The term “brainwash” comes from the Chinese word xǐ năo, which literally means “wash brain.” The Chinese government under the Maoist regime used various methods such as sleep deprivation, sensory deprivation, psychological harassment, guilt induction and peer pressure to induce people to accept the communist way of thinking.
Since then the term “brainwashing,” has been applied to religions, religious cults, advertising, and political movements that attempt to control people’s minds and change the way they think. And more recently the term has been used to warn about the pitfalls of therapy, as in the case of Beth Rutherford, who claimed her therapist persuaded her that her minister father had sexually abused her and then began a law suit against her father accusing him of sexually abusing, impregnating and forcing her to have a coat-hanger abortion. The suit was later proved to be false when it was found that the daughter was still a virgin.
Most recently, charges of brainwashing have been leveled at what has been called “conversion therapy,” a practice that attempts to help gays become straight. An article entitled, “The Dangers of Conversion Therapy,” noted, “Testimonials of people who have experienced “conversion therapy” and escaped the religious brain-washing attempts of the “conversion” cults can be found at http://www.hrc.org/ray along with other information revealing ‘ex-gay” groups for the fraudulent organizations they are.'”
Gay groups have vociferously attacked conversion therapy for many years and have now begun to pressure professional therapy organizations to ban it and lawmakers to pass laws against it. It is true that there are many pastoral counselors linked with religious organizations who are of the opinion that homosexuality is a sin, and who therefore attempt to persuade gays to change to a heterosexual lifestyle. They offer various kinds of counseling designed to help gays become straight. There are also secular therapists who work with gays who want to be straight. The question is, do these therapists practice brainwashing as defined above?
Brainwashing has traditionally used with people who were either resistant to a new ideology (as it was in China) or sneakily to change people without their knowing their minds were being controlled (as in advertising or political movements). This is not the case with regard to conversion therapy. For the most part, patients who go into conversion therapy know what they are getting into and do so because they want to change.
They are no different than people who decide to go into therapy to change their gender identity or lose weight or go to a doctor to have face lifts and change their appearance. Nobody objects if someone wants to change from a man to a woman. Nobody accuses doctors of brainwashing patients by helping them do that. Is it not a person’s right to change themselves however they want?
Another question that comes up here is, who is really doing the brainwashing, the therapists who work with gays who want to be straight, or the gay rights organizations who for years have attempted to persuade people that gays are born gay and conversion therapy is dangerous.
The hallmark of brainwashing is using techniques such as psychological harassment, guilt induction and peer pressure to coerce people into changing the way they think. When one looks at the techniques used by the gay rights movement, it appears that all three of these techniques have been used.
First of all, the gay rights movement has claimed for years that gays are born that way. This claim is at the core of their protest. And yet, as of this date no credible evidence supports that claim.
The conclusion that gays are born that way is based on three 1990 studies. In 1991, Simon LeVay published a study that reported on a group of neurons in the brain’s hypothalamus that were twice as large in heterosexual males than in homosexual males. LeVay assumed this difference in the hypothalamus was evidence that homosexuality is biological. However, critics point out that LeVay obtained his samples from 19 homosexual men who had all died of AIDS (and six of the supposedly heterosexual brains had also died of AIDS). LeVay did not adequately account for these confounding variables.
Also in 1991, John M. Bailey and Richard C. Pillard did a twin study in which they found a 52% correlation rate with regard to homosexuality among identical twins. This study was quickly picked up by most textbooks in psychology. However, critics have pointed out that Bailey and Pillard had recruited subjects for their study in homosexual newspapers, which probably biased their study. Later, in 2000, Bailey and colleagues did another study in which subjects were recruited from the Australian Twin Registry. The results of this study showed only a 20% correlation rate.
The third and most publicized study was published in 1993 by Dean Hamer at the National Institutes of Health. Hamer studied 40 pairs of homosexual brothers and concluded that homosexuality was linked to a specific region on the human X chromosome (Xq28) inherited by sons from their mothers. This study has come under much criticism. One of Hamer’s assistant’s complained about Hammer’s methodology, and the Office of Research Integrity of the Department of Health and Human Services investigated Hammer’s study. They later cleared him, but the study has never been replicated. In order for any study to be validated, it must be replicated.
Nevertheless the gay rights movement has insisted that gays are born straight and has used psychological harassment, guilt-tripping and peer pressure to in order to make it impossible for people to have any other opinion about conversion therapy but the one they advocate.
Therapist who practice conversion therapy are sought out by gay rights organizations, called out as if they were criminals, misquoted, stigmatized and punished. If one Googles such therapists, one will find all kinds of unfounded accusations against them. In some cases therapists who work for schools or clinics lose their jobs if they express incorrect opinions about homosexuality.
For example, if you Google Joseph Nicolosi, one of the founders of NARTH, an organization that supports conversion therapy, you will find a array of attacks such as the one by a website called Political Research Associates (a GLAD organization): “He hides his bigotry in the veil of a disinterested, scientific inquiry. Maintaining a secular image helps to promote his scientific authority.” Nicolosi has been consistently attacked by gay groups, supporters of which call his home to make death threats, contact his publishers to threaten boycotts and demand that his organization to require him to step down. (He has now stepped down.)
Over the years the gay rights movement has conducted a sustained high-pitch campaign to convince everybody in a gay gene and in the harm of conversion therapy. In “The Life of the Gay Gene: from Hypothetical Genetic Marker to Social Reality” (published in the Journal of Sex Research), Kate O’Riordan traces the evolution of this notion that homosexuality is a genetic variant. “It has become embedded in science media cultures,” she explains, “and lodged in databases that open up into information flows with greater porosity than ever. It is fed by aggregations of noise that contribute to the erroneous signal strength of the message that there is a gay gene.”
Spurred by the gay rights movement, the notion of the gay gene and of the subsequent dangers of conversion therapy has now permeated popular culture, where songs such as Lady Gaga’s “Born That Way,” propagate the unsupported claims.
It is actually the gay rights movement that engages in the kind of harassment and persecution that is associated with brainwashing. There is no documented case of a conversion therapist using such techniques.