I have a weird fascination with "ex-gay" programs. Not sure why, since I've never been remotely tempted to try one. Despite the decades-old APA conclusion that homosexuality is not a mental illness, the "ex-gay" industry continues to peddle its snake oil, even as its supposed success stories come out as ex-ex-gay over and over.
British journalist Patrick Strudwick went undercover at a conference starring the odious Joseph Nicolosi of the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuality (NARTH). There, Strudwick connected with a therapist and a psychiatrist who both promised to cure him.
The psychiatrist, Dr. Paul Miller, treated him by Skype. Miller stated that he was himself "ex-gay," and now married with children, although he admitted he still got "echoes" of attraction to other men. He encouraged Strudwick to get massages from men and do "exercises" such as looking at himself naked in the mirror. When Strudwick reported back that he found it arousing, Miller recommended another exercise that...well, judge for yourself:
Close your eyes and focus on that arousal you're feeling down in your genitals," he says. "I want you to hear, as a man, as I look at your body, I see strong shoulders and a strong chest, I see a man who has an attractive body and I want you just to notice the arousal you feel as you hear me talking about that. Imagine an energy and picture that energy as a colour, and make the brightness of the colour relate to the intensity of the sexual feeling, so you might be starting to get a bit of a hard on, you might be starting to feel an erection and that sexual energy, but I want you to just picture that as a coloured light. What colour would it be?"Amazingly, when Strudwick reported Miller to the General Medical Council, no action was taken.
The therapist, Lesley Pilkington, also violated accepted practice with Strudwick. Most egregiously, she kept trying to convince him that he must have some unremembered sexual abuse, probably from a member of his family. (Think for a moment of the damage done to a family when a naive patient accepts this canard, which is very common in the "ex-gay" industry.) She also tried out other explanations for his being gay, including the possibility of Freemasonry in his family. (No, I won't try to explain that one.)
As therapists are governed by a different organization psychiatrists, Strudwick complained to the British Association for Counseling and Psychotherapy. A hearing was set, but kept getting delayed:
The BACP, which has 32,000 members, explained that they couldn't find people for the adjudication panel. Why? "The legal advice we've been given is that the panel members can't be very religious but nor can they be overtly pro-gay," said Fay Reaney from the professional conduct department. So in a complaint about racism would they therefore not allow someone on the panel who is strongly opposed to racism? "This is the advice we've been given," she replied.At the hearing, things got even weirder:
Equally startling, however, was what the panel asked me: on what basis did I assert that the BACP was publicly opposed to conversion therapy? I read aloud the letter the BACP had written to the Guardian in 2009 describing such therapy as "absurd" and stating that it "makes people with gay thoughts suffer extra pain". The panel was unaware of the letter and the BACP's position on the subject. After lunch the chair announced that they would disregard the statement as they "don't know who authorised it".In the end, however, the panel did conclude that she had committed malpractice.
The unanimous verdict came with heavy sanctions. Pilkington's accreditation to the organisation was suspended. She was ordered to complete extensive training and professional development. If she does not file a report in six to 12 months, satisfying the board that she has complied, she will have her membership fully revoked: she will be struck off.As for the "ex-gay" Dr. Paul Miller, he's continuing with his practice. When Strudwick asked who his supervisor was, Miller said he was with "Richard Cohen's organization." Yes, the Richard Cohen who was kicked out of the American Counseling Association for unethical behavior.