It has barely been a week since “ex-gay” Christian Post blogger Matt Moore sold his computer and locked his phone after being caught on Grindr, a gay cruising software app. Yet, the magazine had the chutzpa to publish a stunningly dishonest op-ed by “ex-gay” activist Christopher Doyle, who works for the notorious International Healing Foundation (IHF), a group founded by Richard Cohen, a therapist who was permanently expelled in 2002 from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethics violations.

In the past week, Doyle’s efforts at promoting reparative therapy suffered two setbacks.  The first occurred after Prince George’s County Public Schools stopped using a deceptive anti-bullying campaign created by IHF and Doyle’s video company, Acception Productions. The second embarrassment occurred after UCLA researcher Dr. Allan Schore accused the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), an organization in which Doyle is a key member, of deliberately misquoting his work for political gain.

With last week’s sorry record serving as a backdrop, Doyle began his screed, “Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Campaign Against Ex-Gays,” by cynically quoting Martin Luther King Jr., concluding: “The lesson Dr. King taught us…was that a righteous cause must be fueled by love, truth, and justice.”

Let’s begin with Doyle’s call for love. He works for IHF, an organization that sent one of its employees, Caleb Brundidge, to Kampala as part of a hate conference designed to “wipe out” homosexuality in Uganda. Brundidge spoke alongside Scott Lively, a notorious holocaust revisionist who called the meeting “a nuclear bomb against the gay agenda.” This wasn’t far from the truth, with this conference soon leading to the Anti-Homosexuality Bill, which would send sexually active gay people to prison for life, and in some cases, subject them to the death penalty.

Doyle’s membership in NARTH also undermines his claim that he represents “love.” One of the groups co-founders, the late Dr. Charles Socarides, summed up his view of homosexuality to the Washington Post:  “It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society.”

A NARTH Scientific Advisory Board Member, Gerard van den Aardweg, typifies this group’s negative views of LGBT people: “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.”

And, the unbridled anger shown by Cohen, Doyle’s boss, highlights the temperament of reparative therapists:

Clearly, reparative therapists are not interested assisting clients, as Doyle falsely suggests. After all, what type of therapist demonstrates such hostility against the very people he is claiming to help?  The real goal of such “therapists” is to mislead the public by strategically employing medical language to stigmatize LGBT people as mentally ill, even though every respected medical and mental health association in America has rejected this view for four decades. Groups such as NARTH also like to pretend they are standing for client determination and freedom, yet, ironically, they focus the bulk of their efforts on targeting children, who have virtually no say in whether they submit to such abuse (targeting adults is bad for NARTH’s business because they can walk out on their own volition):

The idea that Doyle represents a legitimate scientific view is laughable. In his article he defends Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) a group so ignorant of research that its leaders walk around talking about “the gay genome,” even though no such thing exists. This organization, like NARTH, peddled the scientifically bankrupt idea that there are no such things as homosexuals, just heterosexuals with a homosexual problem.

If this weren’t enough, NARTH activist James Phelan urges clients to keep a “masturbation inventory” and 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.

Interestingly, Doyle cunningly avoids discussing the actual techniques he and other quacks use, such as having clients snap a rubber band on their wrist when they see someone who they find attractive. Or, by helping gay “patients” feel more masculine by playing sports, drinking Gatorade, and referring to friends as “dude.” How about banging a pillow with a tennis racket while manically yelling a same-sex parent’s name?

The reason Doyle attacks the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) without detailing the bizarre techniques used by he and his ilk, is because he is acutely aware that even Christian conservatives would recoil when they saw his practices in action.

Speaking of odd techniques, Doyle defends so-called touch therapy (aka holding therapy), where supposedly cured therapists, like himself, cuddle with clients on a couch to help turn them straight. Unfortunately, we have repeatedly seen touch therapy used as a gateway to sexual abuse, with closeted therapists sexualizing the experience at the expense of vulnerable clients.

In his Christian Post article, Doyle complains:

While there is no mention of my organization, the processes he [SPLC attorney Sam Wolfe] describes are similar to a therapeutic activity that we have individuals participate in, teaching about healthy touch and bonding rather than sexualizing one’s emotional needs. Nothing about this program was intended to “shed” unwanted SSA, as Mr. Wolfe claims.

Here is an excerpt of what Wolfe witnessed:

“As part of our investigation, I recently attended a conversion program where participants used ‘touch therapy,’ which involves being held like a baby by another man, with lights dimmed and soft music playing. The idea is to receive the nurturing missed as a child, thereby becoming more ‘whole’ and automatically shedding ‘unwanted same-sex attraction.’ Tragically, some of the participants were teens, prodded by their parents and communities that reject them as they are.”

What I found most disconcerting is that NARTH officially rejects touch therapy and even has a written policy strongly warning against it:

Attention has been given to a variety of techniques described as “holding therapy” for the treatment of unwanted homosexuality. Such techniques are not a part of the standard psychological care included in reorientation or reparative therapies.

NARTH does not subscribe to the belief that therapists providing psychological care to individuals with unwanted homosexual attraction should use “holding therapy.” There is no scientific evidence which supports the effectiveness of such interventions by the therapist. In fact, we believe that when used by a mental health professional, such techniques are contraindicated and potentially dangerous, placing clients at risk for emotional and sexual exploitation.

NARTH strongly opposes the use of holding techniques by therapists and advises its members to provide psychological care in a professional, ethical manner which is consistent with the codes of ethics of the national mental health organizations and state licensing boards.

Despite NARTH’s strong admonitions, Doyle wantonly and brazenly admits that he engages in this practice. Yet, from all indications he remains a member in good standing. This strongly suggests that NARTH is insincere about its rejection of touch therapy and only created the policy to deceive the media. In the real world, Doyle’s case proves that NARTH takes no action against its members who engage in this abusive technique.

Doyle is also being quite dishonest when he claims that touch therapy was not used during IHF’s session “to shed unwanted SSA (same-sex attraction).” His boss, Cohen, is quite clear in the need for employing touch therapy for a gay person who wants to become heterosexual. In his book, “Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality,” Cohen says:

  • “Touch is a necessary component in the process of healing…the individuals coming out of homosexuality may need a significant investment of time, touch and talk.” (p.184)
  • “For mentors and strugglers alike, there is a need for appropriate displays of affection. Again, same-sex attraction represents detachment from one’s core gender identity. Experiencing healthy touch in adult relationships is paramount to growth into manhood and womanhood.” (p. 216)

A disturbing children’s book written by Cohen, “Alfie’s Home,” discusses the need for “touch” to overcome or prevent homosexuality.

Cohen 1

Cohen 2

Finally, Doyle falsely accuses SPLC of conflating “ex-gay” ministries with reparative therapy. According to Doyle’s op-ed:

In fact, the SPLC is combining highly educated professional psychotherapists with religious ex-gay ministries, and then pronouncing that they are one in the same. In truth, they are not the same, and the SPLC knows that. But it is far more compelling for the SPLC to repeat the lie that psychotherapists simply tell clients to “pray away the gay” rather than to distinguish psychological services with religious interventions. The truth is that decades of scientific, peer-reviewed literature attests to that fact that homosexuality is fluid for some individuals and that some people can and do change from SSA to heterosexuality.

First, there are absolutely zero peer-reviewed articles that aren’t several decades old that claim groups like NARTH or IHF can change homosexuality. There was one study by University of Utah’s Lisa Diamond, that acknowledged a small number of women appear to experience a shift in sexual orientation as they grow older. This is not to say that they lost their attraction for same-sex partners, but they did organically develop attraction to members of the opposite sex, notably without the assistance of “ex-gay” programs. Consequently, NARTH twisted her work beyond recognition, and she appeared in a Truth Wins Out video expresing her dismay with NARTH’s unethical, “deliberate” distortions.

There was also the 2001 study by Dr. Robert Spitzer, who claimed some gay people could go straight through prayer and therapy. He renounced his own study in 2012.

Second, it is beyond comical for Doyle to pretend that reparative therapy is significantly different than religious programs that “pray away the gay.”  In reality, the two have been engaged, if not married, for decades, and religious motivations drive the vast majority of allegedly secular therapists. Here are a few examples:

  • The origins of Doyle’s employer, IHF, are undeniably religious. In 1987, Cohen was looking for divine career guidance when he summoned God: “OK, God, it’s showdown time!” he said while sitting by a lake at Exodus International’s 1987 conference. “I’m not moving from this spot until you tell me what to do and where to go.” And then the directions came directly from God, “Move to Seattle, receive help for your marriage, get an education, and then reach out to help other people.”
  • At NARTH’s 2012 conference, past-president Julie Hamilton hosted a seminar that dealt with questions such as “How do I relate to ministers who do not seem to want to deal with this issue?”
  • NARTH’s 2012 annual meeting featured speaker Mr. Staver, founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel who spoke on “Critical Threats to Change Therapy and Christian Counseling.”
  • NARTH has had people on it’s board, such as JONAH’s Arthur Abba Goldberg, who have no virtually psychological training, but come from an exclusively religious perspective.
  • NARTH’s Dr. Joseph Nicolosi worked for years with Love Won Out, an evangelical Christian “ex-gay” road show started by Focus on the Family. One of his books, “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,” is endorsed by Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, as well as Love Won Out’s former leader John Paulk.
  • “We, as citizens, need to articulate God’s intent for human sexuality,” Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, President of NARTH, said in CNN’ 360 Degrees with Anderson Cooper, April 14, 2007.
  • At the Feb. 10, 2007 Love Won Out conference in Phoenix, the “secular” Nicolosi told the audience, “When we live our God-given integrity and our human dignity, there is no space for sex with a guy.”
  • Confronted with protesters at their 2006 national conference in Orlando, NARTH instructed its members to “sing a hymn or pray instead,” according to Mother Jones magazine, in its Sept.-Oct. 2007 issue.

The truth is, I could write a dissertation on the deep ties between so-called secular reparative therapy groups and “ex-gay” religious programs. It is a paper-thin line that separates the two entities. They are more often than not intertwined and historically in cahoots. It is inaccurate and disingenuous for Doyle to claim otherwise.

I’ll end by briefly addressing Doyle’s ludicrous accusation that SPLC’s informative map of reparative therapy clinics places “ex-gay” therapists at risk. For the record, in more than forty years of practice, not a single reparative therapist has been harmed. Meanwhile, FBI statistics show that LGBT people are significantly more likely to be brutally attacked than any other minority group. Given the anti-gay rhetoric of reparative therapy groups like IHF and NARTH, it is reasonable to suggest that they have contributed to this dangerous climate of intolerance where LGBT people are often victims of hate crimes.

If hate is occurring – it is coming directly from Doyle and the unethical groups he represents  – not the SPLC, which is simply trying to hold these renegade practitioners accountable for the harm they regularly inflict on innocent clients.