For those outside the LGBT world the phrase conversion therapy or reparative therapy may be unfamiliar. Some may have heard about it when Michele Bachmann ran for president. Her husband ran a clinic that claimed to have success with it. More recently it has surfaced yet again. Dr. Jerry Mungadze talked about this controversial therapy on an evangelical Christian talk show. But what exactly is it, and does it work?
Conversion or reparative therapy is a type of therapy meant to change a person’s sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. The origins of attempts to “convert” people has gone back almost one hundred years. It’s based on Freud’s theories about boys identifying with their mothers. From 1952 until 1973, homosexuality was included in psychiatry’s manual of mental illnesses, the DSM. While the mainstream mental health community realizes that homosexuality is not a mental illness, there are still some who believe that people can be “cured”. Dr. Jerry Mungadze is one of them. He claims to have a specific type of conversion therapy that changes the brain so that any traces of gay are gone.
According to Mungadze’s website, he claims that he can somehow bypass the left brain and access the right brain to release those negative gay feelings. Mungadze claims that his twenty years of experience have enlightened him to a ground breaking approach towards emotional healing. His website describes it in the following way:
Because the right hemisphere of your brain accurately records any deviations naturally and reports them in symbolic language in an attempt to help correct them. However, this symbolic language is largely unknown in the clinical world. Through his years of treating clients in both his specially designed hospital programs and private practice, Dr. Jerry Mungadze has studied the effects of stress and trauma on the brain and collected and analyzed data from around the world. The result? He has cracked the code of the right hemisphere of the brain! Dr. Mungadze and his highly trained staff have come to understand the symbolic language and communication style of the right brain…
If this seems a bit confusing, perhaps a little tour into what he means by “symbolic language”. Mungadze states that his epiphany came when he found people identifying the same colors with feelings when looking at collages. When he consulted with his colleagues, they apparently noticed the same result.
While this may have seemed like an epiphany to him, this is nothing new. In fact, many interior designers use this theory when designing homes for their clients. And any good graphic designer knows that certain colors emit predictable feelings. In fact, most people understand that red represents highly charged emotions and blue represents calmer emotions. Still confused? Me too. Perhaps his appearance on an evangelical talk show might shed some light on his right brain color technique:
The real question comes from his claim that by reading how someone colors a map of the brain is a predictor of the areas of the brain that require attention. Equally perplexing is how “reading” someone’s brain map transforms or changes someone’s sexual orientation. The truth is, it can’t. Nonetheless, he claims to have unique knowledge in how to do that.
While the hostess of the show and the other guests shake their heads in wholehearted acceptance of what he’s saying, a true expert on the topic explains how it’s not possible to do this. Northwestern University researcher J. Michael Bailey has been studying the genetics of sexual orientation using twin studies for about 25 years. He’s found that male sexual orientation is something that is an inborn trait, and that there’s no evidence that it can be changed. While it’s more difficult to discern with women’s sexual orientation, the twin studies suggest it’s true, although less strongly than the males. (For a more details on one of the studies he authored, you can read it here: Genetic and Environmental Influences on Sexual Orientation and Its Correlates in an Australian Twin Sample. You can view a short video of his explanation of his findings HERE.)
In addition to there being no evidence that this therapy works, there’s consensus that conversion therapy is actually harmful. In 2009 the New York Times reported that the American Psychological Association undertook a project whereby they reviewed 83 studies of sexual orientation change therapy. Not only did they find that the therapy was wholly ineffective, but that the efforts could lead to increased depression and suicide. In addition to the APA, all the major mental health associations agreed with the findings, making statements that its members should not engage in this therapy. California has even passed a law banning the use of this therapy by providers in the state. While the law is being challenged in court, and as of April an appeals court has put the law on hold, it still illustrates how important this issue is.
So it seems, yet again, there are evangelical Christians who insist that they are trying to help gays be something they’re not. Despite evidence to the contrary and evidence that it’s actually harmful, there are some who refuse to believe that being gay is not something that you choose. You can’t turn it on and off like a light switch. You can’t unlearn it as if you were programmed to think that way. And you certainly can’t pray it away, as if it will magically disappear if you pray hard enough. Members of the LGBT community already have a hard time dealing with coming out to their loved ones, not sure how they will react. They don’t need to be told that it’s unnatural or wrong. The fact is it’s innate, and as natural as heterosexual sex. Denying who you are destroys a person’s very sense of who they are down to their very core. Real counselors help people to deal with their challenges. They don’t challenge who people are.