The word “supercilious” – which is defined as haughty disdain — is not language that lends itself to frequent use. Yet, it most fittingly describes the venomous verbiage used by Dutch psychologist Gerard van den Aardweg to smear gay people in his grossly misnamed book, Homosexuality & Hope: A Psychologist Talks About Treatment and Change (Servant Books, 1985). In my years studying the work and words of “ex-gay” ministers and therapists, van den Aardweg is arguably the most anti-gay practitioner that I have encountered.
Van Den Aardweg, 76, sits on the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality’s (NARTH) Scientific Advisory Committee, which is responsible for the “ex-gay” group’s ideology and public policy. As we shall see, his views and theories highlight the extreme nature of NARTH and the reason laws are desperately needed to protect LGBT youth from NARTH’s abusive therapists.
A close look at van den Aardweg’s work reveals that NARTH is undeniably belligerent, rather than benign. Unable to mask his hostile feelings, this therapist is incontrovertibly drenched in disgust and drips with disdain for the very clients he claims that he is trying to assist. The result is serially passing ignorance for insights, ridicule for research, and stereotypes for science. That this psychologist can be licensed, no less allowed to “treat” patients, is a scandal that should deeply shame every respected mental health association.
Similar to other NARTH therapists, van den Aardweg comes from a dark place of malice, which leads him to serially misdiagnose healthy gay clients as sick. This deliberate misdiagnosis, stemming from ideology rather than research, results in a series of bizarre ideas and poor advice that reasonable people will likely conclude leads to malpractice.
What one first notices when reviewing van den Aardweg’s work is that he eschews contemporary research in favor of citing outdated and debunked studies from the 1950’s and 1960’s – and even goes as far back as the 1920’s. His ethical lapses include citing outmoded research where gay clients were exclusively recruited from psychiatric wards or prisons, yet van den Aardweg unethically pretends that such unrepresentative samples are indicative of modern LGBT populations.
The therapist’s ideas on the etiology of homosexuality are fairly standard NARTH views, which include blaming the parents. According to the good doctor:
“The first and foremost persons who can avert this stunted growth in their children are of course the parents. They must set the example of a normal man-woman relationship.” (Ch. 11, p. 117)
Where van den Aardweg differs from other NARTH therapists is his theory that homosexuals are victims of extreme self-pity:
“Homosexuality is just a kind of neurosis. The person with this complex harbors a specific ‘self-pitying child.’ This is why Bergler could observe: ‘In his fifties, he [the homosexuality inclined man] is in his teens emotionally.” (Ch. 5, p. 51)
This leads to van den Aardweg’s unique, quack-like “cure,” which we he calls “Humor Therapy:”
“Smiling and laughing at one’s infantile ‘poor me’ and one’s infantile complaints can be very effective in undermining its strength. The effectiveness of such techniques—like ‘hyperdramatization’ of the inner child’s pitifulness—is dependent on the client’s will to use them in his everyday life, however.” (Ch. 8, p. 84)
“He then imagines his ‘little child’ as standing before him in the flesh, or visualizes himself in his imagination as the ‘child’ he was in his past. He starts talking to this ‘child,’ like someone who exaggeratedly pities another. He tells the ‘child’ how enormously pitiful he is; accumulating a series of fantasized reasons for his complaining, he paints before this ‘child’s’ eyes a super-drama (hyper-drama) surrounding the complaint.” (Ch. 8, p. 85)
“He treats his ‘child,’ for instance, as ‘my poor boy.’ For example, ‘That critical remark they made about you was awful! Now the President will announce a Day of National Mourning on your behalf!’ or more simply: ‘Poor boy! This will be your death!’ The more vividly he sees the imagined scene before his eyes the more exaggeratedly pitiful he sees his ‘child’ at the moment of complaining, the better it penetrates…Every approach that elicits smiling or laughing about a complaint is advisable.” (Ch. 8, p. 87)
Another wacky view is that there are gay men who are attracted to “virtually every” man they come into contact with:
“We should keep in mind that the word ‘homosexuality’ stands for a large variety of forms and types,” says van den Aardweg. “For instance, there are men who feel sexually aroused by virtually every man they meet and others who are solely interested in specific types of males. In some, the homosexual feeling is continuously present in their imagination, like an obsession, while in others it appears more in fits and starts.” (Ch. 2, p. 18)
I’ve been out since 1988 and I don’t think I have ever encountered a single person whose type is everyone. It appears that van den Aardweg is clueless about homosexuality and has nothing redeemable or relevant to offer the discussion.
One more peculiar idea is that homosexuality is a phase and that people who are exclusively gay in orientation don’t exist.
“Homosexual feelings during adolescent (puberty), up to about seventeen years of age, are usually transitory and must be looked at as a stage of psychosexual development.” (Ch. 2, p. 18)
“Strictly speaking, then, ‘homosexuals’ or ‘homophiles’ do not exist, any more than in the animal realm; you have persons with homosexual inclinations.” (Ch. 2, p. 18)
“On the other hand, some have only sporadic or hardly heterosexual impulses, the so-called exclusive homosexuals. (I say ‘hardly any’ because Freud rightly affirmed that in a careful analysis of the fantasy and dream life over the whole course of the life of the person with strong homosexual tenancies, one always finds traces of a normal, deeply hidden heterosexual disposition.) (Ch. 2, p. 19)
“The possible correlation between homosexuality and ‘muscle weakness’ could mean, for instance, that boys with deficient muscular growth run a higher risk of becoming sexually deviant because of their feeling inferior on that account…it is precisely youthful inferiority feelings about the physical appearance, body build, and the like that can motivate a development to a homosexual orientation.” (Ch. 2, p. 29)
I suppose that van den Aardweg has never heard of Bob Paris, (pictured) a gay man who became Mr. Universe, or stepped foot on a West Hollywood street, where the evidence of gym memberships is overwhelming.
As one further explores his work, it is clear that van den Aardweg has strong opinions on a variety of issues, including an unflattering view of lesbians:
“The ‘mannish’ woman with lesbian feelings is not that way by natural disposition, but by habit and a specific inferiority complex.” (Ch. 2, p. 17)
“In some women, an ugliness complex, with the emphasis on feeling less feminine, less attractive as a girl, may also have played a part as a precipitating factor.” (Ch. 6, p. 71)
“They may have developed a manifest dislike for feminine behavior, clothes, and domestic activities. This overcompensatory mannish self-assertiveness is, however, marked by a lack of natural smoothness. It is overdone; the emotional tension underneath is perceptible.” (Ch. 6, p. 72)
“On similar grounds, the ‘girl in the lesbian woman’ may continue viewing men through the colored glasses of hatred, envy, fear, or annoyance.” (Ch. 7, p. 78)
“Bisexuality flows from this double personality structure. The sexual orientation from the adult part, as it has been developed, is directed to the mature object of sexuality, the opposite sex. The ‘pitiable child’ on the other hand pulls sexuality to his immature objects. Since one part of the bisexual’s personality suppresses the other, it is evident that the heterosexuality of these persons is not full-fledged.” (Ch. 7, p. 78)
Recently, TWO profiled NARTH therapist James Phelan and highlighted what he advised male clients to tell their wives: “It is up to you to help educate her about your needs. Tell her, ‘I need to be the man of the house. Let me be the man of the house.’ Dominant women only demasculinize men. A man has got to be the lion of the den.”
Sexism is endemic among NARTH practitioners, who often try to recreate a “Father Know’s Best” fantasy world. The organization is every bit as focused on enforcing rigid gender roles, as it is in “curing” LGBT people. Van den Aardweg’s beliefs and medical advice reinforce the view that NARTH is quite narrow-minded when it comes to the roles of women in society:
“In this respect, the so-called homosexual liberation movement travels hand in hand with the feminist movement. Both agree on the need of an overall change in male and female roles and in the man woman relationship.” (Ch. 1, p. 13)
“And it [psychological differences in the sexes] does not say that it is unnatural to behave as if different percentages of men and women in a number of professions and functions indicates ‘discrimination,’ social injustice. It also says that there should be made clear distinctions between roles assigned to boys and girls in education. It cannot be wise, nor profitable for the society as a whole, to neglect the evident sex-linked preferences and talents for certain occupations and roles, and not to make use of the inherent sex-linked capacities and gifts.” (Ch. 5, p. 56)
“A girl reared with a somewhat contemptuous attitude toward things womanly and the female ‘role’ (‘sewing and all that sissy stuff, that’s not for me!’) nevertheless may be impressed by other girls and women who radiate femininity and inwardly admire them. More than once I have observed that women who lash out against this ‘oppressive feminine role’ in fact feel inferior with respect to that very role. They in fact admire women who freely embrace their femininity.” (Ch. 5, p. 56)
“The sex roles are complementary, in accordance with the complementary nature of sex-linked gifts. Forced abolition of normal sex-linked behavior patterns, whether inspired by neurotic frustrations or by mistaken egalitarian philosophy, will only put unproductive stresses on the relationships between sexes and serve the psychological actualization of nobody.” (Ch. 5, p. 57)
However, it is not the overt sexism, shoddy research, or bizarre techniques, such as humor therapy, that define van den Aardweg. It is his audaciously mean-spirited attacks on LGBT people that stand out, even among his anti-gay colleagues. In most of my research, I am able to find a few choice quotes that reveal the genuine feelings of “ex-gay” counselors or ministry leaders. In the case of van den Aardweg, the biggest issue I faced was narrowing down which awful quotes to include in this overview. Whereas, I usually find one or two pages of nasty nuggets, my research on van den Aardweg unearthed 11 ½ pages.
In his writing and clinical practice, the Dutch therapist is unrelenting in his attacks and is as vitriolic a psychologist as one is apt to find. He recruits clients by painting a dismal portrait of gay life as a lonely road that leads to unhappiness and personal destruction. Here are just a few examples:
“The person with a homosexual drive is pulled to a neurotic and conflictions existence. Stubbornly and imperviously, against all advice, despite the sorrow they inflict on their parents, young people with this problem cling to their ‘choice’ of what their ignorance mistakes for ‘happiness.’ It may be hard, but it is true: not a few of them degenerate, their youthful freshness and gladness disappear; they become weaklings in many respects – like addicts.” (Ch. 2, pg. 24)
“The craving for a person of the same sex is passive, a quest for being cherished. It is not a happy and joyful experience like normal falling in love; the underlying feeling is of hopelessness, a kind of pain. This asking for love is of course, entirely ego-directed. Homoerotic love is self-centered, ‘narcissistic.’” (Ch. 5, p. 59)
“Nor can the homosexual affair or relationship satisfy or give any happiness other than a short-lived emotional ‘kick.’ The ideal giver of warmth exists only in the insatiable fantasy of the sufferer from this complex and therefore is never found.” (Ch. 5, p. 60)
“Still another distinction: some cherish the wish for a partner for a lasting faithful relationship, others could not even desire such a thing. Between the wish and the realization, however, these people find a great gulf; a really lasting and faithful relationship is extremely rare if it ever happens.” (Ch. 2, p. 19)
“Many people with this orientation are no more prepared to let themselves be deprived of their illusory feelings than alcoholics or drug addicts are to let themselves be deprived of their stimulants.” (Ch. 7, p. 75)
“The slogan that homosexuality should be accepted sounds deceptively humane to many ears; some have even been brainwashed so completely as to swallow the foolishness that homosexual relationships should enjoy the same rights as normal marriage. Those who are enthusiastic about homosexual life, however, turn a blind eye to the sorrow that often goes along with it.” (Ch. 11, p. 117)
“Homosexual longings are transitory and superficial. Homosexual longings and the associated longings for warmth and compassion can be experienced as the most beautiful and deepest in a person’s life. Yet this is self-deception. Homosexual feelings, sometimes extolled as ‘pure love’ as more profound than marital love, in fact hardly have anything to do with real love. They are self-centered love. This love is an asking, even a begging for love and attention. This is clear from the way homosexual partnerships usually end. The partner is there to fulfill the infantile ego’s needs but is not really loved for his or her own being. As a result, there may be clutching to the other on one side and lack of real interest and indifference on the other. It is remarkable how these people may speak of their past relationships—without emotion, like children who threw away a toy they are not interested in anymore.” (Ch. 7, p. 76)
With such hostile views, it is no surprise that van den Aardweg sounds more like a culture warrior than an actual therapist with the goal of helping people in need. It is difficult to distinguish his language from anti-gay activists who work for the American Family Association or the Family Research Council:
“It is the militant homosexuals who gave the world the slogan that ‘one person in twenty’ is a homosexual. This is pure propaganda. Some seem to think that a high incidence in the population would make the condition more normal, but of course there is no logic to that. Just because a high percentage of the population suffers from some kind of rheumatism, that does not mean that it is no longer a disease.” (Ch. 2, p. 19)
Given the crackpot theories driven by homophobia, it is not surprising that van den Aardweg creates a low bar for success:
“The change process is comparable to climbing the stairs when the end is not clearly visible. You do not exactly know where you will end up; but every stair climbed means improvement, progress.” (Ch. 8, p. 80)
“The whole process thus is a kind of self-reeducation. Ups and downs, and occasional relapses are part of it.” (Ch. 8, p. 88)
“Occasionally, he relapsed and engaged anew in homosexual contacts, without however, his former excitement.” (Ch. 10, p. 113)
If any good can come from van den Aardweg’s screeds, it is that he personifies why reparative therapists should be prohibited from practicing their psychological voodoo on minors. Here is the insane advice this NARTH therapist would offer LGBT youth:
“Frequently youngsters who express their probably not-yet fixated homoerotic feelings or fantasies are informed by the ‘experts’ that they are homosexuals. That may hit hard and dash whatever hopes there were. I suggest that as a preferable reaction to young people who disclose their secret feelings something like this: You may indeed feel that interest in your own sex, but it is still a question of immaturity. By nature, you are not that way. Your heterosexual nature has not yet awakened. What we have to discuss is a personality problem, your inferiority complex.” (Ch. 2, p. 22)
“He will, however, sooner or later come to the conclusion that he has landed in a completely disordered, in fact neurotic way of life. His inner state will resemble addiction in more than one respect.” (Ch. 2, p. 22)
“The youngsters hardly ever realize that they have fixed a rather definitive label on themselves with this ‘self-identification’ and assigned themselves to a second-class and in fact excluded status. Some may take on a proud attitude and even pose as superior to ordinary mankind, but for all their show of being perfectly content with their ‘orientation’ they inwardly realize that their being different is an inferior form of sexuality.” (Ch. 2, p. 21)
“It may be soothing to belong to a well-described minority and feel at home among similarly oriented people, free from the difficult need to keep up with the heterosexual world. The toll for this, however, is the depressing fatalism that is implicit in this newly acquired identity: ‘I am just that way.’ The young person does not think, ‘It is true that I have occasional or regular homosexual feelings, but basically I must have been born the same as anyone else.’ No, he feels he is a different and inferior creature, who carries a doom: he views himself as tragic. Thus tragic self-labeling links up with an inferiority feeling that he has already nurtured for some time before, namely, the feeling of being a pitiful outsider.” (Ch. 2, p. 21)
Gerard van den Aardweg may be the world’s meanest reparative therapist. He is living proof that such child abuse should be banned across America. Furthermore, it is telling that he sits on NARTH’s Scientific Advisory Committee. This really gives some keen insight into the soul of this anti-gay organization. It is not about hope or healing – but hatred and harming gay clients. It is not about self-determination, but teaching self-delusion. The sooner this so-called “therapy” is eliminated, the better off LGBT youth and society will be.
** In case one wonders if the good doctor has mellowed over time, the answer is emphatically “NO.” In a May 2012 interview about Dr. Robert Spitzer rejecting his infamous “ex-gay” study, Dr. van den Aardweg was as nasty and dishonest as ever. Additionally, the Dutch therapist sits on the Editorial and Scientific Review Board of discredited psychologist Paul Cameron’s, The Empirical Journal of Same-Sex Behavior. This affiliation tells you all you need to know about the credibility and scientific “ethics” of van den Aardweg.