Michael J. Salamon

Repair therapy

I do not remember the exact reason but I found myself listening to a rabbi railing against science in general and espousing his views of human sexuality in particular. At one point, he stated that homosexuality exists only as a “result of perverted thinking and politics.” He was frothing over the passage of the Senate anti bias bill as well as the California and, New Jersey State law prohibiting the practice of what has been called reparative therapy.

I wondered how this particular debate could play out for a person who has both scientific training and is religious and I was secretly hoping that might be the direction the sermon would ultimately take. It was, however, just a fleeting hope because the speaker went on to state unequivocally that “homosexuality is a choice that people make” and he railed against what he called the “corrosive effects militant liberals have had on our ethical and moral makeup.Therapists will no longer be able to help anyone who might think that they are homosexual.”

His sermon was a political one couched in religious fervor and overtones of century old beliefs and misinterpretation. I was not especially impressed by his melodrama and was particularly offended by the militancy he so paradoxically attacked in others as well as the degree to which he misstated the law.

Reparative therapy or sexual orientation conversion therapy is a pseudo therapeutic type of counseling designed to attempt to eliminate sexual feelings for members of the same sex and increase sexual arousal for those of the opposite sex. This form of counseling is often linked to religious institutions or religious organizations. Virtually all professional mental health organizations admonish their members against using reparative therapy as it has been found to be based on false principles and misunderstandings about how gender preference develops.

Reparative therapy is considered dangerous and has been linked with a variety of very negative outcomes. That is why several states have legislated against it, and others are considering doing the same.

This is not to say that individuals who are homosexual do not have emotional conflicts, like everyone else they have their issues with anxiety and depression. Sometimes their psychological concerns are about their sexual orientation and coping with it. They may seek therapy that helps them decide how to lead their lives in general and sexually in particular or they may seek therapy for the very same reasons everyone else does, relationship issues, work stress and so forth. On the other hand, those who seek reparative therapy often see it as their only choice as they are often compelled to do so out of a sense of guilt or a need for acceptance within their religious community.

Listening to the speaker that same day was a man who caught my attention. He was engrossed and shook his head to the beat of the speaker’s stridency. He even applauded the speaker. I did not know the man but his zealous demeanor captured my imagination. At the very least he seemed to be a devout follower of the speaker. I could not forget his passionate face.

I had not expected a homily on this particular topic; after all it was just a sermon. However, when the rabbi began I was hoping to hear some insights into how increasingly accepting certain religious groups can become within the tenets of belief – like accepting the sinner just not the sin – and helping individuals regardless of their issues become members of the community. I have no position in this debate except as it relates to proper treatment of people both personal and professional. I left the lecture as soon as I could.

Just a few weeks later, I received a phone call from a man, weeping as he spoke. “I am calling you because I need your help for my son. Last year I suspected he was not normal…what I mean is that he is…how you put it…gay. I asked him if he was and he said no. Three months ago he came to me and said ‘Yes I am gay.’ I can’t have a homosexual child is what I said to him so I found him the treatment to make him better. I sent him to a treatment place and he was there for almost two months. But, they called me to say that they cannot help him.”

This was not the first time I received a call like this. I started to interrupt the man “I do not treat people to make them change their sexual orientation,” I said.

“No I know that, I don’t want that.” He said. “They called me to say that he tried to kill himself two times in just the last few days. I want my child to be alive. I don’t care what he does in his own room, well I do, but there is more to life than that. I realize now that I was wrong and if god gave him the desire for certain people that is what my son will have to deal with and it’s not my business.” And in a burst of insight he added “He has to learn to live with it. I want an alive son not a dead one. “

I consented to see the man and his son the very next day. I was not particularly shocked when I opened the door to my consultation room to see that humanity replaced stridency, the father that called me was the fervently applauding man from the lecture accompanying his son.

About the Author
Dr. Michael Salamon ,a fellow of the American Psychological Association, is an APA Presidential Citation Awardee for his 'transformative work in raising awareness of the prevention and treatment of childhood sexual abuse". He is the founder and director of ADC Psychological Services in New York and Netanya, the author of numerous articles, several psychological tests and books including "The Shidduch Crisis: Causes and Cures" (Urim Publications), "Every Pot Has a Cover" (University Press of America) and "Abuse in the Jewish Community: Religious and Communal Factors that Undermine the Apprehension of Offenders and the Treatment of Victims."