An excellent piece by Patrick Strudwick in today’s Independent (London) details the author’s strange and disturbing experiences in ex-gay therapy in the UK.

It’s a refreshing article in that it focuses exclusively on reparative therapy, and tends not to dilute it with other aspects of the ex-gay movement. Strudwick begins his undercover investigation by attending a conference by Dr Joseph Nicolosi of NARTH. (We covered that conference here.) There he heard the usual Nicolosi myths, including the oft-repeated claim that “If you don’t hug your son, some other man will.”

Strudwick met two reparative therapists at the conference, and later consulted with them privately. His experience was shocking:

“Any Freemasonry in the family?” No, I say, again asking her to elaborate. “Because that often encourages it as well. It has a spiritual effect on males and it often comes out as SSA [same-sex attraction].”

Next, she looks for self-esteem wounds. “I think you have some unhelpful thoughts about yourself, about who you are,” she says. “What do you think about yourself? In the deepest part of you, in your stomach.”

“I think I’m a good person,” I reply. She wants more. “I think I am a determined person.” Still not enough. “I think I’ve a lot to give.”

“But do you like yourself?” she asks, becoming impatient.

“I think I’m a good person,” I repeat.

“Yes that’s different though from ‘do you like yourself?’ Deep underneath this there’s other stuff we need to get to. I think you must have had quite a lot of bullying.” No, I say. “There was no sexual abuse?” she asks, leaning in and squinting again. No, I repeat. “I think it will be there,” she replies, dropping her voice to a concerned tone. “It does need to come to the surface.”

And so, she prays for me again. “Father, we give you permission to bring to the surface some of the things that have happened over the years. Father, enable your love to pour into that place of isolation in that little boy, whatever age, we give you permission to go there, with your healing power and your light, go into those parts, open all the doors, and access each one with your light.”

She looks up. I ask her again about this abuse. “I think there is something there,” she says. “You’ve allowed things to be done to you.” In the next session I ask if she thinks the abuse would have taken place within my family, because I can’t remember it. “Yes, very likely,” she replies.

This session with an accredited psychotherapist and counsellor is a strange mixture of psychological mumbo-jumbo, Christian fundamentalist myths and a bizarre guessing game bearing more resemblance to a psychic reading than professional therapy.

Strudwick’s next session is with a married ex-gay psychiatrist, a follower of Richard Cohen. He says he can help men to “reach their full heterosexual potential.” Here things become even more bizarre. The psychiatrist admits he hasn’t entirely escaped same-sex attraction, and still experiences “unhealthy patterns of porn and masturbation, if I’m feeling a bit flat.” As therapy, he encourages Strudwick to experience sexual arousal:

I say that when men compliment me on my appearance it triggers sexual feelings. He probes again, asking me how I’m feeling as he talks about my body. Aroused, I repeat. But rather than moving away from this apparent sexual trigger, he asks if we can do an “exercise” around it. I agree.

“Close your eyes and focus on that arousal you’re feeling down in your genitals,” he says. “I want you to hear, as a man, as I look at your body, I see strong shoulders and a strong chest, I see a man who has an attractive body and I want you just to notice the arousal you feel as you hear me talking about that. Imagine an energy and picture that energy as a colour, and make the brightness of the colour relate to the intensity of the sexual feeling, so you might be starting to get a bit of a hard on, you might be starting to feel an erection and that sexual energy, but I want you to just picture that as a coloured light. What colour would it be?”

Red, I say.

“I want you to imagine that red colour, that energy and listen to the affirmations that I see you as a strong, confident man, and I want you to move that red light from your genitals up into your chest to join that feeling of affirmation as a man, and as you breathe in that affirmation do you notice now what happens to the arousal?”

I tell him it’s still there.

The piece is very revealing. It can be read in its entirety here.

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