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Richard Cohen is a lecturer, writer, and "sexual reorientation coach" who uses sexual reorientation therapy (also called "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy") to attempt to change gay men into heterosexual men. He has been called one of America's leading practitioners of conversion therapy. He gives lectures and seminars on his ideas, which he published in Coming Out Straight (2001) through a vanity book publisher. His theories are inconsistent with the mainstream medical view of sexual orientation, and other reparative therapy advocates have condemned Cohen's techniques.
Cohen lives in Washington DC with his family. He offers commercial teleconferencing classes on topics such as "assist[ing parents] help their children who experience same-sex attractions... [to] heal and fulfill their innate heterosexual potential" and "present[ing]... a clear and comprehensive plan for transitioning from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation." He also travels on a lecture circuit discussing similar topics.
A family friend repeatedly molested Cohen when he was 6 years old. Cohen said that this provided the affection he craved from his father, and that he repressed the memories of molestation until he was 30 and in therapy. He was openly and actively gay while attending Boston University as an undergraduate, but spent years in intensive psychiatric treatment trying to change his sexual orientation.
Cohen joined the Unification Church in 1975. This church is known for a strongly anti-gay stance. Their leader, Sun Myung Moon stated that "homosexuals... are like dirty dung eating dogs" and prophesied that "gays will be eliminated" in a "purge on God's orders". After nearly a decade of celibacy, he married a woman of the same religion in 1982. After his first two of his three children were born, Cohen began an affair with a man in New York whom he described as his "boyfriend" and whom he frequently traveled to see. The affair lasted three years. Cohen references this time as a period of turmoil that led him to pursue healing from his past. He states that he changed his sexual orientation from gay to straight and cites his own experiences as proof that a person's sexuality can change and that gay people are not born as such but rather become so through complex life experiences.
Cohen earned a masters degree in counseling psychology from satellite campus of Antioch University, and left the Unification Church in 1995. Before practicing reparative therapy, Cohen worked in child abuse treatment services, family reconciliation services, and as an HIV/AIDS educator for the American Red Cross.
Permanent expulsion from the American Counseling Association Edit
In 2003 Cohen was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for six violations of its ethics code, which bars members from actions which "seek to meet their personal needs at the expense of clients, those that exploit the trust and dependency of clients, and for soliciting testimonials or promoting products in a deceptive manner." Cohen chose not to contest his expulsion, saying he "didn't want to jump through the hoops and deal with the heterophobia and anti-ex-gay attitudes." He avoids State licensing requirements by asking for donations to his foundations instead of payment.
For a while, Cohen described himself as a "Certified Sexual Reorientation Coach." He was the only one in the world, and the only certifier as well. For $1400 and a four-weekend training program, he was willing to certify other people.
Controversial media appearances Edit
In his first television appearance, Cohen debated Wayne Besen, a gay rights advocate, on television in 2005. The following day, Cohen sent an email to his supporters, accusing Besen of deceptive practices, and calling for their prayers. Cohen wrote:
MY SOS CALL RIGHT NOW IS THIS: WOULD YOU PLEASE PRAY FOR MY FAMILY AND MYSELF. I FEEL OVERWHELMED BY THE PRESENCE OF EVIL WITHIN AND AROUND ME. It's hard to ask you for this, I feel a bit selfish, but it's imperative, and this is war!Cohen later advanced his theories on Penn and Teller's show Bullshit!, on shock jock Howard Stern's radio program, and on Paula Zahn's CNN program (see image). Following his appearance on Paula Zahn, NARTH issued a statement opposing "holding therapy" as a therapeutic approach. Warren Throckmorton, a Christian reparative therapy advocate, commented:
...when my wife watched the clip (I taped it), she said she couldn't get past the "ick factor" to even evaluate what was said. We discussed which was the ickiest, the tennis racket slamming the pillow while screaming at mom; or the client-cuddle technique where Richard holds his client like a baby in a kind of nursing position. We couldn't decide.
Cohen was then interviewed by Jason Jones on the March 19, 2007 episode of The Daily Show. Cohen later apologized for this appearance and asked for donations to help him hire a PR agent. After this appearance, NARTH and PFOX systematically removed all references to Cohen from their website and Exodus International issued a position statement distancing themselves from him. Cohen was, for a time, the president of PFOX.
Beliefs about sexual orientation Edit
Cohen's 2001 book Coming Out Straight calls homosexuality a "same-sex attachment disorder" and details his methods of sexual reorientation therapy, including his theory of the causes of same-sex attraction, his methods of changing sexual orientation, and stories of people who have undergone his therapies.
Cohen describes the "hidden meanings" of same-sex attraction as:
- need for same-sex parent's love
- need for gender identification
- fear of intimacy with the opposite sex
Cohen claims several root causes of same-sex attraction including heredity; temperament; family dynamics; "wounds" from a parent or sibling; social, peer, or cultural "wounds"; body image "wounds"; and sexual abuse. Cohen employs as many as 22 techniques including family systems therapy, cognitive therapy, meditation and affirmations, "inner child healing," and journaling.
One of the techniques he uses, bioenergetics, involves physical exercises that is purported to facilitate the resurgence of repressed feelings. The International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis states that this activity allows the client to confront and process these feelings, working towards forgiveness and reconciliation. He demonstrated this by smashing a tennis racket into a pillow while screaming "Mom! Why did you do that to me?" Another, "holding therapy," involves cuddling a male client on his lap and repeating affirming words to him to attempt to establish healthy, non-sexual male bonding that may have been absent during childhood.
Medical view of attempts to change sexual orientation Edit
The medical and scientific consensus is that reparative therapy is potentially harmful and that there is no evidence that it is effective. No mainstream medical organization endorses reparative therapy and many have affirmed that the techniques are ineffective and damaging to clients.
These organizations include the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the American Counseling Association, the National Association of Social Workers, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Association of School Administrators, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Association of School Psychologists, and the National Education Association. The ethics guidelines of these organizations discourage, and sometimes prohibit, its practice.
- Cohen, R. Alfie's Home (1993) ISBN 0-9637058-0-6, self-published.
- Cohen, R. Coming Out Straight (2001) ISBN 1-886939-41-1, published through a vanity book publisher.
- Cohen, R. Gay Children, Straight Parents: A Plan for Family Healing (2006) ISBN 0-9637058-2-2, self-published.
- ↑ 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 Boodman, S. A Conversion Therapist's Unusual Odyssey, Washington Post, 08-16-2005. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Transcript of "USA - Gay Conversion, ABC TV Foreign Correspondent, 08-22-2006. Retrieved 04-07-2007.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Just the Facts About Sexual Orientation & Youth: A Primer for Principals, Educators and School Personnel, American Psychological Association, et al., 1999. Retrieved on 2007-02-23.
- ↑ "Holding Therapy" as a Therapeutic Approach: NARTH Official Position Statement, NARTH, 06-05-2006. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Throckmorton, W. CNN segment involving Richard Cohen (blog entry), 05-23-2006. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ 6.0 6.1 6.2 Meet Richard Cohen (from Cohen's website). Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Teleconferencing Classes (from Cohen's website). Retrieved on 04-11-2007.
- ↑ Calendar (from Cohen's website). Retrieved on 04-11-2007.
- ↑ The Family Federation for Cosmic Peace and Unification and the Cosmic Era of Blessed Family. Retrieved on 04-11-2007.
- ↑ http://www.religioustolerance.org/hom_uni.htm
- ↑ Cohen, R. Coming Out Straight. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Notification of Results Letter, American Counseling Association. Retrieved 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Throckmorton, W. Certified Sexual Reorientation Coach (blog entry), 03-21-2007. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ "Ex-gay has meltdown after TV debate". Retrieved on 04-11-2007.
- ↑ Showtime website. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Exgay Richard Cohen + Howard Stern = Tawdry Circus (blog entry), Ex-Gay Watch, 08-16-2005. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ NARTH website, "'Holding Therapy' as a Therapeutic Approach". Retrieved 2007-02-23.
- ↑ Throckmorton, W. CNN segment involving Richard Cohen (blog entry), 05-23-2006. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Throckmorton, W. Richard Cohen Responds to Critics, Apologizes for Daily Show (blog entry), 03-22-2007. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ NARTH and PFOX Quietly Rid Themselves of Richard Cohen (blog entry), Ex-Gay Watch, 03-31-2007. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Exodus International Policy Statements, Exodus International. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ "Richard Cohen’s Vanishing Act… Well Sort Of". Retrieved on 04-11-2007.
- ↑ Audio Tapes and CDs (order page from Richard Cohen's website). Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ Cf.  What is Bioenergetic Analysis?], The International Institute for Bioenergetic Analysis. Retrieved on 04-11-2007.
- ↑ Brown, J. Experts Split Over 'Bizarre' Sexual Orientation Therapy Techniques, Agape Press, 06-20-2006. Retrieved on 04-07-2007.
- ↑ APA Maintains Reparative Therapy Not Effective, Psychiatric News (news division of the American Psychiatric Association), 01-15-1999. Retrieved 04-06-2007.
- ↑ Homosexuality and Adolesence Committee on Adolescence Pediatrics, Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics 1993
- ↑ See Reparative therapy#Ethics issues.
- See generally Besen, W. Anything but Straight: Unmasking the Scandals and Lies behind the Ex-Gay Myth, Harrington Park Press. ISBN 1-56023-445-8
- International Healing Foundation - Richard Cohen's website
- Videoclip of Cohen's techniques via YouTube - Paula Zahn reports on Richard Cohen's techniques.
- Richard Cohen featured on The Daily Show
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