AUSTIN, Texas — Counselors, therapists and pastors across Texas who believe people can change their sexual orientation through therapy have found themselves in the spotlight after state Republicans endorsed such therapies in their state platform.
Medical groups denounce the activity, known as reparative therapy or conversion therapy, saying it can be psychologically harmful. Even the chairman of the Texas GOP criticized the party’s new stance on the issue. But licensed therapists who practice it say it can help heal longstanding emotional problems.
Licensed marriage and family therapist David Pickup in Dallas said that homosexuality is an attachment issue “based on severe emotional wounds.” He believes unfulfilled needs become sexualized as children grow up.
“What reparative therapy does is, it uses psychodynamic processes to access those deeper wounds that are hidden underneath the homoerotic impulses,” Pickup said. “It resolves the male identity wounds and helps the guy get those needs met.”
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The American Psychological Association said in a 2009 report that therapy based on acceptance and support of homosexuality could yield the same benefits.
“There’s no data to support that you can change someone’s sexual orientation,” said Colleen Logan, former president of the American Counseling Association. Reparative therapy “further exacerbates any kind of depression or anxiety that goes along with the stress of having a different orientation in a homo-prejudice society.”
Dallas resident Jeremy Schwab, who founded an organization to facilitate free peer-support groups for those seeking to quell same-sex attraction, drafted the GOP platform resolution in response to laws in California and New Jersey that ban conversion therapy for minors, citing health risks.
Schwab said he wanted to start a discussion about reparative therapy so legislators could make informed decisions. The platform plank says that Texas Republicans “recognize the legitimacy and efficacy of counseling, which offers reparative therapy and treatment for those patients seeking healing and wholeness from their homosexual lifestyle.” The party opposes any effort to restrict access to the therapy.
Pickup said one of the first goals of reparative therapy is removing shame.
Through one-on-one talk therapy, Pickup said, his clients seek differing levels of success in their reparative counseling. While some men hope to eventually fall in love with women and get married, others are satisfied with reduced attraction to their same sex.
Pickup said he sees 25-35 regular weekly clients, and said the cost of reparative therapy is comparable to individual therapy for depression or anxiety disorders.
Most of those seeking reparative therapy say they do it because their feelings don’t match up with their religious beliefs.
Therapists used aversion and shock therapies to attempt to change sexual orientation in the 1960s and ’70s, and a handful of counselors still may. But “no respectable therapist would do that in today’s therapeutic climate, and if they do, they should lose their license,” Pickup said.
Still, the American medical, psychiatric, psychological and counseling associations all oppose reparative therapy. And some patients say the treatment was harmful.
Ryan Kendall’s parents made him see a reparative therapist in California when he was 14. By 16, he had run away and filed charges to be removed from his parents’ custody. He said he spent the next decade suicidally depressed, occasionally homeless and using drugs.
Kendall, who now lives in San Angelo, speaks out against reparative therapy.
“As my own mother has said, had there been a law in place banning this therapy from licensed professionals, I would never have been sent to it,” Kendall said.
Houston resident Michael Newman said he formerly identified as gay and now heads a Christian-based support group for others experiencing unwanted same-sex attractions.
He said he sees himself as a coach who helps people rediscover their heterosexuality. He doesn’t identify with the term “conversion therapy” because it signifies that “you were something and you changed to something else.”
“I wasn’t converted,” Newman said. “I was a heterosexual who was struggling with same-sex feelings.”
Licensed professional counselor Lee Preston and his wife, who both say they used to be gay, operate a Christian counseling office outside of San Antonio.
“People come to us saying, ‘I’m glad I finally found someone who at least offered me an option,’ ” Preston said. “Another side of the coin, other than just ‘You’re born this way, you need to accept it.’ ”
Gay-rights activists say the therapy is inherently damaging. Steve Rudner, president of the Equality Texas Foundation, said the state-based gay-rights group would push for lawmakers to address the issue next year.
And while the GOP platform action has drawn national attention, it’s uncertain whether the issue will go any further in Texas. Party Chairman Steve Munisteri expressed his dismay at its inclusion, asking whether those behind the idea think straight people could be changed to gay through therapy. He noted that there was no broad debate on the issue at the party’s recent convention, and he doubts whether most Republicans support the plank.