NJ Trial Reveals Bizarre Practices of ‘Ex-Gay’ Therapy

NJ Trial Reveals Bizarre Practices of ‘Ex-Gay’ Therapy June 15, 2015

There is a fraud trial going on in New Jersey against a Jewish “ex-gay” organization called JONAH over their “ex-gay” therapy sessions. The suit was filed by former clients of that therapy, who say they were lied to about its effectiveness and other things. The testimony from those clients has shown some very strange allegedly therapeutic “treatments.”

For example, Christopher Doyle, an ex-gay therapist and head of the “ex-gay pride” outlet Voice of the Voiceless, called the case the “trial of the century.” Doyle had sought to testify as an expert in defense of ex-gay therapy, but the judge disallowed such testimony, claiming it would be no more scientific than expertise on why the earth is flat. The ex-gay therapist, unsurprisingly, insists otherwise — that there is “no compelling scientific evidence that suggests gay-affirmative therapy is more effective than efforts to resolve unwanted homosexual feelings.” This ignores multiple studies showing that conversion therapy is harmful or just plain ineffective, and the fact that mainstream medical organizations recommend affirming a person’s sexuality as a best practice for professional psychologists.

What these JONAH clients experienced is at the heart of the case. They argue that these treatments were violating — that they were unfounded therapeutic practices. Doyle proceeded to defend one of these questionable methods, an exercise in which JONAH therapist Alan Downing asked plaintiff Benjamin Unger to begin stripping while staring at himself in front of a mirror. Testifying last week, Unger described how Downing stood behind him, close enough that he could feel his breathing on his neck, and put his hand on his shoulder. After taking off his shirt and undershirt, Unger explained, “Then I was told to look at my body, feel my masculinity and then I was told to go a step further which is to take my pants off.” Unger refused to take that step and said he “felt violated” by the experience.

Unger testified that he didn’t even have any body shame issues, but Doyle went so far as to characterize him as an exhibitionist. He defended the fact that after the suit was filed, Downing searched Unger’s Facebook page for pictures of him shirtless — taken years after he left JONAH’s therapy — which somehow prove, as Doyle puts it, that he “had no problem baring his half-naked body.” He’s essentially juxtaposing being in public with friends with being in a private, vulnerable setting with a much older ex-gay counselor who had admitted to Unger he still had same-sex attractions. “While this is not a mainstream technique used by licensed counselors working with clients who experience unwanted SSA,” Doyle admitted, “these practices have been used for decades in experiential healing weekends helping gay men feel better about their bodies” — a problem Unger didn’t even have…

Testifying Wednesday, Levin described one of these treatments from a retreat he attended called “New Warriors”:

It was Saturday night and we were in a room. Someone came into the room and started handing out garbage bags and said that this next process is going to be done without clothes on. So we took our clothes off and then they blindfolded us, and we were instructed to link arms, and we walked through the woods into another room.

Once we got into the room, we were able to take our blindfolds off, and there was a bunch of people standing around. There was like a — there were some — there were candles on a table, and I think they called it an initiation ceremony. There was people dancing, and there was a lot going on.

Everyone was naked, including Downing, Levin’s counselor. Several other exercises similarly involved group nudity. These exercises made Levin feel “horrible.” Levin was also subjected to the same stripping-in-front-of-the-mirror exercise as Unger, but he actually proceeded with it until he was fully nude. He was then asked, “Where is your masculinity on your body?” and asked to feel it, i.e. touch his penis and his buttocks in front of Downing. “I told myself that I wouldn’t speak about it ever,” Levin testified. “I thought that maybe if I pretended that it never happened, maybe — maybe that would be real for me.”

Other clients of such therapy have recounted similar tales from other “ex-gay” counselors not affiliated with this particular group, so this seems to be the norm. One could be forgiven for thinking that the only purpose of such exercises is for the “therapist” to get to see their clients naked.

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