Wednesday, April 25, 2012

New Bill in California Aimed at Sexual Orientation Therapy

I learned about a new bill being considered by the California Senate that is aimed at curtailing what is called sexual orientation change therapy. I've often heard it referred to as reparative therapy, to change one's orientation from gay to straight. The gist of the bill is to require therapists to provide strict warnings and obtain a written consent in writing from patients before providing such therapies. Also, minor (under 18) could not undergo such treatment even with consent of the parent or guardian. The bill was considered by the Senate's Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee on Monday, April 23rd. The bill's sponsors backed out on their support due to the broad nature of the bill, the limitation on minors, and other issues, but not the overall concept that this kind of therapy needs further oversight or limitations. The bill passed out of committee on a 5-3 vote, but with promises from the author that it will be amended to address concerns from certain organizations of psychologists. It was referred back to the Judiciary Committee for amendment instead of going to the Senate floor.
The bill is S.B. No. 1172. You can keep tabs on the bill by going to  Monday's hearing is available at  Go to the video archives and look for date and name of the committee.  The bill was considered first on the agenda and takes up about the first 25 minutes of the video.  The written committee analysis directly attacked Dr. Nicolosi's work, whom many psychologists in this field follow. The oral comments were an attack on NARTH.
I have mixed feelings about this issue. I try to keep an open mind, and as I've heard and read many guys' stories, I realize that we do not all fit one mold. I think it is better for some men to find their significant other of the same gender rather than be alone or try to conform to the church. Others like me stay in the church and are married. Others are single and in the church. There are so many paths.
What I agree with the bill's authors is that being gay is not a disease. Unfortunately, that can be implied from reparative therapy techniques, depending on the therapist and nature of the techniques used during therapy. However, I've seen guys who thrive and are happier after therapy.
I'm a fence sitter when it comes to therapy. Psychology is an interesting field, and I think there are things we all learn about ourselves. Sometimes we need help with that. Learning coping mechanisms is also something people need help with. I have a hard time articulating any goals that therapy would be able to help me with.
My wife and I did some counseling with LDS Family Services after I came out to her. We had a really nice, open minded therapist. There was no judgment. We spent most of the time looking at our relationship or at my wife's own struggles. It wasn't reparative work. It was nice, but I'm still not sure what I got out of it.
I've been invited to do a JIM weekend from guys who have done it. I'm assuming that kind of experiential weekend would also be impacted by this bill. I have a hard time justifying the expense when I have so many other priorities and I don't know what I'd get out of it. I occasionally go to a group meeting in Los Angeles where therapists come give a presentation. I've learned some things, but mostly I get a boost from being around guys like me. I'm not alone. That's awesome, because in the day to day life, it's easy to perceive that I'm alone.
One of the hesitations I have with reparative therapy is the focus on childhood experiences that caused one to be gay. I don't blame my parents. They weren't perfect, but they were good. I have had attractions to guys since very young. I don't think my parents caused it. I can't remember if I've shared this thought before on this blog, but Mormon doctrine teaches that our souls are both our spirits and our bodies. Our souls are then the combination of three things--that spirit that came from heaven, our physical bodies which are impacted by DNA and our environment, and then our experiences. Who I am today is influenced by all those things. In what part of my soul resides the gayness? Who knows? All I know is that it's part of me, it always has been, and I don't see it going away. The why doesn't seem so important. Reparative therapy, based on my limited understanding, seems to spend most of its time on the why and to blame the parents. I don't feel any need to go there.
That being said, I will reiterate I've seen guys who are much happier after they have sought some treatment. So, I'm not really for this bill so long as therapist generally are following their existing guidelines, which already requires informed consent. No therapy is perfect and may not fix anything.
Any thoughts on therapy? this bill? I don't think the bill would affect ecclesiastical counseling or Christian ministries like Exodus, but I'm not sure. We'll have to see how it's amended and if it gets to the Senate floor.


Anonymous said...
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J G-W said...

I've spoken with a few people who found reparative therapy helpful... But ironically, many of those found it helpful because it helped them realize that they could not be changed, and allowed them to move on.

However, the vast majority of folks I've spoken with who have gone through reparative therapy found it harmful. Part of the harm, as I understand it, came in promising change and then not delivering it, and the resulting depression... Especially when those going through the therapy felt guilty for or where blamed for their failure to change.

I knew a guy who would go through reparative therapy. Then he would "relapse," feel guilty, and then go through reparative therapy again. Only to "relapse" again. He went through this cycle again and again, each time his depression deepening until he had to be hospitalized and put on suicide watch, following several suicide attempts.

All the reparative therapy accomplished, as far as I can tell, was make him feel utterly worthless...

I think if the proposed California law required people to be informed about the actual, statistically validated prospects for success of reparative therapy before they agreed to it, that would be a good thing. Also, I think it's wrong for anybody -- especially a minor -- to be forced to undergo it if they don't want it.