Orthodox Therapists Battle Ban On Gay 'Conversion' Treatment

Nefesh, Agudah Claim N.J. Law Infringes On Free Speech

Not OK: Rabbi Benzion Sorotzkin says it’s a myth that some people are born gay.
Courtesy of Benzion Sorotzkin
Not OK: Rabbi Benzion Sorotzkin says it’s a myth that some people are born gay.

By Nathan Guttman

Published February 25, 2014, issue of February 28, 2014.
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Jack Drescher, a New York psychiatrist and psychoanalyst who has been an outspoken critic of conversion therapy, dismisses this as a valid medical or psychotherapeutic position in view of current, generally accepted findings and standards.

With individuals who experience genuine homosexual desires, “you can maybe talk about living a façade of a heterosexual life, but you can’t live a heterosexual life,” he said.

Drescher argued that therapists should not enjoy free speech protection when discussing sexual orientation change in their professional capacity with young clients. “If a rabbi wants to say this to a teenager, that’s fine, but a therapist cannot,” he explained, “because this is not supported by anything. The rabbi and the therapist have different sources of authority.”

But Solomon said he has helped many patients overcome their same-sex attraction.

“People have been treating homosexuality for years,” said Solomon, who stressed that he “does not ask people to take off their clothes or do anything weird.”

The Brooklyn-based therapist said many of his patients went on to marry and have children, and that some are no longer attracted to men. Responding to claims that conversion therapy is not effective, Solomon said that there is no real clinical study of this therapy, because the mental health establishment “won’t allow any real research to take place.”

The Orthodox therapists associated with Nefesh reject the contention that homosexuality is an in-born trait.

“I’ve personally treated many patients that have clearly changed,” said Benzion Sorotzkin, a clinical psychologist from Brooklyn who termed the idea that someone is born gay or lesbian “a myth.”

Like other Orthodox therapists interviewed, Sorotzkin said his success rate treating gay clients was similar to that of any other therapy: One-third are greatly helped; one-third are somewhat helped by the treatment, and a third see no improvement.

In a 2012 Forward column that stirred debate, Agudath Israel’s director of public affairs, Avi Shafran, argued that the Jewish community should not criticize those seeking to battle their homosexuality.

“Those critics and media begin with the premise that any human urge is inherently legitimate (it’s human, after all!) and that there is no reason for anyone to seek to change a sexual orientation,” Shafran wrote. “But the premise of someone dedicated to Torah is that God’s will matters most and has been communicated to mankind.”

Sorotzkin said that when a patient enters his office to discuss homosexuality, he tries to “get to the root of the issue” underlying the homosexuality which, in many cases, he says, has to do with a sense of gender inadequacy and a lack of self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Sorotzkin added that the acceptance of homosexuality in society has caused patients, many of them Orthodox, even greater pain. “When I started practicing,” he recalled, “if something sexual happened between two boys, there was mainly a sense of guilt.” After dealing with this guilt, he said, the boys moved on and “went to get married.” Now, however, such boys “are told they are gay and they have to endure it, so they start panicking.”

Contact Nathan Guttman at guttman@forward.com or on Twitter, @nathanguttman


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