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Part I: What Really Happens in Reparative Therapy

This article was posted a couple of days ago on Truth Wins Out's website. It documents other parts of my experience while undergoing reparative therapy.

I chose to share these personal and painful memories, not to send a negative message that discourages other people or makes them loose hope, but rather to send a positive message of perseverance that encourages and gives hope through the truth. I survived, and I am here to talk about my experiences, to tell the truth about what happened and that I am living happily as an open, honest gay man. I don't regret coming out. It is the best thing ever to happened me; those dear people in my life who saw the change in me have seen how much better off I have been after I stopped trying to be something I am not.

Please always remember that there is hope and, despite what some might falsely believe  that you aren't good enough because you're different  they are the ones who need to be changed, not you.

Posted February 20th, 2012 by Wayne Besen
By Chaim Levin
My time undergoing reaparative therapy with a group called Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality (JONAH) was recently brought to public attention. The one experience that has stood out and has raised eyebrows across the world was my last session with a JONAH “life coach” (a self described ex gay) who manipulated me into removing my clothing and touching myself in a locked room as he looked on. While that experience is something I have to live with every day of my life, I wish I could say that was the only unconventional “technique” that I was exposed to while attempting to change my sexuality. I’ve decided that it’s time to start talking about some of the other experiences that I endured while attending weekends and group meetings with JONAH and another group called People Can Change.

At the age of eighteen I was directed to JONAH by a local rabbi in my community. I was told that JONAH was supposed to be the answer to my prayers and they were supposedly going to “cure” me of my homosexuality.

Upon meeting with Arthur Goldberg, the director of JONAH, I immediately felt reassured by the false hope Goldberg gave me when he said that anyone could change and become straight so long as they tried hard enough. I wasn’t the only person who was victimized by the false hope peddled by these groups. Many of my friends who went to JONAH ended up leaving after not changing their sexual orientation.
However, after speaking to Goldberg I was ready to do anything these people asked of me in order to become straight. I never thought that accepting myself as a gay person was an option, especially because of the strong Orthodox religious community that I was raised in. As far as I knew, there were no other gay people where I came from and hearing that false message from Goldberg only reinforced my ill informed belief that I can change my sexuality and become straight.

Over the next year and a half I endured many different “processes” conducted by JONAH and People Can Change, processes that they claimed would ultimately serve to change my sexuality. Today, four years later, I’m a proud gay man and wouldn’t have it any other way. But I’d like to tell you about some of the “exercises” conducted by the people who claimed to be “experts” in this field — exercises that left me scarred and traumatized until this very day.

The first thing Goldberg told me that I must do was register for an upcoming “Journey into Manhood” (JIM) weekend hosted by People Can Change. He was very insistent that this was the first very big step that I must take in order to get the ball rolling. Four weeks later, on June 1, 2007, I found myself on my way to a retreat center in rural Pennsylvania, feeling anxious and unsure about what to expect from the next 48 hours.

ABC Nightline aired a segment on Journey Into Manhood and interviewed myself as well as another person who had negative experiences while on this weekend. Unfortunately, the producers at ABC gave us merely 10 seconds of a 21-minute segment, which basically turned into a promotional piece for People Can Change and their “Journey Into Manhood” weekend. During my interview with ABC I spoke about some of the dreadful memories that come to mind when I think back to those weekends. I spoke about what it was like to participate in what the facilitators of the weekend called “guts work,” which is something I’d like to elaborate on.

“Guts work,” otherwise known as psychodrama, was one of the main parts of the JIM weekend. We were split up into groups of ten with the point being to recreate a traumatic memory. This was accomplished by choosing people in our group to serve as surrogates for those deemed responsible for causing those traumas. An example of this would be if someone had an abusive father or mother, they were instructed to pick someone to represent that energy and reenact the distressing situation from long ago with the intention of getting in touch with our “authentic” emotions which they claimed would lead us to healing or reduction of our SSA (same sex attraction, gayness).

So to clarify, the small breakout group spent about ten hours, with each of us given an hour to recreate some of the most traumatic incidents of our life in the hopes of bringing out anger, sadness, or other emotions that came with those memories.

For me, those ten hours were pure hell.

I witnessed people go back to some of the most painful memories of their lives, being sexually abused, being beaten by a parent or classmates, and I watched in fear and horror as every single man “lost it” and started yelling on the top of their lungs and then were encouraged to hit something that represented that anger. So you have someone who’s angry with his father or mother, and he’d be screaming at the top of his lungs while hitting a pillow with a bat or tennis racket and yelling the name of their mother, father or other bully that brought on this anger.I was always really sensitive to loud screams and explosive rage and those hours brought up so much fear in me."

Despite the facilitator’s reassurance that we were safe, the boiling rage and horrifying screams of people reliving the most traumatic situations in their lives made me feel unsafe, vulnerable and exposed. Though I try to erase these images and memories, they are forever seared in my mind.

When it was my turn to reenact my own traumatic event I was reluctant to participate. But I desperately wanted to become heterosexual and they told me that I needed to step out of my comfort zone in order to complete the “work” that was required to “change.”

I recreated a situation in my childhood that until this day is something I don’t speak about publicly, something too traumatic for me to describe in this essay. I recreated part of the situation and watched it “play out” by the people I picked to represent those energies. I was very detached from the “guts work” and I pretended to get angry and riled up so that I would be able to complete my work as quickly as possible. "The event that I reenacted relates to extensive traumatic childhood sexual abuse, and watching it play out once again in front of my eyes was so difficult and disturbing, I just wanted it to be over as soon as possible."

After yelling really loud, cursing at the top of my lungs, and even hitting something, as I recall, they asked me to pick someone to represent my parents because according to the facilitators it was my parents’ job to protect me from the abuse I faced, and this tragedy of my childhood was their fault.  I was encouraged to yell at my father (someone representing his energy) and blame him for not protecting me.

I have had many  issues with my family over the years but this event that I was reliving was not their fault. And both I and my family strive daily to keep our relationship peaceful in the way that a family is supposed to be. One of the saddest parts of reparative therapy is the way it destroys relationships, because clients are falsely led to believe their parents caused their homosexuality. This unscientific and unfounded belief can often lead to enormous resentment, which ends with clients alienating themselves from their families

These stories are still only hitting the tip of the iceberg of what reparative therapy was like for me, as time goes by, as I heal from these experiences, I’m becoming more able to write about them and share the experiences that myself and many others endured while attempting to change our sexuality.


  1. Is there any police investigation against this "coach" and everybody involved in this "therapy"???
    He should go to jail and be added to the records of sexual predators!
    It is terrible that they tried to change you, but it is much worse the fact that there are sick people taking advantage of this kind of situation to abuse of young guys. A legal action should be taken!

  2. it pains me greatly that you were revictimized again and again. I pray that you find the kind of happiness that leads to a fulfilling life. I believe you are bringing peace to this fractured world by healing yourself and those who have been touched by you.

  3. Good writing, and this is something that so needs to be written. You are helping others while you help yourself. Thank you for having the heart to write what it a painful subject for you.

  4. I"ve been on these weekends myself, and worked with some of these coaches (and others). They aren't harmful at all, and to say they are is simply an attempt to bully and intimidate the people who engage them for holding a less popular and less gay-affirming opinion than the majority of Americans today. I know many men who have done this type of coaching and attended these weekends and later "came out" as gay and actually cited these experiences (including Journey Into Manhood) as experiences that increased their self-awareness, gave them insight, helped them accept their innermost feelings -- and ultimately helped them make the choice to "come out" as gay (or to do otherwise). I know a number of out-gay men who have been through the exact same experiences Chaim describes in this blog (and his legal complaint) who now say they are grateful for the coaches and facilitators who led them into these rattling and unconventional process that enabled them to discover and make own their choices about how they want to live, and empowered them to recognize and come to terms with their deepest feelings and doubts, to create the lives and identities they wanted (whether those identities turned out to be gay or non-gay).
    To my knowledge, in almost all cases, everyone who participates in the activities Chiam has described are informed that these experiences are intended for personal growth and exploration, not intended to diagnose or treat any psychological or medical condition. Participants sign a statement acknowledging that they have been informed, and understand that these experiences are not offered as psychiatric or mental health diagnoses or treatments for any disease or disorder, and do not guarantee or promise any particular outcome. Furthermore, before participating, one generally has to sign a form acknowledging that these are consensual processes and that the participant understands fully what the process is and what it isn't, and that they will not compromise the confidentiality of other men involved. Anyone who doesn't sign the form, or anyone who makes a choice not to participate is respectfully invited to go on their way, and to seek whatever other path they might prefer elsewhere. (I've seen this happen many times). That's pretty much how it works. No penalties, no coercion, no forcing or manipulation -- just a handshake and a wish of "good luck" for any men who decide it isn't for them.(Continued...)

  5. ...Continued
    For those who chose to participate (as Chaim did), they are invited into unconventional and rattling experiences that they can freely engage or disengage at any time, but that challenge them in ways that polite society and talk therapy won’t.
    For example, while it's unconventional, I believe when you think about it there is nothing inherently damaging about standing in front of a mirror, looking at (or touching) your own body and being invited to examine how you feel about the experience and the judgments you hold about your body. If a coach invites you to such a process (given that the coaching was understood all along to be concerned with sexual feelings and awareness), such a process might not be so surprising as if you went to talk therapy to just discuss anxiety or some non-sexual subject.
    Yet even so, there are still meaningful choices (which Chaim always had) about whether to follow each process in the coaching setting, or at home alone, or not at all. Because the processes Chaim and others describe are not designed to be conducted in public (or without consent) – people like Chaim can easily speak or write of such intimate processes in public (with deceptive inference that they are ‘forced’) to try to make it sound humiliating or startling to the reader. However these experiences are objectively innocuous. For example, I would invite any man or woman reading this blog to stand in front of a mirror -- do these exact things (remove articles of clothing, speaking judgments you have held about your body, until you see only your body – which you can then touch and notice) -- and the next day reflect on the process and decide if you were really damaged by the experience or not (and if a monetary settlement is needed to ‘fix’ whatever damage was done). I do ask that if you chose to do this and find you feel badly about it afterwards, please dont' sue Chaim for having created this blog where you read about it! – there are enough frivolous and abusive lawsuits out there.
    Sorry guys, but psychodrama, skits, body-work and the kinds of things Chaim describes in his blog aren't unique to personal-growth work aimed same-sex attractions either. Many gay affirming organizations and groups (and coaches) use the exact same processes Chaim has derided in this blog to help guys make gay-affirming choices related to "coming out". These unconventional processes are very common throughout the personal growth movement. (ManKind Project, the MKP Gay/Bi Gateway Weekend and the Body Electric School are just a few examples of gay-affirming organizations with processes almost identical to what Chaim complained about).

  6. Continued...
    I've been to plenty of gay-affirming coaches and therapists who encourage men to explore looking at and touching their bodies to gain greater self acceptance -- and who challenge men (often in disruptive ways) to become aware of, and to confront the messages they have gotten from different voices in their lives. This is basically what Chaim describes in his accounts of how he was "damaged." I would offer that his and his friends’ issue is not with the unconventional processes, but simply with the fact that he disagrees with the reasons others have had for engaged these experiences. Because Chaim disagrees with men who respond to same sex attractions differently than he does, Chaim's clear intent with his lawsuit is to intimidate, to bully and to scare people so as to eliminate this particular option from the menu of things that men have available.
    I would judge that Chaim is not really bitter because he was "damaged" by the unusual, but innocuous processes of JONAH, Alan Downing or Journey Into Manhood. I would judge that he's actually bitter because before any of those people or organizations were involved, someone (or something) convinced Chaim to seek these experiences with an intention that he now regrets. His real case is against his own former intention – and not against those with whom he once joined in pursuing it. Yet wherever it came from, when Chaim made the decision engaged the process -- the intention was his, not something forced on him by the coaches or other organizations he is now picking on. I believe that on a deep level Chaim and his friends actually know this to be true.
    The choice of whether to experience same-sex attractions in the first place probably wasn't his or his friends’, (nobody that he’s suing ever claimed that it was). However, he absolutely has had, and continues to have choices (and responsibilities) regarding how he engaged his available options for interpreting, reconciling and understanding his inner feelings in relation to other aspects of his life. In these regards -- JONAH, Journey Into Manhood, and Alan Downing have afforded Chaim every choice to which he has ever been rightly entitled. It is reasonable for the world to expect Chaim to afford others the same very choices that he himself exercised when he explored these paths -- and that he cease in his efforts to eliminate some of the less gay-affirming options from the menu, simply because he tried and didn't like them.
    Furthermore the coaches and organizations Chaim and his gay-friends are now bullying, persecuting and trying to humiliate though his frivolous lawsuit -- do in fact help other men with different values, who simply have goals and intentions different than Chaim's. Chaim and others like him need to learn to tolerate others in the same way they themselves wish to be tolerated.

  7. LOL -- if you have not tolerance for hurting people then why don't you quit abusing the legal system in an effort to hurt people (and make them pay) simply becusae they choose and promote a path differnet from yours.


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