Ex-gay history: Richard Cohen’s 2000 Exodus Conference presentation

Exgaywatch has posted a letter from Alan Chambers from earlier this year, describing Alan’s account of a presentation by Richard Cohen at the 2000 Exodus Conference. The letter was provided anonymously and was addressed to an Exodus parents’ group. Here is the entire letter which I have also verified.

Dear Parents Group,

Many of us within Exodus initially read Coming Out Straight, as we do most new books on the topic of overcoming homosexuality. Those of us who read the book began to talk amongst ourselves about the legitimacy of holding therapy, a practice Richard both uses and endorses.

At the time this discussion began (2000) I was not the President of Exodus nor was I even a board member. However, as the leader of an Exodus Member Ministry, I was deeply concerned about the implications this would have on Exodus as a whole if we endorsed such a controversial technique. Too, I worried about the possibility of leaders exposing themselves to temptation via the practice of “holding” a client.

That year (2000) at the Exodus Annual Freedom Conference Richard Cohen was invited by the Leadership at the time to teach a workshop on holding therapy. During that class, which I attended, he asked for a volunteer to demonstrate on.


His volunteer was a seasoned Exodus leader. This leader was instructed by Mr. Cohen to lay on the floor and spread his legs wide open. Dr. Cohen then laid down on top of this other man face to face and embraced him.

Mr. Cohen made the comment, “This might cause some stimulation. However, what goes up must come down, I always say.” He made other vulgar comments of this nature.

Mr. Cohen came out of homosexuality as did the leader that he violated. This leader was so taken back and embarrassed by the event that he wondered if his ministry status was at stake.

I joined the board of directors of Exodus that year and I made it very clear that I wanted to ensure that Dr. Cohen was taken to task for this breach of trust. A letter was sent to him and to my knowledge he had some  conversations with Bob Davies, my predecessor. The tapes of his workshop were pulled and he was told that he could not teach at any future conferences.

However, his book continued to be sold by the Exodus office until I was hired and I stopped that, as well.

It is because of all that I have shared and more that Exodus International does not and will not endorse or work with Mr. Cohen. His recent lack of judgment in the area of media interviews has only served to reinforce my belief that he is not someone Exodus should highlight as a valuable resource to the people that look to us.

As for the practice of holding therapy, under my leadership we decided to adopt the NARTH (www.narth.com) position banning our ministries from practicing this technique. Regardless of any benefits that this therapy is purported to have, I firmly believe that it is a stumbling block for all parties involved.

I appreciate each one of you and as someone who battled homosexuality myself, I believe it is my obligation to only promote the ministries and resources that will bring forth life long term and not simply every resource out there.

God bless each and every one of you,


Alan Chambers


Exodus International

The incident has become a part of ex-gay lore, although this may be the first mention of it in a public forum. I first heard about it at a Narth conference, when I asked an Exodus old-timer why Richard Cohen and Exodus did not seem to collaborate. My informant told this story as an eyewitness and indicated that the Exodus leadership had wrestled with how to handle it. And as the letter above notes, Exodus leaders determined that such methods were at odds with their views of how Christian ministry should operate and led to this Exodus statement on their website:

Statement on Richard Cohen

Exodus International does not endorse the work of Richard Cohen or the methods utilized in his practice. Some of the techniques Mr. Cohen employs could be detrimental to an individual’s understanding of healthy relational boundaries and disruptive to the psychological and emotional development of men and women seeking clinical counsel and aid.

For his part, Richard has said that he no longer does counseling but rather focuses on counselor training such as a recent one in Ireland and one to come in Mexico in early December.

17 thoughts on “Ex-gay history: Richard Cohen’s 2000 Exodus Conference presentation”

  1. Thank you, Jim.

    After a very long thread here and a very long thread at XGW – both of which you spent a great time in comments – this is the first we hear that you disapprove of this method. And though it was quite difficult getting you to that point, thank you for finally getting there.

    We can agree that the methods described in Alan’s leter are inappropriate, at best.

    So now we must agree that either Alan is lying about Cohen, or that Cohen was behaving inappropriately.

  2. And here comes my friend, Timothy Kincaid’s, formulations. A,B&C: If A infers B and B infers C, no, I do not support lying on top of clients. As far as I know that’s not a “Richard Cohen method”. As far as criticizing (D) that’s your area of expertise, not mine. Well, perhaps I am a bit rough on liberals at times. But even then, you’ll have to agree I do generalize (with exceptions like the Clintons, etc), as you have so graciously pointed out in the past.

    In summary, I do not support lying on top of clients. I have never personally heard Cohen teach counselors to lay on top of clients. As far a people laying with people, the only thing I ever heard from him was that when he was trained by Martha Welsh she taught family bonding and attachment methods and one included family lying together. The specifics of this he referred to in her workshops, books, and video tapes, of which I confess I have not fully reviewed. While holding is discussed in his book, COS, it is not referenced in terms of laying on clients. In the book, it refers to holding without gential touching and the information seems to be provided under mentoring wich is not precribed to the role of the counselor himself. If you want more information about this you should confer with him personally. Thanks, Jim.

  3. Perhaps my desktop is running some language conversion program because some of the above doesn’t appear to have been originally written in English.

    But, as best I can tell, the answer is:

    A. Yes, Jim Phelan supports Richard Cohen’s methods

    B. including those of lying on top of a client

    C. even if it involves one of the parties becoming sexually aroused

    D. and thus he will not criticize Cohen

    If I didn’t get that right, Jim, please let me know which of those points were incorrect.

  4. Warren,

    LOL, theraurus program that replaces….., besides the one in my head, no, if I had one I wouldn’t know how to use it anyway. I’ll look into one though, maybe it will help.

    Back to matters — no, I am not suggesting Alan is lying (as I undersatand it, he wrote the letter and presented, as he himself, saw it).

    No, to answer your question; I do not know if he (Cohen) recommends/ed NWT to his clients (or if he participates/ed along with them). Thanks for asking the source directly though; best answered in that manner. -Jim

  5. The letter is authentic and comes from Exodus.

    Speaking of odd wording, Jim P says:

    Rather, they take a hard swing at the alleged other’s perpetuation.

    Are you suggesting Alan is lying? Alleged other’s perpetration? I do not know why Exodus continued to sell Cohen’s books. You should ask them.

    You get the daily blog prize for this one: “Then, the brightened, perhaps an over accentuation of the forgone principle, hence the letter?”

    Are you using one of those thesaurus programs which replace words with bigger words?

    Anyway, you are dodging the question about whether you would recommend this? And whether, given your knowledge of his trainings, he recommends New Warriors Trainings to his clients and does he participate along with them? And for the record, I have written Richard to ask the same question.

  6. Warren: You said you verified the letter. Where he (Alan) says: “I believe it is my obligation to only promote the ministries and resources that will bring forth life long term and not simply every resource out there,” seem strangely worded. Is this perhaps a misprint or just not worded well? I mean, “bring forth life long term” seems odd, in any context. Just checking. Also, its not clear if the letter is coming from Alan himself, or from Exodus, the organization, whereas in some places he says “I” and in others “we”. Additionally, he seems to be unsure of Cohen’s credentials. In at least one occasion he refers to him as “Dr”. Just a point of reference. This may seem picky, but may point also to lack of peer review or professionalism of such a resourceful agency.

    I made this point also at XGW: the question that may come to some minds is the unusual essence in which Exodus takes no liability to hosting the venue to begin with. Rather, they take a hard swing at the alleged other’s perpetuation. Not once was it said, we (Exodus) take full responsible for, what obviously, in their minds, an oversight. The burden of responsibility is in screening, and knowing the content of presenters. At best, this lack of ownership could be judged to show a willingness to pelt responsibility and expose a slovenly approach to conferencing. This coincides with other possible interrogations, such as if behaviors of this presenter were so uncouth, why then did the organization, continue to endorse through sales, the presenters very own book product, until Mr. Chambers intervened? Then, the brightened, perhaps an over accentuation of the forgone principle, hence the letter?

  7. Jim – To my knowledge, this presentation has never been discussed publicly. If so, please provide a link to it. I looked and I can’t find it.

    Since you have first hand knowledge, can you tell me if he referred his clients to New Warriors training programs which he also attended and participated in? Would you do this?

  8. Warren: As said over at XGW, the information, rather content, has been covered before and therefore lacks originality. I can not base a judgment of approval or disapproval of Cohen’s “means” of therapy at the said conference, based on this post or the exposed letter. What I can provide is my appraisal of Cohen based on my training with him in 2006. During that time I had the opportunity learn a variety of techniques he subscribes to, none of which violated APA code of ethics. I use the latter as a matter of reference as it is a largely respected organization for standards.

  9. Jim – What makes it banal, at this point? Was there a point at which it would have raised a red flag? But that time is past?

    Do you approve of this means of therapist to client contact?

  10. Evan,

    Some gay or simply SSA-ed men confessed to me they have some degree of androphobia, but it’s hard to believe that such is the general case.

    Thank you for at least finishing that statement the way in which you did. If some OSA-ed/straight men had claimed that they were afraid of women, I would hope you wouldn’t have applied that to most or all of heterosexual men.

  11. Probably this is his take on flood therapy or systematic de-sensitization. He seems to have thought he could work with SSAs as with a sort of phobia. Some gay or simply SSA-ed men confessed to me they have some degree of androphobia, but it’s hard to believe that such is the general case.

  12. Eddy, Mary –

    I couldn’t agree more…

    It’s disgusting that Cohen is practicing and furthermore teaching this garbage. At first I thought it was just about ego…now, it looks to be more an expression of his own pathology.

    On another note, that poor man used in a “demonstration” should sue him for sexual harassment.

  13. Well, I am glad for clarification from Exodus. Sorry – but Cohen concerns me and I cringe over his practices. (Head hanging and shaking)

  14. The New Warriors approach doesn’t sound quite so weird when juxtaposed with Cohen. This therapy is sick. LOL! I’m not as diplomatic as Alan. I’m pretty sure, if I were present, I would have voiced a public objection as soon as it became clear he planned to lay on top of the other man. It disturbs me that Cohen is teaching this garbage. Perhaps the reality of this image will finally convince people to abandon him and his quack practices.

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