Exodus Co-Founder: “There Were No Real Standards For Training Or Methodology”

A multi-part video interview series with Michael Bussee, co-founder of Exodus International turned critic.

Daniel Gonzales

June 29th, 2010

Even today Exodus ministries are somewhat of a free-for-all.  Operating under the guise of “pastoral counseling” lay ministry leaders at Exodus programs are free to engage in pseudo-therapy as well as a slew of religious exercises from distributing testimonials at gay bars to exorcisms.

In today’s video Exodus International co-founder Michael Bussee explains that at the time of Exodus’ founding he had the most formal mental health training of anyone in the organization… he was in a masters program.  Bussee admits his program at Exodus was successful at creating a safe, confidential, therapeutic environment but he never successfully found the secret to making people straight.

Lastly, Bussee details what he believed went on at Exodus’ various other member ministries across the country.

[full transcript after the jump]

I’m Michael Bussee, I’m one of the original co-founders of Exodus International. I left the program in 1979 and have since reconciled my spirituality and my sexuality and now I’m a vocal critic of reparative therapy programs and of Exodus International.

[music begins]

[title: “There Were No Real Standards For Training Or Methodology”]

[voice of interviewer:] So if I showed up at and Exodus program in the early days, what did the actual program consist of? What did I do that would make me straight?

That would have varied tremendously depending on which Exodus program you went to. When Exodus started in ’76 there were just a handful of ministries, one in Northern California, one in San Diego, one in Minneapolis, one in Texas… just this handful of ministries and their methods would have varied tremendously.

I think ours in Anaheim (CA) was probably the most psychologically oriented because I was completing my masters program at the time and I was every week bringing back therapeutic methods and therapeutic techniques that I had learned in class and trying them out on the people who were coming to the program.

So we did things like reflective listening, we did psychodrama where we reenacted painful episodes from our childhood. We employed a variety of methods a lot of Bible study, a lot of prayer, a lot of group discussion, role playing situations, how to resist temptation, what to do if you were hit on.

So we used psychodrama, we used some Gestalt methods, we used some Rogerian reflective listening, a lot of prayer, a lot of Bible study, but what you would have gotten if you had gone to another program… anybody’s guess.

You’ve got to keep in mind these ministries often were no more really than one person with a printed testimony and a post office box. Some of them didn’t have a program, they didn’t have a group, they weren’t doing therapy, they certainly didn’t… I think at that time I was the one with the most psychological training and I hadn’t even completed a masters program. And I was even discouraged from doing that, I was told by church leaders that psychology was anti-Christ and that I shouldn’t major in psychology. But the things I was learning about confidentiality and about open ended questions and therapeutic boundaries, all of that was very helpful so I think we did pretty good therapy, we were pretty good support. We couldn’t come up with any methods that actually helped people become straight, we thought God would do that part. That if we provided that sort of safe therapeutic environment that God would do the changing, we didn’t have any specific methods or tricks that we had discovered to help people become heterosexual.

The other programs really though, may have been nothing more than a printed testimony and a post office box. At the time that I met Frank Worthen at that time he had been doing his Brother Frank ministry for some time and what he had been doing was just passing out his printed testimony at the gay bars he used to go to – That was his ministry, street preaching.

And the Love In Action group began as a small bible study in the back of a Christian bookstore up in Northern California.

Greg Reid [Gregory R. Reid] had a ministry in Texas called EAGLE which stood for Ex Active Gay Liberated Eternally… EAGLE. [Note to readers, “Eagle” is a name of a chain of gay bars, nearly every major city in the US has an Eagle.] And he did individual counseling and lead some groups, certainly didn’t have any psychological training. After he left Exodus I understand he went into a ministry for people who believed they had experienced ritual Satanic abuse as a child and that was his new ministry.

Outpost was one of the founding in Minneapolis and they were comprised of a woman, Robbi Kenney, who had been jilted by a gay boyfriend and a couple of exgay guys… and I don’t know what they did, I had the feeling from our discussions that a lot of us used similar techniques.

Some of the programs are much more oriented towards deliverance and healing of memories. Healing of memories was a big thing then, taking people back through visualizations to identify those moments that might have “turned them gay.” Having them re-live the pain of it, only this time imagining Jesus in the midst of it, so if they had been victims of childhood sexual abuse, imagining Jesus intervening, picturing themselves as a little child again and imagining Jesus intervening to protect them. If they had been rejected by their parents, imagining Jesus scooping them up in his arms.

There were prayers for deliverance. Melodyland was big on deliverance so there were… I always found it distasteful but I remember watching exorcisms done by some of the pastors at our church with some of our members… I never really quite believed in that, it seemed very traumatic and I could tell you by the time they got back to the group the next Tuesday they were just as gay as before they had the exorcism. So I never put any faith in that.

But you would have experienced a variety of approaches depending on where you went.

I think even now there’s no consistency we [Exodus] call ourselves a “loose knit coalition of ministries.” There were no real standards for training or for methodology which is also one of my major criticisms of Exodus to this day.

[closing credits]

justsearching

June 29th, 2010

If you don’t know where you are going, any road will take you there.

Urmensch

July 2nd, 2010

I have heard that when Micheal Bussee and the other co-founder left Exodus they did so with a lot of money.

Is this true?

If this is so then it would be like someone who becomes rich through dealing drugs and consequently ruining lives giving up the drug-dealing but keeping the ill-gotten gains.

Perhaps this is not the true, but I thought that in the interests of transparency it would good to know the truth of the matter.

Jim Burroway

July 2nd, 2010

Urmensch.

That is an unfounded rumor and is completely false. Bussee and Cooper were volunteers, not professionals. They didn’t earn a living off of ex-gay therapy, let alone leave “with a lot of money.”

Moreso, I think the assumption that it is only about the money to be completely wrong and dangerous. I’ve personally met several ex-gay leaders. None of them are wealthy, and the vast majority of them are so deeply committed to what they are doing that they would do it even if it didn’t pay them a red cent. The vast majority are volunteers.

Dismissing them as only being after the money dangerously and foolishly underestimates their commitment to their cause. They are true believers, and they won’t let the lack of money get in their way.

Urmensch

July 2nd, 2010

Thank you for clearing that up Jim. I had never thought it might be the case up until recently when someone elsewhere said so.
I thought that as I had been following the video interview here it might be the best place to ask.

Your last point is more in accord with what I had thought myself. Namely that they are mainly gay people with a great burden of shame and guilt from their upbringing who found it hard to accept themselves and believed they could change.

Michael Bussee

July 2nd, 2010

Urmensch:

While with Exodus, I worked primarilry as a volunteer. There were no “paid” positions at that time. I attended college and loaded trucks at a nearby healthfood warehouse.

My parents helped some with books and tuition. Before our baby was born, my wife worked part-time at Del Taco. We lived in a single-wide trailer in Anaheim and shopped at a foodbank sponsored by the church.

Occasionally, my wife and I would recieve a small “love offering” from a church member because we had a young child. I left Exodus with no money and no job — the church would not keep an openly gay staff member.

It was only after I left Exodus and began work as a student intern that I began to make a real salary. In the years since I left Exodus, even with the a degree, I have never made more than $50,000 a year. Master’s level therapists don’t make much money in this economy. :)

Hope this puts the rumor to rest.

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