• Beyond the Land of the Free: Reparative Therapy Abroad

    This post is part of a series of guest posts on GPS by the undergraduate and graduate students in my Science vs. Pseudoscience course. As part of their work for the course, each student had to demonstrate mastery of the skill of “Educating the Public about Pseudoscience.” To that end, each student has to prepare two 1,000ish word posts on a particular pseudoscience topic, as well as run a booth on-campus to help reach people physically about the topic.


    Beyond the Land of the Free: Reparative Therapy Abroad by Faris Ghani

    In a previous post, I had focused on reparative therapy in the United States of America and the roots behind the notion of curing homosexuals of their “disease.” Despite the declassification of homosexuality as a disorder by the American Psychiatric Association in 1973 and the American Psychological Association in 1975, organizations such as the National Association of Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (or NARTH) and Exodus International insisted that they can repair “divergent sexual orientations.” Reparative therapy offered by these organizations are based on pseudoscience. Freudian psychoanalysis was used to justify the idea that sexual orientation can be changed. Reparative therapy itself gained some form of “scientific credibility” through a study by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer. Spitzer’s study was pseudoscientific; it relied on personal testimonials of “ex-gays” over the phone. Reparative therapy has shown to be harmful and several parties oppose the “curing of gays.” Fortunately, reparative therapy in the United States is facing some challenges: Spitzer recanted his study in 2012, organizations that practice reparative therapy such as Exodus International and Love Won Out have disbanded, and some states have banned reparative therapy.

    Gero Winkelmann

    On the other hand, reparative therapy is gaining traction in other parts of the world. Despite Europe’s more seemingly progressive stance on the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, and Bisexual persons, homophobia is still widespread. With the legalization of same-sex marriage in European countries (which include the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Portugal, Denmark, and the most recent, France), a movement against homosexuality is just as prevalent. For example, the Union of Catholic Physicians in Germany — located in the Bavarian city of  Munich — revealed that they had found a cure (an online translator might be required) for homosexuals in 2011. Gero Winkelmann, the director of the Union of Catholic Physicians in Germany, claims that homosexuals indeed do have a disorder and he refused to stay quiet and play along with what was deemed as politically correct in Germany. The reparative therapy offered by Winkelmann’s organization include psychotherapy, prayer, and shockingly, homeopathy. In addition to this, Winkelmann is a general physician who has no credentials whatsoever in psychotherapy.

    It should not surprise anyone that prayer is a part of any reparative therapy as most parties that wish to “cure” homosexuals are religiously motivated. Homeopathy on the other hand, truly caught me by surprise. Reparative therapy already hinges on pseudoscience and the introduction of homeopathy does not help the case of its advocates. Homeopathy, a common “alternative medicine,” was founded by Samuel Christian Friedrich Hahnemann in the 19th century. It is based on “the law of similars” and the “law of infinitesimals.” The former is the idea that substances that produce certain symptoms can cure those same symptoms. The latter is the idea that the more diluted something is, the more effective it is. Homeopathic medicine often exceed the dilution limit and no trace of the original substance exists anymore; basically, homeopathic medicine is just water. The World Health Organization has warned individuals against using homeopathic treatments as they “have not been proved clinically and are not evidence based.” The first question that popped up in my mind was “What substance would cause homosexual ‘symptoms’ in individuals in the first place?” Perhaps a selection of multi-colored fruity alcoholic drinks are diluted for the “patients.” It turns out the substance is platinum. How they came up with that is a mystery.

    “Quick, doctor, we have a gay here! Take these, dump them into the Pacific Ocean, stir it up real good, then take a drop of it and put it on a sugar pill! That should cure him right up!”

    With a combination of psychotherapy from non-certified psychotherapists, prayers to a deity, and homeopathic sugar pills, Winkelmann claims that the reparative therapy offered by the Union of Catholic Physicians in Germany is scientific. Clearly, that is not the case. The spokeswoman of  the Lesbian and Gay Federation in Germany, Renate Rampfhave, points out that reparative therapy is dangerous and the ineffective treatments offered by Winkelmann will only take advantage of the insecurities of young homosexual and bisexual individuals and their parents.

    Another example of growing support for reparative therapy in a European country is the United Kingdom. As British Parliament deliberated on banning reparative therapy, organizations such as Core Issues Trust are holding their ground. The co-director of Core Issues Trust and ex-gay man, Mike Davidson opposes a ban but does admit that regulation needs to be implemented. He suggests other parties that offer reparative therapy are “amateur counselors.” He suggests that a homosexual individual can either choose to give in to their homosexual desires or choose Christianity as he did. From my understanding, the reparative therapy Davidson advocates for has what the “amateur counselors” do not — God. In 2012, Core Issues Trust planned a campaign against homosexuality but were stopped by the mayor of London as it suggested that homosexuality is a disease that can be cured. The ban is being considered as people who seek out psychotherapists who are not medically qualified and are religiously motivated. Another example of the religious and non-scientific nature of reparative therapy in the UK is British therapist, Lesley Pilkingto. She had prescribed “rugby, abstaining from masturbation, and cutting ties with gay friends” to an undercover reporter. She even prayed for him. Even across the pond, reparative therapy ignores legitimate scientific evidence. Religion seems to be a key ingredient in “curing” individuals of their homosexuality.

    Reparative therapy is also an issue in my home country of Malaysia. To combat the rising threat of homosexuality, politicians and Islamic religious leaders have come up with a list of symptoms for homosexualities and “cure camps.” The anti-gay camps were set up for young schoolboys who are chosen based on their overt effeminate behavior — regardless of their actual sexual orientation. The list of symptoms mentioned was released by Deputy Education Minister Mohd Puad Zarkashi to help parents and teachers detect the symptoms of “gayism” and “lesbianism.” No, none of these are based on scientific research. The symptoms are as follows:

    For gays:

    • Muscular body and a fondness for showing off the body by wearing by wearing V-necks and sleeveless tops
    • A preference for tight and bright coloured clothes
    • An inclination to be attracted to men
    • A tendency to carry big handbags, similar to the kinds used by women

    For lesbians:

    • Showing attraction to women
    • Distancing themselves from women other than their girlfriends
    • A preference for hanging out, sleeping and dining with women
    • Absence of feelings for men

    Reparative therapy is not only a current problem in the United States but in other parts of the world from Europe to Asia. Funnily enough, regardless of where reparative therapy is being offered  to (or forced on) homosexual individuals, it still is not based on any scientific evidence. Instead, to “cure” them, these “therapists” rely on religious drivel or other pseudoscientific factors such as homeopathy. Reparative therapy is harmful, ineffective, and simply perpetuates more discrimination. Authorities need to realize this and put a stop to it.

    Category: Mental HealthPseudosciencePsychologyReligionSkepticismTeaching


    Article by: Caleb Lack

    Caleb Lack is the author of "Great Plains Skeptic" on SIN, as well as a clinical psychologist, professor, and researcher. His website contains many more exciting details, visit it at www.caleblack.com