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Gay Conversion Therapy Advocates, Therapists Continue Legal Battle for Legitimacy

By Dina Demetrius and Benjamin Gottlieb

Gov. Jerry Brown and Ted Lieu, author of SB1172 which bans conversion therapy in California for minors, at one of Lieu's campaign events. Credit: Neon Tommy/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Masked behind drawn blinds and a closed door, David Pickup - a licensed marriage and family therapist - assists clients who, in his words, struggle with "unwanted homosexual feelings." Pickup grappled with same sex attraction as well, and believes reparative therapy "saved" his life.

It's a controversial form of therapy, one that employs different monikers to avoid negative connotations: conversion, reorientation, "authentic" reparative, or even ex-gay therapy. But no matter how you label it, the therapy is meant to guide clients back to their "authentic" heterosexual selves.

The controversy, in fact, has developed into a legal war between a tiny vocal group of therapists and the State of California, backed by the larger medical establishment. The turf is the therapists' offices, and the battle is over the vulnerable psyches of minors who these therapists say are struggling with same-sex attraction.

Pickup believes he is helping those who struggle with their sexual orientation discover a way to shed the same-sex attraction that makes them so uncomfortable. Reparative therapists don't believe those homosexual feelings necessarily mean that their clients are gay.

A gay identity is what 36-year-old Aaron Bitzer struggled with as well. He says conversion therapy addressed his childhood wounds and helped him "de-sexualize" his feelings toward other men. Now he's studying to become a conversion therapist himself.

David Pickup described reparative therapy as "highly psycho-dynamic, deeply emotional work and techniques that heal or address, resolve the wounds that have created for some men and women the emotional issues that have caused their "homosexual feelings." He says this therapy "helps them transform their sexuality and maximize their heterosexual potential."

It's phrases like "authentic reparative therapy" and "maximize heterosexual potential" that have the vast majority of the psychiatric and psychological establishments shaking their heads.

"If there is a cure for my being Asian, then there's a cure for being gay," says Dr. Terry Gock, a clinical psychologist and former president of the American Psychological Association's Division 44, the Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues.

Since homosexuality was removed as a disorder from the DSM in 1973, a number of medical organizations have publicly discredited this type of therapy as ineffectual and potentially harmful -- particularly for children.

And that's where the California Legislature picks up the ball -- with a law signed in late September that bans the use of the reparative therapy for minors. As a result, Pickup and Bitzer recently became plaintiffs in two different lawsuits against the state to stop the ban. Those suits produced two different rulings in two different federal courts last week.

In our segment tonight, we go behind the labels to expose what conversion therapy is -- juxtaposing those who feel it's been successful for them, and those who have undergone other horrifying attempts to steer them away from being gay. Correspondent Jennifer London also discusses the result of last week's lawsuit rulings with Val Zavala.


FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post incorrectly identified Dr. Terry Gock as the former president of the American Psychological Association. The story has been updated with Gock's correct position as former president of the APA's Division 44.


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