Ex-wife of ex-ex-gay speaks about reorientation therapy experiences

Pam Ferguson, also known to many as Willful Grace, describes her experiences with her ex-husband’s reparative therapy in a post at ExGayWatch.

Her descriptions of some of the things done in the name of sexual reorientation make me cringe. I continue to believe those who support a patient’s right to pursue sexual reorientation should be more zealous to root out such practices. I appreciate Pam’s decision to share and encourage others to do so here in response.

I think the entire post is worth reading but here is one excerpt:

The therapist, who was always in stocking feet, would often rub his foot on Tdub’s [her nickname for her ex-husband] leg (This occurred in couples session; I witnessed this.) I found this a bit awkward and, assuming it went on in his individual sessions, I asked Tdub about it. He admitted that it made him feel awkward at first but that he’d gotten used to it and it was just a part of the therapist’s “way”. He later went on to mention that the therapist sort of played the role of a father figure and was teaching them lessons about safe and affirming male touch.

Note to the movement: The whole therapist-as-a-father-figure thing has got to go, and the sooner the better.

23 thoughts on “Ex-wife of ex-ex-gay speaks about reorientation therapy experiences”

  1. Jonathan – I am glad you shared your experiences with us. I have talked to many same-sex attracted men and women who tell similar stories.

    Whatever the cause, one must make moral sense of it and then live within that sense. That is hard enough.

  2. Johnathan: Thanks for sharing your experience about your Dad. It warmed my heart and made me remember the good times of father-son bonding with my own Dad. So much negative stuff has been written and said about what the parents of gays MUST be like, how they must have been abusive, distant, rejecting, over-controlling, not masculine enough, etc. (Nicolosi seems to base his entire approach on such black-and-white attributions and gets quite upset when this notion of “gay = bad father” is challenged.)

    The truth of the matter is that we ALL had both good AND bad aspects to our relationships with our parents — whether we are gay, straight or somewhere in between. I am glad that your therapy experience resulted in some good — strengthening your relationship with your Dad. In my own case, the good was that it deepened my faith in God — even though it did not change my sexual orientation.

    As for being “saddened when you read of people so desperate to change that they sign on to fringe thinking”, it’s hard for an unhappy gay person to find much else out there. That is why I support Dr. Throckmorton’s guidelines for therapy and why I am so opposed to EXODUS and NARTH. I finally found help in reconciling my faith and sexuality as a gay Christian. So I guess I am one of the lucky ones too.

  3. I have to say, the little bit of reparative therapy I did in the late 80s was actually really beneficial to my own growth as a human. While my therapist did come at the “problem” from the “broken father-son relationship” angle, he didn’t encourage a lot of the craziness that I see in so many places. His suggestion was the my father, a well-respected pastor, speaker and head of an international radio ministry, spend time with me on a weekly basis…just father/son time.

    Admittedly, my father was gone a lot when I was growing up. But, our relationship was a great one. I never doubted his love and he believed in active involvement in my life. Even when he was on the road traveling (lots of speaking engagements), there was never a day when I didn’t talk to him. But, my parents were desperate to have this part of me fixed. And, to a great extent, I too wanted to be “normal.” So, we bought into this idea that it must be my parent’s fault that I was suffering from this issue.

    Ever Friday night, my father and I would meet at a location (chosen by me) and hang out. We’d play catch-up on our weeks (I was 18 at the time). He’d tell me what was going on in his life and I’d tell him what was going on in mine. We studiously stayed away from discussing my therapy though. The idea was to create a father/son bond that supposedly didn’t exist or was broken.

    Nearly 20 years later, I am extremely grateful for the advice that my father and I needed more “time” together. Those weekly sessions still take place even though we now live on opposite sides of the country. We’ve both been able to admit that our father/son relationship was not the “problem” that the therapist assumed. But we also realize that these weekly prescribed sessions strengthened the bond we already had.

    When I finally was able to say “I’m gay”, my dad was the first person I told. He responded that he loved me, respected me, was proud of me and fully supported me. He also told me that his experience in counseling (and with me) had showed him that the “gay issue” was not nearly as black & white as the church world likes to think. To understand how huge that is, one would have to understand how very conservative my parents are. More recently, my partner of nearly 5 years was struggling with a prescription drug addiction that was creating real havoc in our family life (we have an 8 year old son). My dad was the first person I shared our struggle with. I knew that I would receive love, care and sound advice.

    My time in therapy was a tremendous experience if for no other reason than my relationship with my dad was strengthened and I became much more in touch with my own feelings. I still struggle with reconciling my faith (which is very important to me as much of my writing suggests) and my sexuality. I don’t struggle with this notion that somehow my parents are to blame for my sexuality. My therapy proved that to be a complete misnomer.

    I will say that I’m saddened when I read of people so desperate to change that they sign on to fringe thinking. Perhaps I’m one of the lucky ones.


  4. Thanks, Warren. When it comes to this issue, strong ethical/therapeutic guidelines, training and standards would be a very welcome change indeed!

    I was not asking Mary to expose any person. And I am saddened to hear that any person is being threatened. I was just responding to her rather bold assertion that “sound counseling” does exist. Is so, where? For obvious reasons, EXODUS and NARTH don’t qualify. I am glad that Warren is working on an suitable alternative.

  5. I do believe you are sincere Michael. I hope to create a way for people to find sexual identity therapists. Perhaps this summer, I would like to put together a website for therapists who adhere to the framework.

    However, if Mary’s therapists want to remain private, then I would want her to respect that wish. I have had threats too both from the right and the left. But I would hope that your therapist would consider joining the sexual identity therapy discussion group (www.sexualidentity.blogspot.com).

  6. Mary, what threats? I am not asking you to “expose” anybody or put them in harm’s way. I am simply asking where one might turn if one is looking for a therapist who (1) knows how to make people heterosexual, or (2) knows how to help people develop a “formerly gay identity” or whatever people are calling this movement nowadays.

    You said: “Just like myself, you will have to search, interview, question, etc… to find reputable people.” OK. What questions would one ask? Where would one begin this search? How would your run-of-the-mill unhappy gay person start the search? Do you really think that most of them are in a frame of mind to make such sophisticated inquiries on their own? I have a master’s degree and 30 plus years of working with gays and lesbians — and I still don’t know what would make a good “reparative therapist” — or whatever they are calling themselves nowadays.

    All of the incidents I described REALLY happened to me. I did not make them up to discredit the ex-gay movement. They really happened to Gary and to so many others who came to our ministry, EXIT. Our clients came to us in a state of crisis, looking for a way out and unable to find decent therapists. They came to us as a last resort. And even we didn’t know what to do.

    I am asking sincerely, even though I know you doubt my motives. As a therapist, I sometimes work with people who do not want to be gay, who want to live in accordance with their values and/or who want to become heterosexual. I do not force my path on them and I would like to be able to make decent referrals. I think Warren knows that I am sincere about wanting to find other therapists like him. If Mary cannot provide help, maybe Dr. Throckmorton knows something.

  7. I’m sorry Michael, but you will have to refer to those who are in the public eye such as Warren. Because of threats, I cannot/will not expose people. Sorry.

    But just like myself, you will have to search, interview, question, etc… to find reputable people.

    I am really sorry. The conflict over this issue has left many just wanting to keep their privacy. In fact, my therapist thought that I was not serious when I first came to her – she wondered if I was a “plant”.

    Again, sorry Michael.

    And thanks Pam for answering.

  8. I think that it is not unfair to say that the two leading “reparative therapy” organizations, EXODUS and NARTH have demonstrated “a pattern of harm”. Their lack of honesty over the years about what they can and cannot do. False promises. Scandals. Confsuing, misleading and sometimes deliberately provocative labels (like ex-gay, former homosexual) etc. Questionable alliances with quacks and weirdos. Right-wing politics mixed in with ministry.

    I would trust Warren if I wanted to walk a non-gay path, but wher ELSE would I go? Warren is unique. Where could I refer a client who wanted help? Who is really qualified? What do they actually do? Make people straight? Help gay Christians get used to the fact that they may never be straight?

    Warren’s statement “I have several things I want to do before I retire (if I ever do retire) and one of them is to leave this issue better than I found it” strongly implies that HE thinks the field is a mess, too. Where would Warren suggest that I find those “other counselors” who approach this subject with compassion, intelligence, honesty, sound scientific and therapeutic practices and political neutrality? How would anyone find such therapists?

    When Gary and I were becoming disillusioned with the “ex-gay” approach and when we noticed that our clients were getting worse, not better, we thought of going “somewhere else”, but where? Weren’t we (EXODUS) the experts? Wasn’t NARTH supposed to know how to do it? I ask again, Mary, where might one find these good therapists?

  9. Pam – I agree. If we were talking about published works or media appearances where the individual put him/herself in the public eye, then public scrutiny should be expected. In this case, I think you are taking the wise course.

    If readers find something in print or statements made in a public forum that implicate harmful techniques, then I would like those references posted. Otherwise, describing your experience should be just that — describing your experience.

    Having said all of that, if there is a pattern of repeated harm, then the best approach might be to go to other counselors who could confront the counselor and urge consultation. A final step would be to go to a licensing or certification board.

  10. Mary,

    This wouldn’t be the proper forum for that. You’ll just have to trust on that point and pray about it. God will take care of it. He always does. As is typical, there are MANY lives and hearts who have been hurt in this particular situation, not all of them clients. That’s all I can/will say.

  11. Pam,

    Please name names and groups and locations so they can come into the “light” sort of speak.

  12. Pam,

    I am so sorry for your experiences and they should be told. Having said that, I don’t want to diminish some of the good work that is done and that is why I made my statment. Not to endorse reparative therapy, not to endorse a must change attitude, not to endorse anti gay sentiments – but only to say that these strange practices are not found everywhere. With all the failings out there – there are some good folks, too.

    I am really sorry you had to go through what you went through and with people who lacked accountability. It all sounds very strange and unproductive to me. And it is frightening when you put your soul and mind into the hands of someone they act in such a ridiculous and unprofessional manner. It is just so crazy that lunatics and gay haters would stoop to such tactics to “cure” anyone. Again, reading your post just made me ache and made my heart sink. I am so, so sorry for your pain and struggle and poor guidance. I am so angry and so sorry.

  13. I have several things I want to do before I retire (if I ever do retire) and one of them is to leave this issue better than I found it. One way to do that is to try to figure out what is generally harmful and what is generally helpful for people who want to align themselves with their beliefs. Good therapists have nothing to fear from stories like Pam’s. In fact, they really seek that kind of information.

    My statement about the father-figure stuff is not designed to minimize the resolution of childhood hurts. Many of us have childhood hurts and we should seek appropriate help to resolve them and avoid the consequences that may come. However, resolving childhood hurts has not been shown to reliably abolish same-sex attractions. And so therapists acting in paternalistic ways with same-sex clients sets up a potentially vulnerable and confusing environment for clients. My advice to us is to avoid this trap.

  14. Jay,

    There are many things in therapy which people may find insulting, depending on how you think of it. Some sort of emotional stunted growth I’m guessing is pretty common, but I doubt therapist would be insensitive in how s/he told you this. It’s not an insult to be told this, otherwise all therapy for emotional growth could be branded as insulting. At the same time, I don’t think dogmatic theories of the etiology of SSA help anyone.

  15. Mary and Anon2,

    Well….YEAH…..of COURSE there’s sound and reputable counseling out there. And I’m thrilled (no, really) that you guys have experienced nothing but such therapy. HOWEVER….in this particular instance, and in many others in the same desperate and hurting sorts of situations that we were in….well….stuff like this can happen. There has GOT to be more accountability and more truth concerning these situations so that otherwise intelligent folks like my husband and I (we really aren’t stupid folks) are not sucked into this sort of thing in the name of “Christian living.” If we can indeed go and find awful practices then by all means, let’s find them and get rid of them. It is our duty to one another as brothers and sisters.

    I don’t know…but the premise of your comments seems to suggest that just because there’s a bunch of good stuff out there we shouldn’t come forward with the sort of CRAP that Tdub and I went through. I’ll tell more about how we were referred there in my 3rd and last post next week. But…suffice it to say, it could have happened to anyone and still IS….and any amount of it is not acceptable.

  16. Anon2,

    Many people have been greatly benefitted by pursuing therapy for terrible childhoods. And that is a wonderful thing.

    However, when it comes to ex-gay therapy, I think you said it best. I am sure if we want to find awful practices we can find them anywhere we look.

    Yes, pretty much everywhere we look in ex-gay therapy there are awful practices. And much of that is due to an unwillingness to prioritize realistic goals, ethical procedures, and values-based living over pseudo-religious miraculous cures, “change”, and bogus freudian “causes”.

    While I may disagree with Dr. Throckmorton over the necessity (or even wisdom) of constructing a life based on (what I believe to be) false understandings of Scripture, I do applaud his efforts to face reality and seek what works, what is beneficial, and what is consistent with his faith. I applaud him more for his willingness to criticize the nonsense that unfortunately abounds in the ex-gay therapy movement.

    Let’s hope it listens to him.

  17. Micheal,

    I am not a therapist. Nor do I know the clientele list of my current therapist. Nor do I suspect you are interested in changing this aspect about yourelf. I was simply making a statment that while we can see there are some strange and unproductive exercises in some individual and group therapies, there are also some that work.

    As for me, all we do is talk. I live and we talk some more.

  18. These ‘therapists’ should also stop telling gay men that they are somehow deficient in their masculinity or suffer “from arrested development and was ’stuck’ emotionally at around the age of twelve-years-old”.

    I’m not even 19 and that concept of “arrested development” is insulting. How does any man stand that type of emotional abuse? Because that’s what it is, to me. Constantly telling yourself that you are a child, just because you happen to like one sex over another? That’s just wrong, and it’s emotionally damaging. This is a non-professional opinion, of course (or, as my father calls it, “common sense”). What do you think of it, Dr. Throckmorton.

  19. “Note to the movement: The whole therapist-as-a-father-figure thing has got to go, and the sooner the better.”

    So much of the counseling that Pam and her ex-husband received is disturbing. These ‘therapists’ should also stop telling gay men that they are somehow deficient in their masculinity or suffer “from arrested development and was ‘stuck’ emotionally at around the age of twelve-years-old”. Not to mention having clients measure and disclose their penis sizes. (Is this ever appropriate in any circumstance?)


  20. Bravo Mary,

    I am sure if we want to find awful practices we can find them anywhere we look. If we refuse to look at the good that is occurring by dealing with some of the childhood hurts that we have experienced I guess no amount of therapy will be of any use to us. Personally, I know there are many who have suffered through terrible childhoods and have benifitted by facing up to this and learning how to move forward.

  21. OK, Mary. I’ll bite. If such “sound therapeutic counseling does exist”, could you kindly supply several referrals in my area? Also, perhaps, some information about their methods and success rates in helping gays become straight?

  22. I have never had those experiences in therapy nor have I heard of my frineds having had such. Just because there are strange and ridiculous things out there does not mean that sound therapuetic counseling does not exist – it does.

  23. “…the therapist sort of played the role of a father figure and was teaching them lessons about safe and affirming male touch.”

    Sounds like Cohen or Cook. I guess if you buy the idea that all gay men had bad Dads, someone has got to fill in, Huh? One of the reparative therapists I went to suggested “visualization”, during which he described various heterosexual acts in graphic detail — while occasionally resting his hand on my thigh. (I didn’t go back.)

    Another suggested that “masturbation was OK as long as you don’t think about anything”. Yet another wanted to prescribe anti-psychotic meds to make the gay go away. My last “reparative therapist” (from Melodyland) suggested that I “let Jesus enter your body and make love to your wife”” since I had developed NO heterosexual feelings after years of trying. I stopped trying in 1979 and am glad I did.

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