Examining Conversion Therapy: Sessions with Lynne

Today, while browsing the latest entries on Box Turtle Bulletin, I ran across a post that examined an Independent article.  The Independent article, written by Patrick Strudwick, discusses reparative therapy.  For the article, Strudwick had therapy sessions with two reparative therapists, Lynne and David.  The bulk of the article describes what he was told in those therapy sessions.

After reading the article, I felt that these therapy sessions deserved careful consideration and analysis.  The things that Strudwick was told by both Lynne and David are very telling about the whole conversion therapy process and the problems it poses.  To that end, I want to take a close look at the therapy sessions with Lynne in this entry.  I hope to do the same with the sessions with David in a future entry.

Lynne starts out the first therapy session by affirming that she believes homosexuality to be a mental illness, an addiction, and an anti-religion phenomenon.  Bear in mind that the first two classifications are in direct contradiction to the position of every psychological and psychotherapy association out there (with the exception of NARTH, which was created specifically to peddle the notion that homosexuality is a mental illness) and all peer-reviewed research.  This is important, because Lynne and other conversion therapists are already on shaky ground because they are seeking to treat something which doesn’t apparently need to be treated.  However, such therapists rely on the fact that their clients (or worse, their clients’ families) are willing to believe their sexual orientation is an illness in need of correcting.  In effect, they are playing off of their clients’ own insecurities to sell an unnecessary (let alone ineffective) therapy.  This willing to play to their clients’ insecurities is highly unethical, and will play a bigger part in these therapies as we consider Lynne’s investigation into the “causes” of Patrick’s homosexuality.

Lynne then opens the session with prayer, the first sign that her therapy is going to be intermingled with a lot of religious material.  This is evident when she asks Patrick if he is lustful about his same-sex attractions.  That word gets thown around a lot in conservative religious circles, and I tend to think it’s abused.  Truth be told, there should be a certain amount of sexual desire in any romantic relationship.  However, things get worse when Patrick also points out that he also felt what he considered sincere love in some of his relationships.  Lynne dismisses this out of love, referring to it as “darkness.”  The conversion therapist’s willingness to discount any feeling simply because it doesn’t fit their model is unconscionable.

As is common among conversion therapists, Lynne starts asking about Patrick’s family.  Those familiar with the theories of Joseph Nicolosi will recognize that Lynne is trying to establish the distant father and overbearing mother that is so often given as a major cause of homosexuality.  (I’ve always found this theory silly, since I have yet to meet any teenager who doesn’t consider his mother overbearing at one time or another.)  Patrick indicates that he had a loving family life.  However, Lynne is not willing to let this particular theory go yet:

“Well, there was something happening within your family dynamics that led to your depression,” she says.

The depression that Lynne is referring to is the depression that Patrick indicated that he was depressed as a teenager.  What is notable about this, however, is that Patrick already stated the reason for this depression:

I tell her that I was depressed as a teenager because I feared I would face prejudice for the rest of my life.

Fearing that one will face prejudice for the rest of one’s life is a perfectly legitimate reason to be depressed.  However, Lynne discounts Patrick’s explanation for his depression and inserts her own, based on nothing more than her desire to make Patrick’s psychological profile fit her predefined notions about how homosexuality forms.  This is questionable at best and downright unethical at worst.  Again, bear in mind that most of Lynne’s patients are coming to her in an emotionally vulnerable state.  By disregarding the explanations they give her and inserting her own, she is pushing her own theories and views on them.  In effect, she has ceased to be a therapist at all, but has become something much uglier.  This desire to push her clients in the direction her theories say they should go will appear uglier later on.

After exploring rather curious theories about difficult births, neonatal intensive care, and the “spiritual effects” of Freemasonry (I’d love to see an attempt at peer-reviewed research on that last one!), Lynne begins asking about sexual abuse.  Patrick indicates that he’s never been abused.  Once again, Lynne is unwilling to accept Patrick’s analysis of his own life:

“I think it will be there,” she replies, dropping her voice to a concerned tone. “It
does need to come to the surface.”

And so, she prays for me again. “Father, we give you permission to bring to the surface some of the things that have happened over the years. Father, enable your love to pour into that place of isolation in that little boy, whatever age, we give you permission to go there, with your healing power and your light, go into those parts, open all the doors, and access each one with your light.”

She looks up. I ask her again about this abuse. “I think there is something there,” she says. “You’ve allowed things to be done to u.” In the next session I ask if she thinks the abuse would have taken place within my family, because I can’t remember it. “Yes, very likely,” she replies.

Once again, the therapist is trying to force her client to fit some predefined model rather than observing the real life story he presents and analyzing it honestly.  And this is where her clients’ emotional vulnerability come in.  By pushing this idea that her client must have been abused, she is setting up the perfect situation for creating false memories.  False memories have ruined lives — both the lives of the supposed abusers and those of the victims.  False memories also end up hurting those who really have experienced abuse and have forgotten or repressed, as it makes professionals more cautious about accepting even valid recovered memories.  In short, Lynne is hurting a huge number of people simply for the sake of making a client’s history fit her preconceived notions of what it should look like.

Patrick indicates that his next session with Lynne is over the phone.  This single sentence makes my head spin.  While I can certainly understand why a therapist might need to deal with an unexpected crisis with a client over the phone, I cannot imagine holding a planned therapy session over the phone.  It strikes me as inefficient, and potentially risky.  If any powerful or troubling emotions arise, Lynne is not present to handle the situation.  It seems to me that it would make more sense to postpone or reschedule the session to a time when it can be held face-to-face.  The fact that Lynne chose not to do so leads me to wonder if Lynne is the kind of person who puts conferences and lectures over the well-being of her clients.  If so, then I hope someone will encourage her to leave clinical practice.

Lynne’s first two suggestions during this session is that Patrick should (1) distance himself from his gay friends and (2) take up a sport, possibly rugby.  First, I find it strange that any therapist would presume to have the kind of authority to make such suggestions.  I understand that being critical of a clients’ friendships and other relationships is not uncommon, especially if the relationships and friendships are unhealthy or promote unhealthy behavior.  However, it’s also my understanding that a therapist generally points out how they’re unhealthy and/or promote unhealthy behavior and then allows the client to make their own choice.  To actually suggest a course of action like Lynne has strikes me as assuming too much control.

Of course, there’s also the fact that it’s questionable whether Patrick’s gay friends are promoting unhealthy behavior.  Nothing in the article suggests that Patrick has given Lynne any reason to believe such a thing.  It again strikes me as Lynne making assumptions rather than analyzing the person and relationships at hand.

The suggestion about taking up a sport always makes me laugh.  Conversion therapists seem to have strange beliefs about the relationship between homosexuality and masculine stereotypes.  Truth be told, they’re two different subjects.  Locally, we have a large number of gay men who are into volleyball and other sports.  Many gay men are into body-building and other “masculine” activities.  Others of us don’t care for such activities, but it has nothing to do with our sexual orientation.

Lynne’s idea of therapy involves trying to force her client’s life stories into her preconceived models, throwing out a lot of religious jargon, and playing with irrelevant notions of masculinity and sexuality.  And she’s doing this with emotionally vulnerable clients.  And we’re supposed to consider this valid therapy?

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