David Pickup
via YouTube

David Pickup, a conversion “therapy” practitioner did some fear mongering the other day. I will get to that but first let’s take a look at Mr. Pickup.

David Pickup continues to fight for his “right” to damage children. Mr. Pickup claims to be a psychotherapist. He is a licensed marriage and family therapist in California and he has an MA from somewhere. Pickup is currently pursuing a doctorate at a for-profit California “university.”

At his website, Pickup claims to offer “AUTHENTIC reparative therapy.” In addition to being on the board of Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity, formerly known as NARTH, Pickup is associated with the Reintegrative Therapy Association (RTA).

RTA was apparently formed by Joseph Nicolosi, Jr. and his mother, Linda Nicolosi. The late Joseph Nicolosi, Sr. was a notorious conversion therapist and anti-gay warrior for the Catholic Church. RTA’s revenues in 2017 (its first year in operation) were $26 thousand. RTA seeks to license its methodology to practitioners who can then display the RTA logo on their websites (as does David Pickup).

According to RTA:

Reintegrative Therapy is entirely separate from so-called “conversion therapy”

Reintegrative Therapy™ uses established, evidence-based interventions, the same interventions used by other clinics throughout the world to treat trauma and addiction. As these dynamics are resolved, the client’s sexuality can sometimes change on its own. Reintegrative Therapy™ uses the same approach, regardless of the client’s sexual orientation or gender.

Science overwhelmingly disagrees with Nicolosi. He is not treating trauma or addiction. He is treating people who do not require treatment. Simply stated, the Catholic Church does not approve of gay people based on ancient texts so they must need some form of treatment. Pseudo-science is not a viable substitute for real science.

On Pickup’s website there is a section titled: “What does the science say:”

Scientific Evidence:

There is significant scientific evidence which demonstrates that sexuality is rather fluid in nature and can be changed. The well-known Spitzer Study and the Jones/Yarhouse Study are two significant examples. I recommend the “Journal of Human Sexuality,” available on www.narth.com. This publication gives the reader many valuable resources that give much insight into the causes and treatment of homosexuality as well as compelling evidence of change.

Spitzer recanted his study. Even before he did so, he expressed grave concerns about its use. Jones and Yarhouse are on the faculty of Pat Robertson’s Regent University. They published a study in 2007 and did a follow-up in 2009. Much of what people think they “know” about their paper comes from conservative Christian sources. However, the authors were comparatively modest. They wrote:

These results do not prove that categorical change in sexual orientation is possible for everyone or anyone, but rather that meaningful shifts along a continuum that constitute real changes appear possible for some. The results do not prove that no one is harmed by the attempt to change, but rather that the attempt does not appear to be harmful on average or inherently harmful. The authors urge caution in projecting success rates from these findings, as they are likely overly optimistic estimates of anticipated success. Further, it was clear that “conversion” to heterosexual adaptation was a complex phenomenon.

Yarhouse is increasingly skeptical of conversion therapy:

“I already shared in chapel, we don’t know what causes sexual orientation. So to hold out a theory that says… ‘I do know what caused your homosexuality, and if we do these things, it will be resolved,’ those are two claims that deserve greater empirical support. Do we know the cause? I would say no. So I’m hesitant to start with a theory that says we do.

What he is nicely trying to say is: How can you cure something when you do not know what causes it? While citing Yarhouse above, Pickup goes after Yarhouse as you will see below.

In summary, however, Pickup’s “significant scientific evidence” is one study from 12 years ago which provides no evidence of change and has an increasingly skeptical author.

Moreover, Pickup is simply wrong when he conflates fluidity with mutability. I experience some fluidity in my sexual orientation. From time to time I experience bisexual attractions. I have no control over these variations. As I have said before, fluidity is like outdoor temperature. It goes up and it goes down but there isn’t much that we can do to influence those changes.

Thank you Mr. Pickup for the recommendation of reading material. Allow me to introduce you to the Journal of Human Sexuality:

Journal of Human Sexuality

Are you not convinced that this is a compelling scientific compendium?

In another section on Pickup’s website:

I encourage you to read everything you can about both sides. The resource page should be of help to you. I have to be honest here. I don’t think you’ll find many Gay individuals or Gay affirmative therapists tell you to consider both sides. This is interesting because even the American Psychological Association states that there is no Gay gene. They also state that evidently, homosexuality could be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental influences.

This is a take from creationism: Emphasize a controversy when one does not exist among scientists. This strategy goes back to the Tobacco Institute and is present in influencing attitudes about things like climate change. Sometimes two sides do not exist. At least not two responsible sides. Going back to the infamous Tobacco Institute there never was a responsible “side” to claim that smoking did not cause cancer once science determined quite the opposite.

Science is based on evidence. There is no study, published to a respected academic journal with rigorous peer review, which substantiates the idea that any intervention can change the sexual orientation of an individual. The shorthand in medical science regarding any treatment is: Is it safe and effective? There is no evidence that conversion therapy (by that or any other name) is either.

The overwhelming consensus of scientists is that sexual orientation is immutable and that efforts to change sexual orientation have the potential to be harmful. Two sides do not exist.

Yes, the APA does state that sexual orientation is influenced by genetic and environmental factors. In medical science, environmental means anything that is not genetic. An example of this would be the hormones of the birth mother which seem to change with each successive male birth causing an increase in the presence of homosexuality.

As long as Mr. Pickup is interested in the APA, the 2007 (and updated) Report of the APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation concludes:

The task force conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates.

My personal opinion (and I am neither experienced nor trained as a therapist) is that children who are subjected to sexual orientation change efforts are damaged by the process. In the end they are still going to be gay and will possibly feel that they have failed to meet expectations.

Recently conversion therapy has made its way to gender identity. This is particularly dangerous in my opinion because gender dysphoria can cause considerable stress in the forms of anxiety and depression. Children who experience gender incongruity are at significant risk of self harm.

David Pickup is promoting his services. There is nothing wrong with doing so to the extent that such services are legal (California prohibits juvenile conversion therapy). I think that he is misleading people while, at the same time, risking their mental health. If their sexual orientation is not going to change then the risks inherent in the attempt are unacceptable.

Fear Mongering

On Wednesday, ChristianExaminer published: Activists will target churches who counsel LGBT people, therapist warns ‘God’s Voice’ conference. That so-called “therapist” is David Pickup. It struck me that you need to have a pair to call a conference “God’s Voice.” No?

They are coming for your puppies!

A psychotherapist has warned a Christian conference opposed to queer ideology that if LGBT activists successfully ban secular counseling for people with unwanted same-sex attraction, they will next go after religious counselors.

A conference known as “God’s Voice: A Biblical Response to the Queering of the Church” was held Feb. 22-23 at Fairview Baptist Church of Edmond, Oklahoma.

David Pickup … spoke at the God’s Voice conference last weekend.

During his remarks, Pickup warned his audience that for the state legislators trying to ban SOCE therapy, “the next step is to come after you.”

“It’s going to happen in your universities, it’s going to happen in your schools, in your elementary schools if you don’t conform to the new ‘sex education’ curriculum,” said Pickup.

“They try to get at psychotherapists first, and then they’re coming after church counselors and the church. They’re smart, folks. They know what’s coming and they know what they’re doing.”

These folks are pretty paranoid to begin with. Their god is always on the verge of angrily causing a catastrophe, often because of gay marriage. I give Pickup credit for knowing his audience. I confess that I have no clue what “queer ideology” means.

In the same article Pickup goes after evangelical Christian skeptics of conversion therapy:

Pickup then spoke about how SOCE therapy actually works contrary to popular perceptions, declaring that “the Mark Yarhouses and the Russell Moores and the Al Mohlers do not know what goes on in my office.”

“What goes on in my office is love, compassion,” explained Pickup. “There is no such thing as compassion without truth.”

Pickup noted that the vast majority of his patients are male, though he had some females as well. He grouped his patients into two categories: either overtly abused or bullied in a dysfunctional family background, or covertly neglected in a stable family background.

Love and compassion is accepting people for who they are.

Pickup is assigning reasons for homosexuality that are unknown to medical science. There is no evidence that any of that has any bearing on sexual orientation.

“I get to sit there, literally sit there, and because of these emotional healing experiences, watch my clients change their erotic feelings in the moment while they’re having therapy. I see it,” continued Pickup.

The above is really quite idiotic because eroticism and sexual orientation are two different things. Pickup is claiming that he can “see” a change. Even if he means “sense” rather than see, the assertion is preposterous. Sexual orientation is defined by an enduring attraction.

Janet Mefferd joins in on the fear mongering fun:

Janet Mefferd, a widely-syndicated Christian radio host, introduced Pickup to the conference, referring to him as a “remarkable man” who “has done some phenomenal overturning of the tables when the situation has called for it.”

“He is really fighting,” stated Mefferd, who stressed that the conference needs to be concerned about therapy bans because she believed that once states ban secular therapy options, “they’re coming for your biblical counselors.”

Ms. Mefferd is a true expert on human sexuality.

The company one keeps

In addition to Pickup, other speakers at God’s Voice included Peter LaBarbera, founder and president of Americans For Truth About Homosexuality; Stephen Black, executive director with First Stone Ministries; the Rev. Al Baker of the Presbyterian Church in America; and Southern Baptist evangelist the Rev. Thomas Littleton.

If LaBarbera was there it must be credible.

In regards to David Pickup’s practice and his recent comments I have no idea whether or not he is sincere or just a common con artist. Wayne Besen might say some of each. We need not judge Pickup’s sincerity. What he does is harmful to individuals and to the LGBT community. The supposed efficacy of conversion therapy is pretext for discrimination in spite of the fact that it is ineffective.

Furthermore, Pickup puts us (or attempts to put us) in a binary world where people are either gay or straight depending upon their behavior (in contrast to their attractions). The scientific reality is that sexual orientation is a continuum with gay and straight at the extreme ends. Every point on that line is a natural variant of human sexuality.

Pickup is exploiting religious opprobrium to claim that a sexual orientation that some people do not approve of is evil and must be changed to sate his deity. It is really no different than claiming that redheads are witches. If there is a god then s/he is satisfied with people just the way they are made.

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By David Cary Hart

Retired CEO. Formerly a W.E. Deming-trained quality-management consultant. Now just a cranky Jewish queer. Gay cis. He/Him/His.