Aversion Therapy ‘Is Like A Visit To The Dentist’

LONDON: The London Medical Group, a medico-Christian group, held a symposium on Thursday November 2. The subject was aversion therapy as part of a two-part course on Punishment and Treatment. The LMG’s meetings are usually open to the public, but this one was unprecedented in being closed to all but doctors and medical students. One gay, Peter Tatchell, went along to the meeting held behind closed doors. This is his account of what happened:

Psychologists Professors Hans Eysenck and Dr Isaac Marks were the speakers at the symposium on Aversion Therapy and the Patient’s Freedom.

Professor Evsenck is of world renown (much favoured in establishment and psychiatric circles) as a leading exponent of aversion therapy. In the numerous books he has written, homosexuals are variously described as perverse, abnormal, unnatural, etc, and associated with criminality. He has consistently advocated the use of aversion therapy for homosexuals and transvestites.

Dr Marks is Senior Lecturer and Consultant Psychiatrist at the Maudsley Hospital and is known for his research and application of aversion therapy.

Interesting, because of the subject’s controversial nature and perhaps because the organisers feared disruptions the LMG took the unprecedented step of closing this particular lecture to members of the public.

The whole structure and conduct of the symposium was geared to converting the assembled members of the medical profession to the unquestioning acceptance and advocacy of its use.

Applying the psychological principles of group dynamics to achieve this aim, there were no speakers against aversion therapy – those that spoke in favour of its use being famous psychologists of high repute in the medical profession. Furthermore, these principles were used by the chairman to cultivate a psychological atmosphere that the speakers for aversion therapy were so knowledgable, academically honoured and famous that their opinions could not be questioned. He spent considerable time praising “these great men” and “their outstanding contributions to psychology.”

The successful use of these principles to pacify a potentially hostile audience was evidenced by the medical masses’ hushed awe and humility at “the privilege to be addressed by a psychologist of Professor Eysenck’s renown” – to quote the chairman.

It was from this one-sided structure of the lecture and the mental sterilisation of the audience that the chairman opened with a request for a “provocative evening on this controversial issue.” Little did he know how imminent the literal fulfilment of his request was.

Professor Eysenck began by emphasising that there was “no relationship between aversion therapy and punishment… It does not involve sadistic motivations… Neither does aversion therapy seek to act as a deterrent. The fact is that aversion therapy is used for the patients own good”.

It was at this point that the chairman’s request for a provocative evening was fulfilled when the lone GLF supporter there (me) began a running battle with Prof Eysenck.

Challenging his statement that aversion therapy was used “for the patient’s own good”, I cited cases of people I have met who, since having undergone aversion therapy, have become chronic depressives.

Somewhat taken aback by this dialogue – as opposed to the intended monologue – Prof Eysenck continued: “Aversion therapy is only undertaken where it is of the patient’s own choice.”

Interjecting again, I mentioned the cases of gays who are virtually blackmailed into undergoing aversion therapy when it is offered by the courts as an alternative to prison, and that those who “voluntarily” undergo treatment are “forced” to do so by what they find to be the intolerable oppression of homosexuals by society. Remove the oppression and no gays would ever volunteer.

I also raised the question of homosexuals being induced to “volunteer” by an exaggeration of the success rate and playing down of the pain and discomfort involved.

Nervously continuing. Prof Eysenck outlined the principles of aversion therapy, which he explained, were based on Pavolv’s experiments on conditioned reflexes. He said it was “used to change the emotions, where the person himself cannot change them of his own free will… By associating emotions with pain or fear, the emotional response can be de-conditioned.”

Then he went on to explain how, in the case of homosexuals, nausea was induced by drugs, while the patient viewed film of homosexual acts. Thus, the patient learns to associate homosexuality with pain and fear. He mentioned that “whilst photographs are used, the actual performance of the sex act would be preferable.

He stated that: “There is a success rate of about 50 percent, which justifies its use as much as any other method.”

I challenged him to substantiate his claim of 50 percent success, describing how most homosexuals who have undergone treatment have remained totally uncured and become asexual “vegetables”. I offered these failures as an explanation of the decrease in use of aversion therapy over the past two years.

Prof Eysenck suggested that “50 percent success was better than no success at all.”

I questioned his ends justify the means mentality, and his use of the success rate to justify the continuing of aversion therapy.

He then used the spurious argument that aversion therapy hardly merited people’s concern as it was used so little.

To quieten any fears he reassured his audience that the pain and discomfort is greatly exaggerated and, in fact, “it is just like a visit to the dentist… It is no different from any other form of therapy.” He went on to describe psychoanalysis as far worse than aversion therapy and entailing greater distress to the patient.

Prof Eysenck finished by enthusiastically declaring that “there is no ethical principle involved in aversion therapy that is not involved in any psychological treatment.” (Applause, applause).

The second speaker, Dr Isaac Marks tried to dispel any doubts my interjections may have raised by using a Clockwork Orange-versus-reality approach. He asked how many people had seen ‘A Clockwork Orange’ – most of the audience indicated they had – and then he asked how many had actually seen aversion therapy – three people had. Satisfied that everyone – except those three – was not in a position to question authority, he said that ‘A Clockwork Orange’ was a totally inaccurate portrayal of aversion therapy.

Outlining the circumstances under which the medical profession was entitled to use aversion therapy, he suggested that this should be when the “patient asks for help” or “when society asks to be relieved of the burden of an individual”. This second set of circumstances has the most horrifying implications in that they could be used against any minority incurring social disapproval – not just gays, but also black people and political activists.

To justify this situation he drew a very questionable analogy. He said: “For instance, no-one objects when people with smallpox are quarantined… or that sadists and murderers are removed from society.’ Thus, on the basis of these analogies, he justifies the use of aversion therapy on the individual where it was ‘in society’s interest.’

Unable to allow such a statement to pass unquestioned, I challenged not only his analogies but also the premise which they justify. My demanding to know how homosexuals, transexuals and transvestites could in any way be compared to smallpox, sadists or murderers, plunged the symposium into momentary chaos.

Amidst the uproar I attempted to point out that the use of aversion therapy “in society’s interest” could so easily be abused.

Receiving broadsides from the podium and the audience alike, I was asked to leave by Dr Marks – which I promptly refused to do. Stepping back and returning to his seat he said he would not go on while I was in the room, thus, once again, using his manipulative psychological techniques of group dynamics, he shifted the onus of responsibility for my presence and actions onto the audience. Responding to this manipulative device, ten heavies surrounded me and I was dragged out and carried from the symposium.

The parting comment from the chairman was that I had spoiled the whole symposium. Needless to say, he had never thought of the many homosexuals who have had their lives spoiled by aversion therapy.

ED: The LMG says that it held this meeting behind closed doors because “the last time they were talking about using aversion therapy on homosexuals, homosexuals actually said things that spoiled the meeting.” Our thanks to Peter.

Open Minds

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