Warren Throckmorton recently posted excepts from an article by social psychologist Carol Tavris called Mind Games: Psychological Warfare Between Therapists and Scientists (The Chronicle of Higher Education, paid account only). The point was made that, by and large, therapists are not scientists. There is such a “split between the research and practice wings of psychology,” that much of what we came to think of as fact over the past decades — simply because therapists said it was — turned out not to be so. Here are some examples from the original quote:

  • Low self-esteem causes aggressiveness, drug use, prejudice, and low achievement.
  • Abused children almost inevitably become abusive parents, causing a “cycle of abuse.”
  • Therapy is beneficial for most survivors of disasters, especially if intervention is rapid.
  • Memory works like a tape recorder, clicking on at the moment of birth; memories can be accurately retrieved through hypnosis, dream analysis, or other therapeutic methods.
  • Traumatic experiences, particularly of a sexual nature, are typically “repressed” from memory, or split off from consciousness through “dissociation.”
  • The way that parents treat a child in the first five years (three years) (one year) (five minutes) of life is crucial to the child’s later intellectual and emotional success.

Often these types of claims originate as the idea of a therapist or therapists who, while attempting to avoid dissonance between their theory and the evidence, begin to seek out situations which will fit their theory, dismissing all others. They begin to see all situations in light of their theory and act accordingly, sometimes defending it vehemently in what can become a self-serving battle. This is the antithesis of the scientific method.

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) insists that boys can become homosexual (actually, have “homosexual problems” since he doesn’t believe there is any such thing as a homosexual) if they don’t get enough attention from their fathers, or if they were abused as children. Further he insists that they do not trust men, and that upon learning to do so they will no longer have the alleged homosexual problem.

This sounds ready-made for the list of fallacies above, doesn’t it? And so should Richard Cohen’s “bioenergetics” and “holding therapy.” And indeed, there are more parallels. In 2000, ten-year-old Candice Newmaker died during something called a “rebirthing session” while therapists Connell Watkins and Julie Ponder attempted to treat her “reactive attachment disorder.” This cost her parents $7,000 and the life of their daughter. Two therapists went to jail, but further efforts to ban all forms of “restraint therapy” in Colorado were defeated by protests from therapists who favor it.

Here was my comment on Throckmorton’s blog:

Could we add to that list of things ultimately proven wrong the idea that one becomes homosexual because of a lack of trust in men, weak father, overpowering mother, et al? And are not reparative therapists protesting the banning of reparative therapy much like those who prevented the ban on all types of “restraint therapy” in Colorado?

Just because clients of RTs don’t die in their offices, doesn’t mean they are not harmed, perhaps even unto death by suicide. If even one such case can be shown, should we not demand a similar ban on reparative therapy and it’s many similar practices?

In Dr Chapman’s critique and subsequent discussion over the Exodus study by Drs Jones and Yarhouse, we see that even the best efforts by true believers in such things provided only a miserable smattering of data to suggest anyone can even approach truly changing their orientation. Previous studies lend even less viability to the notion.

And yet we hear things like “SSAD” (Same Sex Attraction Disorder) used as a diagnosis even though it does not exist in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual IV or any other professional literature. It is no more valid than Female Hysteria, and even that is one better by virtue of having once been considered a legitimate condition. At what point must therapists be required to adhere to accepted, scientific standards for treatment?

We should call attempts to change sexual orientation just what they are: religiously motivated behavior modification. People have the right to live their lives as they see fit, but they do not have the right to ask that snake oil be labeled as safe, effective, real medication and sold to others for disorders which do not exist. And those who profit from selling the snake oil — whether for money, power or fame — should be ashamed of themselves.

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