cummingsUSA Today published a piece this morning by Nicholas A. Cummings, in support of the widely discredited practice of “ex-gay” or “reparative” therapy. Cummings states his credentials as such:

Nicholas Cummings was president of the American Psychological Association (1979-80).

Here, we touch the tip of the iceberg of obfuscation in this atrocious piece of work, a screed that USA Today should never have published in the first place. His piece also mentions that he was the chief psychologist for Kaiser Permanente from 1959-1979. So from the outset, we see that the professional credentials he possesses that are actually respectable are from a time before this author was born, and much has changed about the nature of psychotherapy since those bygone days. Indeed, all of the major medical and mental health organizations now consider the practices from that time regarding homosexuality to be outdated and harmful. Those, though, are the credentials that Cummings is using in a public forum, in order to appear mainstream and learned.

Those are the not the credentials that lead him to write “ex-gay” screeds, though, and if Cummings were being honest about the misdirection of his later career, we would not having this conversation, as he would be rightly apprised as unqualified to publish such a piece. The fact is that Nicholas A. Cummings is a NARTH company man. Indeed, if one takes the time to browse the links in the USA Today piece, the truth is hidden in plain sight, as he states:

When I was chief psychologist for Kaiser Permanente from 1959 to 1979, San Francisco’s gay and lesbian population burgeoned. I personally saw more than 2,000 patients with same-sex attraction, and my staff saw thousands more. We worked hard to develop approaches to meeting the needs of these patients.

That last link goes directly to NARTH’s website. For anyone who is not familiar, NARTH is the National Association for the Research And Therapy Of Homosexuality, a fringe “ex-gay” religious group which masquerades as a secular, scientific organization. Here is the testimony of Allen Rosenthal, a researcher at Northwestern University who was raised Mormon, who survived “therapy” with NARTH:

NARTH routinely misuses and misrepresents the work of real scientists and researchers in order to peddle the myth of “ex-gay” conversion therapy. Leading psychotherapist and neuropsychologist Allan Schore accused NARTH head Joseph Nicolosi of egregiously distorting his scientific work, in NARTH’s quest to portray gays and lesbians as mentally ill.

Another leading researcher, Dr. Lisa Diamond, directly addressed NARTH’s manipulations of her research in this video for Truth Wins Out. She also comments on the practice of “reparative” therapy, which groups like NARTH routinely misrepresent to their own clients, alluding to the fact that such therapy violates the cardinal rule of medical and mental health treatment, First, Do No Harm:

NARTH also was co-founded by George Alan Rekers, the subject of the infamous “rentboy” scandal of 2010, which revealed that Rekers, an advocate of “ex-gay” therapy who used a live child to test his horrific theories of “preventing homosexuality,” took a European holiday with a hired worker he found on

Cummings’ work with NARTH, again, is well-documented on their website. Indeed, he was a keynote speaker at one of their conferences in 2005, where he claimed that mainstream mental health organizations are “losing scientific credibility.”

This is a good place to segue into the actual content of Cummings’ horrid USA Today piece.

Cummings begins by completely misrepresenting the point of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s lawsuit against JONAH in New Jersey. As you will see, it’s more of a lie of omission:

The Southern Poverty Law Center has done amazing service for our nation in fighting prejudice. But it has gone astray in its recent New Jersey lawsuit charging JONAH, formerly Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing, a group that offers to help gay people change their orientation, with committing consumer fraud. The sweeping allegation that such treatment must be a fraud because homosexual orientation can’t be changed is damaging. The lawsuit is the opening salvo of a wave of activism intended to discredit therapy offered in 70 clinics across 20 states, according to the SPLC.

Yes, the SPLC is charging JONAH with committing consumer fraud by promising to change people’s sexual orientations, which all the data show does not happen. All mainstream scientific organizations affirm this truth, and gays and lesbians are paying with their pocketbooks and with their mental health. However, at the core of the lawsuit is the fact that JONAH, and organizations like it, have no accountability, and thus open their clients up to myriad, strange methods of abuse at the hands of “counselors.” From the SPLC’s website:

The lawsuit describes sessions that involved clients undressing in front of a mirror and even a group session where young men were instructed to remove their clothing and stand naked in a circle with the counselor, Downing, who was also undressed. Another session involved a subject attempting to wrest away two oranges, which were used to represent testicles, from another individual.

“Sadly, there is no accountability for those who practice conversion therapy,” said Michael Ferguson, a conversion therapy survivor and plaintiff in the lawsuit. “They play blindly with deep emotions and create an immense amount of self-doubt for the client. They seize on your personal vulnerability, and tell you that being gay is synonymous with being less of a man. They further misrepresent themselves as having the key to your new orientation.”

Downing and other counselors at JONAH also use techniques that leave clients alienated from their families. These techniques encourage clients to blame their parents for being gay. Clients even participate in violent role play exercises where they beat effigies of their mothers.

“These counselors are skilled at manipulating you into believing just about anything,” said Benjamin Unger, another plaintiff in the case. “During my time with JONAH, they told me constantly that my mom had made me gay. I was so convinced that I refused to have any contact with her for several months, which caused a great deal of damage to our relationship.”

Indeed, here is the story of Chaim Levin, a former JONAH client who was forced to undergo “naked therapy” with Alan Downing:

And here is Richard Cohen of the International Healing Foundation demonstrating the “beat effigies of their mothers” method of “ex-gay” therapy:

These aren’t the only outlandish “therapy” methods endorsed by practitioners of “ex-gay”/reparative therapy like NARTH and JONAH. NARTH therapist James E. Phelan outlined many methods involved in such “therapy” in a workbook, methods which are fully discussed here. These methods run the gamut from simply bizarre to downright abusive:

Phelan offers a comprehensive list of 236 activities clients can participate in whenever they feel homosexual urges. This list includes: Bowling, singing to myself, watching the sky, reading maps, caring for houseplants, going to a revival or crusade, seeing famous people, crying, seeing or smelling a flower or plant, going to a drive-thru (Dairy Queen, McDonalds, etc.), walking barefoot, bird watching, smiling at people, playing Frisbee, and going to auctions. (Pgs. 93-97)

This is just the beginning. Phelan assigns seventy-nine interminable homework assignments including: creating a daily tracker, keeping a diary, finding a mentor, writing a personal story, and penning various letters to oneself or to “confront your abusers.”

One of the more disconcerting aspects of such therapy is the level of control Phelan suggests clients give to their accountability partner (AP). In a breathtaking act of irresponsibility, the author actually tells clients to give their APs bank “account access,” asking, “is any money going to fuel SSA?” One can easily see where this could backfire, with a crooked AP cleaning out a client’s bank account or ruining credit. Would Phelan and other NARTH therapists reimburse clients if thievery occurs? (p. 31)

The author further infantilizes his clients by demanding that they “allow your AP to monitor your [Internet] activity. Link your activities to their computer for monitoring. Give them the passwords.”

One is then asked to give the all-powerful watchdog a copy of his or her daily schedule. “Discuss down times and have plans,” the workbook demands. The intrusiveness escalates when Phelan writes, “share with your AP work stress and any conflicts. Don’t be proud. Don’t hide anything.”

This gross invasion of privacy becomes creepier and devolves into a peculiar voyeur/exhibitionist relationship between the all-powerful AP and the subservient client.

“You must be able to discuss all areas of sexuality with your AP including histories, slips, and relapses,” writes Phelan in Exercise 29. This includes what the NARTH therapist calls, in exercise 27, a “Masturbation Inventory.” According to Phelan:

 “Compulsive masturbation with SSA fantasies is an area many men in recovery from SSA struggle with. Many of my clients complain, ‘Jim, you don’t understand, jerking off is the only thing I have.’ As if they will die if they don’t masturbate! However, it is not a necessity like food, clothing, and shelter. But to listen to some of these guys you would think it was. In my opinion, it’s all manipulation. It is a way to avoid true recovery.” (p. 29).

The author then urges his horny clients to “develop a [masturbation] action plan ASAP,” lest they relapse.

In case the point was missed, Phelan is from NARTH, the same organization that Nicholas Cummings is representing.

In Cummings’ piece, he discusses his own “success rate” with changing clients’ sexual orientation:

I believe that our rate of success with reorientation was relatively high because we were selective in recommending therapeutic change efforts only to those who identified themselves as highly motivated and were clinically assessed as having a high probability of success.

He, of course, doesn’t provide any empirical evidence of his “success rate,” as none exists in the fake science of Sexual Orientation Change Efforts. Indeed, Robert Spitzer, the author of the only mainstream study that “ex-gay” perpetrators were able to use to bolster their case, retracted that study and admitted that his findings did not show that people had actually changed their sexual orientation. Here is Dr. Spitzer explaining what went wrong, and apologizing to the gay community:

Also notably, Alan Chambers, who recently shuttered what was the foremost “change” organization, Exodus International, and apologized to the gay community for the harm inflicted by his work, noted last year that, in his entire tenure, 99.9% of individuals he encountered had experienced no change in their sexual orientations.

We defy Nicholas Cummings to show us real evidence, the sort that real scientists consider valid, that his success rate in changing people’s sexual orientations was so exemplary. We, of course, will not hold our breath.

Cummings also misrepresents the nature of this lawsuit, and others like it, in suggesting that it’s about adults having the free will to choose whatever therapies please them:

Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as “unethical” violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients’ goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn’t prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions.

These cases are about banning fraudulent “ex-gay” therapy for minors. The medical and mental health communities in this country have long understood that minor children are entitled to a large degree of protection from abuse at hands of adults. Just as we, quite rightly, prosecute people who fail to seek medical treatment for children’s diseases on account of their religious beliefs, we have a responsibility to protect children from the bigoted agendas of make-believe “therapists” who would subject them to that which is tantamount to child abuse, in reparative therapy programs. The experts have spoken on this subject. It is not up for debate. Cummings knows this, but obviously he’ll be the last to admit it to you.

But we will. There are real consequences when kids are told that their sexuality is wrong and broken. There are real consequences when “reparative” therapists drive wedges between families by blaming parents for having gay kids, and cutting gay kids off from their parents. Researcher Caitlin Ryan of San Francisco State University discovered the striking truth of these consequences in a 2009 study:

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, LGBT teens who experienced negative feedback from their family were 8 times more likely to have attempted suicide, 6 times as vulnerable to severe depression, and 3 times more likely to use drugs (Caitlin Ryan, San Francisco State University, June 2009).

And this cuts to the real truth of “ex-gay” therapy. Cummings ends his piece with these words:

Attempting to characterize all sexual reorientation therapy as “unethical” violates patient choice and gives an outside party a veto over patients’ goals for their own treatment. A political agenda shouldn’t prevent gays and lesbians who desire to change from making their own decisions.

Whatever the situation at an individual clinic, accusing professionals from across the country who provide treatment for fully informed persons seeking to change their sexual orientation of perpetrating a fraud serves only to stigmatize the professional and shame the patient.

As I noted above, the first rule of medical and mental health treatment is the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. When all of the real science on the subject states that a practice is ineffective and harmful; when all of the real medical and mental associations either condemn or harshly criticize the practice; when there is no evidence of the efficacy of the practice, but rather mountains of evidence of the harm caused by the practice, then this is not about “vetoing patients’ goals” or “violating patient choice,” but about upholding the Hippocratic Oath that Nicholas Cummings is apparently unfamiliar with.

The majority of children who are sentenced to this sort of “therapy” end up there because of the prejudices of their own families. The majority of adults who end up paying their hard-earned money for this failed “therapy” end up there because they have been shamed by their families, communities and churches into believing that they are broken and need fixing.

This is the takeaway: Real doctors don’t filter the science through the lens of their own bigotry. Real doctors don’t let their own prejudices interfere with actual healing for patients. And finally, patients go into treatment for all sorts of mental health issues, but they do not go into therapy to have the abuse that has been thrust on them reinforced and augmented by fake doctors and therapists who are more interested in their religious agendas than they are in the lives and health of their patients.