Exodus files ethics complaint against Alicia Salzer over Montel Show comments

<img src='/wp-content/uploads/2007/10/exodus-press-release.thumbnail.JPG' alt='' align="left" hspace="10" Vspace="10"/Alan Chambers and Exodus have filed an ethics complaint against television psychiatrist Alicia Salzer. Actually the complaint was filed some weeks ago but Exodus has received no reply from the APA. Dr. Salzer works for Montel Williams and in that role took part in a controversial March 15 episode titled “Homosexuality…Can it be cured?” After Alan described his personal story, Dr. Salzer had this to say:

“This is marketing; this is not science…Science has shown us that 96% of people cannot change and along the way, absorb an enormous amount of self-loathing, a lot of confusion, a lot of family conflict, so I know the harm.”

In the ethics complaint, Alan refers to my blog post on Dr. Salzer’s misapplication of Shidlo and Schroeder’s research to provide some of the foundation for the complaint. In their public statements, psychiatrists are not to speak for the profession without solid empirical evidence. In this case, Dr. Salzer spoke not only for psychiatry but for science.

As noted in past posts, the video Abomination takes a similar route. The documentary presents the Shidlo and Schroeder study as if one can have confidence in their findings being representative of those who have sought out ex-gay style ministries or therapy.

As I mentioned in a recent post, I intend to re-view the documentary and have some more to say about the video and the harm that can come from misguided methods.

16 thoughts on “Exodus files ethics complaint against Alicia Salzer over Montel Show comments”

  1. Eddy –

    I agree, I also stumble over the “Dr.” title of many…but it doesn’t take away from the fact that Exodus has repeatedly used distortions or outright untruths for years. I do find it humorous that this is the grounds that they would choose to pursue her on.

    As for the allegations of harm…an anonymous confession does not make it invalid, especially in situations that might cause shame to the individual. What could they do even if it were in the open?

    As you are likely aware, those with unwanted same-sex attractions often feel a great sense of shame to begin with – they seem the least likely crowd to go in front of others, “outing” themselves. and admitting that their attempts at change were unsuccessful. There are some that do…but many that do not.

    Eddy, I have to believe that you are aware of the damage that has been done to many through the harmful inaccurate messages that many have received – especially in years past. It was not long ago that I remember clearly hearing the message from many that “everyone” can change, that change meant becoming heterosexual, and that not changing was not due to the nature of the person but to their will or faith. Heck, there are still many who believe this…surf the web for organizations that promote such ridiculousness.

    Thing is, for you or I, these unfounded messages fly right by…we know better. For some, who desparately want to change, they will try anything – even beating a pillow and being hugged by Richard Cohen if they think it will make them straight. They try, and try, and do everything asked of them (even giving up their designer underwear – as is asked at some “camps”), and yet…they have not changed. They try marriage, etc..and nothing.

    This is not the story of everyone, clearly, but it is the story of some – and we shouldn’t dismiss the harm and pain that it has cost them…not to mention the financial sacrifices, the time lost in their lives.

    I think if you take an honest look at it Eddy, you have to admit, the ex-gay movement has not been all roses, scientific backing, and honesty with clients.

    Not that any movement has…we just have to be upfront about what is truth and what is not.

  2. JAG–

    I keep looking for the irony only to stumble over the “Dr.” in front of Alicia Salzar’s name. Such a title can open many a door, give added–and sometimes undue–credibility, and suggests that the titled individual understands better than most how to rightly interpret data and studies…especially when they set themselves up as a spokesperson.

    Re the allegations of harm. What can I say? There’s certainly no arguing with anonymous closed door conversations that never reach the light of day except as insinuations.

  3. Eddy –

    You stated “If the majority experienced an increased measure of distress, seems they would have wound up in therapy somewhere–and again, surfaced.”

    They have. As you are aware, it is rather unethical for a therapist to disclose their clientele…or yell from the rooftops “I have another one from Exodus!” but…there are many out there. Talk to a bunch of therapists who work in sexuality, and you’ll likely hear the stories – anonymously, of course.

  4. Doesn’t anyone see the irony that Exodus, of all people, would be attempting to sue anyone for not having a solid foundation of empirical evidence or “science” to support their claims?

  5. One of my other issues is that in the overzealousness to make Exodus look bad, some also miss that a good number of these people showed up with a good measure of distress already.

    Quite true.

    Though I don’t always remember to do so, I do try to keep in mind that many people who are ex-ex-gay report that they benefitted from ex-gay ministries. Some overcame addictions or inappropriate sexual impulses. Some learned to like themselves enough to stop endangering themselves with sexually risky behavior. And some were able to finally resolve their orientation and their faith – though perhaps not in the way Exodus intended.

    Sadly, this is mostly just anecdotal. There has been very little effort put to tracking those who left Exodus. Perhaps that’s due to resources, due to unwillingness on the part of the client, due to the church’s standard response to backsliders, or due to a whole host of other reasons. And I’m not at all sure it would ever even be possible to really determine who is harmed and who is benefitted and in what way.

    But, nonetheless, I think Exodus is now aware that some are harmed and has an obligation to find out why and how, or at least as much as possible. I’m glad that some took the initial steps in meeting with the survivors. Let’s hope they follow up. If we could eliminate the damage and increase the benefits, then we could all be free to go back to debating whether “it works” and what “change” means.

  6. Timothy–

    Thanks. One of my other issues is that in the overzealousness to make Exodus look bad, some also miss that a good number of these people showed up with a good measure of distress already. The presence of distress in an ex-gay individual does not mean that Exodus caused it or exacerbated it. (Wish the blog had spell check…I think I’m close enough though.)

  7. Eddy,

    I agree that there is no conclusive evidence that the majority of Exodus’ clients experience distress. Yet surely we are all aware that SOME experience distress. And SOME have committed suicide. And SOME have wound up in therapy.

    Only now is the network being established for these people to come together, share experiences, know they are not alone, and begin to find healing. I think it will be some time yet before we have any idea of how extensive the damage is.

    I think it was irresponsible of Alicia Salzar to imply that all ex-gay strugglers experience harm. But that irresponsibility pales next to Exodus’ lack of interest in identifying the harm they cause and seeking to repair it.

    I know that some Exodus members attended the Ex-Gay Survivors conference, so perhaps Exodus may be taking the first baby steps towards responsibility. I certainly hope so.

    But denying that harm occurs or seeking to downplay the harm cannot possibly be the response that God wants from Exodus or others in the ex-gay movement.

  8. Exodus has a 30 year history. If the majority of their clients were committing suicide it would’ve surfaced in the news. If the majority experienced an increased measure of distress, seems they would have wound up in therapy somewhere–and again, surfaced. The claims that Exodus produces a measure of distress in most of its clients remain unsubstantiated.

  9. Jones and Yarhouse paint a pretty realistic picture but they find many people — way more than 4% — experience the effort without an increase of measured distress.

    So far. Those covered by the study, at least the 73 that remained in the program, are still very much in their honeymoon period I would think.

  10. I think we’ve learned over time on this blog that a little distortion goes a long way. I’m glad that Alan has attempted to curb this one before it goes any further. It’s not just those few percentage points; it’s the unfounded claim that Exodus actually causes harm to the majority, if not all, of its clients. Someone made a connection that wasn’t there. In a few days or weeks, someone else would take this faulty connection and make another…further compounding the distortion. I’ve said it before: we’ve got a whole lot to talk about, to agree and disagree on–without constantly having to first clear up the distortions.

  11. Warren,

    I agree that she’s guilting of conflating the first part of her comment (96%) with the latter part (experienced harm). There should have been an audible period between the two points and the word “some” placed before the word “absorb”.

    I doubt that the APA will be horrified that she assumed the mantle of Science when incorrectly quoting the only report available at that time. In fact, to anyone other than an ex-gay supporter or an anti-gay, I think they would not think her statement to be much of a distortion. It’s a distortion of proportion rather than of principle. Science has shown (J&Y) that few if any homosexual people become heterosexual through Exodus’ efforts. And science has shown (S&S) that some do experience harm.

    However, it would be wise for her to be less free with her claims about what Science does or does not say.

  12. Timothy – I wondered when someone would say that 🙂

    The point is that she didn’t just say 96% couldn’t change (change anything? change all the way? change their mind? change their behavior?), she said they were all harmed by it. And if there is any doubt – science has shown us this!

    Jones and Yarhouse paint a pretty realistic picture but they find many people — way more than 4% — experience the effort without an increase of measured distress.

    The last line of the letter indicates what I suspect is the real objective – a retraction and acknowledgment that we know precious little.

  13. Scott,

    That is one way of thinking about it but it certainly isn’t the only way – I don’t think it is a publicity stunt at all, rather a bold move to arrest the tired narrative that this woman and her flock seem to enjoy. She needs to be held accountable for her eggregious comments and realize that while she holds herself out as an expert, her commentary is pernicious and needs to be examined.

  14. I think this is a valuable and necessary use of Alan’s time. Salzar is spreading malicious lies. How dare she say that “96% of people cannot change” when Jones and Yarhouse have shown that it is actually only 89% of people who cannot change!!

    OK, actually that’s not what Jones and Yarhouse showed us. To be more accurate, they illustrated that none of the Exodus study participants became what the man-on-the-street would consider “straight”. And at least 89% of highly motivated Exodus participants in one study did not report that they experienced substantial reduction in homosexual desire and addition of heterosexual attraction and functioning.

  15. Looks more like a publicity stunt on Alan’s part than anything else.

    The APA will ignore him, he can then tell his flock that the APA is biased and reinforce the same tired narrative he always presents.

    Sad really.

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