and also his article below.
By Andrew M. Potts (THE PINK BROAD – Issue 19, Tuesday 9 May, 2006)
A community counselling centre in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire that has strong links to the Anglican Church has come under fire from both politicians and representatives of the mental health field for running a program that attempts to ‘cure’ gay men and lesbians of their sexuality.
On 18 April the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Stay In Touch’ section reported that Southern Community Welfare, a Sutherland area counselling centre, was running the program.
However, what the Herald failed to reveal at that time was that Southern Community Welfare intends to bring adult victims of child sexual abuse and heterosexual “sex addicts” into the same group sessions alongside people struggling to accept their sexuality.
Southern Community Welfare (SCW) states on its website http://www.scw.org.au that being a victim of sexual abuse as a child is a “related problem” to adult homosexuality.
SCW also lists Fuji Xerox Australia, the Cronulla Leagues Club, the Sutherland Districts Trade Union Club, Miranda Rotary Club, and the Suicide Safety Network amongst its past and present sponsors.
However, since some of these organisations had been contacted by The Pink Broad, SCW has taken down its website and updated it in order to distance its sponsors from its GLBTI focused activities, suggesting that some are already uncomfortable about the program.
The website also previously listed NSW Health as a sponsor but it has now been revealed that NSW Government funding was only ever provided to the organisation for a post suicide counselling program in 2003, which means that until the website was changed, SCW had effectively been falsely claiming a relationship with NSW Health, a period of over two years.
Participants in the program, called “Choices”, pay $200 for a 15 week course, meeting one night a week for three hours which includes a group discussion, prayer session and the screening of a video.
Whether participants who failed to see results from the program would have their fees refunded was not specified.
It is believed that one group is already underway, having begun in February and another is scheduled to start in July.
The program is operating with the assistance of the Caringbah Anglican Church and the Church’s Reverend Steven Fifer.
Southern Community Welfare has been in operation since 1995 and describes itself as “a private, non-profit, harm prevention organisation” providing “therapeutic services to families and individuals”, specialising in the areas of suicide prevention, eating disorders, depression, child abuse and family and parenting issues.
Though SCW employs a number of registered psychologists and psychiatrists, many of its senior staff and board are members of local Evangelical and Pentacostal churches and others have been active in para-religious groups such as Campus Crusade For Christ.
One board member, Karl Fasse, is the Senior Pastor at Gymea Baptist Church and the Director of the Christian Media Project.
Fasse was also the host of the Christian Television Australia produced Face To Face program which screened nationally on Channel 10 in 2003.
Despite including religious overtones in at least some of its therapeutic activities, SCW does not present itself as a Christian counselling centre and targets its services at the community at large, though many of its staff have qualifications in Christian Counseling from church affiliated institutions.
Programs which attempt to change a person’s sexuality, technically refered to as “reparative” or “conversion” therapies, are held to be unethical by the Royal College of Psychiatrists, the Australian Association of Social Workers, and the Australian Psychological Society which recommends its members to refrain from such practices.
The Society authored a position paper in June 2000 which stated that “The validity, efficacy and ethics of clinical attempts to change an individual’s sexual orientation have been challenged… they are at odds with the scientific position of the American Psychiatric Association (APA), which has maintained, since 1973, that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder… Reparative therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of a cure.”
The APS position paper goes on to say that the literature used by such practicioners “ignores the social stigma in motivating efforts to cure homosexuality” and “actively stigmatises homosexuality as well …while neglecting any potential risk to patients.”
The American Psychiatric Association takes the position that “the potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety and self destructive behaviour” and could “reinforce self hatred already experienced by the patient”.
The APA also makes the complaint that many patients in such programs “are inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction… nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.”
In light of this, the APA has for years opposed any therapy based on the assumption that people need to change their sexuality.
In regards to the intention of Southern Community Welfare to place adult victims of child sexual abuse and others in the same group sessions as gays and lesbians wanting to change their sexuality, a qualified social worker and trauma specialist The Pink Broad spoke to said, “In a professional sense, I could not think of a more dangerous combination. Having the adult survivors of child sexual abuse, so-called “sex addicts” and GLBT people in the same group is absolutely counter-therapeutic. Adult survivors, most particularly, have specific needs including safety, trust and containment that could be violated in such a setting… For many GLBT people who continue to be pressured to ‘straighten up’, the Choices program might seem as seductive as it is simplistic. However, trying to repress one’s sexuality can only cause immense psychological harm. Trying to deny your essential being often leads to self-loathing, which in turn aggravates the risk of self harm and suicidal behaviours. The exponentially higher suicide rate amongst young gay men, for example, is directly attributable to the issue of repression.”
There is also the issue that, as many of the GLBT persons who would attend such a program would still be in the closet, group counselling in front of heterosexual sex addicts would effectively force them to out themselves.
The trauma counsellor who spoke to The Pink Broad said that the sort of rhetoric being put forward by SCW relating sexual abuse as a child to adult homosexuality reminded him of the views of ex-gay proponents such as Dr David Kyle Foster, an American preacher currently touring churches across Australia who “lays claim to being sexually abused as his reason for becoming homosexual. His conversion back to ‘straightness’ has lead to a ministry that incorporates that aspect of Christianity which sadly demonises all forms of sexual behaviour. In that regard, and quite perversely, the sexual abuse of children is seen as indistinguishable from the consensual sex between two adult males.”
He also said this view wrongly infers that “homosexuality is a product of stunted psychosexual development.”
As for SCW down playing its religious affiliations, he said “there is nothing inherently wrong with religious organisations providing theraputic services. What they must do, if applicable, is make it abundantly clear when and if their religious beliefs will intrude into what should be non-discriminatory practice.”
NSW state politician and Greens Member of the Legislative Council, Lee Rhiannon (pictured), also had grave concerns about the “Choices” program operating in her home state.
“While the Greens acknowledge that some people struggle with their sexuality, that is where our agreement with the Southern Community Welfare (SWC) Group ends,” she told The Pink Broad.
“The SCW website implies that same sex attraction and transgender issues are wrong and that the solution is to steer the patient towards heterosexuality. Clearly the Greens believe that view is outdated and offensive. More broadly, counselling gays and lesbians who are said to want to “change” their sexuality is fraught with problems. This approach suggests that homosexuality is in some way “wrong”, when this is not the case. This type of counselling can also be used to coerce people to “change” their sexuality in the short term with terrible long term consequences. The religious right is on the rise and they clearly have a homophobic agenda so such pressure may well be happening.”
Rhiannon was also troubled by SCW’s apparent attempts to link child sexual abuse to adult homosexuality.
“This is an old agenda and one that is quite wrong,” she said. “Evidence shows that the vast majority of child sex abuse is heterosexual and occurs within families. It is not appropriate to provide counselling of adult victims of child sexual abuse at the same time as gays and lesbians are counselled.”, and feared that this could “add to the belief that (the two were) synonymous.”
When contacted by The Pink Broad, Southern Community Welfare’s Director, Anthony Sell, defended the Choices program but said it made up just one percent of its activities and SCW had sought no outside funding for the program. Additionally, he said the program attracted less than ten members a year.
“We are dismayed such a small enterprise would attract such attention”, he told The Pink Broad.
Mr Sell also denied that the service offered counselling or attempts to ‘cure’ gays and lesbians.
“We provide a service so that people with Christian and other religious faiths, who need an opportunity to speak confidentially about the conflicts they face, can do so,” he said.
“Their sexuality is their life and our aim is to provide an environment where any difficulty and/or confusion is explored to provide support and enable people to make their own life choices.”
Mr Sell refused to provide details as to who would be leading the Choices groups or what their professional qualifications might be.
The description of the Choices program on the SCW website does not mention Christianity or any other religion.