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Reparative therapy: Bachman’s dubious treatments come under scrutiny as scandal unfolds

Dominika Osmolska Psy.D.'s picture
MRI of the Brain

Michele Bachman is in the spotlight again this week, and that spotlight is shedding light on yet another murky corner of her political agenda. This time it is Michele’s husband, Marcus Bachman who is coming under scrutiny for using federal and state money to fund a dubious psychotherapeutic treatment called conversion therapy, used to “convert” gay and lesbian clients into being heterosexual.

Let’s get one thing straight from the start. Marcus Bachman, despite dubbing himself a “doctor” of psychology, does not have any sort of doctoral level degree in psychology. The Minnesota Board of Psychology and the Minnesota Board of Marriage and Family Therapy say he does not hold a license with them. Minnesota is one of the few states which allow individuals to practice therapy without a license – one can dub oneself a counselor or a “doctor” of this or that specialty without needing to be accountable to any regulatory agency. And that’s downright dangerous, as the Bachman case demonstrates. In summary he is a quack, and he is selling his snake oil to thousands of misguided victims.

What’s even more alarming, Michele Bachman is fully onboard with whatever her husband ordains. By Michele Bachman’s own admission, “Dr.” Bachmann is the head of the household, not her. She does nothing without his consent. From her law degree to her political career and possibly even down to the votes she has cast, Michele Bachmann has followed the dictates of her husband. And this is the woman who is running for the office of president of the United States.

Michele Bachman believes in her husband’s “reparative” therapy so much, she is willing to be onboard with the breaking of state and federal laws, which prohibit the use of this pseudo-therapy, or any other religion-based therapy. Separation of church and state, anyone? Remember, she is running for president here.

“Reparative” therapy, also known as conversion therapy, must, of necessity, be an essentially faith-based therapy because it has no scientific basis. In over a hundred years of intensive work on the subject, the psychological and psychoanalytic community has not been able to demonstrate any treatment protocol to be effective in changing or redirecting an individual’s sexual orientation. The American Psychiatric Association admitted final defeat in 1987, when it removed homosexuality from a list of mental disorders in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual.

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But don’t tell that to the fringe evangelical communities who maintain the APA is wrong and reparative therapy works. They see conversion therapy as God’s work, since presumably God does not approve of homosexuality. It is still a puzzle to me where these self-avowed Christians get their vehement notions, since the Bible as a whole has very, very little to say about it, and the New Testament, which is the definitive Christian text, has practically nothing to say on the subject. Jesus simply didn’t see the topic as relevant.

I can only assume that if Jesus had nothing to say but evangelical fundamentalists are in a froth about gays and lesbians, the “problem” belongs solely to human limitation, not divine wrath. Human history is awash with conflicts which human beings themselves concocted. It’s a problem of the human psyche, which projects its demons on to outside people and things. Black cats, comets, and witches are just a few examples of that propensity.

Oddly enough, the earliest psychoanalysts did not view homosexuality as a mental illness. The most Freud and his contemporaries said about it was typically psychoanalytic: that it was the result of an Oedipus conflict gone astray. One particularly fluffy (read: insubstantial) and fanciful theory held that male homosexuality was caused by a boy’s inability to deal with abrupt weaning.

Don’t worry if that doesn’t make sense to you. It doesn’t. The point is that even these fringe theorists did not approach homosexuality with the puritan hatred that conversion therapists do. Conversion therapy comprises efforts by “mental health” professionals, such as Marcus Bachman, and pastoral care providers to convert lesbians and gay men to heterosexuality by techniques including aversive treatments, such as the application of electric shock to the hands and/or genitals, and nausea-inducing drugs administered simultaneously with the presentation of homoerotic stimuli, masturbatory reconditioning, visualization, social skills training, and spiritual interventions, such as prayer and group support and pressure.

As such, they constitute a form of torture and social coercion, rather than therapy. Reputable American medical and scientific organizations have expressed concern over conversion therapy and consider it potentially harmful, not helpful. Marcus and Michele Bachman clearly disagree.

You can watch an ABC News report on a "sting" operation, which shows that Bachmann is still using reparative therapy, despite asserting the opposite.