The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven't been able to shake sexual attractions to other men -- impulses they believe to be immoral.
Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.
The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren't a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.
But he also tells them they don't have to be gay.
The article delves into more detail about Throckmorton's therapy:
For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward "gay affirming" therapy -- encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.
Later in the WSJ article, I comment on the section of the APA's guidelines that seem to say that Throckmorton's type of therapy may fall within its new guidelines:
"It's incredibly misguided," said Wayne Besen, who runs a group called Truth Wins Out, which fights conversion therapy. He says trying to fight their same-sex attractions can cause immense suffering. "People have their lives destroyed," Mr. Besen said.
I want to clarify that I am supportive of the overall APA report. I think they did a terrific job stating how therapists should handle clients who are struggling to accept their sexual orientation. Most important, they directly challenged "ex-gay" therapists who mislead clients about gay life.
And, the APA made it crystal clear that such charlatans should not be selling snake oil by claiming they can magically turn clients from gay-to-straight. In my view, any therapist who makes such a pitch is a con artist. Any organization that offers such bogus and far-fetched promises is guilty of consumer fraud.
Additionally, the APA should be commended for tackling the affects of religious faith on people working through this issue. Their landmark report explicitly tells religious therapists that clients should be given room to explore who they truly are, without the therapist burdening them with excessive faith-based guilt. This is a step forward, considering that nearly every "reparative therapist" uses shame-based methods to pressure vulnerable and desperate clients into suppressing their natural sexual orientation.
However, (although I am not a psychologist) I remain largely skeptical of the therapy offered by Throckmorton and other conservatives. Throckmorton tells The Wall Street Journal that he starts his sessions by helping clients prioritize their values.
This is where it can get tricky.
Religious therapists (I am not referring specifically to Throckmorton) can manipulate the framing of priorities. For example they may ask clients what they find more important to their value system: "ephemeral hedonism" or "eternal life in heaven". Given this loaded option, clients may feel they have no "choice" but to live a life of hell on earth in order to get the keys to the Kingdom when they die. This is quite a mental burden for clients to carry and surely can't be conducive to optimum mental health.
Clients can also be easily manipulated by therapists who induce guilt by saying, "it is fine if you choose to exercise your options in a selfish manner by choosing your sexuality over Scripture." Such diabolical therapists may be within the new guidelines (barely) by ostensibly offering a troubled client the "choice" and "freedom" to be a "bad" person. But, we all know this is just a tricky form of psychological abuse. While the APA guidelines are helpful, the group may need to address in the future how unsavory counselors use loopholes to continue tormenting the fragile minds of clients.
The WSJ article also mentioned how the APA report considers celibacy a viable "option":
But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.
"We're not trying to encourage people to become 'ex-gay,'" said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA's task force on the issue. "But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else."
The APA has long endorsed the right of clients to determine their own identities. But it also warned that "lesbians and gay men who feel they must conceal their sexual orientation report more frequent mental health concerns."
It is true that in extreme cases, a lifetime of celibacy may lead to a happier existence than coming out of the closet. These rare people, unfortunately, are often so damaged by fundamentalism that they are unable to express their sexuality in healthy ways. Indeed, they are stricken by excessive guilt if they enjoy any form of pleasure that is not sanctioned by their church.
In such instances of irreparable damage to victims of faith-based oppression, celibacy may work (sort of) as a last ditch effort to help these people find a small measure of peace. There are also individuals with low sex drives who may not have an inordinate amount of trouble conforming to onerous religious strictures.
However, celibacy is not a serious option for healthy individuals with normal desires. If a therapist tells a teenager that he or she will have to live the next 50 or so years sexually frustrated and without the possibility of love, you are not going to convince me that this is in the best psychological interest of that conflicted youth.
Imagine being that young person with raging hormones, yet having to suppress powerful urges every minute of the day. On weekends, you stay home playing video games while your friends are dating. At lunchtime in the cafeteria, you have to hear about their sexual exploration, while you bitterly nurse longings that will never be fulfilled. On the way home from school, love songs play on the car radio that are meant for everyone but you. And then you settle on the couch and watch television shows brimming with a sensuality that you will never discover.
Living in such a way would, in the vast majority of cases, make an otherwise healthy person neurotic, depressed and even suicidal. Celibacy, for the most part, is a fantasy concocted by conservative therapists who so despise homosexuality that they would rather see a person loveless and lonely than openly gay.
I also worry that suppression of sexuality will lead to increased mental and sexual abuse in society. The ex-gay ministries (and the Catholic Church) are rife with examples of supposedly celibate or "healed" leaders taking advantage of young people in their care. Youth are easier to manipulate (see TWO video below)and the path of least resistance for the tortured and troubled souls who swear off sexuality (heterosexual and homosexual), only to find that it is not possible over the course of a lifetime. Celibacy is not realistic, nor advisable for most people, and can have deleterious side effects. The idea of the "satisfied celibate" is largely a misguided myth perpetuated by therapists who can’t overcome their own anti-gay leanings.
Ultimately, the more ex-gay ministries and counselors are forced to move away from stigmatizing homosexuality, promising fake miracles and selling false hope, the better off clients will be. If these groups can't sell the proverbial "heterosexual light at the end of the tunnel", the vast majority of young gay people will leave the traumatic tunnel behind and come out into the light of freedom and honesty.
Everyone deserves the chance to love and be loved -- and conservative therapists will have an increasingly difficult time telling gay clients that they are exceptions to this rule. By calling for more accountability among anti-gay therapists and demanding they be truthful and adhere to modern science, the APA has made a worthy contribution with its report.
Well done Wayne. I especially liked that you addressed the sham of celibacy which has been ignored by other gay supportive web sites.
posted by Priya Lynn, at
8/06/2009 1:48 PM
I think Throckmorton is a warped quack and i am not one bit concerned about putting that out there. There are plenty of stupid people that go through life with titles. Who cares? He's an idiot.
posted by ewe, at
8/06/2009 2:59 PM
Any gay person who believes that he or she has to abandon any hope of romantic love and live as a sexually-frustrated individual consumed by loneliness because some supposed "deity" in the sky might torture that his or her soul for all eternity has been tragically and criminally misled.
I will say what the APA is obviously reluctant to say: Religion is abject and utter nonsense. It is a delusion which is completely man-made; all religions were created out of the imaginations of men. When you die, you die, and your opportunity for experiencing love and a deep connection with another human being is lost forever.
Anyone who believes in “ex-gay” therapy must be told this: Your belief system is the source of your anguish, not your sexual orientation. You have been brainwashed into believing that a collection of absurd stories are actually based upon reality. They aren't.
What homophobic religion does to gay people is absolutely sickening. It is outrageous that in the year 2009, people actually make profound, life-changing decisions on the basis of such foolish, idiotic stories. The idea that it is a sin to love another human being is a damnable lie, and the fact that people suffer so tragically from believing such a thing is a profound sadness. To them I say: take the opportunity to love someone, hold them in your arms and treasure them before it has slipped from your grasp forever!
posted by Chris L., at
8/06/2009 4:38 PM
Thanks. I just think it is a tragedy when good, decent gay people allow these religious kooks to occupy space in their brains. The "ex-gay" stuff is such nonsense; it is worthy of an immediate dismissal. It is anti-science and anti-intellectual. It is textbook ignorance.
When I think of what those self-righteous, hypocritical fundamentalist phonies do to gay people, most of whom are wonderful, caring, sensitive individuals, it breaks my heart.
Again I plead: anyone who has fallen for this "ex-gay" nonsense, please allow yourself the freedom to love and be loved for who you are, not for what other people think you should be. Do not permit some foolish religious fairy tale to rob you of what is life's most wonderful treasure!
posted by Chris L., at
8/06/2009 9:35 PM
Great analysis, Wayne. You pretty much blew the whole celibacy thing sky-high. What I love is that probably most of these people are married but do not want GLBT people to have the happiness and comfort of a spouse or lover. Hypocrisy at its worst.
I was celibate for many years, believing that this was what God wanted for me. I honestly believed this. Finally, in 1997, I had had enough of a cold, empty existence. It took me many years to realise that people in general are not meant to be alone. I wasn't in an "ex-gay" "ministry", just trying to follow the dictates of my religion at the time.
How these "therapists" can honestly believe that leading a lonely, celibate, closeted life is better than having someone to love and hold in their arms, even if that someone is the same gender is just beyond me. I know how cold and lonely my life was before finding and marrying my spouse--I wouldn't go back to that other life for ANYTHING.
posted by Merlyn, at
8/06/2009 11:16 PM
The path of celibacy is even a difficult option for PRIESTS. And to me, since one's religious path IS a choice, and homosexuality has been around BEFORE any well established religion, I say BAG celibacy and find the path to happiness being openly gay.
Religion, throughout the centuries, been interpreted and enforced by MEN. Men with a specific and strict agenda of control through illiteracy and threat. There are different paths of faith, there are different cultures who have ordered how to respond to God and commune with God. Yet, homosexuality and the lives of the transgendered has remained a constant, the more reliable part among the many parts of humanity and it's scope. So THAT is why, in the context of psychological care, a psychological therapist shouldn't inject THEIR religious belief into the proceedings at all. Religious counseling IS left up to one's minister.
People who say you can change are not con artists or snake oil salesman. Wayne writes an intelligent critique until he makes those outlandish statements. When he does he loses everyone except those who are his sheep.
posted by Monica, at
8/14/2009 8:04 AM
Monica: Please, with a comment like that, you still have me on your mind. People who say one can change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual are 1) stupid 2) dumb as a rock 3) hypocrites If you and/or them were not these things we would hear you telling people to change from heterosexuality to homosexuality. AND YOU WANKERS NEVER HAVE A RESPONSE TO THAT. Keep running girl, maybe you can catch a tail.
posted by ewe, at
8/17/2009 2:54 AM
ewe...my problem with Wayne's prose is the sweeping generalizations he makes. He loses people when he does that. If you want to win some conservatives to your position you won't do it by using some of the expressions Wayne uses.
posted by Monica, at
8/17/2009 5:42 PM