“Refried Freud” — Psychoanalysis and Ex-Gay Therapy
March 30th, 2008
Beyond Ex-Gay co-founder Christine Bakke is truly a delightful woman. I got to spend a little bit of time with her again last February in Memphis during the Beyond Ex-gay Mid-South Regional Gathering. Not nearly enough time though — she was exceptionally busy putting together the art show for the weekend.
Last Friday, Christine posted a very thoughtful essay inspired by Peterson Toscano’s comments that ex-gay ministries are still depend on the developmental theories of Sigmund Freud — “Refried Freud” he called it. Which, when you think of it, means that the ex-gay movement is stuck in a very peculiar time warp. Most of their operating theories are founded on some rather ancient Freudian theories that the rest of psychology has largely abandoned.
Some of us are old enough to remember when Freudian psychoanalysis was all the rage back in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Everyone who was anyone, it seemed, was seeing an analyst. And everyone who was anyone was just as messed up after seeing their analyst as they were before. It’s no wonder that Freudian psychoanalysis has largely fallen by the wayside. As a discipline, they remained too wedded to a narrow set of untested and untestable theories, while the rest of psychology and psychiatry honed their methods and understanding over generations of research and observation, throwing out old theories when they were disproved and adopting new ones as they came along.
Meanwhile, Freudian analysts and their ex-gay therapy counterparts, undeterred by the march of time, continued to press forward with their oft-parodied opening gambit: “So now, tell me about your mother.”
Christine Bakke knows where that leads all too well:
The fishing expeditions (a friend started to believe he didn’t feel his father’s love after being badgered with, “did your father say he loved you? It doesn’t matter if you knew; did he say it? He didn’t say it? Then you didn’t really know it, did you? Of course you didn’t know it; didn’t feel it. How can a child know it if they’re not explicitly told it?” and so on) and leading questions and suggestions (one pastor’s wife suggested I make up abusive things that might have happened to me, so that I could break the curse of satan, just in case I didn’t remember specific things that might have happened to me in my life. I forcefully refused.) I was even told that sometimes women can be gay because they have not been able to grow out of the stage of penis envy.
I knew one women whose therapist gave her assignments to flirt with men. An ex-gay guy who went on several dates to try to learn how to be with a woman (without disclosing that he identified as ex-gay), on the recommendation of his therapist. A woman who was counseled by the leader of the ex-gay group that women should wear makeup (“need to put some paint on the side of the barn”). A man who changed his last name because his ex-gay therapy led him to believe that his parents were to blame for him being gay. A woman who insinuated that she had been abused because she felt like her story didn’t “fit” the ex-gay model without some kind of a root cause. A young man who said that after he got out of the ex-gay movement and was finished with reparative therapy, that’s when the real repairing began. He had to repair the relationships with his family after buying into the belief that they were distant from him and made him gay.
The American Psychological Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental disorders in 1973. In doing so, they relied on non-psychoanalyitic studies like those of Evelyn Hooker. But the American Psychoanalytical Association dismissed non-psychoanalyic studies as “superficial.” This created a strange closed-off echo chamber where evidence that ran counter to a theory was thrown out because it didn’t fit the theory. In fact, the APsyA remained hostile to homosexuality until 1991, when openly gay candidates were for the first time allowed to apply for acceptance by the APsyA.
Since then, the APsyA has begun to consider the implications of research in a whole host of mental disorders like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which today are regarded as being at least partly physiological disorders. This would have been anathema to psychoanalysts a mere generation ago. Last year, the APsyA issued a statement supporting same-sex marriage. That’s quite an improvement since 1991.
But ex-gay therapies continue to rely on the same outdated theories that once threatened to make psychoanalysis a historical footnote. While the APsyA are allowing nonpsychoanalytic research to inform their work, ex-gay ministries remain stuck firmly in the past. But the problem with relying on untested and untestable theories is that they are no more scientific than any other folk remedies or superstitions. And some of these remedies may be damaging. Christine Bakke contrasts her experience with therapists and misguided religious-based lay leaders, and concludes:
Of course, like in my case, even licensed therapists who have an ex-gay mindset and agenda can be just as damaging as the lay leaders. Sometimes I can’t decide which is worse. Counseling by a therapist we think should know the best because we think they’re the experts and we trust them more, or lay leaders who we think love us more because we are not paying them. No matter what, ex-gay counseling done by therapists or lay leaders, many poorly equipped through books, Exodus conferences, Living Waters training programs (one week long), Love Won Out day-long conferences, on-the-job training, or for some, nothing more than being ex-gay themselves, mixed with refried Freud, is a recipe for disaster.
I highly recommend you read her entire essay.