Examining Conversion Therapy: Sessions with David

In this post, I continue my examination of Patrick Strudwick’s article where he describes his first-hand investigation into the world of conversion therapy.  Just as my last post focused on Patrick’s sessions with Lynne, this post will explore the sessions that he had with David.

Patrick starts this section of the article by indicating that he and David are conducting these therapy sessions using Skype and webcams.  Just as I noted the strangeness of Lynn holding a scheduled therapy session over the phone, I find the idea of holding therapy sessions over the Internet to be highly questionable.  Once again, I fin myself wondering how well a therapist can handle a situation from a distance if something particular difficult or traumatic comes up during the session.

David starts the sessions by giving Patrick a highly positive prognosis.  In fact, David indicates that one third of people seeking reparative therapy face complete change, while another third experience significant change (a phrase that is rather vague).  The problem with David’s claims here is that there is no evidence to substantiate them.  There are no comprehensive studies on the success rates of conversion therapy.  In fact, the only recent study on the topic doesn’t match up to David’s claims, despite the fact that some have heavily criticized that study.  So here we have a therapist who is making promise based on claims that are not backed up by evidence.  Again, this is nothing less than playing into a client’s insecurities, and is rather unethical.

David then moves into the same talk about both religion and masculinity.  Apparently, conversion therapists are still trapped in this notion that homosexuality and not being “masculine” are somehow inextricably linked.  This demonstrates a lack of understanding of both sexual orientation and masculinity.  Part of David’s therapy involves Patrick examining himself in the mirror while affirming and touching his own body.  I find this a very strange practice and don’t see any psychological model that would explain how this would affect one’s same-sex attractions.

David’s approach to conversion therapy is odd in that he asks Patrick to reinterpret all of his actions and feelings.  David suggests that there must be some hidden meaning behind every attraction and emotional experience he has.  He interprets everything as a manifestation of some hidden wound.  Again, I find this a strange practice rather than simply accepting one’s feelings and attractions for what they are until a reason to look for another interpretation arises.  I certainly find his idea of “homosexuality as cannibalism” a rather weird notion, and seems to say more about conversion therapists’ needs to pathologize something as natural as desire and love.

Like Lynne, David looks to Patrick’s relationship with his parents as possible cause for his homosexuality.  Unlike Lynne, David does seem to pay attention to what Patrick says and tries to mold his theories to Patrick’s life rather than trying to rewrite the client’s history to fit the model.  Particularly, David suggests that Patrick over-identified with his mother due to the fact that he was creative and extroverted like her and under-identification with his father.  David suggests that this pattern led to a lack of masculine identity in Patrick, which he then sought to compensate by latching onto strong men in a sexual relationship.  Again, we find ourselves circling the conversion therapists’ inability to separate their notions of masculinity from sexual orientation.  It is perfectly possible for a gay man to be masculine, and I have known more than one heterosexual man who didn’t meet such rigid notions of masculinity.  (In fact, such heterosexual men are often the biggest critics of such narrow concepts of masculinity.)
In the next session, Patrick indicates that he’s had sexual feelings for David.  David seems rather unphased by this admission.  David — a self-identified ex-gay himself — also acknowledges that he still has “echoes” of sexual feelings towards men.  This makes the next part of Patrick’s therapy session particularly shocking — as if what happens next isn’t shocking in its own right.

“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?”

This kind of talk strikes me as very intimate and sexualized.  It certainly is not the kind of conversation I’d want to be having on a webcam session with my therapist during my second therapy session with him.  And I certainly would not want to be going through this with a therapist who in one breath claims to be “cured” of homosexuality and admits he still has the occasional sexual thoughts about men in the next.  David’s entire approach to therapy seems highly sexualized and even voyeuristic.  That alone strikes me as disturbing.

I suppose it comes as little surprise that David reveals that his supervisor is associated in some way with Richard Cohen.  Patrick notes in his article that Cohen was expelled from the American Counseling Association.  He doesn’t note that many ex-gay ministries and conversion therapists distanced themselves from Cohen for a while when Cohen’s disturbing “holding therapy” got strong media attention.  Cohen’s approach to therapy seemed inappropriately sexualized and intimate, so it’s unsurprising that other therapists associated with him would have equally problematic practices.

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One thought on “Examining Conversion Therapy: Sessions with David”

  1. Very very disturbing. I just don’t understand why these people are so keen to change people’s sexual orientation from gay to straight. I found this post very hard to read, because this so-called therapy makes me really angry. It’s a misnomer for it even to be called therapy.

    On a side note, when I read the title of your post, I thought that conversion therapy might be what you get when you’ve been de-converted from fundamentalism – which would be really helpful! I was deeply saddened to realise what it actually is: a means of wrecking someone’s life.

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