More on Exodus youth standards

Recently Peterson Toscano wrote a series of posts describing his belief that Exodus International provides inadequate guidelines to protect the safety of youth involved in it’s programs.

In the first of three posts, Peterson stated:

On June 26, 2006 I initially left voice messages for Alan Chambers of Exodus International and another national ex-gay leader about inappropriate incidents that affected youth at an Exodus member ministry. I will not go into the details at this time, but I shared three specific situations that happened within the previous year. The shocking details of the third situation compelled me to contact Alan and this other national leader.

This post set bloggers to posting with headlines like: Former Ex-Gay Says Exodus Admits Mistreatment of Youth but Stalls on Safeguards and Exodus Without Guidelines.

However, some commenters on ExGayWatch and Peterson’s blog raised questions about why the “shocking incident” was not reported to the police. In Peterson’s second post, he said:

Although clearly inappropriate, the incidents that I related to Alan Chambers last July did not include criminal acts. The incidents revolved around interactions between adult and youth participants in an Exodus member ministry. Even though the incidents did not require contacting authorities at that time, the situations and the conditions that existed, (and as far as I know still exist), at the Exodus member ministry where these situations occurred, were such that minors were at risk for potential harm.

But then in his third post on the subject, he said:

Thank you to those of you who have shown concern for the youth in Exodus programs. From your comments and your questions, e-mails and calls, I see that many of you really care about these kids and wanted to make sure that if any child is at risk, that all necessary and possible steps have being taken. And they have, at least for the situations I alluded to in my last posts. Proper authorities (and parents) had been contacted, action had been taken. When faced with an immediate problem, Exodus dealt with it. That has never been the issue.

Some of the uproar over these posts may be have inflamed somewhat by the original title of the ExgayWatch post, which used the word “abuse” in the place of “misconduct” as it is now. However, I think it might have been more clear for Peterson to specify what the incidents were up front. It still is somewhat confusing to me, in that in the second post above, he says “the incidents did not require contacting authorities at that time…” but then in the third post, he says, “at least for the situations I alluded to in my last posts. Proper authorities (and parents) had been contacted, action had been taken.”

So from his accounts, readers are left in the dark about the nature of the incident(s).

I asked Alan Chambers about his view of the matter and he sent this email which he gave me permission to post:

As for the actual issue, Peterson called two other leaders and I (separately) during the Exodus conference [June 27-July 2, 2006]threatening to go to the media about an 18 year old former client of a member ministry who met a 40 year old client through that same ministry. At the time the 18 year old was 17. Once the young man turned 18, the two announced they were going to move in together.

The two leaders in question and I met and agreed that the authorities and parents needed to be called and that the leader of the group was the one to do it. The authorities and parents were called immediately and Peterson was informed that this wasn’t an issue between he and Exodus, but one for the authorities. I don’t understand why Peterson never even hinted at wanting to report it, even months later.

Prior to this, Exodus was in the process of revising its standards for member ministries to clearly state that no youth could ever be involved in adult groups or have any interaction if a ministry was to be a member of Exodus. Those standards are now being used during the annual renewal process. By February all ministries seeking renewal will be complete.

As for attempted sex between a minor and adult that never happened. In fact, I am told that the 18 year old and 40 year old didn’t actually end up together.

I also was sent the guidelines that are currently in place for Exodus member ministries which seems to address many concerns that have been raised. Some of the rhetoric over this issue could be interpreted as concern that Exodus had no standards in place; however they did have guidelines in place with revised guidelines coming in gradually. As member ministries renew membership, they must agree to these guidelines. The last of these updates will be complete by February of this year. So, it seems to me, that the upshot of this whole episode is that Exodus handled an unfortunate incident appropriately and that Exodus had guidelines in place to protect youth. Furthermore, they have an internal process that reviews them and updates them as necessary. Pretty much nothing has changed. I suspect any feedback from readers here will be taken seriously by Exodus leaders as the standards are revised in the future. Furthermore, where the guidelines are not followed, as far as I can tell, Alan and the Exodus board is committed to enforcing them. Anyone aware of discrepancies should provide that information to Exodus.

Sexual Identity Therapy: How it begins

Within the next couple of weeks, Grove City College will publish the sexual identity therapy guidelines authored by Mark Yarhouse and me. In preparation for this, I am putting together materials to help describe how they can be implemented. One such paper is a narrative of an interview I conducted with David Akinsanya of the BBC. While he was in the US filming his documentary, he stopped by Grove City for a visit. This was filmed by the crew but never used in the documentary. David and Kathryn Park of the BBC gave me permission to use the transcript for training and educational purposes. Thanks to them for that. This segment will be published in a book on this subject, hopefully within the next year.

Why do I have these feelings?

Taking a break from book writing, and inspired by the Satel article, I put some thoughts together than might be an op-ed when they grow up.

In my clinical work and on my website, I receive many inquiries from people who experience homosexual attractions. Most often, the writers are distressed by their feelings and want some advice or assistance. One of the most frequent questions I get is, “why do I have these feelings?”

The question is natural enough. Although widely discussed in the culture, having attractions to the same sex is statistically infrequent. The percentage of the population who identify as gay has been pegged at between 2-3%, so asking why one is in the minority reflects a natural human curiosity about being different.

However, what most people really want to know is what made them gay? Some questioners wonder if they inherited the feelings and many others wonder if their feelings came from conflicts with their parents.

My responses begin with an academic bent. I first inform them that there are many contradictory research findings. Some studies implicate pre-natal factors, while others point to a role for social environment, including family. I tell them that there is a group of researchers that line up on the side of biology, with others more aligned with the environmental camp, with still others (myself included) who see both nature and nurture as working together in different ways for different people to lead to one’s sexuality. However, I rarely stop there.

I ask what difference it would make to them if they knew why. In other words, how would knowing why help you in your life?

I ask because my research and experience leads me to be skeptical of two related ideas that permeate the field of psychotherapy generally and specifically, among those who help people make peace with homosexual desires. The first idea is that one can know with certainty why one feels attracted to the same sex. The second is that knowledge of why directly leads to an elimination or acceptance of homosexual attractions.

Recently Sally Satel, psychiatrist and scholar at the American Enterprise Institute covered similar ground in a New York Times essay. Writing about addictions, she says,

Reconstructing the story of one’s life is a complicated business for other reasons. What scientists call hindsight bias kicks in when we try to figure out the causal chain of events leading to the current situation. We may well come up with a tidy story but, inevitably, it will contain large swaths of revisionist history. It’s not that we bias ourselves deliberately; it happens because the mind tends to make events in the past appear comprehensible and orderly. We forget the uncertainties that might have beset us as we struggled in real time.

To be sure, humans seem driven to explain. Wondering why a co-worker didn’t say hello or why one fears speaking in public is a natural part of our mental lives. However as social psychologists teach us, we are biased observers, not only of others but of ourselves. Furthermore, human memory is far from being a tape recorder. Rather, our present memories are fuzzy reconstructions, sometimes involving events that never occurred, motivated by a need to reduce confusion.

Bias may also enter our deliberations because tidbits of our experience may conform to narratives we find in the culture or among social groups we like. About this phenomenon, Satel says,

Narratives are shaped also by a natural tendency to focus on information that confirms theories we already hold. These theories — for example, that molested children are likely to grow up to have sexual compulsions of their own — may be imbibed from the media, self-help books or therapists.

Dr. Satel’s illustration about child abuse is reminiscent of the frequent narrative offered by many conservative groups that homosexual attractions derive from detached relations with same-sex parents or from childhood abuse. However, pro-gay therapists may gravitate toward the media fueled narrative that regards homosexual attractions as being invariably inborn and immutable, despite weak evidence to that effect. Complicating the search for many people I work with is that they can scan their lives and find evidence for both narratives. Research has demonstrated that many therapists selectively ask questions and respond more favorably to information from clients that fit therapists’ theories. Thus, certain events may seem more meaningful when trusted advisors and conventional wisdom unite to provide a coherent story.

So people are biased observers and we really don’t know for sure why anyone feels attracted to the same sex. Doesn’t psychotherapy rely on psychological investigation to get results? Surely people feel better when they learn why, don’t they?

Dr Satel addresses this question well, writing,

If our own accounts of our actions are often so slanted and embellished, is composing them simply a misbegotten quest? Surely not. To a therapist, the attempt signals that patients are aware that they have a problem worthy of attention. And the narratives themselves can help them make sense out of confusion. This, in turn, can diminish anxiety and exaggerated guilt. Such relief might be sufficient in and of itself for some, or, depending on the goals of therapy, it could embolden a patient to make further healthy adjustments.

Searching for why may provide some benefit but it does not lead to a value judgment. I submit that whether one is born gay or is socialized to become gay, one still must make a value based decision about how one wants to live.

Case in point, one of my clients initially came to believe the reason he was drawn to men was due to his father’s distance and lack of love. This insight was powerful, meaningful, and full of emotion. However, even after this recognition, and an emotional reconciliation with his father, my client felt very little decline in his attractions to men. He decided perhaps he was predisposed to homosexuality. However, due to his religious convictions, he determined not to pursue gay relationships. He gained more satisfaction from therapy and his life when he stopped seeking insight and started to implement strategies to help him in the present.

So after why, perhaps, the better question is: “now what?”

Seduced by the Narrative

As a practicing psychotherapist of nearly 25 years I have had a close up view of how people suffer, how they come to understand that suffering and how they change. Much of my early practice was organized around helping people construct a historically grounded narrative to understand their suffering and to free them up to behave in a way that would not recreate more suffering and actually improve wellbeing.

Sometime in the late 1990’s it became obvious to me that this intervention was at least not very efficient and at times distracting from the urgent work at hand for my clients. Clients and others had developed a compelling narrative for why they were being destructive, but they they showed little drive toward transforming that insight into action. Sally Satel, M.D. wrote in last month’s New York times (read it here) how she sees this everyday in her methadone clinic. She writes well and thoughtfully on this topic.

Currently, I still describe myself as a psychodynamic psychotherapist, but with an edge and an energy that focuses on quality of life in the now. I view people’s struggles as having their roots in developmental errors, injuries and neglect. But my focus is “how does that lead to you taking less responsibility or seeing that you have less choices for your wellbeing in the now?” I think I concluded somewhere in 2000 that people were finding ways to change their lives years before psychology was created and they were doing it will very little insight in some circumstances. It is that power that I am interested in harnessing for my clients.

That brings me to the topic of Same-Sex Attraction. It seems to me we have two compelling narratives which have, at best, incomplete scientific support: a) that SSA is biologically determined and b) that it is caused by a wound in the child’s relationship with their same sex parent.

So the questions for my readers today is:

How do these narratives interfere with our conversation about Same-Sex Attraction? and, in a related question,

How do these narratives limit our client’s ability to see themselves as fully formed persons able to choose their actions in the now?

Thanks for checking in on the blog today.

Year in review – Top ten stories from 2006

As much for my own reference and recollection as anything else, I compiled this top ten list of stories from 2006. Since I am the only voter, the list is subjective and regular readers might arrange them differently or think I should have included another story over one of these. I am interested to hear any reactions along those lines. They are arranged in the order of the interest the story seemed to create here on the blog, not their actual importance in the real world.

I first note the topic which is a link to all relevant blog posts and then describe the story briefly. It’s been an eventful year, eh?

1. Gerald Schoenewolf’s NARTH article – This issue was reported widely on blogs as well as the mainstream press and seemed to generate the most interest of any of the issues I blogged about. The article on political correctness, Dr. Schoenewolf’s angry defense, and NARTH’s handling of it (removed it from the website but then allowed Dr. Schoenewolf to defend it) figured prominently in my decision not to attend the 2006 NARTH conference and the resignations of David Blakeslee and Ned Stringham from NARTH’s Scientific Advisory Board. A popular YouTube video also came about as a result. I wish a better and wiser 2007 to NARTH.

2. Richard Cohen’s media appearances – This series of posts garnered much interest from readers, with critics of ex-gay efforts delighting in Mr. Cohen’s decisions to take his reparative drive theories and techniques to the mainstream media. His appearances bewildered and divided people who support those who seek to live out conservative views of sexuality. I severed ties with PFOX over the matter due to Mr. Cohen’s association with them.

3. Joseph Berger’s NARTH article – This story preceded the controversy over Dr. Schoenewolf’s article. Reacting on the NARTH website to a San Francisco Chronicle article, Dr. Berger said that gender variant children might do well to face teasing in school in order to move them toward reality. With encouragement from Exodus and others, NARTH issued a retraction and removed the article. Much damage was done however, as Dr. Berger’s article was repeatedly and at times erroneously referred to by opponents of the Palm Springs Love Won Out conference.

4. Ted Haggard’s resignation – I did quite a few posts on this sad story and was quoted in a Denver Post article regarding the aftermath. Along with the revelation of fellow Colorado pastor, Paul Barnes, the disclosures of Rev. Haggard have prompted many in the evangelical world to reflect on how the church responds to homosexuality.

5. The return of the co-founders of Exodus – About half way through the year, I began receiving emails from Michael Bussee. Michael, one of the co-founders of Exodus International, took exception to my account of the early days of Exodus. Through some spirited and pointed exchanges, Michael and I forged a good connection via the blog and email. These exchanges eventually led to the establishment of wonderful discussions with other early movers and shakers (e.g., Robbi Kenney, Ed Hurst, Lori Rentzel) including helpful reflection on the term ex-gay.

6. Re-evaluation of the term “ex-gay” – As an aspect of the co-founders of Exodus discussion, Exodus Executive Director, Alan Chambers publicly expressed his desire to retire the term ex-gay. The discussion that ensued about the term took many tangents including the common ground discussion and built on an earlier post about what change of sexuality means. At present, it seems to me that the discussion is taking a break for the holidays. I hope to see these topics revived in the new year.

7. Swedish pheromone study and press coverage – The study was certainly news in itself as the Swedish team led by Ivanka Savic, found large differences in how the brains of lesbians and straight women were activated by what the researchers proposed were pheromone-like substances. I got involved by noting the incorrect reporting of the study from both the Associated Press and the United Press International. After I made several contacts with Dr. Savic and then the wire services, both the AP and UPI issued corrections.

8. APA President Koocher’s remarks about client self-determination – In an APA town hall meeting, guest blogger, David Blakeslee asked APA president Gerald Koocher for guidance in helping religiously conservative people who were in conflict over same-sex attraction. Dr. Koocher raised some eyebrows with his answer and subsequent clarification, published on this blog. This exchange led to an invitation from Dr. Koocher to submit my sexual identity therapy framework to the APA for a review. The entire APA convention and a NARTH inspired protest led to several posts, including the comments of APA luminary Nicholas Cummings.

9. Sexual identity therapy – I launched a blog dedicated to providing a framework for mental health interventions with people in conflict over same-sex attractions and chosen values and beliefs. The guidelines differ on several key points from gay affirmative and reparative therapy models. Related to this topic, the paper, “I am not a reparative therapist,” generated much discussion.

10. Abortion and mental health articles – In January, I wrote two articles regarding mental health consequences of abortion. These reports featured interviews with David Fergusson, David Reardon, and Nancy Russo, all prominent researchers in the field. The impetus was a report from David Fergusson’s team demonstrating some mental health risks associated with having an abortion. The interviews and attention to this topic led the APA to remove an outdated public policy information page from their website (NARTH, take note). The page is still being updated but is archived here. These reports were, as far as I can determine, the most widely distributed pieces I have written. Over 15,000 news sources worldwide ran one or both of them.

Honorable mention – The birth order effect research by Anthony Bogaert and subsequent research reports that did not find such an effect occupied my time and several posts. Research from Bearman and Bruckner and most recently the research of Frisch and Hviid found no support for the birth order effect in large and varied groups of respondents. Other issues such as the Equality Ride, Brokeback Mountain, the 60 Minutes report, Gay or Straight?, and the Foley debacle were also important. But one must stop reviewing sometime and say thanks to those who read and comment here.

Happy new year!

Top ten posts, by number of comments, 2006

I am working on a post summarizing the highlights for the year and in so doing reviewed the number of comments each post received. And here they are:

Top ten posts with number of comments in parentheses:

1. Alan Colmes radio show: Wayne Besen vs. Richard Cohen (76)

2. Ex-ex-gay? (53)

3. Big day at the NEA convention in Orlando (52)

4. Australian TV documentary about gay conversion (50)

5. Michael Bussee speaks out about Exodus (49)

6. I am not a reparative therapist (48)

7. LA Times reports on NARTH Schoenewolf controversies (42)

8. CNN segment involving Richard Cohen (39)

9. APA President speaks about a clients right to self-determination (38)

10. Mental health status and homosexuality (37)

NARTH pulls the Melonakos article

Recently, I took some exception to the outdated article, “Why Isn’t Homosexuality Considered A Disorder On The Basis Of Its Medical Consequences?” by Kathleen Melonakos. It was posted on the NARTH website and reprinted at Lifesite News but has now been pulled from the site. You can still read it at the Lifesite News page. I commend Dave Pruden and the NARTH leaders who are taking seriously these concerns for accuracy.

UPDATE: 1/5/06 – A commenter pointed out that the Melonakos article has now been pulled from the Lifesite News site. So this link does not work. For future reference, one can find it on other sites around the web.

The controversy over Dr. Dobson’s Time editorial

Old news by now, there is a dust up over Dr. Dobson’s column regarding Mary Cheney and subsequent complaints by writers Dobson quotes. While not much is happening on this story in the mainstream press, blogs are all over it.

I have not looked into the matter much and am undecided how much time I am going to spend on it. It seems to me as I read the column that Dr. Dobson cites aspects of the work of these researchers but does not say they agree with his position. This happens all the time in academia. You quote people to make points with which they themselves might disagree. Data are, but how one interprets the data is another matter and certainly influenced by one’s presuppositions. First blush reaction; if I get into it more perhaps I would see it differently.

One article and discussion that I found interesting (and perhaps worth getting into) is at the website Inside Higher Ed. Many of the discussants there seem to echo my current point of view. The dialogue is spirited but on point most of the time.

One provocative comment from the Inside Higher Ed page that caught my eye was made by Stanislaus Dundon who wrote:

Using research data independently of conclusions

If Carol Gilligan has a complex argument in which the data of important distinct advantageous contributions of father and mother is somehow over-ridden by the unique advantages of same-sex or single parent homes, or at least equaled by them, let her prove that via additional data or highlighting the contrary data she has already presented. The idea of refusing to let Dobson use her data sounds a bit like the Catholic Cardinals who did not want people to look through Galileo’s telescope.

Dr. Dundon is Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at California State University – Sacramento.

UPDATE: Here are two reactions from Focus on the Family that I do not think are widely circulated. The first rebuts an article from Jennifer Chrisler who was given space by Time to respond to Dr. Dobson’s earlier op-ed. The second provides supporting documentation for Dr. Dobson’s initial op-ed.

Maryland Psychological Association joins APA in same-sex marriage brief

As I indicated in two recent MPA-NEWS articles, MPA was asked by APA last month if it would co-sign an amicus curiae brief on a case that is pending before the Maryland Court of Appeals. In the case (Deane & Polyak et al. v. Conaway et al.), the plaintiffs asserted that the state’s prohibition of same-sex marriage violated the Maryland Declaration of Rights. In January, Baltimore Circuit Judge M. Brooke Murdock ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, writing that the prohibition “discriminates, based on gender against a suspect class, and is not narrowly tailored to serve any compelling governmental interests.”

Last month, the Maryland Psychological Association was asked by the APA to join them in filing an amicus brief in support of a MD case seeking marriage rights for same-sex couples. A Maryland psychologist made me aware of the APA request and I have been following with interest the deliberations of the MPA. The MPA president and board gave their members and psychologists nationally opportunity to offer opinions and comments about how the MPA board should respond. Although I favored neutrality, I commend Dr. Clavelle and his colleagues for their openness to input from all sides of the issue.

Here is Dr. Clavelle’s email that accompanied his article describing the deliberations and the outcome (which was to join the APA in the brief).

Dear Dr. Throckmorton,

My apologies for the delay in responding to your request for the outcome of our deliberations about the APA brief.

I have attached an article I sent out to the MPA listserv regarding the process we followed to address this matter, as well as the result of our deliberations.

I trust this will give you a good idea of how we proceeded and the position we ended up taking.

Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions.

All the best.

Paul Clavelle

MPA President, 2006-2007