Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Conversion Therapy and California Law

California, always a progressive state, outlawed conversion therapies for people under the age of 18. But the court put a hold it, is reconsidering the issue.

A conversion or reparative therapy is a hotly disputed treatment designed to change sexual orientation.  The therapies consist of a hit or miss tool box  of interventions, as in:

(1) psycho-dynamic therapy-- The assumption is that something went missing, or wrong during early childhood;

(2) cognitive-behavioral therapies, or strategies, including but not limited to: 
(a) desensitization to the ego-dystonic (dreadful) thought of heterosexual sex 
(b) flooding thoughts about sin, where it leads, ultimately
(c) dating heterosexually
(d) exhaustive bible study
(e) in vivo exposure to normal, or heterosexual culture, literature, photographs, movies, even pornography
(f) hypnosis
(g) self-hypnosis, and
(h) aversive therapies that punish homosexual thoughts or behavior.
 But there's more, apparently.  CNN:
The therapy techniques described in that lawsuit included having participants strip naked in group sessions, cuddling and intimate holding of others of the same sex, violently beating an effigy of their mothers with a tennis racket, visiting bath houses "in order to be nude with father figures," and being "subjected to ridicule as 'faggots' and 'homos' in mock locker room scenarios."
 There are so many things to try, it could take years of work in treatment and never make a dent in anybody's sexual orientation.

Conversion therapies are not about conversion disorders, keep in mind.  A conversion disorder is the way a person manifests a symptom.  I might be agoraphobic, for example, but instead of being conscious of it and treating it by making myself gradually leave the house, maybe take a daily walk to the curb, I'll get a very sharp pain in my ankle each time I think about getting out about the town, one so sharp that I can't possibly go.  The doctors will find nothing wrong with my ankle.

But we're not talking about conversion disorders here, unless the State of California wants to call therapists who try to convert gays disordered.  What the state legislature wants to say is that these therapists, the ones who practice conversion therapies, are out of line, unethical even.

Conversion, or reparative therapies have metastasized over the past fifteen years.  The goal?  Change a person's sexual orientation.  They popped out of nowhere because parents feared religious proscriptions against same-sex romantic/sexual behavior, and their kids were coming out to them, risking getting tossed out of the house for an honest relationship with their parents. 

It didn't seem, not at the time, the late nineties, that greed had anything to do with it. Many a minister, pastor, or priest suggested sexual orientation change therapies to worried parents of sexual minority kids.

Not only Christians bought into it. Jews did, too.  They looked for answers, ways to turn their kids back to heterosexuality, to get them to leave the lifestyle.  Project JONAH is under attack right now as disappointed hetero-hopeful sue the organization.

For Christians, Exodus International was the mainstay, the anchor for unhappy religious parents who hoped their kids might someday change. Their support group, Parents and Friends of Ex-Gays, (PFOX) is now rethinking their philosophy.  Empowered adults who suffered through reparative therapies as children are filing suit in droves for damages. Parents paid any amount of money to therapists who promised they could could change the sexual orientation of their children, make then heterosexual.  Ka-ching.  Now everyone is thinking twice. 

The American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers abjured conversion and reparative therapies from the start, discouraged parents from subjecting their children to these cruel, misguided approaches to the "problem" of sexual orientation. Embrace your children, therapists advised.

Those filing suits against conversion therapists are saying the treatment hurt them much more than it helped. Conversion and reparative therapies are associated with the child's growing self-hate, self-doubt, a lack of self-acceptance, hopelessness, worthlessness, drug and alcohol addiction, suicidality, depression, anxiety, chronic doubt-- almost every negative symptom imaginable.

The lesson, clearly, is humility. Professional humility. Some things we can't change.  That's all there is to it.  Mental health professionals are so talented, have so many tricks of the trade, so much insight into what does work, that this is a hard concept for many of us to grasp.

What turns people on seems to be in that mix.  Changing one's appetite is nearly impossible. I want ice cream, not tuna fish, sorry. And desire, the desire to love and to be loved by someone, no matter the biological sex, is either there or it isn't.

PFLAG has better advice.  Find a parade.  Consider pride.  It won't happen over night, but it can happen, that feeling, pride, if you work on it (therapy can help that, actually).   

That's change that is possible.



Marcia said...

wow. I really had no idea. It saddens me to think of it. The confusion the children must have felt. I have two gay brothers. I regret things I did and didn't do to stand up for them.

I still struggle with knowing when to speak up. In conversations. It got easier when I realized ... It's not about me.

Graciewilde said...

Thanks for your insights. As a guidance counselor at a public middle school, I have the the opportunity to listen to young adolescents as they seek to make sense of sexuality. It can be a powerful force for them and I support them completely in being who they are. We have a Gay Straight Alliance on our campus as well and this allows all kids to work toward understanding and appreciation of all people.

Mound Builder said...

I agree with you that conversion therapy seems wrong, doesn't work. I don't have a hard time saying that attempting to use therapy for this particular end is wrong. But this brings up a more general idea of thought of before, about therapy and how it works, or should work. If a therapist has a client coming to him/her, (or this could also be true of a friend who confides in another friend), how can the therapist be reasonably certain that he she is assisting the client on the right path? How does the therapist guard against imposing his/her own wants or desires or biases on the client, rather helping the person find their own way?

therapydoc said...

It is the job, no question, and as "authority figures" our patients value our values more than their own, often times. So it is our job to try to check back (is that what you really think, seriously?) and to refrain from opinions as much as we can.

But we're human, and we get comfortable, so we talk. We ourselves have to stop and say, "But you know, just because that works for one person, doesn't mean it's the right thing for you. What are you thinking?"

It is why the pregnant pause is so important and that question, the all important one "A penny for your thoughts?"