Davening Away The Gay

dr-norman-goldwasserThere’s a website called COMING OUT LOVED, brought to you by the International Healing Foundation. It’s basically a lightly secularised reiteration of our old friend “pray away the gay”, only a little camouflaged. It offers ways of dealing with “unwanted same sex attraction”, as well as therapy for the distraught parents of gay children. This is not an old or out of date site: it was last updated earlier this week, and carries details of upcoming therapy sessions this weekend.

One of the therapists listed there is Dr. Norman Goldwasser. .His bio says, in full:

Dr. Goldwasser is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist in Miami Beach, FL, who developed the Trauma-Based Model for the Treatment of SSA [Same Sex Attraction]. He pioneered the use of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) in conjunction with reparative therapy, which targets formative traumatic experiences that may have contributed to the development of SSA, and then works to desensitize these memories, thus allowing for healthier reprocessing of them. This helps to strengthen identification with the masculine or feminine self, enhance self-esteem, and to let go of past hurt and resentment that interferes with healthy emotional attachment. EMDR can also be used to directly weaken same-sex attractions, and to strengthen heterosexual arousal patterns through reinforced guided imagery.

Dr. Goldwasser has been involved in reparative therapy for the past 13 years, and, along with his interdisciplinary team of clinicians in South Florida, has been especially useful as an adjunct to ongoing therapy processes with other clinicians. This is accomplished by providing psychodiagnostic evaluations that help to uncover underlying psychodynamics that may be contributing to SSA, psychiatric assessments that can be helpful in managing psychiatric symptoms that may be complicating the healing process, and input from certified sex therapists who are able to provide valuable assistance with regards to building confidence and skills in future heterosexual functioning. Quite often, clients and therapists alike report that Dr. Goldwasser’s team has been extremely impactful in enhancing or accelerating therapeutic progress, or to help their own clients to accomplish their goal of transitioning out of homosexuality, and to successfully function in a healthy heterosexual relationship.

That’s pretty unequivocal. He does reparative therapy. Or at any rate, he used to – he now says he’s given it up. For over ten years. Curiously, however, he has not bothered to correct his bio on this website. But hunting around the net, I find the website Psychology Today. There, he says:

I have been trained in EMDR at Level II for 18 years, and have extensively worked with a variety of trauma-related challenges such as personality disorders, especially narcissism, OCD and other anxiety disorders, mood disorders, relationship difficulties, and unwanted bisexuality. I also work extensively with victims of sexual abuse.

[my underlining] “Unwanted bisexuality”? Can we hazard a guess as to which half of the “bisexuality” is “unwanted”? The heterosexual half, perhaps? Just imagine: “Please doctor, mother would be so happy if only I could  be totally gay – can you help? She so wants us to enjoy shopping together.” I think not.

However, the key words here are the last sentence. Goldwasser works with victims of sexual abuse. And it’s in this capacity he’s been invited to speak by an Australian Jewish organisation for the survivors of abuse. The website Failed Messiah says:

Tzedek, the Australian Jewish group formed by Manny Waks and several others to fight child sex abuse has invited this psychologist to speak. But Waks was forced out of his leadership role in Tzedek (and out of Australia itself) due to withering attacks by Chabad against him and against Tzedek. And even though Chabad’s own testimony at Australia’s Royal Commission investigating child sex abuse in Chabad institutions was so awful it brought widespread condemnation from Australian Jews, Waks is still out. And so out of ignorance or malice or disregard, Tzedek has invited this psychologist to speak.

Tzedek defended their decision thus:

Tzedek made the decision to bring Dr. Goldwasser to Australia because of his clinical experience with trauma in sexual abuse, particularly within the Jewish community. His experience will assist us understand the dynamics of a closed community and how to break down the barriers, and support victim/survivors who have experienced harm from the community. There is some concern about Dr. Goldwasser’s therapeutic interventions. Unfortunately his clinical experience has been marred by lobby groups totally unrelated to the sexual abuse field. Our feedback from organisations that have engaged with Dr. Goldwasser have been very positive. Dr. Goldwasser has responded to the concerns raised by the blog The Failed Messiah. His bio from the blog is well over 10 years old. Since then, Dr. Goldwasser has completely dissociated himself with Jonah after discovering their methods in dealing with individuals who came to them for help, as well as the unacceptable standards of credentials of the “therapists” that were in their employ (many of them were untrained, unlicensed life coaches. He does not support the use of reparative therapies. We do not side line these issues. But his expertise in child sexual abuse and trauma is the focus of his training.
the stirrer has seen Goldwasser’s response, which Tzedek’s statement partly paraphrases. In the original Goldwasser goes on to say:
With regards to my stand on reparative therapy in general, I have distanced myself from this type of therapy, as well as from those who practice it, as a result of a heightened awareness of the limitations and risks inherently involved in that particular type of therapy. I also have distanced myself from the organization NARTH which promotes reparative therapy, and have not presented at their conferences for a number of years now, because of the insensitive and sometimes blatant prejudice and homophobia that I experienced in my interactions with some of the leaders of the organization at their annual conference. To set the record straight, I have had quite a number of gay men and women in my practice over the years, who have come for help in trauma- related issues because of my experience with EMDR. Their lifestyle and sexuality is never an issue, and they are always held with the same regard and respect that I have for all of my patients. There has never been, and still are never any attempts to get them to “change” their orientation, as this would be highly inappropriate and unethical. For those who are the victims of sexual abuse whose early sexualization has affected their sexuality, I use EMDR to help to heal the trauma, and to assist in facilitating the client to achieve the level and type of sexual functioning and lifestyle that they choose to have for their lives, and to heal the damaging effects of the abuse that are directing unwanted or addictive sexual behaviors. Hope this helps to clarify things.

He also says there will be absolutely no problem with this being a public issue when he is in Australia. Which is just as well, because despite his protestations he still seems to practice some type of sexual orientation manipulation therapy, cloaked in opaque terminology about “unwanted bisexuality” and “unwanted or addictive sexual behaviors”:

Under the therapy-speak, that sounds a lot like the standard religious narrative: homosexuality is a choice, homosexual desires are ’caused’ by childhood abuse, and can be “cured” by therapy, or as Goldwasser calls it “facilitating the client to achieve the level and type of sexual functioning that they choose.”

So, are we clear here? Trying to change someone’s sexual orientation “would be highly inappropriate and unethical”. But getting rid of “unwanted bisexuality” and “unwanted…. sexual behaviours” and  “facilitating the client to achieve the . . . type of sexual functioning that they choose”  – that’s peachy.

Forgive me but this sounds like a distinction without a great deal of difference, more a rebranding exercise rather completely abandoning the practice.

I understand that his invitation relates to his work on child sex abuse, but I do wonder if Tzedek looked all that hard for another practitioner with experience in closed Orthodox Jewish communities. And I do wonder if he would have been invited, and how welcome he would be, if he unequivocally abandoned all attempts to tamper with people’s sexuality.

About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)