Ex-Gay ‘Touch Therapy’ Leads to Sexual Assault Conviction
Source: Winnipeg Sun
The story is a familiar one. A young man is found by family to be sexually attracted to men and coerced through a fear of hell to seek “therapy” to go straight. This is the story that led a young Canadian man to seek out the help of Terrance Lewis, a minister and (former) counselor at Providence College and Seminary.
The man said Lewis started a program of “touch therapy,” which included the two kissing and fondling each other and engaging in sexual roleplaying.
“He said I was to tell no one about it because no one would understand,” the man testified.
During “touch therapy” sessions in Lewis’ car, Lewis asked him to masturbate, the man said. Lewis also admitted to fantasizing about him, the man said.
Many ex-gay therapists have practiced what they call “touch therapy,” including Richard Cohen, who extends this from touching to hugging or even cuddling on the couch. Dr. Chris Austin carried touch too far and was convicted of sexual assault, as was Terrance Lewis in the story above. While certainly not all ex-gay therapists go to this extreme, starting with the premise that sexual orientation should, or even can, be changed has led to unorthodox and at times, illegal “therapy.”
Those who insist that professional, medical organizations must accept these as effective and therapeutic do so because they defend their “world view.” Everyone has the right to see the world as they like, but should an entire science be held responsible for maintaining that view? At what point is it the responsibility of the therapist to acknowledge that even a deeply held belief can lead one to seek help which is not — helpful.
I guess this brings out more evidences, that ex-gay ministers are not exactly ex-gays after all. But of course, they would blame the ‘fall’ into temptation again, ala Ted Haggard style.
It would be funny if it weren’t so tragic and so predictable.
I do want to make a point here, though. It is about responsibility. This “victim” is not entirely a victim. He is a victim of the whole anti-ex-gay hoohah, of course, as is this therapist. But I don’t buy for a moment that he was not perfectly aware of what was going on, and how inappropriate it was. I would guess that he was willing to suspend his disbelief in order to be touched by another man, no matter how inappropriate it was, because he’s a human being, and needed to be touched after denying himself that simple act of humanity to appease someone’s notion of an inhuman god..
His trust was abused, but not his credulity.
Am I speaking of the therapist, or the patient? you be the judge.
Right on, Ben. There are no victims in such a tragic and predictable story. Here we are in the 21st century and still using leeches and blood letting to deal with what we don’t understand and are afraid of. Not that I’m glad Ted Haggard (and other ministers and priests) have been exposed but that the obvious conclusion is that this is not a choice. It is the natural order of things. When we mess with that, we have neurosis, guilt, lying, to name a few.
They might just give a ban on “touch therapy.” those reparative “therapists” who are “less extreme” would simply call for non gay-affirming talk therapy only. There’d be a workaround for NARTH no matter what.
I am a bit confused. What does an ex-gay minister who sexually abused a client have to do with Richard Cohen? Are you accusing him of doing the same? If so please state it clearly, rather than though innuendo.
While Richard’s approach is unorthodox in the ex-gay and reparative worlds, it has none the less benefited many. What you, Exodus and others fail to acknowledge is that holding therapy is a technique that is used to heal all kinds of childhood woundness, not just SSA (see Holding Time by Dr. Martha Welch, not to mention the writings of Leo Buscaglia).
While touch and holding in an SSA environment involves risk because of the high degree of sexualization that men have associated with touch, it can be very helpful if done safely and ethically. The unfortuate truth is that the single most common ethical breach among all mental health professionals, not just reparative therapists, is having sex with clients. So if touch is to be part of any healing program it must be done safely and ethically, otherwise the therapist is only rewounding his client, as in the case of the Canadian minister that you mention. I reiterate that Richard Cohen has never been accused of anything close to that kind of ethical breach of trust and can point to hundreds of testimonials where healing touch was an essential part of helping individuals find greater peace within themselves, and yes even changing their sexual attractions.
As I listen to the debate that goes on here and within the walls of Exodus I am always amazed by the strange alliance that has evolved between the two camps. Both seem to be bent on eliminating healthy, non-sexual touch between men, though admittedly with different ends in mind. The irony is that it took Richard Cohen to bring the two sides together.
If you do not understand — yet — what “professional distance” means, then this discussion is not for you. Except, hopefully, to learn.
I don’t doubt that sitting on teacher’s lap would help “some” children to learn their lessons; either. Name such a teacher for me, and I’ll be happy to pass their name onto the proper authorities. Any claim to having “unorthodox” teaching methods will count for nothing.
People who are desperate for love, affection and attention appear therapist’s offices every day. Therapists are well aware, and normally very responsible at such times. The therapist’s role is to help them see how they may find what they seek, as best they can — but… outside the therapy room, and with someone else.
If providing those aspects of life for clients is all that Richard Cohen is doing in a clinical relationship, he’s a nothing but an expensive prostitute.
Sorry, I correct myself. Prostitutes are normally very honest about what they provide. Comparing them to Richard Cohen is very wrong of me. I apologise.
ps: are you aware that Richard Cohen has, in fact, already been professionally disciplined?
pps: are you also aware if was only after a deluge of “bad publicity” that Exodus — and the others of their ilk — caught up with the rest of us? Prior to that they lauded him.
Therapist abusing clients through the use of holding therapy is entirely related to Richard Cohen because he is the one who trains many of them, including the one my ex-husband and I used who was recently convicted of sexual assault.
Holding therapy is absolutely questionable to the point that some of us wish it could somehow be banned from use within the realm of reparative therapy. The effectiveness of holding therapy in the reduction of same sex attractions is such a relative thing that it’s just not worth it. Grant/Dale is completely correct…I’m not about to start sitting kids in my lap to read with them just because it might improve test scores for a certain percentage.
Frank, I would also like to put into the discussion the fact that these men and women seeking reparative therapy are especially vulnerable. They are craving love and affection, perhaps especially in an intimate sense. I know I get a thrill whenever I simply hug a girl I’m in love with. For someone sexually repressed, desperate to stay repressed, with possibly sex on the brain all the time as a result, they would probably not benefit mental health-wise from holding therapy.
Besides, does this kind of holding therapy sound proper even in the realming of holding therapy?? Richard Cohen learned his techniques from a bizarre cult from the Pacific Northwest who was led by a man that was also convicted of sexual assault. I prefer this torch not be passed.
Can you be specific? I thought he learned it from Welch.
Hey – what a great idea.
I think I should start providing therapy for christian guys, 18-22, thin, smooth, and shy who are struggling with their gay feelings.
I won’t even charge – I’ll do it out of the goodness of my heart.
Patrick O, I dont think that joke was in very good taste. It makes you sounds like a predator. Just my opinion.
Hundreds, Frank? Where are these hundreds of testimonials written?
An essential part? How could this be demonstrated? I would say it differently – it is just as likely that any improvement or change occurred in spite of being cuddled – the breach of personal boundaries probably lengthens therapy by months if not years and there are those who have been harmed by this who are afraid to come forward.
It appears that the “holding therapy” is derived from multiple sources – Welch, the cult-like group in Washington, Mankind Project, etc.
“Both seem to be bent on eliminating healthy, non-sexual touch between men, though admittedly with different ends in mind. The irony is that it took Richard Cohen to bring the two sides together.”
Let me honest here–the type of touch therapy used is not even close to normal touch. Even with my spouse, I would not be touched in the way Cohen and others have done. Also, it does not seem healthy–it comes across as infantile. There is an assumption in our popular culture that there is something wrong when males are not touchy feely. I do agree that some males have inappropriate distancing because of “maleness.” However, I suspect that such distancing is not a problem for most.
I do not like being hugged by males or females unless I give approval. There are only a few people who have approval from me, and I am fine with that. As an instructor, distance between student and teacher is important. I do not touch the student, and the student does not touch me. Is there a problem? No. Would it make me a better person to touch people all the time? Probably no. I understand the need for individual space. I don’t see the benefit of irrational and unnecessary touching.
I don’t agree Emily – when I was 18 and a young, confused christian, I would have greatly appreciated someone like Patrick O.
I have to agree that I have a hard time finding humor in a thread about sexual assault. Does anyone have an opinion on when professional therapists should yield to science over world view?
gordo: you may think so. On the other hand, it’s also highly likely you would not recall fondly an encounter with a deliberate predator, should it actually have occurred. In the list of all the things you may have hoped for at that age, I’m guessing being manipulated and abused are not included. Some lessons we can all do without.
I gather Patrick was being flippant, rather than making himself out to be a predator; but it is important to also remember what we’re talking about at the end of the day: vulnerable people. I think this is Emily’s ultimate concern, given what the threads about.
I gotta be honest, the fact that “18 – 22 year olds” were specified in the “joke” creeps me out too. My therapist (an actual psychologist, not a “sexual reorientation coach”) when i was 18 was as old as my parents. To me, in my opinion, sexualization of therapy and touch therapy are especially creepy when coupled with a large age difference between patient and counselor. But again, that is only my opinion and not anyone else’s.
Exactly what was was about to say, till I saw you beat me to it!
Any therapist who uses the clients desperate needs to satisfy their own craven desires is sicker than the patient.
While a certain dependency develops during therapy as issues are brought up and dealt with, the ultimate goal is to help the client with the skills and know-how necessary so that he or she can meet their needs in the world on their own, and further therapy is no longer required.
When those in charge of Ted Haggard’s “restoration” program idly mention that he will have to remain in such a program for the rest of his life, I scratch my head in wonder. If a person can’t learn to meet life’s challenges on their own, what kind of therapy is that?
Well, now I see he’s left the program. Like me, he would no longer put up with such nonsense. I’ve met him and wish him well in his future endeavors.
You raise an excellent point, and one that I questioned several times during the time that I was actually in support of reparative therapy…thinking it would save the marriage. I used to ask, “how much longer?”….and was mislead several times into thinking that eventually the need for sessions (group and individual) would taper off. As I became more and more involved with the process and continued to draw closer relationally to other couples and singles involved, it became apparent that there would be no “tapering off”…just a lifetime of management. Basically, no real change.
I would even go so far as to say that I met some guys who seemed almost addicted to group therapy. Of course, sadly and sickly, I now understand why.
I think his point is that these touch ministries are no different, in his eyes, than his own crass post. They just use God language to basically make the same pitch.
I got to know a few ‘lifers’ at the ex-gay ministries I attended. No inappropriate therapist/client relationships in their cases, just guys whose addictive tendencies made them as dependent on support groups as they’d once been on alcohol or sex.
My therapist that I used to go to told me on several occasions that she wished she were a massage therapist like myself because there is a kind of healing depth that she could never go to with cognitive therapy only. I do know that there are a lot of different kinds of touch therapy. This includes a therapist placing his or her hand on the shoulder of the client when he or she is going through a very tough time. Touch takes the client out of the scary future or past and keeps the client grounded in the here and now. Touch is yet another and deeper form of communication that allows the client to feel safe and get the deeper, tougher words and thoughts out.
The kind of touch which Cohen is espousing is misused because his intent is to “heal same sex attraction.” I think that the reason some people may think they have been healed of “ssa” with his touch therapy is because they probably have never had an intimate experience except for it leading to sex. When they have an experience of intimacy without sex they equate it with being healed of their homosexuality. It’s sad but there are people out there who have rarely if ever experienced the kind of wonderful intimacy (non-sexual with friends, family, etc. as well as sexual with his or her loved significant other) that well-adjusted, healthy gay and lesbian people have all the time. This is what Cohen ignores and completely misses.
Ok… I’ve read all the posts, and I’m simply not getting it. Really.
I hug my female doctor, my female counselor, and my female co-workers. I check on some of my male co-workers, and give them hugs too. I give hugs to my daughter when I visit her home, and to my son who visits every other day or so. My grandchildren do sit in my lap, and I read them stories. I welcome my children’s friends (strangers to me) to my home with a handshake and/or a hug, depending on my intuition.
The term “Professional distance” is confusing me. I can’t quite wrap my head around it.
One pastor I met (who knew of my past) pulled away when I gave him a hug and I said, “The Lord bless you.” He was obviously in distress, and ended the short conversation with “Please do not ever contact me again” and then walked rapidly away. So, he was very much in favor of ‘professional distance’. Or… are we talking about something else here?
My own father, now deceased, was bothered by me (his son) for many years. He gave me two handshakes, as I can recall during my first 26 years. I was 27 years of age before he ever touched me with a hug, and he did that because I begged him for it. We were also not to say ‘I love you’ within the house. I recall a very cold and distant family filled with hatred (I think the ‘gentle son’ frightened my military father far more than he wished. I simply avoided him the rest of my life). Surely, this is not ‘professional distance’ (though I think my military father would have considered the term as useful for our non-relationship).
I became a Christian at the end of 8th grade in America. Two years later, I saw two men at a church hugging. I stared at them. I watched them closely. It was then, that somehow, I knew Christianity was real. Sorry, but in 10th grade, my ability to dissect arguments pro and con was limited…. and the act of ‘love’ between Christians, not professional distance, stunned me. I have never forgotten that sight 38 years ago.
I concur that having sexual activity with a counselor would violate my sense of boundaries. So, I can follow that part of the discussion.
Clearly, I am missing several of the commenter’s points. Please feel free to spell it out for me, k? Perhaps my own mental filters are in full swing on this thread. Sincerely; Caryn
Yes. As someone who frequently makes ironic observations in so-called “bad taste” (although I am usually wise enough to know where and when not to voice them), I can appreciate the spirit in which Patrick intended his remarks.
I hear you, Caryn.
I guess there was a day when parents and guardians and authorities were too trusting, and abuse easily slipped under the radar. Now we seem to be in an age where we are too suspicious, and the quite natural human need to touch and be touched is stifled. I hope the culture can find a happy medium.
There is a faulty assumption here–why does anyone need to be touched? How does that help me or anyone to be touched in any context? How does more touch help? I don’t buy it. Honestly, any studies that suggest touch is important in any context I am going to be suspect.
When I took psychology classes in school, the teachers mentioned these stories about babies not being touched, etc. When I inquired about the truth regarding these issues, I found most were faulty or even more so–false.
Caryn, I had a student, a very friendly guy, who would hug students, male and female. He would give everyone hugs. A couple of female students in the class came to me and stated that they were very uncomfortable. Two were married. I am sure that the student meant no harm, but I spoke to him. He was on the verge of tears when I told him to basically stop. He said he meant no harm and he was just being friendly.
I think that the problem is not that touch is being stifled. It is that touch is being encouraged (there are hugging and cuddling clubs that push this idea too). People expect hugs instead of handshakes. Well, I like my personal space, and I don’t want anyone to hug me unless I agree to it. Also, I tend to think it is unprofessional in a career context to have personal touch–in any career.
I don’t see it as Christian. I see it as new age touchy feely. If touch has been incorporated in the church, it is probably from new age philosophy. Christianity has always seemed to me to be a personal space religion (the ten commandments focus on property tends to reinforce this idea). The touchy stuff seemed to arise when crystals, yoga, and other new age stuff jumped into Christianity.
Touching is fine if the other person is ok with it, but I will tell you now that if someone came up asking for a hug, I would disrespect them. Sorry, that is the way it works. Also, it tends to make personal contact less special when you spread it around.
Actually Aaron, the “kiss of peace” has been a part of Christianity since its earliest days. And in Kurdistan, Jewish men hug eachother as part of tradition.
Caryn: I’ve tried to stay mostly out of this one, but i certainly understand your confusion.
I don’t think there is anything wrong with touch at all, especially if it is “professionally” done. It is healing and warming, and adds something to a positive therapeutic relationship. I used to hug my therapists as a way of saying I like you and thank you for your help. but here are some observations as to why it may not be appropriate. There are professional rules against because:
1) We live in a very litigious society, and malpractice insurance costs a bundle.
2) Not every therapist– probably no more than the general populaiton, and there are reasons to think possibly far less– has got his act together and boundaries secure. A therapist with out those qualities– trouble like our boy who is the source of this thread.
3) Many clients by definition do not have a together act, or secure boundaries.
4) Our obsession with sex, which sexualizes everything–sometimes a cigar really is just a cigar– unfortunatley sexualizes even just a hug. And becuase that makesi t about sex–well, that makes even ickier.
One of my dear friends is fighting for his professional life right now because, being th huggy guy (but with clear boundaries)that he is, he has hugged most of his clients goodbye, especially if they have been through a gruelling session with lots of positive work. Now he is being hounded by these very sick and evil former clients of his who are complaining that he hugged them.
It is very sad that simple gesture of caring and (I think) respect has been turned into something sick–and worse, profitable for the lawyers. And it is people like Our Boy of the Thread who have done that
the bottom line for ME is that in an environment where sexuality IS discussed, I want my personal space to absolutely stay mine. This is the case with ex-gay reparative therapy. If I’m in therapy for some other sexual issue, it is no different. This is a special circumstance, in my opinion, whether someone is comfortable hugging – or gives many hugs – or not. This is not because a hug is sexualized: this is because an act of physical contact – sexual contact – should be discussed without any personal space violation, in my opinion.
Emily, the kiss of peace is largely a Catholic tradition–not necessarily Christian based (I am not saying Catholics are not Christian). Yes, the New Testament does have references to kisses such as betrayl kisses, but one need only look at Jewish law to know the extent of privacy and separation issues.
Second, the hugs among Jewish men (and Muslim) has more to do with culture and less with religion. In fact, I have a Syrian friend who does not understand the personal space issues because of culture. That is one thing that makes Isreal quite different than much of the Middle East.
My understanding was that in the gospel, the disciple that betrayed Jesus chose the kiss as a signal to the Roman soldiers because it was an ordinary act – a normal act of greeting. In addition, non-canonical writings that describe “Mary kissing Jesus on the mouth” probably refer to the kiss of peace between followers (as opposed to a romantic relationship between the two). As for “catholic vs. christian,” well, there was no such separation in the beginning.
I’ll try and find a good on-line ref for you. Don’t hold your breath, though 🙂
But I’ll start with what I noticed at once: your question is in a post that has mixed a wide range of relationships, and yet seemingly assumes all should (must?) operate with at least some of the same levels of personal intimacy. And those aren’t shared by everyone.
Your doctor is not your father. The teacher is not the grandmother. Correct?
And what would be cold or uncaring behaviour from one does not indicate cold or uncaring behaviour from another. Correct?
Can I ask: do you need hugs from people who are not part of an intimate or family relationship? Must everyone become a friend (rather than simply friendly)? Do you use their willingness to be physical with you as a short-hand sign of approval etc. Why so?
*** please don’t answer these in a post, that’s just some questions for yourself ***
I’ll suggest that the simple but deliberate act of hugging a client at the end of a therapy session will be taken, by the client, to be The Sign that they did “a good job” in therapy and that they are appreciated/liked/loved by the therapist. It shows approval. What would occur if the therapist, one day, failed to hug the client?
That is a hairsbreadth away from a dependant relationship, if it isn’t already. Abusive behaviour almost invariably requires a dependant client to be sustained. It’s a precursor.
Hugging of work colleagues is also fraught with all sorts of issues; the least of which is the potential for an harassment claim.
By far the most salient concern is that you are clearly signalling who is favoured by you, and who is left in the cold. One of us is often asked examine what is occurring within poorly functioning/performing teams, and looking for such a dynamic is one of the first to be considered. You may be surprised at how frequently it crops up as a real problem.
Professional distance is neither cold-hearted nor charmless. A cheerful and friendly disposition does not require you to lay hands on people. Hugging doesn’t mean you’re approachable; in fact it often has completely the opposite overall effect in a professional environment. A therapeutic relationship can too easily blur what the client needs from the therapist with what the client wants out of life.
I’m not disputing we all need friends, and intimacy. But what and who is a friend?
Hope that helps, as a start!
Here was an all-too-common occurance during the early days of EXODUS. I suspect it still happens a lot: A “struggler” comes in with guilt and sadness about being gay. Struggler (who happens to be youthful and handsome) expresses deep emotional pain and begins to cry.
“Ex-gay” therapist (who actually is still gay, in the sense that he, too, still “struggles with SSA”) begins to comfort the client with reassuring words, a touch, a hug, an embrace that lasts just a bit too long. One or both men begin to get aroused. This does (or does not) led to more in-depth touching.
In my experience, talking with other “ex-gay” counselors, this happened a lot and was the source of much discussion: “Seeing as how the “ex-gay” counselor is not heteroseuxal, how does the “ex-gay” counselor deal with his own ongoing feelings of sexual attraction towards males?
If ex-gay programs have found thousands who’ve changed, or even “diminished homosexual feelings 99%,” Why can’t they find enough trustworthy counselors? Then things like this would NEVER happen, and patients would be all the better off.
[…] first letter on Exgaywatch is here; the second on Warren’s site is […]
If I may.
This was a criminal trial under Section 271 of the Criminal Code of Canada.
The minister (Lewis) was convicted in trial (by judge) of sexual assault under the CCC.
(271 has four classifications of sexual assault)
This is criminal, not about anyone suing.
That process would occur in provincial civil court.
Lewis was a friend of the family, both Lewis and the young man had connections to this private Christian college, the victim as a student, the minister as an adjunct teacher and former student.
The Winnipeg Sun coverage does not tie in the victim and his family to Lewis’ church and no one has stepped forward at my blog, so we don’t know.
It is standard in a SA case to withhold the name of the victim, I’m surprised the judge did not place a ban of publication on testimony.
There is no record of Lewis having any counselling courses or degrees. He did not work in the counselling centre at Providence during his teaching time.
Once the pre-sentence report is completed Lewis will be sentenced. The max for SA is 10 years in prison.
I can appreciate your discussion of touch is important, and I’m not trying to interfere, I just wanted to help with clarity about Canadian law, the seriousness of this trail and outcome. Thanks.
There is another case in London Ontario of a pastor who ran a school in the basement of his church. He is facing 13 counts: 10 assault charges, two sexual assault charges and one charge of sexual interference.
Royan Wood the pastor of Ambassador Baptist Church ran the school for 2 years – 1985 to 1987.
The sexual assault charges and sexual interference charges involve females.
Wood is defending himself (a fool for a lawyer); the court would provide him with a legal aide assistant, who he doesn’t appear to be listening to.
Again these are charges have been laid under the Criminal Code of Canada.
The court has lifted a ban on publication of some of the victims names.
The London Free Press is covering the trial.
Full LFP coverage so far can be found at Religion News Blog
The whole point here is that you CANNOT change someones sexuality, no matter how hard you try, they are as God has made them.