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Dr. Oz Show Fails to Televise a Balanced Gay Cure Reparative Therapy Debate

2012-11-29 13:08

“On September 30th, a law was passed in California banning reparative therapy for minors. So today we are going inside the world of reparative therapy which some believe can turn gay people straight….and we ask the question ‘Could you change your sexual orientation and should you even try?’” says Dr. Oz as he provides a platform for a discussion about reparative therapy and whether you are born gay and whether you can you go from gay to straight.

Dr. Oz tells viewers that the question of homosexuality and whether it can be reversed has been a contentious subject for physicians and psychologists since the days of Sigmund Freud and that therapies have been tried involving both psychoactive medications and applying electroshocks to the brain.

In a landmark case 40 years ago, with changing social and cultural views and a review of past treatments and the results of such treatments on changing sexual preferences, the American Psychiatric Association ruled that homosexuality should no longer be considered a mental disorder.

However, in spite of the ruling by leading experts in the medical field, many gay men and women as well as their family members have sought myriad and some controversial therapies in an attempt to find a “cure” for being gay.

Today, the idea of gay cure and civil rights are being challenged once again with the recent passage of a California law that prohibits reparative therapy being practiced on minors.

To argue for reparative therapy, Dr. Oz has special guest Christopher Doyle, M.A. a psychotherapist who specializes in treating men who are attracted to the same sex--but don’t want to be. His other qualification that he credits himself with is that he himself was gay, but has been cured and straight for 8 years and is now married to his wife in a typical male/female marriage with 2 children.

Dr. Doyle describes his work as based on one that helps gay men who want to change by identifying what it is that causes their feelings of same-sex sexual attraction.

“Reparative therapy is when a client comes into my office and they feel that their sexual desires or attractions are in conflict with who they really are as a person. Many of my clients really do not believe that they are gay. They can see that there are specific causes for same-sex attractions, and we work with them and try to identify those causes with therapy,” says Dr. Doyle.

Dr. Doyle argues that research has shown that people are not born gay, but rather, that being gay is a complex process that involves a range of social factors that leads to becoming gay or perceiving one’s self as being gay.

“People are not born gay,” says Dr. Doyle, “…there’s many factors that are involved here, that it is not simply a biological component.”

To help cure gay men with reparative therapy, Dr. Doyle explains that he addresses 3 things with his therapy:

(1) Identify the root causes of why they have same-sex attraction.
(2) Help them resolve those issues, and heal those issues.
(3) Help them meet unmet love-needs through healthy relationships with men.

Dr. Doyle explains that what he often sees are men who are detached with respect to their relationship with other men because they did not bond with their fathers early in their lives. But with reparative therapy, the same-sex attraction relationship can be changed to what he refers to as a healthy relationship between men and that those feelings of attraction will disappear once the causes are addressed, resolved and unmet love-needs fulfilled.

In support of Dr. Doyle’s reparative therapy practice is Mr. Rich Wyler a certified life coach who is pro reparative therapy and provides retreats for men who want to go from gay to straight.

Mr. Wyler states that many men who come to his retreats are very confused not just by their feelings of attraction for men, but the mixed messages they get from a gay community that says you are born gay, and a religious community that says you should be ashamed for having those feelings you are born with.

Mr. Wyler says that his retreats provide a shame-free environment where men can discuss the issues and thereby help men come to terms with their feelings and what the community has to say about it. He states that after attending his retreats, that the majority of the attendees are changed and do go on to lead lives feeling attracted to the opposite sex.

Dr. Doyle points out that he is not anti-gay and that he supports gay rights, but he believes that there is a subset of individuals who are gay and who are in conflict with their feelings of attraction for men and with who they really see themselves as being inside. And that is where his reparative therapy can be helpful for many.

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That help, however, is meeting a lot of opposition by others in the gay community who see his therapy as being harmful rather than helpful.

Dr. Oz introduced two gay men—Peter and Gabriel, both of who strongly believe that reparative therapy is malpractice and being gay is something you are born with.

In Peter’s case, he had kept his feelings of attraction for men hidden for most of his life and had even been married for 28 years and had children before coming out of the closet. What he discovered after trying to change his feelings toward men was that it was impossible for him to do so and that in turn led to a spiral of depression, shame and thoughts of suicide.

Gabriel’s case was slightly different in that he came out much earlier in life at age 14, had the support of his parents, and tried reparative therapy at an early age. Like Peter, however, the therapy also failed to change his feelings and instead led him to focus on the causes of where his relationship of men could have gone wrong when in reality he had a good relationship with his father. Peter’s failure with therapy led to depression and feeling that being gay is pathologic—both of which led to feelings of suicide.

Both Peter and Gabriel attest that reparative therapy is harmful malpractice when applied to minors before they have developed enough psychologically and emotionally to decide for themselves what or if they should do something about their gay feelings. And, that reparative therapy is malpractice when claims are made by some reparative therapists that being gay is curable.

Pop singer Clay Aiken made an appearance on The Dr. Oz Show and agrees with Peter and Gabriel’s stand against reparative therapy stating that he was not happy with himself and did not love himself until he came out at age 24, and that reparative therapy is not the answer—that it will not help you learn how to love yourself for who you are.

“Just by the nature of the name ‘reparative therapy’ you are implying that something needs to be repaired—that you are implying that something is wrong in the first place,” says Clay Aiken. “When you imply that someone needs to be repaired, when you provide a service that says ‘We’ll fix this for you,’ then you are saying that what you are is inherently wrong.”

Another guest, Brad Lamm, an author and interventionist against reparative therapy was introduced who testifies that when he was as young as 6 years old, he and his family knew that he was gay and that at age 17 they made him take reparative therapy.

“I barely escaped with my life,” says Lamm, as he describes how that while he was suicidal before taking reparative therapy, that he became even more suicidal and that it led to many years of drug addiction and self-harmful behavior. And, that reparative therapy is steeped into blame and shame and guilt to try to coerce gays to become straight and that it is based on religious bigotry.

While the gay guests collectively turn to grouping all licensed practitioners who use reparative therapy as being harmful to minors and would not address Dr. Doyle’s point that he believes that there is a subset of gay men who would benefit from reparative therapy, it begs the question as to whether all gays would likewise classify themselves as all being the same?! Despite this incongruity that is not defined in the discussion, what was raised was the question of whether parents have the right to seek reparative therapy as a potential treatment for their child.

To answer this question, Dr. Oz brought in two experts in the medical field who had contrasting pro and con reparative therapy views. Unfortunately it was at this point in The Dr. Oz Show where objectivity and a shared discussion of the issue and questions asked fell apart in a Springer-esque display.

While the medical expert who was con reparative therapy was allowed to voice his expert opinion uninterrupted regarding reparative therapy, his counterpart Dr. Julie Hamilton a licensed marriage & family therapist and former president of the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) was continually interrupted, ignored, and discredited by the anti-reparative therapy gay guests and not allowed to fully state her pro opinions regarding reparative therapy.

From this point it was clear that The Dr. Oz Show lost its objectivity when it buttressed anti-reparative therapy sentiment with additional opinions and statements by a spokesperson for the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) and the executive director of Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) for their as-expected stand against reparative therapy. Hyperbole and unsupported accusations were provided rather than intelligent discourse.

The unfortunate result of this episode of The Dr. Oz Show is that it squandered a not only good, but great opportunity to address whether reparative therapy is truly harmful or not. Where were the statistics showing a connection between reparative therapy and suicide? What studies have been done to show its success or failure rate?

What is clear is that reparative therapy needs to be addressed by objective studies to determine whether this is a safe and efficacious medical practice or not. What is also clear is that both sides of the argument share real concerns regarding how parents should go about finding help if needed and guidance when their child has feelings of attraction for members of the same sex. Unfortunately, the anti-reparative side was given an unbalanced opportunity to state their views, but instead chose to exhibit an embarrassing display of sex-orientation prejudices that muddied the waters of what sexual orientation really means and how it should be addressed today.

Image Source: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Reference: The Dr. Oz Show—“Reparative Therapy: Expert Opinions”