Saving souls or taking lives? A look inside conversion therapy - FOX5 Vegas - KVVU

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Saving souls or taking lives? A look inside conversion therapy

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FOX5 took an in-depth look at conversion therapy in a special report. FOX5 took an in-depth look at conversion therapy in a special report.
LAS VEGAS (FOX5) -

The therapy has many names: conversion therapy, ex-gay therapy, reparative therapy. It’s treatment that tries to "fix" or "change" someone's homosexuality.

In Nevada, Governor Brian Sandoval just signed a bill into law that bans licensed professionals from performing this therapy on minors.

It’s a controversial topic that has many people on each side. Those against this treatment pointed out that there is no scientific evidence to back the therapy up. They shared personal stories of abuse and self-hatred and pushed to ban this everywhere.

Conversely, some have said banning conversion therapy is even more dangerous and unethical.  

Bill Prickett is a retired pastor and at one point was the executive director of a conversion therapy Christian ministry.That Christian ministry was a branch of Exodus, one of the world's largest conversion therapy ministries in history.

“We were the shapers of this movement early on and we've now all left, and we now all speak out against what we were once involved in,” Prickett said.

His story begins on a personal level.

“From a very young boy, I knew I was not like the other boys. I knew, my friends. I knew I was different,” Prickett said.

But that difference was not accepted by the ministry he'd grown so close to.

“About four or five years into the ministry, I learned about these groups that promised to help people cure their homosexuality,” he said. “I was serious about wanting to fix this since I was told it needed to be fixed.”

He said he tried prayer, fasting, having demons cast out of him and being anointed with oil. Anything he was told to do, he did.

“I went to one person who promised that if I let them take me through my past hurts, even memories that I don't have, that I couldn't bring to mind, probably if I could be healed of these hurt memories of my past, and in that session he began to touch me inappropriately. When I asked he said 'oh this will help you get in touch with some of the trauma of your past.'"

“I, one day got very honest, sitting in a room by myself with a bottle of bourbon and a gun saying, 'I can't do this anymore,'” Prickett said, “I told God, 'I'm done.' I knew I would turn my back on everything I believed in, everything that was important to me, but I couldn't keep doing it. I couldn't keep lying. Part of me knew that as a person of faith, I was not living honestly and I was not living with integrity.”

His story matches so many others. James Guay said he grew up in a fundamentalist Christian household. His father was a pastor, and in his eyes, being gay was one of the worst kinds of sins you could commit.

“I literally hated myself. I tried reading the bible and praying for God to take it away and joined every youth group I could,” James said.

He said he wanted to try non-religious affiliated therapy and turned to a licensed conversion therapist.

“A lot of it was about trying to find a root cause. That was part of our work, 'Was I abused sexually, physically, emotionally or otherwise?' I didn't know of any, but I was like, 'Maybe there's a repressed memory or something,” Guay explained.

He described being taught to sit “like a man,” speak “like a man”, and play sports “like a man.” With the idea that changing his expressions to be more “manly,” would eventually get rid of homosexual feelings. He said another big part of therapy was fostering strong male friendships to make up for a connection lost with a same-sex parent in the past.

James became a marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles who helps men and women who have been through the same experiences he has.

“Just imagine someone that's been shocked or provided medicine to induce nausea and then shown images of people they would normally find attractive, and imagine what that would do to your sexuality.”

He's spoken out in an effort to get conversion therapy banned everywhere. It’s the same with Sean Sala. He said he grew up in a very religious household.

“Churches told me I was demon possessed. They told me that I had an evil spirit,” Sala said, “In my late teens, I went into conversion therapy as a last-ditch effort.

After that, he joined the military. He said when he got back from overseas, he hit his breaking point.

“I was gonna take my life but I kind of had a spiritual realization at that point, that 'If God does really love me, why would God ever want me to do something like this to myself?” he said.

All three of those men said they went into conversion therapy truly wanting to change themselves. All three of them came out feeling beaten, broken down, ready to end everything.

But some people have a very different story.

David Pickup is a licensed reparative therapist who said reparative therapy shaped his identity.

“I was a client and I was one of those little boys that got sexually abused by a budding young pedophile,” Pickup said.

He said that’s why he felt homosexual feelings as a young boy into his teen years.

“Long story short, I grew up repressing and feeling extreme shame for having homosexual feelings. I never identified with being gay, but I had what one might call same-sex attractions. And I had a real issue knowing that wasn't the real me, but I had those experiences,” Pickup said. “I found an authentic reparative therapist and reparative therapy. The real thing helped save my life. It was the most transformative therapeutic work I’d ever had in my life.”

He described authentic reparative therapy as something that’s based on the client’s belief that their homosexual feelings are caused, not by anything genetic, but by trauma in childhood. It’s made up of three main components: psychodynamic, cognitive behavioral, and EMDR.

“If a client has a psychodynamic experience in session, they are going back to and uncovering emotionally those wounds of how severe it felt not to get enough affection and love and affirmation of their identity,” Pickup said.

So why is there such a controversy? Why is there the push to ban this in states across the country?

“It's always 'pray away the gay kinds' of quote 'counseling' or some kind of religious shaming or boot camps, some horrendous kind of thing like that. Nothing like that ever happens in professional licensed therapy,” Pickup said.

But John Smid, another former leader of a Christian conversion therapy ministry, said there is not much difference.

He said that while they focused on a lot of prayer and religious aspects of therapy, they also included those psychological techniques that Pickup described. Finding a root cause, forming strong same-sex friendships to make up for lacking parental attention, and uncovering a “reason” for the homosexual feelings were all part of what they did.

“I took child development theories and began to process them myself, look at my own life, look at other people’s lives and I began to think 'yes' this makes sense!” said John, “It was really a time of liberty for me when first got started in it. It was a time when I was hopeful about my future.”

But as years went on and nothing changed, Smid said he began to doubt.

“It just came to the place where I finally resigned. I said 'Okay I'm done with this.'”

John joined others calling for an end to conversion therapy, but Pickup said for his clients, and clients around the world, it would be devastating.

“This law prevents them from walking into my office and lessening or dissipating homosexual feelings caused by abuse,” Pickup said. “That's exactly what will happen to the minors in Nevada for whom this therapy really applies, who they don't feel forced and they really want and need this. And to ignore the hearts of those children, I don't know if I have a strong enough negative word for that.”

For more conversion therapy success stories click here.

To see more news on conversion therapy and its negative impacts click here.

To also find more on Bill Prickett’s story on his blog, click here.

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