Mankind Project position statements on therapy

In response to my request, Mankind Project Executive Director, Carl Griesser yesterday emailed the MKP’s position statement on reparative therapy. He also confirmed the accuracy of a position paper I found online which addresses the question of whether New Warriors is therapy. You can read each statement by clicking the links below.

Reparative therapy and MKP

New Warriors and therapy

Clearly, the Mankind Project does not want to give any impression that what they do in the NWTA is therapy. This is understandable since staff would need to demonstrate training and credentials to conduct group therapy. The NWTA claims to address fears and wounds from the past and help a person become a better person. I recognize that therapy is hard to define but resolving unwanted states and trauma is generally considered an aspect of treatment. Here is a statement from the Mankind Project’s website regarding what the NWTA aims to accomplish:

The New Warrior Training Adventure is an invitation to step forward and look in the mirror. What do you see? Are you the leader that you are looking for? Are you living on the edge of your life? What stands between you and taking action in your world? What is the risk for you to take full responsibility for your life, for living it from the inside out? Do you have the courage to face your own fears and insecurities and discover the tremendous power and beauty that lies within you? Are you willing to step into the fullness of who you really are? Are you willing to discover the real joy and terror of being a man? If so, this training may be for you.

We do not recommend this training for every man. To participate in this training, you must be highly committed to your life, and ready to take a hard look at yourself, your deepest fears, your wounds from the past, and the specific ways your life is not working for you. We choose to work only with men who are ready and willing to do this initiatory work with us.

Facing “insecurities,” “your deepest fears,” “your wounds from the past,” and “the specific ways your life is not working for you” sounds like an active attempt to address dysfunction and trauma. However, I remain open to dialogue on this point and intend to speak further with MKP, perhaps yet today.  

Psychoanalytic theory and the etiology of homosexuality: What does research say?

Does research support psychoanalytic explanations for homosexuality? In one recent exchange at the blog, Ex-Gay Watch, NARTH Scientific Advisory Board member, Jim Phelan advanced psychoanalytic theory with reference to a book entitled, Freud Scientifically Reappraised: Testing the theories and therapy, by Seymour Fisher and Roger Greenberg (1996). The 1996 edition is an update of their initial report in 1977. Specifically Dr. Phelan said that Fisher and Greenberg concluded that empirical research supported the Oedipally based Freudian conception of male homosexuality being derived from a distant or negative father and an overprotective mother – the so-called “classic triadic relationship.” 

I have expressed reservations about the psychoanalytic model before on this blog. Rereading Fisher and Greenberg refreshed my memory about why I do not believe the evidence for the theory is strong.

Regarding male homosexuality, Fisher and Greenberg said on page 139,

The post-1977 material we have reviewed concerning male homosexuality has narrowed the apparent support for Freud’s formulation in this area. Previously, we regarded the empirical data to be congruent with with Freud’s theory that male homosexuality derives from too much closeness to mother and a distant negative relationship with father. As noted, the increased pool of data available reinforces the concept of the negative father but fails to support the idea of the overly close, seductive mother…So we are left with only one of the major elements in Freud’s original formula concerning the parental vectors that are involved in moving a male child toward homosexuality. This reduction in confirmed points on the graph makes it all too easy to conjure up alternative theories of homosexuality that could incorporate the “negative father” data…There would be no need to appeal to the Oedipal image of a son competing with his father for mother’s love.

And so Fisher and Greenberg suggest that the evidence they reviewed supported a correlation between negative fathering and adult homosexuality but not the Oedipal drama surrounding mother. In addition to this limitation of psychoanalytic theory, there is no need to limit theorizing to thinking that poor fathering causes homosexual attractions in some general way for all same-sex attracted men. The empirical work is not able to specify well where the father-son relationship may have faltered. When sons recollect poor relationships with father, the questionnaires infrequently capture when the bad relationship occurred. For many men, I have spoken to and worked with, the bad relationships that are reported came after the emergence of homosexual interests, often in young adolescence. Furthermore, a sizable number of homosexual men report no such disruptions ever.

Fisher and Greenberg acknowledge the deficits in the research. Regarding early research (pre-1977), they noted:

…this entire body of literature is based on a strategy of asking adult homosexual subjects (and the adult heterosexual controls) to remember how their parents treated them during childhood. The questionnaires made such inquiries as, “Was your mother overly close to you?” “Was she intrusive?” “Was your father cold?” “Was he weak?” “Was he distant?” (p. 136).

The authors are skeptical that this strategy is sufficient to address the theoretical formulations that fathers were in fact all of the traits described. Furthermore, the authors pointed out four major methodological problems with the early research.

1. Some of the studies were based on highly selective samples (e.g., homosexuals in treatment or institutionalized for some reason).

2. The definitions of “homosexual” were in some instances so vague that one cannot distinguish whether subjects were possibly bisexual or had simply experimented on a limited basis with homosexual acts.

3. Bias was introduced into responses because some subjects were in psychoanalytic therapy and therefore had already been indoctrinated with Freud’s theory of homosexuality.

4. Few attempts were made to differentiate subjects with reference to mediating variables such as degree of integration into the homosexual community, age at which consistent homosexual behavior began, or degree of masculinity-femininity.

For me, these are crucial research issues that should make anyone very cautious in describing the body of research as supporting a conclusion. Even so, Fisher and Greenberg lent support to the observation of significant deficits in father-son relationships with male homosexual sons. Unaddressed is the issue of direction of causal relationship. Did the research identify the cause of homosexuality being poor fathering or on the other hand, can we tell whether fathers and sons were disrupted due to the emerging behavioral and sexual differences of the sons? The answer to both sides of that question is no, we can’t tell. And as Fisher and Greenberg note, with the mother dimension in serious question, the reparative/Oedipal explanation involving father is weakened. It may be that fathers are involved in cause but in some other more peripheral way (e.g., they do not support traditional heterosexual norms) or it may be that father-son relationships are strained but not with causal implications at all.

As for research regarding lesbians, the psychoanalytic notion is similar. Conflicted mother-daughter relationships are implicated, along with negative fathers. However, Fisher and Greenberg did not find support for the mother-daughter dynamic but did find a weak relationship between lesbianism and negative fathers. The same research cautions mentioned with regards to gay males applies here.

What can we conclude? Very little, in my opinion. It is inconsistent with the most charitable reading of what is not very good research to say psychoanlysis is supported as to etiology of homosexuality. In a future post, I hope to look at research since 1996.

Salt Lake City program examines cruising behavior, sexual identity

Here is an article that bring together several topics covered here on the blog. The Healthy Self-Expressions program works to curb sexual cruising in Salt Lake City and is run by Pride Counseling, a GLBT oriented counseling center. Many men are married and identify as straight.

Buie says many of the program’s participants identify themselves as straight. Many are also active members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and roughly 40 percent are married, he says. The average length of those marriages is 23 years. Two of the men with whom he is currently working have been married for more than 40 years…

…”Just because you have an attraction to men doesn’t mean you have to be a slave to those attractions,” he says. “As a therapist I try to encourage people to be honest with themselves.”

Houston Press article depicts a dark side of New Warriors Adventure

In researching the New Warriors Adventure Weekend, I came across this recent article depicting a dark side to the experience. New Warriors is recommended by some reparative therapists (e.g., Richard Cohen, NARTH) as a means of getting in touch with lost masculinity.

It is a chilling expose’ of secret activities conducted by a secret organization. While the New Warriors does not discourage homosexual identification, I have heard it recommended by reparative therapists as a means of helping men reduce same-sex attraction.

Here are some of the activities described:

• Blindfolded walking tours in the nude;

• People blowing sage smoke in his face while 50 or so naked men danced around candles;

• Men sitting naked in a circle discussing their sexual histories while passing a wooden dildo called “The Cock”;

• Naked men beating cooked chickens with a hammer.

Some participants swear by it. Said spokesperson for New Warriors, Les Sinclair:

“This is the best thing on the planet,” he [Mr. Sinclair] says from his home in Las Vegas. “The initiation is a real wake-up to life. We teach men to be accountable for the choices they make or the actions they don’t take. We look at the emotional wounds that have taken a man’s power away…He may have low self-esteem, he may feel like he doesn’t measure up to other men, he’s afraid of men or he’s afraid of women, or he’s afraid of life in general. We look at what was that key emotional wound that took his power away and set up some form of psychodrama for him to overcome. It is a very powerful process.”

This experience is for all men, gay and straight, and I notice that many who feel diminished masculinity seek this. I am surprised that a reparative therapist would recommend this since those seeking to be ex-gay will find out very soon that straight men have self-doubt about masculinity too. In addition, gay men who attend find their inner “tough guy” and stay gay. How does that work?

Healing masculinity is a bit pricey with the weekend costing $650, plus more cash for weekly group sessions.  And some believe the participants are really getting a form of therapy.

“What it boils down to,” says Rick Ross, head of the Rick A. Ross Institute of New Jersey, which studies cults, groups and movements, “is that they are doing group therapy, although they won’t admit to that, and they are not qualified to do group therapy. They are not licensed and they are not accountable.”

Norris Lang, who chairs the anthropology department at the University of Houston and is a former therapist, agrees. He took part in an initiation retreat in 1997 and then attended several Integration Group meetings before deciding to leave the organization.

“Some of the exercises that they had us engage in,” he says, “were fairly traumatic and normally, as a psychotherapist, I would have only engaged in some of those activities…in the security of a hospital or psychiatric facility. If you get somebody to get in touch with their feelings from, say, 30 years ago, a time when they were abused as children, that can be fairly dangerous territory for an unprofessional. It’s kind of group therapy without any professionals involved.”

From what I have seen thus far, I would agree that more oversight would be beneficial. It certainly looks like attempts at therapy to me. For one Houston man, it was bad therapy. Michael Scinto killed himself after attended a New Warriors session and his family is suing the Houston area branch.

The rituals described are disturbing. I encourage readers to examine the entire article but here is one example:

At one point, says Mary, her husband and the other men were blindfolded and marched into a large room, where they were told to take off their clothes. Drums were beating in the background, and when the men were told to remove their blindfolds, “he saw 50 or 60 naked men dancing on a stage in a circle,” she says. “They call this ‘The Dance,’ and my husband said they started playing rock and roll music and some of the men were just dancing like they were obsessed.”

and then this one:

“They were all in the sweat lodge on Sunday,” she says, “which he actually enjoyed. It was the first moment he had to relax in days after going through such a high-drama weekend where they pound you to reveal your deep, dark stuff. So, everyone was sitting Indian-style in a big circle in the lodge when the man leading the group said, ‘If you wish, you may reach over and grab your brother’s dick. If your brother doesn’t want your hand there, he can remove it.’ Well, my husband told me he just froze. And from that point on, he just wanted out.”

Mr. Sinclair denies that such an activity would ever take place at a training adventure.

The local Catholic diocese was forced to comment since some of their priests were in the weekend and the diocese has condemned the practices. What is written here clearly has potential for misapplication and as such appears to be questionable — especially as recommendations to reduce same-sex attraction. Here is their statement from the article:

Bishop Joe Vasquez then issued a statement condemning the organization. In an e-mail, he wrote that the archdiocese became aware in late 2005 that priests were members of The ManKind Project. The then-archbishop, Joseph A. Fiorenza, “was concerned that elements of The ManKind Project and its New Warrior Training weekends seemed to reflect a New Age philosophy and were not in harmony with traditional Roman Catholic belief and practices,” Vasquez wrote. “Archbishop Fiorenza issued a letter in January 2006 asking priests to refrain from being actively involved in the group or promoting” it.

UPDATE – Here is a bit more information on the relationship between reparative therapy and New Warriors. As David Blakeslee noted in his comments on this post, Joseph Nicolosi appears to have been a supporter of New Warriors in the past. And New Warriors has supported him, according to this blog post.

Smooth thinking on sexuality: Labels don’t communicate well

Robert Epstein, a frequent commentator on sexuality issues, reports in advance of his Scientific American online survey of 18,000 people regarding precision in defining sexual orientation.  He says,

Although common thinking holds that everyone is either “gay” or “straight,” my new survey of nearly 18,000 people who voluntarily answered an online quiz shows that these terms are highly misleading. Sexual orientation actually lies on a smooth continuum, and the way people state their orientation is often a poor predictor of their true sexual behaviors and fantasies. Someone can call himself “gay” but behave “straight,” and vice versa.

Looking forward to his findings…

Post-mortem on the Obama-McClurkin dust up

The conservative Weekly Standard provides some dandy analysis of the Obama-McClurkin episode. Surprising to me is the writer Dean Barnett’s reference to McClurkin as “semi-gay.” Now we have yet another term to add to the collection, albeit not one that is likely catch on. Guess you can color him skeptical.

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