Monthly Archives: October 2012

California bans conversion therapy for kids

California has passed a law stating psychotherapists may not defraud their clients. Advocacy groups have filed suit to defend their right to be defrauded. Quick-witted readers have deduced I’m writing about the Golden State’s new law banning conversion therapy for children under 18.

Aren’t broken – Can’t be fixed

 Conversion therapy promises to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. It’s persisted for years despite a near-total lack of success; Freud himself rejected it as unlikely and unnecessary nearly 80 years ago. In the United Kingdom, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy formally declared conversion therapy to be unethical this month. Their decision came in the wake of a scandal sparked by an exposé of conversion therapists who insisted the reporter must be depressed, compared homosexuality to cannibalism  and showed peculiar interest as to whether his family members were Freemasons.

The Pacific Justice Institute and Liberty Counsel have filed suit in Federal Court, demanding therapists be permitted to offer these services to kids. They pose the issue as a matter of free speech and religious liberty. Here’s why they’re wrong.

1. What about the success stories?

Which success stories? In his 2009 review of extant studies, B.A. Robinson found conversion therapy’s failure rate ranged from 99.5% to 100%. He notes that Joseph Nicolosi, founder of National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, an advocacy group for conversion therapy, had a strange definition of ‘success’. Per Robinson, Nicolosi stated that one-third of his conversion therapy clients became celibate but remained attracted to same-sex partners. Another third limited their sexual activity with same-sex partners, and one-third didn’t change at all.  Nicolosi considered the first two categories to constitute success. You could call that “celibacy therapy”, but not “conversion therapy”.

Religious groups’ success has been minimal to non-existent as well. Two of the founders of Exodus International left the organization in 1979. They lived and loved together in a committed relationship until death parted them twelve years later. The Rev. John Smid, who spent more than 22 years with another ex-gay ministry, Love in Action, admitted, “Actually I’ve never met a man who experienced a change from homosexual to heterosexual.” As the former Executive Director, you’d think he would have.

2. What’s the harm in trying?

Suicidal depression, for one.  The American Psychiatric Association condemned conversion therapy in 1998 and again in 2000 because of the  considerable anecdotal evidence of emotional harm.

Bamboozlement, for another If a patient asks his doctor to cure him of lupus, the correct response would be, “There is no cure. Let’s talk about managing your symptoms.” To take the client’s money without stating plainly that lupus is incurable would be fraud – even if one’s faith teaches lupus is against God’s will. Lupus, of course, is (a) a disease that (b) causes pain and suffering in and of itself, and (c) can be eased with medical treatment. None of those things are true of homosexuality. For therapists to promise to treat a condition that has no effect on mental stability is exponentially more deceitful.

Consider the suits state boards  filed against L.Ron Hubbard in the early 1950s. They successfully charged him with teaching medicine without a license through his Dianetics Foundation. Hubbard kept peddling Dianetics, but repositioned it as a religion called Scientology.  Discomfited by allegations the Scientologist ‘church’ exploits and abuses its members?  How you would feel if your insurance premiums helped pay for it?

3. Isn’t this political correctness run amok?

No. Religious groups have the right to their view that gay sex is wrong. When they ask courts to rule that homosexuality is a treatable mental illness, they’ve long since left their bailiwick.


@ 2012 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved


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Icarus Project Seeks New Flight Plan for the Mentally Ill

In a 1963 clipping from the New York Daily Mirror, passers-by were asked, “If a Woman Needs It, Should She Be Spanked?” Strangely, none of the four interviewed were women.

It’s this kind of selection bias the Icarus Project stands against.  The Project is a San Francisco-based collective promoting the voices of the mentally-ill..  They organize peer support,  create on-line art galleries, and rally clients to speak out on their own behalf. One thing they don’t do? They don’t accept the idea that mental illnesses are solely impairments.

The Icarus Project’s logo: falling or flying?

Normally, mental health staff face-palm over calls to, “challenge standard definitions of psychic difference as essentially diseased, disordered, broken, faulty, and existing within the bounds of DSM-IV diagnosis.” Too often, treating mental health issues as a “dangerous gift” means a client goes off their meds, lands in the hospital, and disrupts their progress towards recovery. The  Icarians’ language is counter-cultural, but there’s nothing mindless in their anti-authoritarianism.  They aren’t against meds, diagnosis or treatment – only the belief we mental health professionals know the whole story. This balance is reflected in their name; Icarus, you’ll remember, perished when he flew too close to the sun.

Sophie Crumb’s self-care flyer for The Icarus Project

Talk of “societal oppression” and “urban shamanism” may induce woozy flashbacks of 1970s identity-politics and the backlash that followed.  Should we worry their printable pamphlets on self-mutilation  don’t urge clients to stop? A close reading shows the pamphlet promotes harm reduction, including many safer substitutes Marsha Linehan would endorse. When project members critique profit-seeking drug companies’ influence on mental health treatment, they have company in the highest and most respected levels of  psychology.

The project celebrates an impressive tenth anniversary this year. Whereas decentralized collectives usually veer from dialectical moderation to the ditches of extremism, Icarus continues to walk a narrow path: meds and therapy are okay, self-care and community are crucial, and mental illness, while no blessing, is not necessarily a curse. This quote from Scatter sums up the project best:

Our society still seems to be in the early stages of the dialogue where you’re either “for” or “against” the mental health system. Like either you swallow the antidepressant ads on television as modern-day gospel and start giving your dog Prozac, or you’re convinced we’re living in Brave New World and all the psych drugs are just part of a big conspiracy to keep us from being self-reliant and realizing our true potential. I think it’s really about time we start carving some more of the middle ground with stories from outside the mainstream and creating a new language for ourselves that reflects all the complexity and brilliance that we hold inside.

In the 1960s and 1970s, the Whole Earth Catalog provided tools for those ready to challenge social and economic norms. Today, Icarus does the same for those who question psychiatric norms. It also challenges mental health professionals to make “empowering clients” and “person-centered diagnosis” more than platitudes. “Mentally disturbed,”  is synonymous with “unreliable witness”, and yet  no one else can tell us what the experience is like.   If Freud hadn’t analyzed himself, would there be a field of psychology today?

@ 2012 Jonathan Miller All Rights Reserved

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Filed under Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, The Client's Side