Lifesitenews article: An exercise in confirmation bias

Yesterday, Lifesitenews published an article complaining about me. Many of the complains are recycled from Peter LaBarbera’s website and a OneNewsNow article. I addressed those criticisms here and here. Mark Yarhouse also did so on the SIT Framework website. Beyond rehashing LaBarbera’s issues, I think the article reflects poorly on Lifesitenews. Let’s start with their characterization of how my peers have been reacting to my work. Reporter Matthew Hoffman wrote:

Throckmorton’s defection from the ex-gay movement has been met with condemnation by Evangelicals. “Though he works for an evangelical institution, Pennsylvania-based Grove City College, which advertises itself on faith-based websites as ‘authentically Christian,’ Warren promotes a new, morally neutral paradigm on homosexuality that affirms people’s ‘Sexual Identity’ according to their feelings (and comfort level with same),” laments Peter LaBarbera of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality (AFTAH).

Evangelicals? Let’s count how many condemning evangelicals are quoted by LSN. If you count Michael Glatze, two people are quoted as complaining about my views, the other one being Peter LaBarbera. My reason for hedging on Glatze is that he began his ex-gay journey as a member of the LDS church and is listed as an “Executive Assistant” at the Buddhist inspired Shambhala Mountain Center in Colorado, which, according to an article written by Glatze in 2009, is a welcoming place for gays and lesbians.

Rather than reporting some broad evangelical condemnation of my work, the article repeats the criticisms of Peter LaBarbera. I noted to Mr. Hoffman when I declined his interview (more about that shortly), that I am on the National Advisory Board for the American Association of Christian Counselors (as is Mark Yarhouse) and that they paid Mark and me to present a half-day workshop at the 2007 conference on how to apply the sexual identity therapy framework. By any definition, the AACC would be considered an evangelical organization. Mr. Hoffman says that I am under fire from evangelicals and yet only quotes one, maybe two. At the same time, he ignored evidence that my views are promoted within a much larger, more mainstream evangelical organization (not to mention several others he could have consulted).

As an aside, it is curious that Mr. LaBarbera has not included the AACC in his crusade. The AACC still promotes the SITF via the tapes they sell of the pre-conference workshop. The SITF was featured in the AACC magazine in 2007 via an invited article by Mark Yarhouse. Perhaps, the AACC will be next.

When I declined the interview, I pointed out to Mr. Hoffman that the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) also claims to value client self-determination. I sent Mr. Hoffman a link to my recent post, “Is NARTH the next target?” which notes that Joseph Nicolosi says, on the NARTH website, that he provides gay affirmative therapy to some of his clients. NARTH is mentioned favorably at least 46 times on Peter LaBarbera’s website. I also sent a link to a YouTube video where Dr. Nicolosi says this about his practice:

The therapeutic approach is always positive. In fact, to be honest with you we never tell our clients not to have homosexual activity. If they want to do it, let them do it. It’s up to them. Our job is to help them understand what they learned from it. When a client comes in to me and says, ‘I had gay sex last night.’ My only question to him is, ‘What was going on with you just before you decided to act out? What was your psychological state of mind that made you want…?’ That’s where the lesson is. So we don’t tell clients not to act out. They can act out, but every time they do act out, it’s an opportunity to learn something about themselves.

Given that Mr. Hoffman mentions my movement away from NARTH’s emphasis on reorientation, it would have reasonable and responsible for him to mention that NARTH holds to a view of client self-determination that is arguably more permissive than my own. For instance, in the SITF, if a client seeks celibacy or monogamy, we advocate working with clients to avoid contexts which could elicit undesired behavior.

Mr. Hoffman is correct that I changed my mind about an interview with him, but failed to completely describe the circumstances, saying

After agreeing to an email interview with LifeSiteNews, Dr. Throckmorton refused to answer the questions submitted, claiming they were “slanted.” The questions sent to Dr. Throckmorton, are available at this link.

In fact, I declined his original request. After thinking it over, I asked to see the questions he wanted to ask. I did not agree to an interview although he may have thought that I did since I asked to see the questions. Once I read the questions, which he posted, I decided there was little chance for a fair representation of my views. For instance, I asked Mr. Hoffman how he formed this question (#3 in his list):

3. In a recent article you defended the thesis that sexual orientation is biologically determined in the womb, by hormonal deficiencies. Do you now believe that homosexual orientation is immutable?

I wrote to ask where I “defended the thesis that sexual orientation is biologically determined in the womb, by hormonal deficiencies.” He then wrote back citing this article in Uganda’s The Independent and quoted this section:

However, we do not know this to be the case. Most researchers around the world agree that there is no consensus about the causes of any given person’s sexual orientation. While it seems unlikely that there is one biological or genetic cause for all homosexuals, there are data which suggest that genetic and hormonal factors during pre-natal development have some impact on our desires, in different ways for different people.

In the email, Mr. Hoffman explained:

Perhaps I overstated your position slightly. You are suggesting

apparently that hormonal and genetic factors in the womb contribute to the phenomenon. Please consider my question amended to that effect.

I believe he did more than slightly overstate my position. His original question slanted my plainly stated views. That was enough for me to stick with my decision not to do an interview.

Currently, LSN is lamenting exclusion from a mainstream Catholic news source, Zenit. I know nothing of the specific issues but it relates to criticisms of LSN’s reporting. I can say after this experience, that I will not accept what I read there at face value. Perhaps in the zeal to promote a certain point of view, LSN’s reporting is skewed in a manner which concerns more mainstream outlets. Here are some tips. If you are going to advance a thesis, call it an op-ed, don’t present it as news. If you make a generalization about a trend or a group, interview more than one person from the group you are characterizing. If you want to have sources trust you, then do not slant or misrepresent their views. Follow up on aspects of a story that may lead you away from your preconceived ideas – avoid confirmation bias.

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  • David

    I read the post at AFTAH. I thought the first couple of questions were reasonable, but the list quickly descends into the realm of the bizarre. You were quite right to turn it down.

    It has been 2 days since AFTAH was put on the SPLC’s list of hate sites, but LaBarbera has yet to post the requisite charge of anti-Christian persecution. I wonder what is holding him up.

  • Jayhuck

    I am sorry that such an article was published Warren – you most definitely don’t deserve it!

    I have to say though, its interesting that you say that Socarides gives gay affirmative therapy then have him call gay sex “acting out” – talk about bias! Gees

  • Lynn David

    Westen seems to be intent on making LSN the Catholic version of Farrah’s WND.

  • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton Warren

    jayhuck

    1. The video is of Nicolosi not Socarides.

    2. He calls it acting out, I don’t.

    3. Nicolosi says in an article on the NARTH website that he provides gay affirmative therapy. Read this link to find out where: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/warrenthrockmorton/2010/03/11/is-narth-the-next-target/

  • Jayhuck

    Thanks for the link! Sorry – don’t know where I got the idea it was Dr Socarides

  • Fg68at

    You must have to scientifically keep faith that it is always and everytime and for everyone and in every composition bad and everyone can be changed from everything. :-) Then faith will move mountains.

  • Eddy

    Re: ‘Acting Out’.

    ‘Acting out’ means literally acting out the desires that are forbidden by the Super ego and yet desired by the Id. We thus cope with the pressure to do what we believe is wrong by giving in to the desire.

    Even if it was Nicolosi using the term, it is appropriate to use when someone does what they ‘believe is wrong by giving in to the desire.’

    Note that the definition does not state that the behavior is wrong, nor that the therapist believes it is wrong…the crux is if the individual doing the behavior believes it is wrong. Let’s not put yet another term on our politically correct censorship list needlessly.

  • Jayhuck

    Warren does not use the term and neither as far as I know do a majority of other psychologists – that Nicolosi uses the term is telling. IF the therapy being offered is gay affirmation therapy, why would the term be used at all

  • Jayhuck

    use the term when talking about about having sex with the same gender that is. That Nicolosi and NARTH stand in stark contrast to the vast majority of other psychologists on this issue is clear – let’s not pretend that that organization supports gay folks. I have no desire to censor a word – it is a perfectly good word.

  • Ann

    IF the therapy being offered is gay affirmation therapy, why would the term be used at all

    Why would an individual be in therapy regarding their sexual attractions/desires if they were content with them to begin with? Congruence and/or affirmation therapy can only proceed once the individual/personal values have been established. If an individual has conflict with and/or does not value their same gender desires or attractions, acting out on them does not bring resolve, rather only more conflict. If an individual is content and there is no struggle or conflict, then there is no reason to use the term.

  • Eddy

    LOL. I got that definition from a link courtesy of Wiki…’acting out’ is a common euphemism for a behavior that a person does, that is often a focus of their therapeutic relationship, that is in conflict with the client’s own beliefs about that behavior.

    Hence, if an individual has personal issues with eating…and they find themselves eating not in response to hunger or the fact that it’s dinnertime…they are acting out. The concept of sin does not have to be part of the picture.

    To equate the term ‘acting out’ with bias seems to be quite an overstatement. When I have time I’ll research it’s usage further.

  • Ann

    Eddy,

    Good example. The Foster Care system uses the term frequently regarding children in either residential or home care facilities. They act out their emotional feelings through unwanted behaviors – it is the only way they know to express that which cannot be articulated and work through or reasoned out – at least yet.

  • Jayhuck

    I wasn’t talking about sin, simply NARTH’s bias, their departure in belief from a majority of the psychological and scientific community, and was questioning why the term acting out would be used if the therapy being offered is gay AFFIRMATIVE. I’m assuming if they are offering that therapy it is because the client in question does not have a problem with such behavior. Perhaps I’m wrong and Nicolosi did not use it in that context but that is how I understood that part of the article.

    That NARTH is very biased is clear, whether or not the term used by one of its members in this situation indicates bias still seems to be up for debate

  • Jayhuck

    Here is the definition of acting out from Dictionary.com –

    Psychology. to give overt expression to (repressed emotions or impulses) without insightful understanding:

    Ann and Eddy – I can see why a client who might have problems with same sex sex or attractions due to their particular value system might use such a term – it just seemed odd that Nicolosi was using it in gay affirmative therapy – although, on reading the article again, I’m not entirely certain if that is what was going on

    I suppose acting out could be used anytime anyone does something against their belief system, or behaves in a way contrary to how they would like? It could be applied to heterosexual sex as well I’m assuming.

  • Eddy

    Even gay affirmative therapy ought to sometimes reckon with the fact that gay sex may be acting out. If the client suggests that they believe that ‘gay is OK’ but that promiscuity or anonymous sex is not…and then comes in and reports that they ‘had sex last night’…if that sex wasn’t with their partner, it would be ‘acting out’.

    Just like overeating, there might be the recognition of congruent behavior while at the same time recognizing that other behaviors are indeed ‘acting out’.

  • Eddy

    It could be applied to heterosexual sex as well I’m assuming.

    Most definitely! It’s not a term of bias…it simply refers to behavior that is incongruent with the client’s goals and/or beliefs re that behavior.

    In therapy, ‘acting out’ often offers some of the best therapeutic insight. “You believe this but you did this, let’s take a closer look at what led up to your ‘acting out’.” You might discover that the goal or belief isn’t really the client’s…that they are trying to live up to someone else’s expectations. You might find that their belief is compromised…that they haven’t really thought it through. Or you might find one of their emotional ‘triggers’…something that causes them to ‘act out’ and temporarily bypasses their goal and belief system.

  • Ann

    I’m assuming if they are offering that therapy it is because the client in question does not have a problem with such behavior.

    If they do not have a problem with such behavior, then there is no reason to be in therapy for it.

    That NARTH is very biased is clear, whether or not the term used by one of its members in this situation indicates bias still seems to be up for debate

    They have to be biased – just like ex-gaywatch, etal is biased – they all have a purpose and are biased according to it.

  • Ann

    I suppose acting out could be used anytime anyone does something against their belief system, or behaves in a way contrary to how they would like? It could be applied to heterosexual sex as well I’m assuming.

    Yes – this is a very good way to describe the term acting out. Sometimes the feelings and emotions are not realized or understood, as in the case of children, and acting out on them is the only way they know to express that which they feel they cannot control. With most adults it is an issue of knowing the triggers but choosing to act out on them anyway – some would call this a lack of self discipline or being selfish if it hurts another individual.

  • Jayhuck

    Ann,

    Thanks – I believe I understand now – homosexual or heterosexual sex could both be considered acting out depending on the context, the client and of course the type of therapy being utilized.

    My problem initially was in thinking that gay AFFIRMATIVE therapy was being used in conjunction with that term – if the clients who seek out NARTH are ok with being gay, want to be gay, but need a little support in that area, they obviously don’t think the behavior is wrong and I think the term acting out would be inappropriate in that instance

  • Ann

    homosexual or heterosexual sex could both be considered acting out depending on the context, the client and of course the type of therapy being utilized.

    your initial definition was right on target and can be applied to anyone, regardless of age, gender, religion, race or how they define their sexuality. Someone can be perfectly content with having same gender sex and relationships, however the conflict can be that they act out an unresolved issue by infidelity or drugs or overeating or verbal or physical abuse. The exact same thing applies to an individual content with heterosexual sex and relationships.

    My problem initially was in thinking that gay AFFIRMATIVE therapy was being used in conjunction with that term – if the clients who seek out NARTH are ok with being gay, want to be gay, but need a little support in that area, they obviously don’t think the behavior is wrong and I think the term acting out would be inappropriate in that instance

    Yes, and I would be inclined to think the term would not be used as it does not apply to an individual who is content with their sexual identity and behaviors. It would not be the reason they are in therapy. Usually people chose therapy to seek remedies for that which they deem an interference in their life and they do not value – whether it be pain or depression, self destructive behaviors (acting out), addictions, relational issues, etc.

  • Eddy

    My problem initially was in thinking that gay AFFIRMATIVE therapy was being used in conjunction with that term – if the clients who seek out NARTH are ok with being gay, want to be gay, but need a little support in that area, they obviously don’t think the behavior is wrong and I think the term acting out would be inappropriate in that instance

    My only problem with this statement is that it doesn’t seem to acknowledge that even in gay AFFIRMATIVE therapy a client may be struggling with some gay behaviors that they are trying to overcome. I cited promiscuity and anonymous sex…and could add pornography and any sex that is exploitive (Yes, just like with the heteros!). You affirm what is wholesome and is consistent with the clients beliefs and goals and examine the rest as ‘acting out’. In those circumstances, even in AFFIRMATIVE therapy, the term ‘acting out’ is entirely appropriate.

  • Daniel Batt

    Hey, cool of you to say that Eddy. There are many analogues of homosexuality, such as sickness, religion, sin, left-handedness. They all have much baggage, but in regards to psychotherapy, I think treating homosexuality as like left handedness and a little like a different religion (if you are a conservative evangelical) has much to commend itself to those who persist in thinking of the sin as being somehow objectively disorered and offensive to God.

    That means trying to acheive the best personal wholeness within the contraints you find yourself within.

  • Eddy

    Thanks, Daniel.

    About the only thing you know from the outset in a counseling setting is that the client has some form of confict…enough to motivate them to seek you out. Back in the day, I had a few who admitted from the outset that they only came to appease family or a spouse; I had some others who ‘just wanted to check us out’. Our ministry was clearly identified as Christian and our position that ‘homosexual behavior was just one of the many sins that people deal with’ was also clear in our brochure.

    But we recognized that not everyone was at the same place nor did they have the same needs or goals. Why did they come to us when our metropolitan area had a number of ‘gay Christian’ groups? If they didn’t know about them, we gave them names and how to connect with them. If they did know about them, then we’d explore what brought them to us. One client in particular stands out as a model of what I was speaking to above. He really wasn’t sure whether he believed homosexual behavior was sin but ‘he loved the night life; he loved to boogie’ and he’d find himself ‘going home’ with people ‘for the night’ not for a long-term relationship. This violated his conscience; this was against what he believed and conflicted with his goals. So that’s what we’d discuss.

    Another client also wasn’t sure what he believed about homosexual behavior per se but was aware that, for him, ‘horniness’ was tied to his emotions and sense of self-worth. He used sex with others to medicate his emotions and to bolster his ego…and then find, a very short time afterwards, that the medicating only dealt with the symptoms…his troubled emotions were waiting for him; he realized also that the ego-boost was also short-lived. My counseling goal with him was to examine both his ‘acting out’ and the times when he was tempted to ‘act out’…to weed out the wholesome motives (there were some) from the non-productive ones. I likened it in my mind to therapy re sex addiction, not judging sexuality in itself, but treating those areas that were compulsive. It may have been my wish that he’d come to the same conclusion about homosexuality that I did but my goal was to help him become free (or more aware) of the emotional responses so that he would be more able to actually choose how to handle his sexuality. A larger goal, often unspoken, was simply to keep people like him from rejecting God entirely…to keep them open-minded and open-hearted to God; that explains why I didn’t feel conflicted when I didn’t cram my own beliefs down their throats. I could trust the Holy Spirit to be the ‘convicter of sin’ rather than take that job upon myself.

  • Timothy Kincaid

    One client in particular stands out as a model of what I was speaking to above. He really wasn’t sure whether he believed homosexual behavior was sin but ‘he loved the night life; he loved to boogie’ and he’d find himself ‘going home’ with people ‘for the night’ not for a long-term relationship. This violated his conscience; this was against what he believed and conflicted with his goals. So that’s what we’d discuss

    .

    That makes a lot of sense to me. I can easily see a gay man who is religious but has an affirmative faith facing this in the same way that a straight man might. Wanting to live with a sexual ethic, seeking to keep sex meaningful and tied to commitment and relationship, but being driven by sexual need or impulse.

    A larger goal, often unspoken, was simply to keep people like him from rejecting God entirely..

    Again, good point. So very often gay people see the face of Christ only from people who are snarling at them and calling them degenerates. It should be no surprise that they aren’t so fond of Him. Having an interaction in which you don’t need to “call out sin” can go a long way towards giving a view of a different face of Christ.

  • NickC

    Getting back to Warren’s original post, and his comments on NARTH’s view of client self-determination, I’m going to re-post a comment I made on this site in 2007:

    I did weekly therapy for about two years with one of Nicolosi’s associates, David Matheson. Matheson, who I believe was also a founder of Evergreen International, has since moved off on his own, but at that time he was part of Nicolosi’s Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, CA. My sessions were mostly by phone since I lived in another state. I never met Nicolosi himself.

    Mattheson told me at one point that he had another client who had decided to identify and live as gay, but was continuing therapy with him to deal with other issues. He told me this to emphasize that he did not demand, as a precondition for therapy, that I refuse to consider returning to a gay identity.

    So yes, based on my own experience, I know that Nicolosi’s practice does offer “gay affirmative” therapy to some clients. (How truly affirmative that might be in practice, I won’t venture to guess. ) Wonder what Peter LaBarbera would make of that?

    The actual quote Warren cites from Nicolosi also rings true with my experience:

    In fact, to be honest with you we never tell our clients not to have homosexual activity. If they want to do it, let them do it. It’s up to them. Our job is to help them understand what they learned from it. When a client comes in to me and says, ‘I had gay sex last night.’ My only question to him is, ‘What was going on with you just before you decided to act out? What was your psychological state of mind that made you want…?’

    During the period I was in therapy with Matheson, I was still married and was engaging in a LOT of sexual activity with men. For most of my 26-year marriage I was faithful to my wife. It was during the last five year that I was having sexual encounters and affairs with men, and the peak of that period was the two years I was talking weekly with Matheson.

    I was completely open with Matheson about all my sexual activity, and found it a little odd that he never told confronted me about being honest with my wife. Let me be clear: he never encouraged me to conceal my activity, and my unfaithfulness and dishonesty was 100% my own responsibility. But in practice, I used the fact that I was in therapy as part of the whole deception, by making my wife believe I was dealing seriously with my sexual desires. In reality, I was coasting along in a double life, and taking some comfort in the fact that my therapist never directly challenged me to do otherwise.

    I realize that therapists need to respect client self-determination, and cannot make decisions for the client. So I don’t necessarily fault Matheson’s approach, which seems to be Nicolosi’s approach as well. But in retrospect, I can say my therapy with Matheson was no more helpful in getting me to live in accordance with the values I then professed than it was in changing my actual orientation.

  • Eddy

    Ouch! NickC, you make an excellent point.

    But in practice, I used the fact that I was in therapy as part of the whole deception, by making my wife believe I was dealing seriously with my sexual desires. In reality, I was coasting along in a double life, and taking some comfort in the fact that my therapist never directly challenged me to do otherwise.

    This is an area where I personally would have been more confrontive or directive. When I had a married client, I would bring the marriage relationship into our discussions: “You know, I realize that you need time to sort out where you’re going but you have a partner who you are compromising by your activities. We need to explore some of the dynamics at work here.”


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