Warren Throckmorton on Ex-Gay Harm

Some of you may know that Warren Throckmorton has been working on creating guidelines for counselors and therapists who work with clients who feel an incongruence between their faith and their sexual desires. (This is a simplistic description).

In response to an e-mail exchange with Michael Bussee where Bussee highlighted various harms as a result of the ex-gay experience, on his blog Warren acknowledges that “approaches to change may result in these hurts” and reminds readers that he has criticized such approaches in the past. It is the first time though that he has said anything substantive about harm since the Ex-Gay Survivor Conference and the growing proliferation of narratives about ex-gay harm on the web and in the press. Warren doesn’t go into much detail in his blog entry other than listing some of Michael’s concerns and providing a few of the extreme examples.

Today I left the following comment at Warren’s blog:

Warren, I find it admirable and essential that a therapist like yourself take the time to critique the work of your peers as well as those individuals and groups that provide various forms of therapies and ministries with the intent to help others change or suppress their sexual orientation.

As an ex-gay survivor, someone who has experienced harm as a direct result of the ex-gay process that I introduced into my own life and received from ex-gay providers and promoters, I have seen that it is not a matter of bad people doing bad things to others in order to harm them. Rather too often we find good and sincere people acting naively, and as a result, unwittingly causing damage where they intended to bring blessing.

Without carefully considering the various types of harm experienced by ex-gay survivors, and then connecting with these survivors to determine the causes, someone like yourself with the SIT guidelines may end up opening the door to further harm all the time while you strive to aid those you who come to those therapists who may one day use your guidelines.

Sadly my experience with you thus far has demonstrated that you react defensively to questions. You quickly point to the faults of others who have gone before you, and you deflect criticism often with a barrage of psychological language that to me seems like a strategy to silence concerned critics hoping to better understand and improve upon what you attempt to do.

As you seek to build a framework that you expect other mental health providers will use, many of whom have limited knowledge and experience with LGBT people, my hope is that you seriously and thoughtfully consider the many ways that ex-gay survivors like myself have experienced harm. The unfortunate and real suffering I brought into my life, all the while assisted by loving and kind ministers and therapists, did not simply come from outlandish practices and faulty promises. For me it often came when these well-meaning practitioners acted naively and in ignorance of the broader although often hidden influences pressuring me to seek a change in identity, the suppression of my orientation, and in some cases the hope of actually experiencing a miraculous change.

Spending time with people on the other side of ex-gay, those who have been through the experiences and have spent time looking back unpacking them, you may find that for many of us have struggled with much much more than an incongruence with our faith and our desires. This struggle needs to be explored and then explained in detail for those therapists and counselors seeking to help people with their “unwanted same-sex attractions.”

I encourage you to read the narratives of the various ex-gay survivors over at Beyond Ex-Gay

At my blog I recently outlined the various types of harm experienced by the many survivors I have met over the past 4.5 years. These include psychological, emotional, spiritual, physical, developmental, and sexual harm as well as damage to relationships, finances, and career. Over a dozen survivors have added comments giving specific examples of the harm they encountered in their areas.

Most effective of all, I hope you can find and create opportunities to sit down and hear the stories of ex-gay survivors directly. Perhaps you can even do the first serious study that looks at the various types of harm and their causes so that you do not reproduce the same or a similar tragic cycle as those well-meaning care providers who have gone before you.

This post has 3 Comments

  1. just me - titration on October 28, 2007 at 6:10 pm Reply

    Amen!!!

  2. Warren Throckmorton, PhD on October 29, 2007 at 1:44 pm Reply

    Peterson said:

    I encourage you to read the narratives of the various ex-gay survivors over at Beyond Ex-GAY

    Most effective of all, I hope you can find and create opportunities to sit down and hear the stories of ex-gay survivors directly. Perhaps you can even do the first serious study that looks at the various types of harm and their causes so that you do not reproduce the same or a similar tragic cycle as those well-meaning care providers who have gone before you.

    Thanks for stopping by my blog, Peterson.

    What you have written leads me to wonder if you have read the SIT Framework. We do not call for therapists to work with clients for change of orientation. We recognize that the science of orientation is not settled, we do not know how as therapists we would measure orientation absent self-report and we question whether change is even the important issue for most clients seeking integration of faith and sexual desire. Not focusing on change may bring along other issues but much of what you write is directed at therapists and ministries that put strong emphasis on change as necessary for success. We do not say change can’t ever happen but the SIT Framework is not reparative therapy. If you haven’t read it, I ask you to do so. If you have read it, can you point out the aspects of it that concern you or that you feel would lead to the kinds of outcomes we both want to prevent.

    You seem to presume that I have not read the Ex-ex-gay stories or that I have not heard out those who have gone through ex-gay ministries. This is not true as I have done both.

    You wrote:

    For me it often came when these well-meaning practitioners acted naively and in ignorance of the broader although often hidden influences pressuring me to seek a change in identity, the suppression of my orientation, and in some cases the hope of actually experiencing a miraculous change.

    Could you unpack this? I am not ignorant of the fact that conservative Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, and other faiths have a sexual ethic that limits the expression of sex. These are not hidden. And so, I am not sure what you mean here. I would like to get to the crux of your criticism of me and the SIT Framework. Is it theological? Is it that I do something that you believe leads to the harms you have found or experienced?

    After spending lots of time challenging the limitations of reparative therapy, Cameron, Cohen and NARTH, I do not recognize myself in what you are writing. It would be help me understand, if you could point out specific practices or positions I advocate that bother you.

  3. Peterson Toscano on October 29, 2007 at 2:09 pm Reply

    I was just working on a response to this same comment you posted on Saturday morning over at my blog. This is what I posted this morning at your blog.

    Warren, I carefully read the SIT Framework months ago and have revisted it since. If you remember we had begun a discussion about them over at Ex-Gay Watch in August (see here and here). There I raised concerns and questions for you to consider, and you almost immediately posted your responses.

    You will notice in my comment above that I stress that the harm I experienced came not only from those attempts to change my orientation, but also from the efforts to suppress it.

    Perhaps you see yourself as someone doing different type of work from the traditional reparative therapists and ex-gay ministers that you criticize. In many ways you are. But in the SIT Framework, as you have so far presented it, I see a similarity of practices and theories that I sometimes encountered in my own ex-gay past. These were designed to help me suppress or box in my same-sex desires in order to adhere to religious expectations. These practices and theories, presented by well-meaning but ill-informed practicioners, brought me more harm than good.

    Beyond the obvious conflict between my Evangelical Protestant Christian beliefs and my sexuality, I have grown to understand several other non-religious factors that strongly influenced my desire to attain congruence with my same-sex attractions and my faith. These factors along with the faith issues propelled me onto a quest that lasted nearly two decades as an ex-gay.

    Since I only know you from your blog and a few short phone conversations, I am unaware of your background and experience with lesbian, gay and bisexual people and the issues that affect our lives. I’ve always had the impression that you do not have a gay past yourself and do not struggle with same-sex attractions. From that I infer that you do not personally know the experiences of someone with same-sex attractions living in the US and especially those connected the Evangelical Protestant Christian church. Also, I do not know what sort of exposure you have had to the diversity of gay, lesbian and bisexual people. It may be extensive or it may be limited.

    About the harm I have encountered as a result of my ex-gay experiences I wrote,

    “For me it often came when these well-meaning practitioners acted naively and in ignorance of the broader although often hidden influences pressuring me to seek a change in identity, the suppression of my orientation, and in some cases the hope of actually experiencing a miraculous change.”

    You responded directly to this statement,

    “Could you unpack this? I am not ignorant of the fact that conservative Christianity, Mormonism, Islam, Judaism, and other faiths have a sexual ethic that limits the expression of sex. These are not hidden. And so, I am not sure what you mean here. I would like to get to the crux of your criticism of me and the SIT Framework.”

    Your response to my words unearths for me one of the concerns I currently hold about SIT and your own understanding of the core issues. That these hidden influences are not obvious to you, reveals to me that you need to spend more time researching the topic. Your response confirms for me that interaction with ex-gay survivors will aid you in developing the SIT Framework.

    It also tells me that you need to consider spending more time exploring the many factors that have pressured folks like me to seek out help when faced with my same-sex attractions. You only hint at these pressures and factors in the SIT Framework. The average straight therapist/counselor, Christian or otherwise. using your guidelines, will need these pressures and factors outlined and detailed, or very likely, they will naively overlook the internal and external pressues too often masked as a faith struggle. Sadly this has happened far too many times already, and concerned pracitioners have the responsibility to safeguard that this will not happen again or at least strive to limit the possibility.

    In short, for someone like myself who has spent extensive time at the receiving end of a broad diversity of ex-gay therapies and ministries, and has since been in contact with at least 1000 ex-gay survivors, from considering your SIT Framework and your responses to the considerations I have mentioned, I believe you still have important work to do to better understand the issues at hand. And I believe you possess the intelligence and passion needed to broaden your understanding.

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