Accurate public statements: A Montel post-mortem

Since last Thursday’s Montel Williams Show, I have called show producers and emailed the show several times asking them for research to support a statement made by psychiatrist Alicia Salzer in reference first to Alan Chambers’ story and then to change therapies in general. She said:

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.”

I am completely aware that harmful things have been done and continue to be done in the name of reparative therapy, but Salzer’s statement about a rate of change cannot be supported. The closest thing to a study that might yield a 4% change rate is Shidlo and Schroeder’s qualitative study of those who said they were harmed by some type of effort to change. This was not a study that could test hypotheses about rate of change for any population. At present, science cannot say much about such change, and “it” surely cannot say what Dr. Salzer did. As noted, I have repeatedly contacted the Montel show about this statement with no response.

All mental health professionals are bound to make tentative statements about research findings and to take care to separate opinion from “science.” Consider this statement from the physician code of ethics:

Section 7

A physician shall recognize a responsibility to participate in activities contributing to the improvement of the community and the betterment of public health.

1. Psychiatrists should foster the cooperation of those legitimately concerned with the medical, psychological, social, and legal aspects of mental health and illness. Psychiatrists are encouraged to serve society by advising and consulting with the executive, legislative, and judiciary branches of the government. A psychiatrist should clarify whether he/ she speaks as an individual or as a representative of an organization. Furthermore, psychiatrists should avoid cloaking their public statements with the authority of the profession (e.g., “Psychiatrists know that…”).

I feel pretty sure that Dr. Salzer believes she is acting to better community and public health. However, I do not believe exaggeration is the way to accomplish this end.

UPDATE: 3/20/07 – I received a call from Melissa Borusso, producer of the Montel Show. She left a voice mail saying that, as suspected, Dr. Salzer was relying on the study of Shidlo and Schroeder for her statistics.

So if I went on national television and said that science has shown us that 66% of gay males and 44% of lesbians can achieve good heterosexual functioning through reorientation therapy (from Spitzer’s study), what do you think the reaction would be? Would there be a You Tube video up denouncing my misuse of research? I would hope so…

Montel Williams Show on sexual reorientation

Chambers Williams

Montel’s episode Homosexuality…Can it be cured? aired this morning.

I will be adding to this post through the day but I can offer a few reactions.

Reparative therapy was a term used repeatedly but never precisely. It stood for everything ever done in the name of sexual orientation change – from electroshock to exorcisms. In this way, the episode served to greatly confuse the issue. However, some of the cause for that confusion is the frequent inability of social conservatives to self-correct on matters homosexual. There are truly harmful things done in the name of reorientation and critics like Montel and his psychiatrist guest, Dr. Salzer, have found those who will talk about those problems.

Mike Jones, the man who outed Ted Haggard was the first guest and described again his reasons for exposing Mr. Haggard. He also noted that, after Mr. Haggard stepped down, Ted Haggard’s New Life Church treated him better than gay advocacy organization, the Human Rights Campaign. While an escort, Mr. Jones said his “clients” were 80% married men and 15% clergy.

Lance Carroll described his experiences in Love in Action, including a 10k price tag. Lance described being forced to go to LIA. Montel continually referred to LIA as reparative therapy. At one point, he said, “Let’s talk about being at the camp itself, because that’s really what the base root of reparative therapy is, to guilt you and sin you and try to make you disgusted with yourself?” Essentially Lance agreed with this characterization.

Alan Chambers was up next and described his story. He noted that he did not know why he was gay, and said to him, it did not matter if we ever learn genetics play a role. Montel was fine with Alan’s descriptions until he indicated that he believed the Bible did not allow homosexuality. At that point, Montel became animated and said that this point “kills me the most.”

Montel had confused Exodus as a ministry with a reparative therapy organization. However, Montel asked, “Do they counsel?” This led to a confusing interchange between Alan, Lance and Montel. Montel said that there are parents who because of the existence of ex-gay ministries believe, “I can fix my child.” Alan said, “But that’s not the case. For me this was a personal choice for me; you can’t fix your child.” Lance chimed in to say that he was in an Exodus ministry that did attempt to change him (Love in Action).

At about this point, Alicia Salzer was introduced. She is the psychiatrist who produced the video, Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-gay Movement which I have briefly reviewed on this blog. She made an outrageous statement in her opening remarks. She said, referring to Alan’s story, “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.” I intend to write the show to ask for the study or study that supports that public statement. Of course, there is no such study. I challenge her to produce it. Anyone who has read this blog for any length of time knows that I am quite realistic about prospects for change, but to say “science has shown us” anything authoritative on this matter is hubris.

She then goes on to describe her documentary as a description of those who have gone through reparative therapies. Again, she is imprecise with her terms and muddies the situation. I expect that from Montel as a layperson trying to make sense of the conflicting messages from the ex-gay world but I expect better from a psychiatrist.

One thing that surprised me was the way Richard Cohen represented himself. He described himself as a psychotherapist and is described on the Montel website as “a psychotherapist and practitioner of sexual reorientation therapy, or ‘reparative therapy.'” While this is probably how he sees what he does, he is unlicensed in Maryland and says he does coaching. However, he demonstrates what he calls bioenergetics, which is a therapy modality. He clearly does therapy, allows what he does to be labeled as such but does not have a license to conduct it. In Maryland, the counseling law is a title law which means he probably is within the law to say he does counseling, as long as he does not say he is a professional counselor or a licensed counselor. However, the psychotherapy designation may put him at odds with the Maryland psychology licensing law which requires licensing to do anything psychological.

The show ended with conflict between Montel, Alan and by the end of the show Arthur Goldberg of JONAH. Montel pulled some material from the Exodus website which he interpreted to mean Exodus was in the business of changing people. In fairness to both of them, I understand the confusion. Montel focused on the the objective of heterosexuality that was in the statement whereas I think Alan and many evangelicals do not see terms such as “liberation” or “freedom” from homosexual attraction as meaning that those attractions are gone. In various ways, Alan and Montel talked around each other, with Alan at one point indicating that perhaps the word “liberation” should come off of their website.

Peterson Toscano made an appearance and described his exorcisms. Again, this was in the context of the discussion on reparative therapy. I can imagine a viewer erroneously thinking everything described as being reparative therapy.

The show ended with Arthur Goldberg angrily shouting from the audience that the Bible doesn’t teach that homosexuals go to hell and that “abomination” in the Hebrew means “you have been led astray.” Now that’s an interesting take on things.

Now I come back to my first reaction — what was this show about? Was it about ministry to those who want to live by their faith as they understand it? Or was it about some kind of therapy to remediate homosexual attractions? The show never really separated the two and the guests were either unclear about this or the constraints of the show’s format made it difficult for them to articulate the differences. Richard did broach this subject at one point but it was never made clear. Perhaps, ex-gay ministries need to examine how confusing it is to mix therapeutic talk with ministry talk. I suspect Alan may wish Love in Action would make these distinctions and get out of the teen business and out of the live-in business. As an observer, I believe LIA may need a significant review and audit (do they really teach people how to sit?). If ministries and leaders do not more clearly identify questionable and potentially harmful practices and ideas, critics will continue to do so. At the same time, I also believe critics, such as Dr. Salzer, who should be able to make fine distinctions, should help the public see the distinctions, rather than confuse the issue with distorted and unwarranted claims about science.

Alan Chambers provides an inside look at today’s Montel show.

Homosexuality: Should we interfere in the womb?

In a March 2 column, theologian and Southern Baptist seminary President Albert Mohler created a bit of a stir when he allowed that a traditional Christian view of homosexuality was not threatened if innate factors turn out to be involved in the development of same-sex attractions. I was glad to read his thoughts on that point. However, more controversial were these points from his ten point conclusion:

7. Thus, we will gladly contend for the right to life of all persons, born and unborn, whatever their sexual orientation. We must fight against the idea of aborting fetuses or human embryos identified as homosexual in orientation.

8. If a biological basis is found, and if a prenatal test is then developed, and if a successful treatment to reverse the sexual orientation to heterosexual is ever developed, we would support its use as we should unapologetically support the use of any appropriate means to avoid sexual temptation and the inevitable effects of sin.

So Dr. Mohler rightly does not favor abortion, but he might favor non-lifethreatening pre-natal manipulations. In what appears to be an indirect reference to the Mohler suggestion in #8 above, Alan Chambers discounted efforts to manipulate development. He says:

But, I don’t believe that a pill or surgery or holding someone will provide the results that some hope for—there is no quick fix or formula to changing one’s sexuality. Instead, most successful and longterm change occurs when one decides to daily submit their mind, will and emotions to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Some find freedom from feelings and attractions while others simply find freedom from an identity that was incompatible with their faith.

First, I can’t resist pointing out the reference to Richard Cohen (“holding someone”), but the main point is that Alan does not favor the kind of early intervention suggested by Dr. Mohler. There are several big ifs in Dr. Mohler’s point #8 that I believe will keep us from realizing such an ethical dilemma for quite awhile. We have few clues how hormones might work pre-natally to effect sexual orientation in humans. Much work will be needed to define the mechanisms, if they exist at all. Furthermore, while such brain differentiation may be a direct causal factor in sheep, it may not be so direct in humans. Following the thinking of Bem, hormones or genes might in some way craft a brain that leans toward a same-sex sexual organization but certain socialization factors also may be important. One of the most significant problems for me is the possibility of unintended consequences of manipulating something pre-natally. While applying a patch or pill might mitigate against same sex attractions, it may lead to heightened aggression or other consequences unforseen. Finally, I am just nervous about suggestions to design children; I don’t like where that might go. I am not reassured that those making decisions like that might share my religious world view. I am always aware that somewhere else, or at some other time, others who don’t like some characteristic I hold dear, might find a way to make modifications that make sense to them, but would be abhorrent to me.

UPDATE: 3/15/07 – David Crary of the AP has a story on the reaction from the right and left to Dr. Mohler’s article.

Montel Williams revisits sexual reorientation

By now, it is no secret. The Montel Williams Show on Thursday, March 15, will devote the whole hour to a show they’ve titled: HOMOSEXUALITY…CAN IT BE CURED? Click the link to read the description of the show. Guests include: Mike Jones, Lance Carroll, Alan Chambers, Richard Cohen, Peterson Toscano, and Dr. Alicia Salzer (the producer of the documentary Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-gay Movement). Here is something interesting; Alicia Salzer is the director of Montel’s After-care program. I wonder if she would ever refer someone to a sexual identity therapist?

This episode is generating buzz. I have seen pre-show notices from sources as diverse as Evergreen International, JONAH and Division 44 of the American Psychological Association. Steve Schalchlin has a blog entry describing Mike Jones’ view of his appearance. In contrast to Mike Jones’ view, Elaine Berk of Jonah, who was in the studio audience, said the show was not fair to Alan and those who were there to defend Exodus.

Elaine gave me permission to quote the following:

The taping of the Montel Williams show was last Wednesday. It was quite an upsetting experience, to say the least. I wish each one of you was there – it was high drama.

Montel made fun of reparative therapy the whole time even though the show was supposed to discuss reparative therapy – the show was a set up. FYI, Exodus doesn’t do reparative therapy and that’s what the show was about, so it was ridiculous from the get-go. Montel was out to demean “our side of the story” and did so at every opportunity.

One of the Exodus couples was bumped when they politely protested to Montel that he wasn’t allowing the ex-gays the appropriate amount of time to speak. I give them credit. Montel was floored that this couple had the nerve to dictate to him what they would accept from him. There was a 15 minute delay with producers and production people running out onto the stage as they decided what to do now that this couple was bumped in the middle of the taping.

Alan Chambers of Exodus, the only ex-gay up on the stage with several pro-gay activists, was not feeling well and didn’t respond forcefully to the abuse given out by Montel. I don’t know what happened but Montel pummeled him with words & questions. It was so sad and aggravating to see.

Then, a hero emerged!

All of a sudden Arthur Goldberg was yelling at Montel from the auidence. Arthur yelled something like, “You’re not being fair. You understand what he (Alan Chambers) means, it’s implied in what you read.” Montel was so shocked when Arthur yelled that he was being unfair and misinterpreting what Alan Chambers was saying that Montel didn’t say much back – Montel tried to come back at Arthur but then Arthur yelled again, “This is a civil rights issue and you just don’t understand.”

. . . and then the taping was over.

At that point…no one said anything and everyone was hustled off stage.

Montel Williams Show to again focus on sexual orientation

Tomorrow Alan Chambers joins a guest panel to discuss homosexuality on the The Montel Williams Show. The show will also feature Tom and Donna Cole, former homosexuals who have a ministry to Christians struggling with sexual and relational issues. I am pretty sure Richard Cohen may have some role on the program.

This comes from an Exodus News Release. Nothing is on the Montel Williams Show website about the segment as yet.

UPDATE: 2/28/07 – Unless Montel’s website is wrong, the appearance by Alan Chambers is most likely being taped today for later broadcast.