Judge Rules for Victims of ‘Reversion’ Therapy

Judge Rules for Victims of ‘Reversion’ Therapy June 13, 2014

In a very important case, a state judge in New Jersey has ruled that the plaintiffs in a case filed against an organization that performs “reversion therapy” to convert gay people to straight people can recover treble damages under that state’s laws against fraud.

A judge has ruled that a New Jersey conversion therapy organization is potentially liable for the costs to repair the damage it inflicted on four young people by using dangerous and discredited efforts it claimed can convert people from gay to straight.

New Jersey Superior Court Judge Peter F. Bariso Jr. ruled today that Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing (JONAH) and its co-defendants may be liable for three times the amounts the four men paid for subsequent, legitimate therapy to repair the psychological damage caused by JONAH’s conversion therapy program. JONAH’s program included nude sessions with counselors and “father-son holding.”

“These self-proclaimed experts inflicted grave damage upon our clients, who believed JONAH’s claims that it could ‘cure’ them of being gay,” said David Dinielli, SPLC deputy legal director. “These young men were left with guilt, shame and frustration. No amount of money can fix the damage JONAH caused, but recognizing that JONAH can be held accountable for the cost of repairing that damage is an important step.”

The court rejected JONAH’s motion seeking to limit its liability. In its ruling, the court held that costs for legitimate therapy to repair damage caused by conversion therapy constitute an “ascertainable loss,” a prerequisite to seeking damages under New Jersey’s Consumer Fraud Act. The court also ruled that such costs can be recovered as “damages sustained” under the CFA, potentially allowing the SPLC’s clients to recoup three times the costs they incurred.

The type of services offered by JONAH – known as conversion therapy – have been discredited or highly criticized by all major American medical, psychiatric, psychological and professional counseling organizations.

Reversion therapy is fraud. It should be treated as such.

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  • Good. I hope more quack medicine gets held to the same standard.

    Also: cue Religious Persecution Complex in 3… 2… 1…

  • John Pieret

    What? The Texas Republican party is encouraging fraud?

    Come to think of it that’s no great surprise!

  • Crimson Clupeidae

    Well, no wonder. They were jews using reversion therapy. If they had used jesus instead, it would have all been kosher.

    …so to speak.

  • The techniques used at JONAH range from the absurd to the misogynistic:

    Customers of JONAH’s services typically paid a minimum of $100 for weekly individual counseling sessions and another $60 for group therapy sessions. The lawsuit describes sessions that involved clients undressing in front of a mirror and even a group session where young men were instructed to remove their clothing and stand naked in a circle with the counselor, Downing, who was also undressed. Another session involved a subject attempting to wrestle away two oranges – used to represent testicles – from another individual.

    Downing and other JONAH counselors also used techniques that left clients alienated from their families. These techniques encouraged clients to blame their parents for being gay, going so far as to have clients participate in violent role play exercises where they beat effigies of their mothers.

  • Tony! The Fucking Queer Shoop sure, it sounds odd, but on the other hand, free oranges.

  • OldEd

    Excuse me…. but it seems to me that there is more going on here than is stated. JONAH seems to have been practicing psychology or psychiatry. They fucked up the four young men, which required them to seek PROFESSIONAL counseling to repair the damage, or at least ameliorate it.

    Hasn’t JONAH been “practicing” psychology and/or psychiatry themselves? Are they professionally qualified to do so? If they are, then it seems to me that they are open to action and/or censure by the appropriate professional organization for gross misconduct. And probably either a large increase in their professional insurance rate, or loss of coverage altogether. This assumes, of course, that they ever HAD insurance..

    If, on the other hand, JONAH is NOT qualified by the appropriate standards or whatever, then they are practicing WITHOUT A LICENSE, which, in New York, and other states, as far as I know, IS AGAINST THE LAW, and they are thus exposed to criminal charges – felony charges…

    I await further news on this matter – like maybe from the State Attorney General’s office.

  • D’oh, John Pieret @ 2 beat me to it…

  • Ichthyic


    My guess would be that JONAH is registered as simply a business, like a massage therapist, that does not require a medical license in NY.

    this ruling, however, suggests that the state will likely need to revamp the classification of this kind of business, where a standard business license no longer applies.

    that, effectively, would end this practice. I hope NY realizes this and modifies the necessary statutes.

  • Ichthyic

    er, New Jersey. though, NY probably has the same issues.

  • OldEd:

    If, on the other hand, JONAH is NOT qualified by the appropriate standards or whatever, then they are practicing WITHOUT A LICENSE, which, in New York, and other states, as far as I know, IS AGAINST THE LAW, and they are thus exposed to criminal charges – felony charges…

    I believe New York requires a license to provide mental health counseling, but plenty of states don’t require a license. They merely prohibit the practice of counseling while falsely representing oneself as holding a license or using a title reserved for a licensed profession. Where actual practice rather than title is regulated, there are exemptions. For example, it appears that New Jersey exempts:

    The activities, services, titles and descriptions of persons employed as professionals or volunteers in the practice of counseling or rehabilitation counseling for public or private nonprofit organizations or charities.

    It’s possible that JONAH counselors operate under this exemption.

  • bmiller

    OldE: Good points all. MY only caveat though it seems like a lot of these professions are questionable at best. s MOST psychiatry is based on fluff and woo, despite attempts to provide a veneer of SCIENCE! (TM). Should every active boy, for example, be drugged into passivity?

  • John Pieret

    OldEd @ 6:

    It looks like JONAH doesn’t hold itself out as psychologists/psychiatrists:

    JONAH maintains a global referral list of therapists, both for in-person therapy and for phone therapy. Therefore JONAH is always seeking therapists who agree with and are skilled in reparative and directive therapy and will adopt the gender affirming healing processes advocated by JONAH.


    They seem to categorize themselves as spiritual counselors and a clearing house for information for those who want to change their same sex attraction. There is a lot of room for misrepresentation there and that may have played a role in this decision but it probably enabled them to avoid any medical licensing issues.

  • martinc

    So let me get this straight (ahem): guys getting naked and trying to wrestle oranges from each other is a way of encouraging them to be NOT gay?

  • OldEd

    Re: various comments on my comment.

    Yes, the law ijn NJ probably differs from that in NY, and there is possibly no Federal law which covers the situation. And if, as is suggested, the JONAH organization simply provides references to supposedly licensed professionals, then the JONAH organization could claim to not be at fault – passing the buck to the people that they referred the patient to “in all good faith”. (Double entendre NOT intended.)

    However, that is NOT what the Judge said: he held JONAH responsible for the damage done to the patients, and imposed triple damages on JONAH. This suggests to me that there is some sort of licensing of the sort of counselors that JONAH claims to be, and that they fall under some sort of regulation. If they didn’t, then the Judge, while he may have disapproved of what JONAH did, couldn’t hold them liable…

    Of course, my logic may be faulty, but, if it is, howcum they have to fork over the gelt?

  • moebius2778

    @14, I think you’re misunderstanding the situation.

    First, from what I can tell, Jonah does more than provide references – they appear to provide counseling services, as well.

    Second, the judge didn’t rule that JONAH has to pay for the repair costs, the judge ruled that JONAH “is potentially liable for the costs”. There’s going to be a jury trial at some point in time. This decision was made based on whether the repair costs are “ascertainable costs” or not. From what I can tell, this was decided based on whether or not the costs were ‘in domain’ or not – in this case, both JONAH’s conversion therapy and the resulting repair therapy were judged to be in the domain of mental/emotional health, and thus the repair costs were “ascertainable costs” as well.

  • John Pieret

    OldEd @ 14:

    I was probably not clear. I was only answering your question about whether JONAH had to be either practicing psychiatry/psychology (and therefore subject to having their licenses pulled) or else charged with the felony of practicing medicine without a license. The answer is and can be “neither.” A business can offer “spiritual counseling,” “life coach” services, and a plethora of other such things without holding itself out as psychiatrists and/or psychologists and my point was that JONAH appeared not to be so representing themselves.

    On the other hand, JONAH cannot avoid the consequences of what IT did, simply because it didn’t hold itself out as psychiatrists and/or psychologists if, as the suit claims, what it did was fraudulent. Even if it can shift some of the blame to the therapists they recommended (if they sue them as third parties … and wouldn’t we like THAT!), it is still liable for its own fraudulent acts.

  • @OldEd,

    However, that is NOT what the Judge said: he held JONAH responsible for the damage done to the patients, and imposed triple damages on JONAH. This suggests to me that there is some sort of licensing of the sort of counselors that JONAH claims to be, and that they fall under some sort of regulation. If they didn’t,

    “Some sort of regulation” in this case was NJ’s Consumer Fraud Act. That’s the regulation JONAH fell under. Getting sued under the Consumer Fraud Act doesn’t imply that the defendent must have also been regulated by a NJ professional licensing body. From a legal standpoint, the noteworthy part of the story is that the plaintiffs were permitted to sue under the Consumer Fraud Act. Why does that matter? Because JONAH could not be sued for malpractice because they ARE NOT subject to regulation by any professional practice licensing body. Furthermore, if the state licensing bodies had the power to discipline JONAH, they would have. In cases of counselors exempt from governance by licensing authorities, the licensing boards are helpless to intervene.

    I’m an Illinois Licensed Clinical Psychologist for over 20 years, In my training, and over the years since, I’ve taken many ethics/law classes. We study regulation, cases and sanctions in our state, as well as the range of licensing and practice regulations in other states. I understand that you’re attached to your own analysis of the situation with JONAH, but it’s clear that that you don’t understand the scope and limits of licensing bodies for mental health professions. I don’t keep up with every state, but I know what to look for when I have a question about a particular case in a particular state.

    I looked up the NJ statutes, and under NJ law, JONAH is, at a minimum, EXEMPT from governance by professional licensing bodies because they are a non-profit organization. I quoted the statute for you in the previous post.

  • John at 16 is correct, but I would add that some states have a broad prohibition on counseling and therapies addressing behavioral or emotional change or recognized mental disorders, essentially ruling out much non-licensed practice.Many of these states list specific exemptions from the restrictions (e.g. peer counseling, AA type groups, those working for non-profits (as in NJ), clergy) The specific restrictions on title, practice and regulatory authority vary from state to state. I did not read NY’s entire law, but it appears to me that JONAH might not be able to operate there, while NJ leaves lots of room. I’m not saying you said anything incorrect, in fact, the point about the assortment of counselors and advisors who fall outside any regulation in any states is an important point. But JONAH uses words like “clinical” in it’s promotional materials, so it may be that they are using NJ’s non-profit exemption, which clearly applies to them.

  • John @12 and 16,

    I just want to be clear that if it came off as suggesting you were wrong, that’s not my intention. You’re point about wiggle room based on how one holds oneself out to the public is critical. There are lost of ways to skirt professional regulation based on how the counselor represents what they’re doing. Then there are outright exemptions and complete non-regulation outside of titles. As for responsibilities of therapists JONAH refer to, the same conditions apply. Some may not be subject to regulation based on how they hold themselves out in their jurisdiction. Every state is different. For example, in some states use of the word therapist is regulated; in others it is not regulated.

    I any case, it appears that you’re the only commenter on this subject who actually understands professional regulation in mental health.

  • Dr X “I any case, it appears that you’re the only commenter on this subject who actually understands professional regulation in mental health.”

    *Ahem*. I am the editor-in-chief of Professional Regulation in Mental Health Monthly. Our swimsuit issue is really quite disappointing.

  • OldEd

    Okay, I stand corrected as to the matter of licensing of mental health “professionals” – there is little to none, apparently, and what there is varies from state to state, and possibly from business card to business card.

    What a ghastly situation.

    As far as the damages that JONAH may be liable for: Okay – the judge ruled that the plaintiffs have a case, and that they may try to get triple damages. Under the Consumer Fraud Act in NJ.

    Another ghastly situation.

    The young men apparently did suffer harm, which had to be “repaired” by other “professionals”. The latter in quotes because there seems to be, at the minimum, a very loose set of standards as to what comprises a “mental health professional”. My apologies to those in this discussion who are professionally qualified and licensed and (I hope) insured and…

    HOWEVER!!! If all the caveats I have been hit over the head with are valid, then the poor jerks will have a dicey time getting reparations: depending on the area and the jurors… Homophobic and anti-Semitic are two qualities I’d look out for in a jury, as well as “anti-mental-health”, lacking a nice short term for it.

    All of which leads me to believe that my initial reaction to the mental health folks is correct: they are practicing witch-craft, and have to do a lot more practicing before they get it right, and that I greatly prefer that they not do their practicing on me and mine.