CNN report ignored ethical violations of unlicensed therapist who claims to "cure" homosexuals
Research ››› ››› BEN FISHEL
On CNN's Paula Zahn Now, correspondent Deborah Feyerick outlined Parents & Friends of Ex-gays & Gays (PFOX) president Richard Cohen's efforts to promote a conversion therapy that purportedly "cures" homosexuality. But while noting that Cohen is an "unlicensed therapist," that conversion therapy is deemed "dangerous," and that a person counseled by Cohen said he was driven "to the edge of suicide" by the counseling, Feyerick failed to mention that Cohen was "expelled from the American Counseling Association (ACA) for multiple ethical violations," as The Washington Post has reported.
In a report on the May 23 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now, CNN correspondent Deborah Feyerick outlined Parents & Friends of Ex-gays & Gays (PFOX) president Richard Cohen's efforts to promote a conversion therapy that purportedly "cures" homosexuality. Feyerick reported on Cohen's work with a man who, after being counseled by Cohen to give up homosexuality, "seems to have found his own inner peace." But while noting that Cohen is an "unlicensed therapist," that conversion therapy is deemed "dangerous" by Dr. Jack Drescher, a distinguished fellow of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), and that another person counseled by Cohen said he was driven "to the edge of suicide" by the counseling, Feyerick failed to mention that Cohen was "expelled from the American Counseling Association (ACA) for multiple ethical violations," as The Washington Post has reported.
From the August 16, 2005, Post article on Cohen:
In 2002, Cohen was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association (ACA) for multiple ethical violations.
Permanent expulsion is a rarely used sanction, according to David Kaplan, chief professional officer of the Alexandria-based organization. Kaplan said Cohen was found to have violated six sections of the ACA's ethics code, which bars members from actions that "seek to meet their personal needs at the expense of clients," those that exploit "the trust and dependency of clients," and for soliciting testimonials or promoting products in a deceptive manner.
Cohen said his expulsion was based on a complaint by a client who told the ACA he felt forced to attend Cohen's classes, buy his books, volunteer to work for his foundation and talk about his personal experiences.
Cohen said he did not contest his expulsion. "Why would I want to be in a totally gay-affirming club?" he asked during a nearly three-hour interview in his office.
According to the APA, conversion therapy is not only invalid, but can also be harmful. A position statement released by the APA in 2000 rejected the use of conversion or reparative therapy:
The "reparative" therapy literature uses theories that make it difficult to formulate scientific selection criteria for their treatment modality. This literature not only ignores the impact of social stigma in motivating efforts to cure homosexuality; it is a literature that actively stigmatizes homosexuality as well. "Reparative" therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment's accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients. APA encourages and supports research in the NIMH and the academic research community to further determines "reparative" therapy's risks versus its benefits.
From the May 23 edition of CNN's Paula Zahn Now:
FEYERICK: If you've been watching The Sopranos on HBO, then you know the secret.
VITO SPATAFORE [actor Joseph Gannascoli, in The Sopranos] [video clip]: Sometimes you tell lies so long, you don't know when to stop.
FEYERICK: Vito, a mob guy, married with kids, on the run, knowing he'll be killed because he's gay.
MARIE SPATAFORE [actress Elizabeth Bracco, playing Vito's wife] [video clip]: There are these church groups. They could cure you of this.
FEYERICK: While it may sound like a plotline, the reaction from Vito's TV wife that there's a cure is very real. And it's a reaction many gay people and their families wonder about in the beginning. Is it possible to change, to not be gay?
There are groups who believe that it is possible. Some use religion. Others more unusual techniques. More on that in a moment. But whether it's faith-based or secular, Dr. Jack Drescher of the American Psychiatric Association says the practice of so-called conversion therapy is dangerous.
DRESCHER: People who have done anything approximating a scientific report admit that the majority of people who try to change their sexual orientation do not change.
FEYERICK: And yet this man, who tells us he was once gay, claims to have helped hundreds of men like him.
Richard Cohen, now married with three kids, is a leader in the so-called reparative-therapy movement. With just more than 1,000 members, it is not a particularly big movement, but because it's so controversial and despised within the gay community, it tends to get a lot of attention.
[on camera] What you're suggesting is being gay is a switch you can turn on or off.
COHEN: People have a right to determine how they wish to live their life. If they choose to live a gay life, great, OK. But to say that I have to live as a gay man because I had those desires, that's discrimination.
FEYERICK: Cohen, who had several boyfriends, spent years in various kinds of therapy searching for answers. It wasn't until he remembered being sexually abused by a man when he was a child that what he calls his conversion process began.
COHEN: I knew it wasn't for me. I knew it in my gut I wasn't born this way.
FEYERICK: Cohen is an unlicensed therapist. He offers the theory that some sort of childhood trauma triggers homosexuality. That all it takes is figuring out what it is, healing from it, and moving on. One of his clients is a 42-year-old program analyst who we'll call "Rob." Because it is such a sensitive subject, he asked us to shield his identity.
He began seeing Cohen three years ago after years of struggling with unwanted homosexual feelings.
"ROB": I had a mother that basically committed emotional incest with me because they had a very bad marriage. She used me as her husband, a stand-in.
FEYERICK: Cohen explains Rob's same-sex attraction is typical of the men he treats. Cold, distant dad, overbearing mom, and overly sensitive kid. He showed us some of his unconventional techniques like touch therapy, in which he encouraging Rob to seek out same-sex mentors to basically re-create a healthy father-son bond.
COHEN: It's nonsexual. It establishes a parent-child relationship. So he didn't experience this growing up with his dad.
FEYERICK: Rob, do you feel a sexual connection right now?
"ROB": No, I don't. I feel very safe and very comforted, and it just feels wonderful.
FEYERICK: Another technique, bioenergetics, designed to help clients release memories stored in the muscles, in this case by hitting a pillow with a tennis racket.
COHEN: I was angry at my mother. So I started saying, "Mom! Mom! Mom! Mom! Why did you do that to me?"
FEYERICK: So is being gay a matter of nature or nurture? Doctors say they don't know for sure. There is no gay gene and no definitive scientific proof that one's family or environment triggers same-sex attraction.
That's why mainstream mental-health experts have such a huge problem with Cohen and those like him who promote reparative therapy as legitimate.
DRESCHER: It's like this person has landed on Earth from Mars and is doing things that the rest of us don't believe in and that we don't do. And it's just unfortunate that there are people who are willing to accept because of their desperate homosexual feelings, to accept these kinds of treatments.
FEYERICK: Forty-eight-year-old Xavier Yager sent spent five years in reparative therapy.
YAGER: It drove me to the edge of suicide, several times.
FEYERICK: He says it was so damaging, it took years to recover.
YAGER: From my farthest-back recollection, I was always gay. I just tried -- you know, they always say it's a choice to be gay. I chose to try to be straight. And I found it was unattainable.
FEYERICK: Yager is now happily gay. "Rob" is also happy, but for the opposite reason.
"ROB": I know what I'm experiencing. I know the freedom that I feel now. And as a result of the work, I don't have same-sex attractions anymore.
FEYERICK: He's even been chatting with women on the Internet, hoping to line up dates.
[on camera] Do you see yourself now as an ex-gay?
"ROB": I see myself now as a much happier person.
FEYERICK: A person who seems to have found his own inner peace. Deborah Feyerick, CNN, Bowie, Maryland.
[end video clip]
PAULA ZAHN (host): Richard Cohen says he counsels some women, but the majority of his clients are men.
From the APA:
1. APA affirms its 1973 position that homosexuality per se is not a diagnosable mental disorder. Recent publicized efforts to repathologize homosexuality by claiming that it can be cured are often guided not by rigorous scientific or psychiatric research, but sometimes by religious and political forces opposed to full civil rights for gay men and lesbians. APA recommends that the APA respond quickly and appropriately as a scientific organization when claims that homosexuality is a curable illness are made by political or religious groups.
2. As a general principle, a therapist should not determine the goal of treatment either coercively or through subtle influence. Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or "repair" homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of "cures" are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, "reparative" therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, APA recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals' sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.
3. The "reparative" therapy literature uses theories that make it difficult to formulate scientific selection criteria for their treatment modality. This literature not only ignores the impact of social stigma in motivating efforts to cure homosexuality; it is a literature that actively stigmatizes homosexuality as well. "Reparative" therapy literature also tends to overstate the treatment's accomplishments while neglecting any potential risks to patients. APA encourages and supports research in the NIMH and the academic research community to further determines "reparative" therapy's risks versus its benefits.