Oh how the field of hypnotherapy has changed in the last 40 years, and how lucky I feel to live in a part of the world where we accept people and are welcoming of fellow humans regardless of their sexuality… At least, it is law to offer equal rights and though I appreciate some may not find it to be absolutely as they wish just yet, most of the people I encounter in my circles are welcoming of others regardless of their sexuality… Why am I saying this?

Upon my arrival at my office yesterday, I received an email from someone asking if I ever used hypnosis to “help my clients cure homosexuality.”

I had to re-read it.

I answered professionally and politely and stated that for ethical, moral and professional reasons, I do not use hypnosis for this sort of thing, I stated that there was not enough evidence to support such an application of hypnosis and that me having such beliefs would hinder any potential therapeutic gain – my own level of understanding on this matter is probably not as comprehensive as I’d like either. I’d need to know a lot more about the matter in order to feel qualified to work with someone for such an issue.

That said, there is much misinformation and soul searching for some people with certain backgrounds, cultures, eras and so on… And may not want to accept who and how they are… Though I’d say that there are many other professionals (as well as members of the gay community) better suited to help them deal with the reality of being homosexual.

The email did include a research reference that is really what I wanted to write about today, so the author of the email had clearly been explored to some extent:

This article by Peter Roper was originally published in September 1963 in the Journal of the National Medical Association. You can read and download the entire article if you wish.

Despite being published in the 60s, some might think it reads like something from the dark ages. It states that in the past the reason hypnosis was not deemed appropriate for treating homosexuality was because hypnosis;

1) tends to make male homosexuals more passive; 2) tends to further infantile regression        and dependency; 3) tends to further homosexual attachments between hypnotist and           patient; and 4) tends to lessen the patient’s feelings of responsibility.

As Meares stated the position, “The passive male homosexual enjoys the hypnotic trance          and obtains erotic satisfaction in the intensity of hypnotic rapport with the therapist.”‘ Such        a patient, in Meares’ opinion, may report improvement in his homosexual condition in order     to mislead the therapist into continuing the hypno-therapy which affords him erotic       satisfaction.

This is disturbing, isn’t it? Though is not untypical of the thought process of the day in psychiatric circles whereby homosexuality had been considered a mental illness in some quarters.

The author contests that in light of this, the best way to use hypnosis to cure homosexuality is to ensure that full-on emotions are employed:

The homosexual patient must come to feel resentment, disgust and aversion to invert practices and he himself come to consciously reject homosexuality, as well as develop positive heterosexual feelings and desires.

The author decides then that aversion is the way forward and explains his reasons that homosexuals should be treated with aversion to overcome their homosexuality:

Pavlov has demonstrated how conditioned reflexes can be established and how reactivity can be so intensified that a slight stimulus can produce a marked and quite complex response.

It is known that the phenomenon of hypnosis resembles a conditioned response in that the     subject becomes increasingly susceptible to hypnotic induction (phenomenon of “dressage”). It is similarly possible to “sensitize” and accelerate conditioned response by means of hypnosis. In the case of alcoholism and nicotinism, the author developed procedures whereby the odor or taste of an alcoholic beverage or of cigarette tobacco would be sufficient to trigger a marked aversion reaction.

It was found possible to condition in patients under hypnosis such an aversion to these             substances that even the thought or the word “alcohol” or “tobacco” could elicit feelings of          revulsion. [… cut…]

The author’s decision to experiment with hypnosis in attempting to create aversion reactions was based on a number of considerations. First and foremost, it was felt that one of the greatest weaknesses of treatment in the non-hypnotised state is that resistance to suggestion and conditioning is often overwhelming. It appeared likely that the aversion and disgust reaction could be prolonged and intensified if a conditioned reflex reaction could be established in the subconscious mind of the patient (you regular readers of this blog will know that many corners of the scientific world tend to refute the existence of a subconscious mind) and, furthermore, that in order for this aversion to occur and be fixated it must be established beyond the reach of conscious resistances and ego defenses.  Furthermore, the conditioned association and aversion reaction is more prolonged because of post-hypnotic amnesia.

The author found that the aversion response could in addition be made more intense and       lasting to the patient because of the greatly increased state of suggestibility, concentration,   affectivity and reactivity of the individual in the hypnotic state.

It seemed preferable to be able to create a conditioned aversion reaction so that the patient not only experiences immediate revulsion on physical contact with a homosexual but also comes to anticipate such contact with feelings of disgust, displeasure and dread.

There is a lot I personally struggle with here, simply because of the need for evidence base to support these notions and also perhaps because the ideological climate of therapy fields at the time was different to that of today. Rather unusually, the article makes recommendations for the most appalling smells to use with the aversion – including urine!

So our esteemed academic author promotes hypnosis due to its ability to enhance the effectiveness of aversion therapy… Well, I suppose it is better than suggesting the clients go to Religious Camps to ‘Pray The gay Away’ as Butters had to do in one episode of South Park!

I have researched far and wide for other related works and can find virtually no documented evidence or people to support this use of hypnosis outside of extremist groups using misinformation to promote radicalism.

If you google the subject, one of the first things that comes up is a page where someone asked if hypnosis can be used this way here on Yahoo questions… And there is a torrent of replies stating that homosexuality is not something that can be ‘cured.’ Again, I do not know enough about this subject to comment on such – I have had compelling arguments offered up for a wide number of theories since I originally wrote this article (it has been edited a couple of times since it was first written back in 2010).

If you look at this page at wikipedia about Conversion therapy (therapy to convert homosexual or bisexual people into hetrosexual),  it shows that Freud attempted to use psychoanalysis to help cure homosexuality… Though even psychoanalysis is suggested as being impotent according to Roper’s article about aversion! The wikipedia entry states that Freud’s own work was influenced by;

Eugen Steinach, a Viennese endocrinologist who transplanted testicles from straight men into gay men in attempts to change their sexual orientation,

What, what, what??!!

Despite this seemingly ludicrous notion, there is a huge amount of publication and research and approaches that have been employed with the aim of overcoming homosexuality.

The majority of gay friends I have and most gay people I have met, suggest it is the way they are and that they were born that way and learn to live their life accordingly (though not always without difficulty). There are others though who believe and state opposing perspectives.

Such beliefs are likely to influence and effect the application of therapy interventions. Likewise, if the therapist is invested in such beliefs that is likely to influence the effects of the therapy too.

I hope that my response to the email enquiry I got helped the individual to find the right information, the right way forward and to help deal with their query in a useful way. I think there are far better qualified individuals and probably far better interventions and approaches to help this person than myself. Though the small amount of literature on this subject that is in the public domain is curious to say the least.