Progress with CAMFT on SOCE

May 06, 2012 11:02 AM | Admin EBCAMFT

By Jim Walker, MFT

On March 9, 2012, CAMFT's state board approved a policy about SOCE and posted it to CAMFT's web site. To inform EB CAMFT membership about this, I was asked to submit this article because of my efforts with part of CAMFT's process with developing a position on SOCE.

SOCE is an umbrella term for sexual orientation change efforts.  Methods that are purported to be therapy such as ex-gay therapy, reparative therapy and conversion therapy are examples of SOCE. Many people who have survived SOCE report being very psychologically and spiritually scarred as a result of this so-called therapy. The spiritual abuse happens when the sexual orientation change efforts come within a religious counseling context, particularly when the so-called therapy happens through what is called "Christ-centered relational healing."

CAMFT has seen intense struggles during the past four years about taking positions on mental health and family health not coming from heteronormative values. Years ago other mental health organizations such as the American Psychological Association and the National Association of Social Workers issued supportive policies for same-gender loving people's health and for supporting nontraditional gender identity development. The appeals coming from CAMFT members during the last four years for CAMFT to follow suit have deeply threatened some CAMFT members and leaders.
The history behind CAMFT's SOCE policy development started more than two years ago. After a LGBTQ advocacy group called California Therapists for Marriage Equality (CTME) advocated and won a policy statement from state CAMFT for marriage equality in 2009, and after CTME convinced CAMFT, the Gottman Institute, the Women's Therapy Institute and other organizations to join an amicus brief against Prop 8 in February 2010. In March 2010, a much smaller group of us organized ourselves to appeal to CAMFT to issue a statement on SOCE.

By June 2010 a proposal had been created by Lisa Maurel, Bruce Weitzman, James Guay, Jurgen Braungarten, Sheila Smith, LaDonna Silva and myself. Where hundreds of therapists had been involved in urging CAMFT to make a statement about marriage equality, only a couple dozen, if that many, were interested in starting to advocate for a statement about the harms of SOCE.

We submitted our proposal to Mary Riemersma (CAMFT's former executive director) to give to the board. She wanted the proposal to go first to the ethics committee. It went to the committee, which did not advance the proposal. Bruce Weitzman from the board of SF CAMFT then took up the efforts of advancing a proposal to the state Board. The original proposal would have been lost if it were not for members and state leaders advocating continually throughout the years for a statement specifically about SOCE.

The statement released by CAMFT about SOCE earlier this year is a very, very different statement than the one proposed in 2010. In the circle of contacts I have from CTME and from the original CAMFT listserv from the CAMFT community forum, the announcement drew lots of attention. I don't know how to gauge what attention it drew in the larger membership. The therapists who've been waiting for almost 2 years had mixed opinions about how worthy a policy it was.

It really matters when mental health advocates speak up about the health issues of those who are stigmatized and struggling in our society.  The American Psychological Association has done an incredible effort in this regard. Although not a expert on the APA, I believe the APA has done it for the most part through the volunteer efforts of their members. Those policies and guidelines have made their way into proposals for legislation and court decisions. What the eminent American sociologist Jane Addams said long ago is so true, "Progress is not automatic; the world grows better because people wish that it should, and take the right steps to make it better."

In the next article I write I want to report on how CAMFT could be impacting the development of a California bill that would ban SOCE from being practiced on minors. That bill is SB 1172, authored by Senator Ted Lieu (D - Fullerton) and supported by Equality California and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

Jim Walker, MFT, is in private practice in SF and Oakland where he specializes in working with couples and with healing from trauma. Among his many activities, he's volunteering with the Pacific Center on starting their continuing education program this fall. He thanks Caiti Crum for her help with this article.


Jim Walker, MFT
510-684-4508  cell
Offices in Oakland and San Francisco


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