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ASK MICHAEL: Reparative therapy has left me devastated
ASK MICHAEL: Reparative therapy has left me devastated
by Michael Raitt - SGN Contributing Writer Michael, I live in Orlando, Florida. I participated in reparative therapy. It has left me devastated. I asked for a complete refund for every session from the reparative therapist. They are not going to refund any money. I would have never participated in therapy if I'd known the harm it would bring me. What can I do here in Florida to try to stop this quack therapist or recoup several thousand dollars spent? Small claims court? Punitive damages? The state attorney general's office? Better business association? I wouldn't wish that anyone would waste their time, money, mental health and possible confused faith [in] God as I have. & My therapist did not inform me of the failure rate, the possible effects (increased anxiety, anger, depression) all the things he should have explained to me BEFORE reparative therapy he did not & I'll "partner up" (so to speak) with you and anyone else who has been through hellish reparative therapy to try to stop it from going on. ~ J

J, thank you for your e-mail. I am very sorry that you have been exposed to this and for the devastation it has caused you. I am glad that you recognize the harm and that you have the drive to do something about it! You are not alone, and by putting this out publicly, you have helped others.

In a couple of previous columns, I have addressed some issues around reparative/conversion therapy (SGN August 17, 2007 and March 7, 2008). Let me reiterate a couple of points and let me provide some additional information and guidance that readers can use to prevent what has happened to you.

Reparative/conversion therapy is not clinically sound! These practitioners operate from the premise that being GLBT is abnormal. They hide behind the "love the sinner but hate the sin" position. The therapeutic interventions they use perpetuate shame in clients and do not support clients in healthy acceptance and functioning. The clinician's religious views are imposed on the client and the client is left feeling what you have experienced - more depression, anger, confusion, and anxiety. No reputable professional organization such as the American Psychiatric Association (APA) or the American Counseling Association (ACA) endorses the practice of reparative/conversion therapy, and there is good reason for this.

There is a difference between clinical therapy and pastoral/religious counseling. Under the purview of pastoral/religious counseling, it is very acceptable to share one's religious perspectives and beliefs with clients. This is what the client has signed up for. As a consenting adult, you can choose pastoral/religious counseling any time. There is a role for pastoral/religious counseling and certain people benefit greatly from it.

Under the auspices of clinical therapy, however, religious bias that promotes shame, self-denial, and misperceptions is never acceptable. Being GLBTQ is NOT pathological. Homosexuality is not a mental illness! It is not a sickness that has to be cured or repaired! Mental health experts put those archaic, fear-based beliefs to rest years ago. We, as GLBT men and women, do not have to take on the role of making some others comfortable by being anything other than who we are!

So, what does that leave us to do? First, every State has a Department of Health which regulates the practice of all medical/mental health practitioners. Within the Department of Health, there should be a department that advocates for the clients/patients. If you feel you have been damaged by your therapist, contact the Department of Health for guidance. Keep any information the therapist has provided for you. Ethically, no therapist should be practicing outside of the scope of his/her training, nor should they mislead clients. For example, they should not promote themselves as clinical therapists when they are actually engaging in pastoral counseling. If they are engaging in reparative/conversion therapy, they should have that stated clearly in their documentation and their explanation of what they do.

At the beginning of treatment, you should have been provided a disclosure statement outlining the scope of the therapist's practice. Provide this to the Department of Health. If the Department of Health in your state determines that there has been a violation of some kind, they have the ability to impose various sanctions on the practitioner. These sanctions can range from reprimands to fines, suspensions, or to loss of licensure and the ability to practice. The Department of Health should be advocating for the health and wellness of the clients and should be holding practitioners to high ethical standards that are supported by sound clinical judgment and accepted practices. The Department of Health should also be able to inform you as to whether a particular therapist/counselor has been sanctioned before or whether they have been flagged for questionable practices.

You always have the right to inquire about legal action. You can do this privately with your own attorney or you can contact your attorney general's office in your state. They will advise you as to whether you can obtain a partial or complete refund for the services and/or whether you should proceed with legal action.

As a client/patient, you have the right to interview your provider. As a clinical therapist, I always offer, to each new client, the opportunity to come in and meet me, ask any questions they have, and make a decision that is best for them. Many clients begin working with me and some decide I am not a good fit for them and that is perfectly acceptable. To be as an informed consumer as you can be, here are some questions that you can consider asking of your new therapist before you begin work:

1) What personal biases/values do you hold towards or against GLBTQ individuals?
2) Are your positions/interventions supported by a recognized professional organization such as APA (American Psychiatric Association) or ACA (American Counseling Association)? Do you belong to any such accepted, reputable professional organization? If not, why not?
3) How do your personal, religious views influence your clinical approach? Is what you do clinical therapy or pastoral/religious counseling?
4) How do your therapeutic interventions support me in accepting myself (as GLBT) in a healthy way? How can you alleviate my feelings (of depression, anxiety, fear, judgment etc) while supporting me as a GLBTQ woman/man?
5) What personal work or professional supervision do you engage in that helps you recognize if you are imposing your religious values on me?

I would recommend that you avoid a therapist/counselor who cannot answer these clearly. If you get answers that do not fit your value system, find another therapist. Put any fears you may have about asking questions aside and advocate for yourself.

As a client/patient, you have the right to end work with your practitioner any time. If you are being shamed for who you are as a GLBTQ man or woman, end work with that therapist. Hire a therapist who will accept and support you.

Finally, you mentioned your confused faith in God. Many GLBTQ men and women know that religion is an important part of their lives. I absolutely support this 100%! For many, a healthy religious/spiritual life is integral to a healthy life. Religion, in and of itself, isn't the problem. Harm comes to clients when certain individuals distort and misapply the tenets of the particular faith under the umbrella of their position as a healer or authority figure. This is what you have to be wary of. There are clinical therapists, pastoral/religious counselors, and religious leaders who will accept and affirm who you are as a GLBTQ person in your faith. Yes, hard to find, but they are there. If maintaining a faith in God is important to you, please don't let that go. Find someone or a group that will support you in your faith and accept you as you are and what you do!

Again, thank you for your e-mail. I wish you the best in your quest for resolution regarding what has happened to you. Bringing this to light can only help others avoid what has happened to you. Perhaps individuals who are currently in the situation you found yourself will follow your lead and take to task the practitioners who are harming good men and women. Best of luck!

Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a therapist and he writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at askingmichael@comcast.net.

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