Last fall, a group called Voice of the Voiceless announced that they had performed an undercover investigation of Virginia’s public universities to see if their counseling centers for gay and lesbian centers were discussing “conversion therapy”: therapy that would help a person who didn’t want to be homosexual switch to heterosexual. The investigation found that option was rarely offered and usually discouraged. George Mason University was one of those investigated, its student newspaper did a story, and I followed that up with a blog post.

This led to an ongoing conversation between me and Christopher Doyle, a licensed professional counselor and the head of Voice of the Voiceless, based in Bristow. His group was hoping to use his findings to convince Virginia’s universities to change their approach, but so far the schools are not really budging. On Monday, Doyle released his full report, which you can see here. Meanwhile, he discussed with me that his group is not interested in converting the entire homosexual world to heterosexuality — only those with unwanted same-sex attraction. He also feels there is a legitimate place for conversion therapy. After sharing a draft of his report with me, here is how our e-mail chat unfolded:

In your research at Virginia’s universities, you often encountered counselors who believe that conversion therapy, as you just mentioned, or any sort of sexual orientation change effort (SOCE) is not a viable option. How can you convince them that sexuality change is possible for some people?

Many of these counselors were LGBT-identified and believe strongly they were born homosexual, so to suggest that homosexual feelings can change for some individuals is threatening to them. However, the same can be said about individuals like myself and the clients that come to therapists like me, since I have also experienced change in my sexual orientation (it would be threatening to suggest that we were born homosexual). However, some of the counselors (especially the younger students) we talked to at Virginia universities openly admitted that there is fluidity in sexual orientation; however, they have been indoctrinated by activists to believe that SOCE therapy is “brainwashing” or “praying away the gay” and therefore have negative perceptions. Nearly all counselors were ignorant about what SOCE therapy really is, and mostly relied on stereotypes and negative portrayals from activists. A large part of the Campus Climate Report is dedicated to correcting these stereotypes and educating LGBTQ Resource Centers about what SOCE therapy really is…I think it’s also important for these counselors to understand that SOCE therapy is only recommended for students who are questioning or have unwanted SSA – practicing SOCE therapy with a client who is secure in their gay identity can be problematic, in my opinion. If these counselors can accept that SOCE therapy is an option for some, but not all, same-sex attracted individuals, then it might be viewed differently. Our goal is not to change gays, but to offer an alternative for those who believe they are inherently heterosexual and experience unwanted homosexual feelings.

 So if SOCE is not “brainwashing” or “praying away the gay,” what is it?

To understand what SOCE therapy is, you must first understand the meaning of sex. There are many different approaches to SOCE therapy, and the model I use at the International Healing Foundation is to: 1) Identify the root causes of the client’s SSA; 2) Resolve those issues with the client in therapy; and 3) Help the client receive unmet emotional needs from the same gender in non-sexual relationships with heterosexual friends. Often times, the issues that clients work through include painful trauma from the same gender (parent/peers) such as rejection, not feeling wanted, not fitting in, bullying, and feeling inferior because of their gender non-confirming behavior and interests. When clients work through those issues in therapy and experience acceptance and intimacy in non-sexual relationships with heterosexual friends (males with males/females with females), the desire for sex with the same gender gradually decreases as they begin to understand what they are really looking for, emotional connection with the same gender, not sex. When that emotional intimacy is experienced, it’s amazing to the client, because they have rarely or never experienced it before! Over time, emotional fulfillment with same gender friends takes the place of sexual eroticism, and having now bonded with the same gender, opposite sex attractions begin to emerge.    

But your report discusses the statements often made by LGBTQ counselors that this therapy is discouraged by many mainstream mental health organizations such as the American Psychological Association (APA).

All of these so-called “mainstream” mental health organizations have committees within them that make policy recommendations for sexual minorities, which are typically composed of individuals that are LGBT. For example, when the APA formed a Task Force in 2009 to evaluate SOCE therapy they refused to allow ex-gay therapists or highly qualified psychologists who actually work with individuals undergoing SOCE therapy on the Task Force. Instead, you had six gay-identified psychologists that had previously gone on the record as opposing SOCE therapy for philosophical reasons making conclusions for a therapeutic modality they neither have training or experience in practicing…it’s no wonder that their bias seeped through the report, even unconsciously! If the APA really wanted to ensure objectivity and diversity of opinion, they would have included many different perspectives on that Task Force. Obviously there are political undertones within the APA and these so-called “mainstream” mental health organizations that are clouding their objectivity. Organizations such as the American Association of Christian Counselors and the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, which comprise over 50,000 licensed mental health practitioners, both support the rights of clients to pursue SOCE therapy (and they also support a client’s right to pursue gay-affirmative therapy, I might add). Why are these organizations, which represent the values of tens of millions of Americans, not considered mainstream?

Tens of millions in a country of 300 million is not a majority, and arguably is not mainstream. It could also be argued that the memberships of the AACC and NARTH probably overlap a good deal, so adding their numbers (to 50,000) may have a lot of overlap.

You’re right, there could be some overlap between AACC and NARTH, and let’s just assume that the beliefs around the etiology of homosexuality espoused by NARTH and AACC are not mainstream (although I am not convinced this is true) – does that mean their opinions don’t count or that their voices should not be heard? What about the value of diversity that universities supposedly hold in such high regard? As I was doing research for the Campus Climate Report, I came across a document from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled Hate Speech on Campus that discusses the problem of censoring unpopular opinions on university campuses. The ACLU said: “All campuses should adhere to First Amendment principles because academic freedom is a bedrock of education in a free society. How much we value the right of free speech is put to its severest test when the speaker is someone we disagree with most. Speech that deeply offends our morality or is hostile to our way of life warrants the same constitutional protection as other speech because the right of free speech is indivisible: When one of us is denied this right, all of us are denied . . . this is particularly true at universities, whose mission is to facilitate learning through open debate and study, and to enlighten. Speech codes are not the way to go on campuses, where all views are entitled to be heard, explored, supported or refuted.”

What were some of the problems with the APA’s Task Force Report on SOCE therapy?

There are so many problems with that report that I co-authored a critical review that was published in 2012 in the Journal of Human Sexuality. For example, the Task Force insisted that SOCE therapy outcome research should exhibit high methodological standards while not demanding the same criteria be used to evaluate the efficacy of gay affirmative therapy, which they asserted to be the appropriate therapeutic intervention for all homosexually oriented individuals. Essentially, they fault the research on SOCE based on methodological flaws, yet cite studies

with similar methodological flaws to support their conclusion that gay-affirmative therapy is superior. Additionally, the Task Force report dismissed decades of scientific research from psychoanalytic reports of clients who experienced sexual orientation change (at least 34 studies involving over 500 clients) because of “methodological inadequacy”. The APA also failed to accurately explain its findings to the general public so that proper conclusions could be made. For example, two states have passed laws to ban SOCE therapy for minors, in part, because of the APA’s failure to accurately interpret the findings of that report.

Some mention that the leader of Exodus International, a very prominent ex-gay association, closed its doors and apologized last summer. How do you respond to counselors who say this indicates that SOCE therapy is not scientifically valid?

That’s easy. Exodus International was a Christian support group that provided spiritual guidance and support, not therapy, for individuals with unwanted SSA. The leader of Exodus was not a therapist, nor did he ever go through SOCE therapy, to help overcome his own unwanted SSA.  Don’t get me wrong, faith-based ministries provide a lot of benefits to individuals with unwanted SSA – and I refer my clients to those groups for social and spiritual support, but they are not therapy. Media reports that tried to associate Exodus with the work of licensed mental health practitioners offering SOCE therapy are misrepresenting the facts. But it does provide for good TV drama!