I read an incredibly disturbing article in the Guardian recently regarding the treatment of LGBT individuals through ‘reparative therapies’. I was particularly disturbed when reading the quotes attributed to a therapist:
“David Pickup, a licensed family and marriage therapist who works in Dallas and Los Angeles, said he and others offer a legitimate service, will lobby against attempts to outlaw it and that the reputation of reparative therapy has been tarnished by “quacks” offering “junk” such as attempts to “pray away the gay” and shock tactics.”
The article continued; “Obviously our president doesn’t know anything, or very little, about the nature of homosexuality for some individuals, knows very little about the scientific and anecdotal evidence that indicates that sexuality is changeable and that it’s not something that’s naturally inborn,” he said.
“People who are gay don’t have a disease, they are not mentally ill, nothing like that, but the research shows that sexuality tends to be rather fluid and especially for individuals who during childhood have been sexually abused by same-sex peadophiles, whose sexual feelings have come up because of these incidences. It’s an egregious error to say those little kids who are grieving and confused can’t get therapy to reduce or eliminate their same-sex attractions.” David Pickup
To say it’s disturbing to read someone linking homosexuality with child abuse survivors is an understatement. To think that same person is a therapist, supposedly a caring professional, is deeply concerning. Providing therapy for survivors is without a doubt a noble cause, but why would anyone who is gay require therapy for being gay? Maybe their sexuality is causing some other issues in their life; maybe they are self-harming or under-eating? Maybe they are being bullied? Maybe they aren’t sleeping well or suffering from low-mood? I can see a case for all of these things, and maybe they are all linked to a person coming to terms with their sexuality. Maybe a client is trying to cope with their low mood or lack of sleep by taking some drugs, or drinking too much, or maybe gambling or having risky sex? All of these situations might lead a client to seek the help of a client, but being gay? Being gay is just like being straight, only more gay. I would never expect a client to present to a therapist for help with being straight, so why on earth would anyone require help with being gay, unless other people are making the person feel that being gay is a problem. People like David Pickup.
‘It was just killing me’
When Bryan Christopher took an elevator to the top of the Empire State Building 15 years ago, he was not looking forward to admiring the view. He was thinking about throwing himself off. Born in 1970 and brought up by conservative parents in Waco, Texas, he spent more than a decade hiding his sexuality and undergoing conversion therapy.
“The turning point was right after college when I called a Christian suicidal hotline and put myself into a psychiatric hospital for 72 hours,” he said. “I was 24 and I hadn’t changed and was strangely in love with a fraternity brother who ended up becoming a high-profile basketball player at UCLA.
“It was just killing me. My heart was wanting one thing and my mind and all the voices around me were telling me no, it’s a sin, it’s a sickness. Even with a degree in psychology from UCLA where I learned that it’s just a normal variation in human sexuality I still discarded all of the medical conclusions and I still felt I could change.”
Christopher finally realised that his struggle was futile and self-destructive. “It’s a form of soul torture really, especially when you do it as long as I did. And no one forced me into it, I went into it willingly because I was a true believer. I thought this was something that could be cured.”
He now lives in Minnesota with his partner, works in real estate and wrote a memoir, Hiding from Myself.
As Christopher explains in the article, his sexuality wasn’t the issue; it was listening to all the voices around him telling him his sexuality was wrong that was the problem. And this is at the heart of why reparative therapy is morally and ethically wrong, and quite probably scientifically dangerous. Therapy should be about helping people overcome thoughts or behaviours which are unhelpful; it should be about finding new and more helpful ways to cope with the world in which we live. Therapy should be a way to get through difficulties which may prevent us from reaching our full potential, and should be a method of support when our grief becomes too much of a burden for us to carry alone. Why would anyone need to stop being gay? If someone is finding that being gay is too difficult, I would ask why, and almost certainly I would expect the answer to lead to treatment at the hands of other people.
Any therapist offering to ‘cure’ the gay from a client is breaking every moral and ethical code we as therapists should strive to uphold. Carl Rogers stated we should be non-judgemental genuine, and empathetic towards our clients. I believe this should be true for all therapists, no matter what modality in which we practice. What kind of therapist would offer to change someone from being gay to straight? Scientifically there is no evidence that this is even possible, and even if it was possible, what kind of a therapist would be so judgmental and so lacking in empathy that they would offer to harm their client in this way?