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Has the Ontario District Branch of the APA completely lost its mind?

Timothy Kincaid

April 6th, 2010

Psychiatrists in Canada received the following invitation:

Dear Colleague:
As you may know sexuality is a ‘hot’ issue in the DSM V revision process. At one time, so was homosexuality. Do our attitudes change with science? Do come, and participate in a stimulating evening.

Topic: Should Homosexuals Be Treated with Psychotherapy?
Speaker: Dr. Joseph Berger, FRCPC, DLFAPA
Date/Time: Thursday, May 13, 2010, 7 – 9:30 p.m.
Location: TARTU College Main Floor/Masters Buffeteria
310 Bloor Street West
(1 block east of Spadina) at corner of Madison & Bloor
416-924-7651
There is street and lot parking on Bloor St and also Spadina Rd and side streets North of Bloor; subway 1 block from venue
Learning Objectives: At the end of this session, participants will:

1. be better able to distinguish between scientific evidence and media propaganda, personal beliefs, and organization – however prestigious – position statements.
2. understand the difference between voluntarily undertaken insight-oriented psychodynamic psychotherapy and past attempts at aversion or conversion so-called ‘therapies’.
3. be able to acknowledge that homosexual people can have emotional problems and conflicts and psychosomatic symptoms as can any other human being and be similarly fully deserving of psychotherapeutic treatment.

“This event is an accredited group learning activity (Section 1) as defined by the Maintenance of Certification Program of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, approved by the Canadian Psychiatric Association.”

Wait! What?

You mean that the Ontario Branch of the APA is hosting NARTH member Joseph Berger to discuss whether gay people should be subjected to psychotherapy? What kind of crazy is that?

Here is the letter I sent to the local head of the APA:

Mr. Sommers,

I am a bit perplexed at the decision of the Ontario District Branch of the APA to sponsor a presentation by Dr. Joseph Berger. And I am even more startled at the seminar’s Learning Objectives.

Perhaps you are unaware of Dr. Berger’s reputation and affiliation. Although Berger has served as ODBAPA’s president in the past, he is better known as an anti-gay activist and participant with NARTH, an organization that is hostile to the APA and it’s official positions on sexual orientation.

I am greatly concerned that Dr. Berger will be presented as an authority on distinguishing between scientific evidence and propaganda. As part of his association with NARTH, Berger has for many years been engaging in anti-gay propaganda that is in direct opposition to scientific evidence.

NARTH has repeatedly been criticized by study authors and researchers for misstating, twisting, and in some cases fraudulently claiming the opposite of their conclusions. Most of the mental heath profession recognizes NARTH to be primarily an anti-gay political advocacy organization invested heavily in propaganda.

Their latest endeavor was to send out propaganda to school principals (under the alter-ego American College of Pediatricians) in which they distort legitimate research in order to make outrageous claims about gay people (e.g. “more likely to suffer from a host of negative outcomes including psychiatric disorders, domestic violence and sexual assault, and increased risk for chronic diseases, AIDS and shortened life spans”), claim that reparative therapy is effective (“individuals with unwanted same sex attraction often can be successfully treated”), and advocate for principals to deny same-sex attracted youth from access to support systems. These are all in direct opposition to stated positions of the APA.

And Dr. Berger is still closely alligned with this organization. He sits on their Scientific Advisory Committee and as recently as November he contributed an article to their site. His premise was 1) removing homosexuality from the DSM was a political decision rather than based on science, 2) the APA is persecuting those who wish to perform ex-gay therapy, and 3) that the decision by the APA to endorse the legalization of same-sex marriage was not handled to his satisfaction.

Further, Berger is not a moderate member of the anti-gay community. His differences with the APA are not mild or limited to perspective or opinion. He advocates for treatment that is far beyond the norm and which may well be in violation of professional ethics. In 2006, Berger wrote an article on the NARTH website in which he addressed the appropriate way to treat gender non-conforming children:

I suggest, indeed, letting children who wish go to school in clothes of the opposite sex – but not counseling other children to not tease them or hurt their feelings.

On the contrary, don’t interfere, and let the other children ridicule the child who has lost that clear boundary between play-acting at home and the reality needs of the outside world.

Maybe, in this way, the child will re-establish that necessary boundary.

This was of sufficient concern to merit an article in the Los Angeles Times.

But it is not just the specific selection of Dr. Berger or his extremely unorthodox proposals. It is the very premise of the presentation, “Should Homosexuals Be Treated with Psychotherapy?”

This is extremely offensive. It is akin to pondering such things as “Should races be kept segregated?” or “Should cancer be treated with leaches?” Such questions are not only outdated, but contrary to decency and they should not be awarded credibility by professional organizations.

I look forward to hearing your response explaining your decision to lend the name of the ODBAPA to Dr. Berger’s views on curing homosexuals. I’ll be sharing them with the readership of Box Turtle Bulletin.

Should he choose to respond, I’ll be sure to let you know exactly what Sommers intended by this presentation.

Comments

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penguinsaur
April 6th, 2010 | LINK

“be better able to distinguish between scientific evidence and media propaganda, personal beliefs, and organization – however prestigious – position statements.”

AKA: Anything that can’t be used as an excuse to claim homosexuals are sick, disgusting freaks and who can and should choose to be straight will be written off as ‘media propaganda, personal beliefs and organization position statements’

I love the snide bit at the end about ‘position statements’, implying that all the groups who don’t hate gays aren’t basing their positions on scientific evidence.

Paul in Canada
April 6th, 2010 | LINK

I’ve FB’d this and asked anyone and everyone in Toronto to picket this event! WTF

Ray
April 6th, 2010 | LINK

The better title of the meeting should be “Can NARTH’s model of pathologizing homosexuality increase the income of mental health professionals and develop lifelong clients who question every relationship so they will cling to the counselor for support and pay the counselor handsomely?”

Ray
April 6th, 2010 | LINK

Or this title: “Doesn’t Canada’s healthcare system pay great for any problem mental health counselors can create by taking happy gay people and turning them into anxious, guilt-ridden, sobbing basket cases?”

Boo
April 7th, 2010 | LINK

Canada seems to attract a number of bigoted whackaloons in the mental health field- Aubrey Levin, J Phillipe Rushton, Kenneth Zucker and the CAMH crew, etc. Berger’s views on gender variant children aren’t too far removed from Zucker’s.

TampaZeke
April 7th, 2010 | LINK

Welcome to Stephen Harper’s Tory Canada.

Just as the eight years of the Bush administration brought the bigots out from hiding in the shadows and into the “mainstream”, so has been the result of a Tory led Canada.

justsearching
April 7th, 2010 | LINK

I’m all for free speech, but I’m certainly not for a respected institution giving a respected platform to nutty ideas like this.

At the end of the session, the participants will
1. be exposed to NARTH’s vile set of propaganda and personal beliefs
2. be able to ungayify those miserable gay people
3. learn just how miserable those miserable gay people are

Odds of this being canceled anyone?

Alex
April 7th, 2010 | LINK

I’m a bit surprised that there is even an Ontario branch of the APA at all – the APA is an American organization and it’s the Canadian Psychological Association that really oversees the Canadian mental health community.

Some googling seems to confirm that the ODBAPA does kinda-sorta exist, but it’s not an important or sizable group. As far as I can tell, it could just be one guy (the only contact information is for a residential address in a Toronto suburb).

Paul in Canada
April 7th, 2010 | LINK

In Canada, especially in Ontario, there seems to be a bi-lateral arrangement on many issues and with many organizations. This is due in part because of ‘border-sharing’ as in tri-state/Canadian surveillance systems for disease, border security and often, professional organizations that share/cooperate in issues of common concern. Ontario is not a ‘branch’ of APA, but an associate, non-voting member.

Tim
April 7th, 2010 | LINK

Wow. Fantastic letter, Timothy! I really love you right about now. I can’t imagine that they won’t respond in some fashion.

BTW, didn’t anyone take a good look at Learning Objective 3? The attendees need to be taught that gay people have emotions like real human beings and are deserving of psychotherapy like regular people. Hopefully, they’ll inform the audience that when you prick a gay person, he bleeds.

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