wrote to Rev. Bell and he wrote back taking me to task for referring to the HuffPo story without talking to him first. He has declined thus far to disclose whether or not he has any views on horse therapy for gays. If he informs me of his perspective, I will report it here.

As for the post, I think the basic argument stands.Substitute any outlandish sounding therapy for horse therapy and the point is still valid. Reparative therapists often use data that are not directly relevant to what they do.

——-

 

If you read about the reparative therapy wars, you have probably come across the Virginia pastor who has been quoted as advocating Equine Assisted Psychotherapy (EAP) for homosexuality.

Raymond Bell is the pastor of the Cowboy Church of Virginia and promoter of horse therapy as a sexual orientation change effort, according to Gay Star News.

Gay Star News quotes Bell as follows “because of rape, abandonment, lacking a male role model, abuse and having low self-esteem.” This seems like the standard reparative therapy line. Bell now contests these reports, although has not clarified what he does believe.

As far as I can tell there is no proof for these claims. And in this, horse obscure therapies have something in common with other forms of reparative therapy. If pressed, perhaps purveyors of strange therapies would do what other reparative therapists do – point to studies that claim to document change. However, the problem for Bell and for other reparative therapists is that the studies they point to rarely have anything to do with what they do.

Most of the early studies of sexual orientation change featured behavioral techniques such as aversive therapy. As far as can be determined, none of the current crop of reparative therapists use these techniques. Some of the early studies rely on psychoanalytic treatment but these are mostly case studies or reports from psychoanalysts who were practicing traditional psychoanalysis. Current reparative therapists use pillow beating and screaming, orange therapy, body therapy and other fringe techniques that have not been evaluated for most uses, let alone their use to support sexual orientation change efforts.

Thus, when reparative therapists point to studies of change, ask them what methods were used in those studies. The chances are extremely likely that the techniques used in those studies are not what today’s reparative therapists use.  The fact is that what is today being defended in courts in CA and NJ has not been evaluated for use in changing sexual orientation. Some techniques (catharsis) have been evaluated for other purposes and found to be counterproductive. And at least one technique commonly referenced by Joseph Nicolosi (Affect Focused Therapy) has been rejected as a technique for reorientation by one of the developers of the approach (Diane Fosha).

To sum up, reparative therapists tell us that 70-100 years of research prove that change is possible. Then they defend what they do and say research supports them. So if Raymond Bell ever says horse therapy people who advocate unusual therapies work because research proves that change is possible, they will be using the same rhetorical device as is being used by their professionally trained colleagues.

 

Is a Ban on Reparative Therapy a Violation of the First Amendment, Part One

Does a ban on reparative therapy infringe on the First Amendment rights of reparative therapists?

This question is at the heart of the debate (and a couple of lawsuits) regarding California’s law banning reparative therapy for minors. The law was set to take effect tomorrow but has been postponed pending a full hearing.

According to Eugene Volokh, the issue of professional-client speech has not been well-defined by the courts. In 2004, Volokh offered an excellent summary of issues relating to what the state can do to regulate professional speech to clients.  In the post, Volokh noted that professionals are subject to speech restrictions that other do not experience. For instance, the state can impose penalties when health care professionals offer harmful advice. Outside the professional context these expressions would be protected opinions.

According to Volokh, the Supreme Court has not been specific about important aspects of professional-client speech. He wrote:

Such restrictions and compulsions may in fact be properly upheld: There may be something in a professional-client relationship that would justify such extra regulation. But the Court has never explained (1) exactly what speech restrictions and speech compulsions would be allowed in such a situation, or (2) exactly when this reduced protection would be triggered. In Lowe v. SEC, 472 U.S. 181 (1985), a three-Justice concurrence (written by Justice White and joined by Chief Justice Burger and Justice Rehnquist) suggested this rule (paragraph break added):

One who takes the affairs of a client personally in hand and purports to exercise judgment on behalf of the client in the light of the client’s individual needs and circumstances is properly viewed as engaging in the practice of a profession. Just as offer and acceptance are communications incidental to the regulable transaction called a contract, the professional’s speech is incidental to the conduct of the profession. If the government enacts generally applicable licensing provisions limiting the class of persons who may practice the profession, it cannot be said to have enacted a limitation on freedom of speech or the press subject to First Amendment scrutiny.

Where the personal nexus between professional and client does not exist, and a speaker does not purport to be exercising judgment on behalf of any particular individual with whose circumstances he is directly acquainted, government regulation ceases to function as legitimate regulation of professional practice with only incidental impact on speech; it becomes regulation of speaking or publishing as such, subject to the First Amendment’s command that “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.”

Then Volokh offers a problem which seems relevant to the issues active in the current debate over conversion therapy.

b. Problem: Counseling That Advocates Race-Based Decisions

A state has long required all marriage and family counselors — defined as “any person who offers advice related to marriage and family matters in exchange for money” — to be licensed, and to follow rules prescribed by the state’s Marriage and Family Counseling Licensing Board.

The Board learns that some marriage and family counselors are advising clients not to enter into interracial marriages or interracial adoptions. Some are even advising clients who are in interracial marriages that the interracial nature of the marriage may be a source of the problem, and are suggesting in some instances that divorce may therefore be the only solution.

The Board believes that such advice is offensive, and harmful to the patients. It therefore enacts the following rule: “Any marriage and family counselor who uses the patients’ race, or the race of the patients’ spouse, children, or prospective adoptive children or stepchildren, as part of the basis for the counselor’s recommendation, shall have his or her license suspended for six months.”

Based on this rule, Mary Moe, a counselor who had engaged in such advice, has her license suspended. Her former patients, Laura Loh and Richard Roe, who divorced each other partly on Moe’s advice (Loh is East Asian and Roe is white), but who have since reconciled, sue Moe for emotional distress caused by her advice, which they claim constituted malpractice. The judge awards them $100,000 in a bench trial. One of the judge’s findings of fact is that Moe’s advice was unreasonable by the standards of the profession, and the sole evidence that the judge relies on is the Board’s rule.

What should be the proper analysis be under the First Amendment?

Did Mary Moe suffer a violation of her First Amendment rights?

When reparative therapists tell minor clients that they can change sexual orientation if they engage in deep emotional therapy, are they offering unreasonable advice which can be regulated by the state? When reparative therapists tell clients that homosexuality is a disorder of gender identity, can the state intervene? Should the state intervene when licensed therapists tell clients that pounding a pillow with a tennis racquet while screaming will help them get in touch with repressed memories underlying their homosexuality?

In this post, I want to raise the issues and generate some discussion. In part two, I will write about my views on the matters.

MercatorNet Posts Op-Ed Critical of Reparative Therapy

Remarkably, Mercator Net posted an article critical of reparative therapy earlier this month. The piece by Melinda Selmys has generated many comments at MercatorNet and for good reason. The article is well written and provides Selmys opinion on the California law banning reparative therapy for minors.

Selmys writes:

That said, it is not impossible for a homosexual to have a happy marriage with an opposite-sex spouse. My own experience speaks to that: I am same-sex attracted, but have chosen heterosexual marriage for a combination of religious and personal reasons. I would not say, however, that I have achieved orientation change. I am not attracted to men, I am in love with a man. This is typical of the real experience of “ex-gays”: usually what changes is not the underlying pattern of attraction but rather the sort of relationship that a person chooses to pursue.

Well said.

She appears to favor the California law which bans reparative therapy for minors, saying

Adults who have chosen to undergo therapy are in a position to change therapists or to abandon treatment if they find that the therapy does more harm than good. Minors who are forced into therapy by adult authority figures do not have this option. Even if young people are theoretically seeking treatment under their own power, many feel intense pressure to overcome homosexual desires in order to please their parents, and some fear punishment or recrimination if they fail. Unscrupulous therapists often market their services primarily to parents and guardians, preying on the hopes and fears of those who have the ability to place adolescents in treatment.

Moreover, conscientious therapists openly state that conversion therapy does not have any real chance of working unless it is freely chosen by the client. Teenage dependents are not in a position to make a free choice of this kind.

I have seen a fair number of SSA teens over the years and generally I find that their concern is parental rejection and/or abandonment. They are not really in a position to question parental wishes. On the other hand, I have met some who did not want to engage in sexual behavior and expressed gratitude for support to avoid that.

Currently, the Pacific Justice Institute is soliciting reparative therapists for minor clients to join the lawsuit against the state of California. It seems inevitable that such requests will put even more pressure on a minor who may already be going along with parental wishes in order to keep peace.

While it is obvious that NARTH is under fire, an article like this on the MercatorNet website has to be considered a real setback.

Check out Melinda Selmys blog.

Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: JONAH Responds to SPLC Suit

A group called Freedom of Conscience Defense Fund has taken on the defense of Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH) against a suit filed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The SPLC complaint alleges that JONAH violated New Jersey’s consumer fraud law by promising sexual reorientation to clients without success. The complaint is here.

It is very discouraging to see the JONAH complaint framed as a freedom of conscience case. As the complaint outlines, the techniques alleged by the plaintiffs have been discredited within the mainstream mental health community and as such should be confronted. Please see this post on the “oranges therapy” and this one on the use of nudity by JONAH counselors.

Furthermore, it is misleading for JONAH to describe what it does in the following manner:

For over twelve years, JONAH has helped hundreds of people live the lives that they want, consistent with their personal values. JONAH’s mission is to give all people the opportunity to explore their internal conflicts around sexuality and other values in a caring, non-judgmental environment.

As I have noted elsewhere, reparative therapists are beginning to use the language of the sexual identity therapy framework to describe what they do. However, reparative therapy is inconsistent with the SIT Framework.

More on this topic:

Dr. Oz’s Reparative Therapy Adventure

Sexual Identity Therapy is Not Reparative Therapy

Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: No Naked Therapy?

Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: Orange You Glad I Didn’t Say Banana?

Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: What Does Mainstream Mean?

Reparative Therapy Makeover Continues: When Reparative Isn’t Reparative

NARTH, the New Epigenetic Model and Confirmation Bias

Last week, I wrote briefly about the new paper from William Rice et al which describes an epigenetic model of homosexuality. In that post I reported a quote from National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) spokesman David Pruden regarding the study. Here is Pruden’s statement which was cited in the Christian Post:

“The theoretical model itself attributes only 10-14 percent of the factors to genetics or epigenetics. That leaves the remaining 85 percent or so of the factors to environmental influences,” said Pruden.

That assessment did not sound right to me so I contacted William Rice who informed me that his model accounted for homosexuality generally speaking, not just for “10-14 percent.” The Christian Post rightly printed the correction at the end of the article.

So where did the 10-14 percent figure come from? According to an email from Pruden, that range came from NARTH Scientific Advisory Board member, Neil Whitehead. Whitehead has speculated in the past that the maximum genetic contribution is between 10-14%. While I believe his assessment is low, he has referred to various studies to provide support. However, in the case of the new study, it appears no one at NARTH has even read the paper.

If Pruden read it, he didn’t refer to it. Rather he referred to Whitehead who yesterday placed a brief article on the NARTH website about the paper. Here is the body of Whitehead’s statement:

(A  fuller evaluation will appear here on this site: www.mygenes.co.nz when the full paper is available)

Recently (Anonymous, 2012) a summation of a published paper (Rice, W.R., Friberg, U. Gavrilets,  2012) has  achieved attention as being an explanation for homosexuality.

Readers should note this is a theoretical model only and  that  historically many theories have been put forward as the single overriding factor  causing homosexuality.  The current best consensus is that there is no single over-riding factor – the  trait is multifactorial and overwhelmingly environmental. The Rice paper is quite unlikely to be “critical”. Like previous  theories, the current epigenetic one may well have a small contribution, but  this remains to be established. The authors themselves  note that laboratory work has yet to be done. The paper built on  previously published work (Rice, Gavrilets, & Friberg,  2008).

Apparently, Whitehead has not read the paper because he said the “full paper” was not available. On the contrary, the paper is freely available online here.

What is striking is what Whitehead says about the topic of the paper before seeing it. He says homosexuality is “overwhelmingly environmental” and opines that the current epigenetic theory is unlikely to make more than a “small contribution” to homosexuality. It appears that Pruden and Whitehead have their minds made up.

NARTH is so committed to an environmental/family model of cause that organization leaders jump to a preferred conclusion before even considering the evidence.  This is one way confirmation bias operates. In this case, NARTH representatives said things about the theory before they read or studied it, and what they said came, not from the paper, but from their preconceived ideas.