Jonathan Wolfman's Blog
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MAY 31, 2012 7:00AM

Punishing The Fraud Who Championed 'Gay Reparative Therapy'

Rate: 34 Flag




  Dr. Robert Spitzer


     I find that, somewhat to my surprise, I am in favor of demeaning, lasting  punishment for people who have deliberately used their training, expertise, and position over time to bully and harm. I find, too, that I am for this even for those closer than most to  life's end and even when they appear to repent. (I know I am a bad person.)

     Such a one is the renown psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, now eighty. Ten years after publishing what he now admits he knew at the time was a deeply scientifically flawed effort, Dr, Spitzer has apologized for what was by many, considered a ground-breaking study of homosexual men. His fudged data  -- published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, spurred on and legitimated a nationwide pseudo-scientific cottage industry for the hateful, lunatic Religious Right. Dr. Spitzer's work was nearly universally-read among practitioners. He alleged that gay men could, through concentrated psychotherapy, throw over their sexual-orientation and, were patients to work very hard at it, enjoy Better Living Through Heterosexuality.

     The doctor has written an apology in the form of a letter to the editor of Archives. In it he says that, according to the New York Times, "he had no way of knowing whether the patients who said they had changed were deceiving themselves, lying, or reporting accurately." He went on to say that the claims he made were, in fact, "unproven" about what has come to be called reparative therapy.

     The 'Times' reports that Dr. Spitzer's study lacked a control-group and that his subjects had largely been recommended to him by other quacks who had been engaged in this kind of faux-therapy for some time.  The doctor's letter apologizes for any harm that may have, he says, resulted from his work.

     That harm he caused, in fact, includes having led many to serious "depression and suicidal...behavior."

     For far too many this apology sounds and is sickeningly hollow, for the fact remains that the enemies of thoroughgoing civil rights for LGBT citizens have used and continue to use Dr. Spitzer's work to justify their inane claim that gay sexual-orientation is a (poorly) chosen lifestyle and, therefore, all manner of vicious discrimination under law is justified. The 'Times' refers to Dr. Spitzer as a longtime "towering figure" in American psychiatry and that, given the man's enormous influence, was true. The tower's now crumbled yet the evil he has done continues to subvert lives.

     As I've admitted, I'm a bad person: in a lesser moment I'd have no trouble referring the disgraced man, even at eighty, to the care of Lisbeth Salander, my Dragon Tatooed sweetheart, for some exquisitely permanent and painfully appropriate ink.




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In this case, a letter of apology, in my opinion, while it might be sincerely written, doesn't eeven begin to redress the harm done.
What a fraud, he really should lose his tenure, license, etc... What a piece of shit!
Ray I do hope they pull his license, even if he plans never to counsel anyone again.
There's no way for me to express my disgust and revulsion at those who cause cascading ripples of evil for their own aggrandizement or gain. What kind of monster does these things to other humans and teaches others to do them? What kind of monster hates another person just because they're gay or appear different? Don't they understand other humans have feelings?

Perhaps as he approaches death he's been studying near death experiences and come accross accounts of life review in those who were dead a long time before being revived. If the NDE accounts are correct, I can only imagine what it would be like to personally feel the joy and pain you caused others as you pass if you caused suffering in many. If everyone has that experience this man is going to have an agonizing experience as he leaves this world.
L'H I am betting that, at the outset, he tht he could do good...and when he realized that his presuppositions were as idiotic as they were, he then decided to commit the fraud...and that negates, for the reasons you say so well, any intended good he may ever have felt.
Jon, so much for all of the gurus who sell product. Generations of human beings are subjected to the views of a few. We could extend this to religion and all sorts of pediatric and diet "engineers".
Sometimes public shame is enough punishment. It is hard to spend the rest of one's life apologizing.

@ Chicken are doing your best today to destroy me.
Cutting off peepee (s) indeed! :)
Ande Matt is a man of few and pointed... ... ...words.

I had not tht of the other types of frauds you bring up here as I wrote this tho, of course, you're spot on, friend.
JW, you're right that it provides no redress but it's still a better late than never reversal. It may help quash the silly notion that at some point in our lives we weigh factors and decide to be hetero, homo or something in between.
Abra and yet that he waited as long as he did, that the "study" had a life of its own for as long as it did, will allow the right wing quacks to say that he now somehow succumbed to social/professional pressure and they'll continue to use his fraudulence to further their own aims
apologies do not undo the wrong and Dr. Spitzer's apology reeks with the ridiculous assertion that he had no way of knowing if the statements of the patients interviewed were true, coerssed or in anyway verified so the entire study was, in the clinical terms "shit" but he published it, lectured on it, influenced the early DSMs in listing homosexuality as a disorder. If his conscience and morality are intact, he needs to devote his time to confronting any who quote or refer to him in this miscarriage. it takes refutation not a simple "oops".
kenneth 100% right thank you
Yeah. From my viewpoint forgiving Spitzer because he FINALLY reversed himself is about as likely as me forgiving Dr. Mengele if he apologized today.

Far as I'm concerned I'll think about forgiveness right after he is tried for murder for all of the suicides he directly caused and the assaults & murders he enabled.

When you warp your professional knowledge to help the monsters, instead of fighting them, then you deserve no forgiveness, just utter scorn and contempt.
Amy Dante said it's far worse to rot than to burn in Hell. This bum should rot.
first i heard of this...what a piece of shit this dude is....
spose he'd give me a lobotomy for being left-handed,too.....sheesh...
What a subhuman! Sorry doesn't cut it here.
Jonathan, I have actually already started a piece regarding this incident. I refer to Dr. Spitzer sort of anecdotally, but I think you're being too hard on the man. It is, in fact, not him that caused the direct harm, but those who seized on this information in a moment of exultation that they could "pray away the gay" so to speak, based on his published work.

That said, I feel that he should have known better than to publish this study in the first place. Considering that he qualified his original work as "preliminary" and he cautioned that, in his estimation, the potential "success" rate was going to be abysmally small, based on most current studies of therapy sessions with homosexual men in psychiatric and psychological treatment in the first place.

I agree that the apology doesn't even begin to redress the harm caused, but you cannot so easily lay the blame only at Dr. Spitzer's feet. While guilty of science 'fraud' to some degree, it really comes down to this: we need an apology and restitution in some form from all the Gay Reparative Therapy "clinic" operators who simply took this flawed finding and ran with it. They ran with it in their own dark corners of already self-justified homophobia to push back against common sense and objective data that was already out there; and against simple human decency and compassion.

Once again, at the forefront of the wave of harm, we see intolerant attitudes and hateful practices coming from our tried and true sources of misery -- religion and it's inflexible, unloving and negative application of Jesus' teachings, as warped and codified from a fearful outlook on the world.

You can't lay that at Dr. Spitzer's feet. In all honesty, Gay Reparative Therapy was already ongoing when Dr. Spitzer published his seriously undermined paper. In fact, it was the fault and responsibility of the Ex-Gay Movement in these "therapy centers" for 'cherry picking' the subjects of Dr. Spitzer's study, who provided only the names of supposed "success" story candidates, offered no control group and failed to provide any data that might contraindicate their hopes for validation.

The only thing I can really hold Dr. Sptizer to account is that of hubris. While that's still a decent chunk of responsibility as a doctor and a scientist, the medical and psychiatric community at large hold as much responsibility for not immediately vetting this study and, through peer review and study, either cancel it's power or properly validate the study.

That it took a little over nine years is just as much the fault of the medical community for this travesty of failure of the scientific method -- all because Dr. Spitzer was the "go to" guy for what got included in the Psychiatric Manual of Diagnoses and Recommended Treatments. In short, his stature in the community made others fearful to question his study. That is a failure of the review proces in science, holding higher a reputation than the actual work done.

That certainly isn't Dr. Spitzer's fault.

I do hold him accountable, but not as fully as do you. I think, like any apology, it must also be met with some action on his part. In this case, however, once again, Dr. Spitzer's reputation and recanting provides the groundwork for many a legal claim against the centers that used this data, without peer review or further study, for negligence and medical malpractice -- mostly out of the idea that they could use non-licensed practitioners to perform non medically validated methods to "cure" a condition -- all based on a single, non-definitive study, which came with the qualification at the time of it's release, that further study was required and that it wouldn't provide a great deal of success in the first place, based on observable evidence beyond the confines of this initial study.

I hold him accountable for the arrogance that allowed him to even consider publishing under the conditions which the study was done. I hold him accountable for the harm, because he did not follow protocols of scientific method -- well established in any medical or scientific endeavor -- that would have caused this study to never see the light of day, otherwise, had he simpy followed those protocols.

For that I do hold him responsible to some degree, for all the subsequent harm based on narrow minded little people holding up his "work" as "proof" that the gay can be "cured." I cannot, however, hold him at all responsible for the complete failure on the part of the medical community and our legislative processes that allowed all these quack centers to open up, be run by charlatans, and to fail to provide any scientific or objective feedback to the medical community for the results, good or bad, of their homophobic efforts disguised as "therapy."

You can't blame any of *that* on Dr. Spitzer. Not and still be honest with yourself.

for the shared blame that must be assigned in some form in order to correct this horrible wrong.
Owl Thanks you. I agree that there are many who deserve blame here for the harm. I remain convinced, though, that however "preliminary" he said his findings were, the fact that he knew he was violating standard scintific method shows me that the weight of the responsibility is his.
Balt you're so right. :)
Contempt is warranted but, I wish we had the same reaction to those that attack African American Conservatives who might be the most vilified people on the planet.
How about left-handed baseball players? I had to play the outfield because of the vicious prejudices contained inately in this game. We should make all teams run left up the third base line every other inning so I can play shortstop. We make up 11% of the population yet, there is no movement in support of this incredible bias.
I'll do reparative lobotomy surgery on him. Oh, Clarissa!
Jay My mother was put upon in sch for having been a lefty. I hardly think the consequences of both prejudices are comparable.
Wolfie-Pretty insensitive-I didn't ask to be born this way, where is the love? We are 11% not 2%- And what of the gay lefty ? Should we not allow him to buy a chainsaw for that might be a cry for help?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (15) reported that 20,000 accidental digital amputations occur in the USA each year, but these are a mere fraction of the severe injuries that happen. In a paper published in 1995, Taras, Behrman, and Degnan (16) retrospectively reviewed the charts of 125 patients who had been treated for a digital amputation (defined as proximal to the nail plate). A second group of 116 patients treated for minor hand trauma was also evaluated. The incidence of left-hand dominance was 35% in the amputation group and 11% in the minor trauma group. A left-handed individual was more likely to sustain an amputation both at home and at work. The left-handed were more likely to have a dominant hand amputation than were the right-handed (70% compared with 51%). These data suggest that left-handers have an amputation risk factor 4.9 times greater than that of right-handed people. The minor hand trauma occurred at rates similar to left-handed-ness in an average population
Wow, I've read all the comments and dunnitowl's blows me away. I also lean toward Kenneth's , because, let's face it, Dr Spitzer published and then defended this flawed, unduplicatable results, study for a decade because, what? he feared professional humiliation! Poor baby! So, yes, every time his "study" is cited, he should have to get up off his a-- and publically confront them, admitting he was wrong. I also lean toward Amy's point of view because, legally, a judge just stuck that Indian kid in jail for a month because he filmed his gay roommate and the poor guy committed suicide. IMO there's the basis for trying Dr Spitzer. Jail time and fines, maybe also civil cases for reparations, a la OJ Simpson, for lives harmed and lost. Lastly he needs to lose his license. Ok, I'm done.
Isn't Archives of Sexual Behavior "peer-reviewed"? Failings in the guy's methodology should have been caught. The "scientific community" that bought into his work - as most must have for him to have influenced the DSM as he's said to - needs to be held accountable, too and vilified right along with him. Rigid belief in "the scientific method" and peer review, too. But now I'm just tilting at windmills ...
Sadly, there are still reknowned shrinks who aver being gay is a treatable disorder. I can't believe these sickos are allowed to practice, much less have licenses allowing them to diagnose and rehabilitate gay people. *eyes rolling*
@ Jay Richer: thank you for making light of the abuse, misery and predudiced that LGBTQ people have to endure. Thanks for insulting the memories of all of the gay teens who have committed suicide. Thanks for saying being left handed somehow equates to what happened to Harvey Milk, Matthew Sheppard, Noxolo Nogwaza and Victoria White. Yeah. Thanks for your heartfelt understanding and support.

BTW, Jay... everything above was sarcasm. I figured you would need a clue. :rolleyes:
I PM'd ya my thoughts. ;)
Apologies only work for me when someone makes a genuine mistake. This apology is as hollow as Rush Limbaugh's head. The entire discipline (psychotherapy) should be accountable for not challenging the study in the first place. Seldom does any theory, published or not, go unchallenged.

Id start punishing all the Christian right that have such hate in their hearts. Lets not stop here.
Too little too late. As sad as it is unforgivable.
Jay ok as I say, I am a Bad Person.
Cathy I see no way that he could come close to makng this right.
Linda this nation coddles religious-insanity. Has always.
Leslie you're so right.
Cred of course the blame is spread out. Yes.
People are afraid, Jon. It's always fear causes them to act out of whack with reality.
it is just possible that there are quite a few So-called religious Rightists who, themselves, may be secretly Gay, Lesbian or Bi, and are simply too afraid to allow themselves freedom to be themselves.
That being said, it is dishonorable, what this man has done, to the point of heinousness. And he and his colleagues with the same intent should be made examples of.
But how do we go about doing this? How to exemplify to the next generation a compassionate bent on correcting wrongs?
Here's where it gets tricky. For, to remain merely incensed, to then take revenge, presupposes all such wrongs can be explained as purposefully wronging the innocent from beginning to end. And it's easy to overly simplify our outcome.
Yes, he has caused greater harm than is imaginable. It has been like a smaller version of the Jewish Holocaust, in a way, hasn't it? Lives lost due to depression and self-immolation. Persecution is such a tricky thing to heal from, as its lasting consequences affect everyone.
Someone has to inject compassion into the whole of the picture somewhere along the line. We all must strive to dictate terms to our medical community that make it impossible for things like this ever to happen again.
But I also see where it has to start with a heart for everybody involved. I feel sad as can be for every one of those lives lost due to his mishandling of facts, data, what have you. It is dreadful. The toll must be astronomical in some areas of the country, our Bible belt in particular.
I am reminded here of the play and film, Angels In America. Religiosity has no place governing scientific research. nor can it be said to be impartial.
Compassion, tho'. It has to start somewhere. In the hearts even of those wronged. Otherwise, how can the real healing begin?
Rated for raising the issue
While my daughter and I--and many other women in the audience--cheered when Lisbeth marked her abuser, I find being repeatedly shamed for purposeful acts that inflict pain on others equally satisfying...especially when perpetrators, by confessing or acknowledging their complicity, watch their entire professional life come into question. I reserved cutting off his peepee for those who sexually abuse children.
Messed up science messes up people and the witch doctors who perpetrate it. No offense to witch doctors in general.
A quick couple:

Jonathan, I also have to take you to task for the "Championed" claim for Dr. Spitzer. At no time ever did Dr. Spitzer take up the cause of Gay Reparative Therapy and hold it as an example of the best way to go about dealing with the issue. Never. He didn't even really like the idea that some might take his "work" and misuse it at time of publication.

While I said, I do hold him responsible, as I do the entire scientific and medical community upon which Dr. Spitzer's work and career were structured, he never championed the idea.

I implore you to hold yourself as accountable for accuracy as you wish Dr. Spitzer had been. Invective and aspersions cast do no-one any good. It only serves to polarize thinking and demonize an issue, making communication and progress lamentably difficult.

@ Safe_Bet's_Amy: Being left handed qualifies as a minority in our population. No one was making light of LBGT with that information. It's a statistically verifiable set of facts about the left handed folks. We suffer a minimum of 2,300 or so deaths a year from the simple act of having to accommodate ourselves to the use of tools, equipment, even playing cards, designed only for right handed use. And we don't suffer?

Excuse me? Used to be the times when, as soon as a child was discovered to be left handed, they stoned them, burned them or simply drove them out of the tribe. In some ways, we are still being quietly ostracized and vilified.

Left handed compliments, anyone? How about being gauche, which is the French word for left, which also means uncouth, barbaric, drole or boring. How about a left-handed discount, which is a shitty way to claim someone is stealing. How about being limped in a political category without cause?

Just so you know, the crack about the chainsaw I thought came out of left field (see? see how that works, even I did it!) and was certainly not appropriate. That said, we left handed people suffer in quiet indignation in a right handed world. Just because people don't hate us outright or drag us down the street behind vehicles doesn't mean we don't feel the sting of stigmatization at the hands of our right-handed bretheren.

Still, I have to generally agree, the subtle and distinct discrimination we left handed feel every day comes nowhere close to the outright demonization and vilification the LBGT minority has to suffer every day of their open lives and every day they have to hide their natures from loved ones, friends, coworkers and strangers.

The LBGT win in that category and there is no contest.

(and don't you roll your eyes at me, I'm serious, young lady!)
[that last bit was an attempt at humor, don't shoot me, 'kay?]
Like Popeye always said, "I Yam what I Yam". When will people get it into their heads that this is no more of a choice than being a heterosexual?
PW "Angels' is abslutely stunning in every way. Thanks for raising it up. I'd still, despite your fine arhuments here, deliver him to Lisbeth Salander.
Scanner right you and I sure as hell did not choose heterosexuality.
Owl w respect I don't think "championed" is over the top and is accurate even if he only did so the medical community and not in a very public manner.

And I just do not at all see the aptness of the 'left-hadedness analogy' unless we're deciding that every kind of prejudice and discrimination affects people all to similar depths and I just would not see it that way.
Sheila some of my best friends... ... ... ;)
beauty i, myself, never saw that scene as over-the-top.
First off, a lefty cannot use a chainsaw unless he/she uses it right handed. If there were more "country folk' or lefties here they would understand.
People here seem to only have a sense of humor at the expense of "right wing wackos". I could care less that you are gay but, what of the man who has strong gay urges but, wants to stay committed to his wife and family? He might love her,love his kids and the traditional lifestyle. Should he live a secret bath house life or should he make a decision (what ever it is) and commit to it. Is it more acceptable foe him to lead a doulble life than a heterosexual man to cheat on his wife?
Personally I would take a bullet for my children and while I am not gay, I would think if I were, they desire to be with another man would be as tempting as it is hetero men to be with another woman during weak moments. Processing all that you might give up for a lifestyle you might not desire long term is part of the process for most men in their lives.
Sure I joke around but, enough with the drama, we all know people in pain. In the worlds of Arthur Bach "Some men drink because they are poets, others because they are not."
Johnathan: I challenge you, sir, to show me any proof that Dr. Spitzer provided this "Championing" you mention. It is over the top without accurate and verifiable proof of said action. Publication alone is not enough.

Look, I like you and I agree with the direction, but you can't except yourself from reportorial accuracy and expect not to be called out on it. Show me proof that he championed Gay Reparative Therapy, ever and I'll back off. Otherwise, you cast yourself into the pit with any other hyperbolic hypocrite who makes wild claims without basis in fact.

And I'm not saying you are, I'm saying you paint yourself with that coat if you defend it or excuse it for yourself while holding others to a higher standard. I don't think that's what you're made of, which is why I am willing to say it here. I know you're better than that.

I agreed already the left-handed angle was out of line, but to have someone else castigate the information as such is just as out of line in my view. Nowhere do I equate the discrimination of the LBGT folks as anything but horrendous. Certainly, though, it's fair to say and even compare, the historical treatment of any group that was ostracized and purged from society with the ongoing issue of how that is happening to the LBGTs in our society today. Remember, four hundred years ago, I could have been burned at the stake for being a follower of Satan for the simple crime of being born left-handed. I think that's an apt comparison to today's situation, irrespective of the time that has passed. I mean if we're saying forgiveness is too good for a man who made a serious error.

If forgiveness cannot happen, then it presupposes the concept that people cannot change, ever. If that were so, he would never have apoligized.

I'm simply asking you to be the more evolved human in this regard. In that light, left-handed history is a fair comparison on that mark. It's just not as bad as it once was. Maybe one day, sexual identity will not have the same level of stigma it has today. Then you can easily and quietly go about your life without fear of recrimination. IN that same time, I'd wager we'll still be losing our lefties to tools made for righties.

Where's the reciprocal compassion, I ask?
(and please bear in mind that humor is also a form of coping with a shitty situation, however inappropriate it might seem to others who don't use it like that.)
Owl that he published the (fraudulent) study, spoke abt it, lectured, and sat by while many used it to practice what he knew wasn't a therapy worthy of the name is, for me, championing enough. I'm ok w our disagreeing abt this.
Fair enough, Jonathan, we'll have to agree to disagree on that. And congrats on the EP, well deserved, even with my disagreement.

Wolfman, I would have no qualms about doing that to a number of people running around these days. This particular shitehead included!
I'm with Chicken Maannn, he probably doesn't use it anyway.
Subjecting who knows how many men who had already been preached at about the "sinful" choice of being gay to years of futility, shame and guilt of trying to deprogram their natural incliation and for failing at the impossible is despicable. I'm thinking of something more like coating him in honey and staking him out for the fire ants, myself!

Here, here. Thank you for reminding us that sometimes the fearful still publish...
A nice cheap letter of apology why not give the profits he made from it to the victims of his lies?
I have a friend who was subjected to repulsion therapy to get rid of her gayness with she was a teen. Michelle Bachman's husband is in the business of helping gay people rid their demons, apparently he did and now he lives with the real devil.
rated with love
I am still reading...but am REELING over this. I am appalled and I am certain as I read more, it will only get worse. Again. Thankyou for your efforts on our part.
Here is a fascinating and very apropos story of someone who used to be in that business and now realizes how wrong he was.
JW- I have struggled with this very thing, this week. Not about this man, in particular, but these feelings I have of enforcing "sustained, reparative therapy" to the evilmakers in our world. I am sure that if they tried hard enough, they could see the wisdom of your ways. I struggle with my desire for peace, and my feelings of violence. I also admire Lisbeth, perhaps, for doing things I could never do myself- but have had a fantasy or two about. Sigh. I feel a little better now, realizing I do not need to be the Buddha. Perhaps this headache will pass.
I don't know anything about this man than what is written in this article, but it seems to me that your ire is misplaced. The real problem is with those who are hateful to those who appear different. In addition, the only conclusion is that his data could have been flawed, but it is not clear how one could come to a clear scientific conclusion. People clearly do make decisions all the time in terms of what they do with their sexual inclinations, and clearly quite a few university lesbians end up in heterosexual relationships. This is much less evident with men, of course. However, the situation is quite complex, as are most issues of human inclination and behavior, and it doesn't seem right to condemn this man for what was at the time an honest opinion backed by case studies.