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Why the Bachmann clinic’s gay-curing therapy is the least of it

Last week it was confirmed that Rep. Michele Bachmann’s family business, the “Christian counseling” center Bachmann & Associates, has encouraged gay patients to change their sexual orientation. According to an article in the Nation and follow-up reporting by ABC News, a patient identified as Andrew Ramirez was a high-school senior who had just come out to his family in 2004 when his parents took him to the Bachmann clinic. His Bachmann & Associates therapist “basically said being gay was not an acceptable lifestyle in God’s eyes,” Ramirez told the magazine. According to Ramirez, “his therapist then set about trying to ‘cure’ him.”

The article also reported that a Vermont-based gay-rights group named Truth Wins Out recently sent an activist working undercover into the clinic to pose as a Christian struggling with same-sex feelings. He attended for five sessions while wearing two hidden cameras and in the video, parts of which were replayed last week on “Nightline,” his therapist can be seen encouraging him that it was possible to replace same-sex attraction with heterosexual orientation.

The clinic is directed by Michele Bachmann’s husband, Marcus, a therapist of 23 years who is not a licensed psychologist but who has PhD in clinical psychology from Union Institute, a correspondence/independent study-model school that is not accredited by the American Psychological Association. He practices “Christian therapy,” for mood and anxiety disorders, and employs dozens of therapists, many of whom, it should be added, are licensed. The business has received over $160,000 in public funds from Medicaid and the State of Minnesota. In Minnesota, interestingly, you don't have to be licensed to practice mental-health therapy, but licensure is necessary to bill insurers and the state. Under certain conditions, an unlicensed provider can bill the state as well.

View rejected by major mental-health organizations
But so-called conversion therapy “is based on a view of homosexuality that has been rejected by all the major mental health professions,” according to “Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation and Youth,” a 1998 publication endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association and 11 leading mental-health organizations. It has “serious potential to harm young people,” in their view.

It’s hard to say what any of this means to her base of support or the Bachmann family business. Professionally, the APA cannot sanction Marcus Bachmann because he is not a member. Politically, a full 30 percent of the electorate probably supports the idea of the Bachmann clinic trying to turn gay people into Ned Flanders. The Family Research Council calls the issue more evidence of “the homosexual assault on religious liberty” and is surprised that their unsupported belief about therapy is even news. Among fundamentalists in the metro area struggling with anxiety or depression, Bachmann & Associates is surely reaping a publicity bonanza right about now.

Which is why I hope the question turns away from the narrow issue surrounding conversion therapy and toward the larger problem of a business like the Bachmann clinic in the first place. It is seeking the secular authority of clinical psychology in order to get paid, and often by the state, to dispense something often antithetical to empirically supported treatments for mental illness: their version of Christian fundamentalism. Perhaps we should be more troubled that they are giving out ineffective and counterproductive therapy, and that we are helping to pay for it.

For instance, Marcus Bachmann recently told the Star Tribune that his clinic doesn’t push reparative therapy, but rather, "it is at the client's discretion." He added said he was being wrongly attacked thanks to a recording of him recently played on “Nightline,” in which he tells a radio host “Barbarians need to be educated. They need to be disciplined. Just because someone feels it or thinks it doesn't mean that we are supposed to go down that road.'' He said that he was referring to children, when he said "barbarians," not gay people.

I believe him. If you listen to the tape, it is clear that Marcus Bachmann was in fact talking about children, not gay people, when he said, “barbarians need to be educated.” But can someone please tell us how this is of any comfort? It sure doesn’t sound like clinical psychology to talk about kids as barbarians, even if he was trying to be funny, which I think he was. On the contrary, it sounds like the expression of a moderately authoritarian style of parenting, a style that routinely produces new patients at the doorstep of child psychologists.

Inside guidelines, or out
And seriously, where is the reassurance in Marcus Bachmann’s argument that his clinic only tries to “cure” patients of being gay if they have asked for it? Would a physician agree to bloodletting if you asked for it? How about leeches? Either you are inside of practice guidelines, or you are not.

These are but a few of the problems we assume when we accept the premise that a business could merge faith with the provision of mental-health services. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, for instance, one of the leading methodologies for treating mood and anxiety disorders, is an empirically supported, manual-driven form of talk therapy. It is fearlessly secular. Confronted with a patient who is afraid of thoughts of sin, a good CBT practitioner would advise a patient to expose himself or herself to even more of those thoughts, until they become dull.

That’s precisely the opposite of what you assume a Christian-oriented therapist would advise in that situation. Yet Bachmann & Associates offers “a cognitive behavioral and insight oriented approach with a spiritual focus,” as one of the counselors states on the company website. That’s a little like an orthopedic surgeon saying he conducts total knees with a spiritual focus.

The Bachmanns and their employees are having it both ways. They want to be respected and reimbursed as practitioners of mental health, while also spreading the word of their faith. This is a form of Christian privilege, or the idea Christian fundamentalism deserves to be treated with an institutional recognition we traditionally reserve for professional practices alone.

Faith is an enviable quality, but in attempting to piggyback one’s faith on top of the treatments for which a secular system bestows its approval, Christian therapy is the real bogus treatment.

Freelancer Paul Scott, of Rochester, writes about health and fitness for various media.

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Comments (9)

I think the fact that the Michelle Bachmann is the senator of Minnesota says more about Minnesotans than her husband. The land of lakes is really the land of homophobes huh? Should be ashamed of yourselves by being hoodwinked by a hater. What's wrong with you people?

Bachmann is one of 8 representatives in the US House, not one of 2 in the US Senate. Other than that you are probably right on.

Although I disagree with Marcus Bachmann's "Christian Counseling Clinic's" therapy style and techniques, I DO believe that he and his staff have every right to offer such therapy.

It is up to those within the mainstream of psychology to do the work necessary to make sure the public understands the dangers and demonstrated ineffectiveness of such therapeutic approaches and is relentlessly exposed to the continuing history of those who have been damaged and, in many cases, destroyed by those approaches to "therapy" (including MOST of the founders of "Exodus" and other "God hates gay people" conversion organizations).

What I OBJECT to is that the state is helping to "establish" Bachmann's fundamentalist form of the Christian faith by paying for people to receive therapy in which a particularly judgmental and rigid stripe of Christianity is woven through every counseling session.

The Catholic Church, Lutheran Social Services, and many other religious entities have LONG provided services paid for (at least partially) by the state while, at the same time, being required to rigidly separate the teaching of their "faith" from their providing such services to those in need.

Why is Mr. Bachmann's clinic not held to the same standard? If that standard does not apply to "Dr." Bachmann, why are church members everywhere, of any stripe, not allowed to apply for reimbursement for "counseling" services provided by their own pastors?

Perhaps a few churches will want to apply for the same reimbursement that Bachmann's Christian Counseling Clinic receives and file suit if it's denied them.

There is another problem with "treatments" to change homosexuality: they don't work (apart from doing a lot of harm, which may be their real intention). For a decade, I researched this "therapy", both done in medical environments, such as "aversion therapy", and the various religious regimes, for the Council on Homosexuality and Religion. A first indication of their failure is readily available in the tracts which many of the victims write. They are, all of them, still 'struggling' with their homosexuality. In other words, they are not "ex" anything. And, it doesn't last--the paper tracts are more durable. In both kinds of "therapy", the averagel shelf life seems to be about six months. This was all confirmed by interviews with those who had undergone these "therapies". There are many, many more ex-ex-gays than there are those still pretending to have been changed, and these, of course, are vastly outnumbered by the many homosexuals happily leading homosexual lives and in homosexual relationships. Further evidence is available from the admissions by 'therapists' such as Charles Socariades and Master and Johnson, who were obliged to admit that they could refer other therapists and journalists to no examples of successful therapy. These "therapists'" claims of success turned out to be based on patients who had disappeared or had never existed. It is perhaps uncharitable to say of these "therapies" that they are frauds, but that will be the judgement of history.

Actually she's not the "senator of Minnesota" [sic], she's the member of the U.S. House of Representatives for the Sixth District... There's nothing wrong with *me*, so ask the people of the Sixth District.

She is a representative, not a senator, and as such does not represent the entire state.

Marcus Bachmann is a quack and a huckster. If he really believes "reparative therapy" works, then he is not familiar with the scientific literature on the subject. I would be interested in reviewing his "PhD" dissertation,

Anyone who thinks that homosexuality is a lifestyle choice or something else that gay people can be talked out of is spouting nonsense. No intelligent person would choose such a life of vilification, ostracism, forced to hide in the shadows and kept from open relationships with those they love.

The fact that Bachmann gets public funds for this crap is an outrage on many levels.

I am a clinical psychologist (who, unlike Bachmann, received her PdD from a legitimate APA accreditied non-correspondence university). Marcus Bachmann (as well as all providers of conversion therapy) are an ambarrassment to my field. Unless you are employed by a church, one's religious beliefs should not influence the quality of treatment provided, particularly when it is counter to ALL legitimate research on such therapy. If you are taking money from the government and advertising yourself as a CBT therapist, your treatment should be strictly limited to what research has demonstrated to be effective. Period. If an MD's medical recommendations/treatment where in any way influenced by his/her religion, it would be considered incredibly unethical ("Sorry, I can't give you a blood transfusion [or birth control pills]. It's against my religion, so let's pray instead."). Why is this any different? Shame on him and all others who continue to tarnish the field of psychology with such damaging and antiquated "treatment."

Can you please explain to me why people are getting so upset over having taxes put toward funding a clinic that is truly trying to help people, and very few Americans are fighting to cut off funding for other incredibly wicked acts, such as murdering children through abortion? And why do you believe mental health cannot be connected to spirituality? It seems that the intent of this artical was primarily to attack the Bachmans - but more importantly Christianity (specifically Catholicism) and to turn the public's opinion against God and the belief that we can truly HELP homosexuals instead of convincing them that they can never change. Just because Catholics don't approve of the homosexuality lifestyle doesn't mean that they don't approve of homosexual human beings.