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.