March 4, 2006

Should Christian "gay prevention" groups be penalized for practicing therapy without a license?

The AP reports:
In a report released Thursday in Miami Beach, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute ... said some Christian-based gay prevention and treatment groups have used the First Amendment protection of religion to avoid sanctions by state health officials seeking to enforce regulations on counselors who offer therapy without a license.

Task Force Executive Director Matt Foreman said officials need to ensure that those offering such therapies are licensed -- as opposed to simply being clergy -- and that clients and their parents should be informed about the programs' long-term success rates.

''Many of these programs are crossing the line as to what is approved under freedom of expression,'' Foreman said in an interview with reporters. ''This deserves attention. It deserves to be regulated.''
Much as I dislike these conversion efforts, I don't think having the government force them to fit a psychotherapy model is a good idea. Religious counseling operates in its own way and has for an awfully long time. Portraying psychotherapy as the only correct model is oppressive and not even very scientific. Have these professional psychotherapists proven the effectiveness of their approach?

The real controversy is over whether anyone should attempt to prevent homosexuality. Obviously, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Policy Institute has a strong position on that. It is also a very persuasive position, and they have plenty of power to convince others that they are right about it. In this light, it is especially sad to see this turn toward government regulation to suppress the speech the oppose.

18 comments:

Too Many Jims said...

In the story you link to, Exodus ministries says they work with clinical professionals. If so, they should have no difficulty meeting the requirements of licensure. (Unless I were told that the only ones licensed were from a very narrow school of "psycho-therapy" which would be in confilict with the tenets of a religion.)

If we let non-licensed clinicians hold themselves out as health care professionals, where do we stop? Do we let faith healers hold themselves out as medical doctors? Do we let people hold themselves out as lawyers if they can wrap their opposition to the law school/bar framework in a religious rationale?

Jacques Cuze said...

Here is the report from the LGBT Task Force. Youth in the Crosshairs: The Third Wave of Ex-Gay Activism (March 2, 2006) [pdf]

Here are three paragraphs out of 101 pages. I am hopeful that it's not so long that you delete the post. I am hopeful it is long enough to get you and others (including vb) to read and discuss the actual report.

Page 11:

PSYCHOLOGICAL HARM

Many participants reported depression, some to the point of wanting and attempting to commit suicide. Many also reported that the false and defamatory information provided by their therapists about homosexuality harmed their selfesteem. A number of conversion therapists and patients attributed some, if not all, of the negative experiences and life events of the patient to homosexuality, which lead to the false belief that when a patient changed his/her sexual orientation, these other problems would also disappear. Male participants reported sexual dysfunction, including impotence. Finally, the 18 participants who were forced to endure aversive conditioning, a form of behavioral therapy where an attractive stimulus is paired with a noxious stimulus in order to elicit a negative reaction to a particular stimulus, in this case, same-sex attraction,20 experienced extremely disturbing and disruptive images in their mind. The interventions experienced by these 18 study participants included electric shock therapy, the use of an inhalable or injectable emetic to induce vomiting, and the use of “covert sensitization,” “a form of behavior therapy in which an undesirable behavior is paired with an unpleasant image in order to eliminate that behavior.”21

SOCIAL AND INTERPERSONAL HARM

Many participants complained that conversion therapy harmed their relationships with family and friends, particularly with their parents. This was due, in part, to the fact that they were told by their therapist to blame their parents for their homosexuality. Participants also reported loneliness and the loss of opportunities to commit to long term relationships with same-sex partners whom they were in love with. This occurred for some because their therapists instructed them to break off those relationships. When they started conversion therapy, many study participants were also told to end their relationships with their lesbian and gay friends. Similar loss occurred when those participants ended conversion therapy and left their ex-gay community. Finally the years spent in conversion therapy, for some more than a decade, delayed a number of experiences including intimate relationships and the development of social skills. According to one participant, “It preserved the false notion that sexual orientation could be changed and added more years to my time in the closet. I lost a lot of my life as a result of this.”22

SPIRITUAL HARM

One hundred and thirty-three (66 percent) participants considered themselves to be religious.23 Those in the perceived failure category reported a negative impact on their beliefs, including a complete loss of faith, a sense of betrayal by their religious leaders, anger at the therapists who told them God was ashamed of them in the first place, and excommunication from their churches.



Doesn't smell like a free speech issue to me. Though if this is free speech, I better understand why you believe outing a CIA agent is also free speech (and whistleblowing is not?)

M Lewis said...

Re quxxo: At one end of spectrum, electoconvulsive therapy and the use of drugs is clearly outside the bounds of pastoral counseling. At the other end, advising people to change their relationships is not.

When there is evidence of danger (as in suicidal ideations), pastoral counselors have a duty to refer.

Those who are licensed health care professionals must operate within the generally accepted guidelines of their profession.

Regarding the complaint of "loss of opportunities to commit to long term relationships with same-sex partners whom they were in love with," it seems to me that was the reason for entering into counseling to begin with.

Finally, it certainly not up to the courts or legal system to judge "spiritual harm."

I'm not an expert on the methods being used by Christian ministries attempting to help homosexuals change their behavior, but it's not surprising that some use inappropriate means. Is there cause for which people sometimes don't cross the line?

In the end, the nature of one's temptation is irrelevant. Behavior is what matters. For most Christians, sexual activity inside of marriage is a blessing while outside of marriage - with either gender - it is less than God desires. Others believe differently and act accordingly. I can understand how they might be insulted by the historical Christian standard. However, that's a religious judgment and the government has no business meddling in the religious affairs of the churches.

Ann Althouse said...

Lots of religious teaching impair sexual functioning, Quxxo. What do you propose to do about all the guilt and fear that is generated by religious beliefs? I don't like it either, but I don't think the intrusive government regulation of religion is the answer. I think some of these physical things, however, constitute child abuse if done to a minor. I would not protect religious practitioners from other kinds of laws that apply. I'm only objecting to the idea that religious counselors should be characterized as psychotherapists and then pursued for not having a professional license. What if I put my persuasive efforts into trying to convince my friend to give up some behavior I think is morally wrong. Should the government fine me for not having a psychotherapy license?

And Jim, you're raising the issue of fraud. I haven't said I think religious people have a defense to fraud.

Chris said...

It makes me wonder though if you could hold them accountable for practicing psychiatry for a condition that the APA doesn't even recognize as an illness.

elliot said...

Eventually, I think there will be a genetic "cure" to homosexuality.

Then all hell is gonna break loose...

Jacques Cuze said...

I'm only objecting to the idea that religious counselors should be characterized as psychotherapists and then pursued for not having a professional license. What if I put my persuasive efforts into trying to convince my friend to give up some behavior I think is morally wrong. Should the government fine me for not having a psychotherapy license?

I believe there is a difference between you as an individual persuading your friend, and an organization in a collective and forceful manner, taking money and using the words of psychology to counsel large numbers of people that they would otherwise have no relationship with.

But in another post David mention how the idiot creationists coopted Newton and probably intentionally. And in this case it seems clear from testimony that Exodus has taken on the words and manner of psychologists.

As I think you agree, that's fraud at the least.

I don't see how you guys can so eagerly separate the physical abuses from the so called mental counseling itself. Well, certain industries are regulated, and regulated presumably for the public good. The mental health industry is one, and it is regulated precisely because mental health practitioners can and do engage in physical practices, some good some bad.

There is a lot of regulation and licensing of industries that is probably not needed, lawyering and beauticians are two (arguably beauticians need some regulation to prevent lice/staph/hep/etc. breakouts), but I don't see you making the argument that no one should need a license to become a mental health practitioner.

So why should a group that is practicing and conducting commerce in the mental health industry targeting a group of people that they have no other relationship with escape regulation? That's not free speech, and it's not prohibiting the free exercise of religion. If anything, allowing them to escape the mental health regulations and licenses of the rest of the industry is government establishment of religion. Feh.

Hey don't get me wrong, I think the vast majority of psychologists should be locked up and away from society. I agree with you that they should be forced, in double-blind experiments to document the success of their own nonsense.

Elizabeth said...

What if I put my persuasive efforts into trying to convince my friend to give up some behavior I think is morally wrong.

Of course you don't need a license for that. But what if you then hung up a shingle, like Lucy Van Pelt, and sold your persuasive services under the guise of professional expertise? If we don't require a license, can we at least require full disclosure that these people are nothing more than individuals with an opinion, and some snakeoil and electro-charges to back it up?

Dean said...

Hey don't get me wrong, I think the vast majority of psychologists should be locked up and away from society. I agree with you that they should be forced, in double-blind experiments to document the success of their own nonsense.

Get me a glass of water; I agree with quxxo!

Palladian said...

I think some enterprising gay people should set up a firm that specializes in helping cure people of the "parasitic worm" of religious belief.

chuck b. said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
chuck b. said...

I wonder where the funding for a "genetic cure" for homosexuality will come from.

Wade_Garrett said...

If the regulation applies to everybody and is enforced against everybody, why should there be an exception for these people, simply because they're Christians? I don't understand. There are enough exceptions made in the law for church organizations.

It would be one thing if they were trying to silence this therapy group for doing something legal. But if they're violating a regulation, then they should have to stop. That's how things work in a democracy. You have a right to say almost any content you want, as long as you don't violate any value-neutral regulations in order to exercise that right.

anonlawstudent said...

Christian Science has been practicing their own form of religious healing for over a centuty now. I don't believe that their practitioners require any form of liscenture. I also believe that their healing processes are performed by lay people in the church, and are thus distinguishable from the case at the bar. They are likewise distinguishable, I suppose, since they only administer to their faithful, and not to those outside of the faith. I have no idea if they charge for the service aside from the usual dues to belong to a religious organisation.

But that get's to the heart of the matter doesn't it? Can the people who elect religious, anti-homosexuality counselling be regarded in same way as already belonging to the religious faith community that offers the counselling? Would a person elect to undergo such treatment if they didn't already have an affinity for the religious tenets of the community? If someone walks in of the street ot be "cured" of their "disease," haven't they already internalised the values of the religious community in such a way as to evince a membership or adhesion to those beliefs? If such is the case, are we to interfere with the internal religious counselling of the community? Perhaps we should; but is it constitutional for the state to regulate the internal religious practices? Can it even accomplish such a thing?

Jonathan said...

Seems to me that this case supports eliminating licensing requirements for secular therapists more than it does extending those requirements to religious ones.

I say values, you say lifestyle, let's call the whole thing off. . .


"pdfzi"!

anonlawstudent said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
me said...

I think if these ex-gay ministries are doing electroshock therapy or giving medication they certainly should be regulated. Their other tactics verge on abuse but as long as the parents approve, there's not much the state can do. Too bad for the kid.

Why the psychiatry bashing? Cognitive therapy has been proven to work with people with chronic depression. Check out the studies, they exist.

http://www.aafp.org/afp/20060101/83.html

My view is that almost everyone could benefit from therapy -- everyone has things we need to work on: weight control, bad tempers, drinking, destructive behaviors in relationships, and therapy can help us realize why we are doing what we do and how to stop. As Socrates said, "the unexamined life is not worth living." Much easier to have a therapist help though. :)

(Full disclosure: my mom's a psychiatrist. I've never seen a therapist -- but I have seen how her long term patients have benefited from good care.)

me said...

PS: I don't think only therapists can serve the role of helping people work out their problems -- priests, wise grandparents, etc. also can serve the role quite well.