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20 Nov 2003

focus on the family to hold 'reparative therapy' seminar in singapore

A 'conversion/reparative therapy' seminar organised by the Singapore chapter of the US-linked Focus on the Family will still go on despite protests by local activists.

Focus on the Family (Singapore), organisers of the "Homosexuality: Myths and Truths," have said today that the seminar to be held from Nov 25-28 will go on as planned despite having received protest letters and a statement issued by the AFFIRM Network. The US-based group of psychologists highlighted "serious ethical and scientific concerns" about "reparative therapy" for lesbians and gay men.

Homosexuality: Myths & Truths seminar brochure on family.org.sg
The letter listed "three serious problems with this seminar, of which the Singaporean public should be aware if they are considering attendance" at the event. Recipients of the letter include The Straits Times, Singapore's largest circulation newspaper; Singapore Psychological Society; California Psychological Association Ethics Committee and Melvin Wong, Ph.D., the California-based speaker of the seminars.

The series of seminars, which is supported by Metropolitan YMCA, YMCA of Singapore, The Salvation Army, The Boys' Brigade and the state run and funded National Council of Social Services (NCCS), will cover topics such as 'Preventing Homosexuality,' 'Recovery Therapy' and 'Unwanted Homosexuality: Steps to Early Detection and Prevention.'

Fridae has learnt that before the letter was circulated on Wednesday among the gay community and the mainstream media, People Like Us (PLU) had also sent a different set of letters to NCCS, the Ministry of Community Development, volunteer organisations and the media highlighting that the claims purported by the seminar organisers are contrary to the beliefs held by the mainstream medical community.

One of the main points of contention is that voluntary welfare organisations are eligible to receive a 70 per cent training grant from the NCCS, according to the seminar brochure.

(Update: Fridae understands that the NCCS has since withdrawn its training grant offered to participants on grounds of the speaker's lack of qualifications.)

(Click on to page 3 to read the statement by AFFIRM.)
One of the main points in the letter called attention to the fact that although Dr Wong is a licensed psychologist in California, he is not a member of the American Psychological Association (APA), contrary to what was stated in the brochure. It noted that Dr Wong is not eligible to join the APA.

Homosexuality: Myths & Truths seminar brochure on family.org.sg
AFFIRM also called his advocacy of "reparative therapy" - "highly questionable in light of the APA Code of Ethics to which all psychologists licensed in California are expected to conform whether or not they are APA members."

The letter also noted: "There are serious scientific as well as ethical concerns about "reparative therapy" that have been raised by organisations such as the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association. It is ineffective, provides no demonstrated benefit, and can be harmful."

According to the web site, the seminar titled "Preventing Homosexuality" to be held on Nov 26, aims to "help concerned educators and youth workers uncover the most significant factors that contribute to children's healthy sense of themselves as male or female" and "provide clear insight and practical knowledge for identifying potential developmental roadblocks and detecting early warning signs of homosexuality."

The full day seminar titled "Caring For Homosexuals," which will be held on Nov 28, aims to "equip psychologists, social workers, professional counsellors, and others in the helping profession with the necessary framework and skills to guide homosexuals towards an understanding and recognition of their condition so to encourage and facilitate change."

Several members of PLU have said in a statement that they will attend the seminars and observe and question the assumptions as homosexuals. "We believe that putting a human face to this homosexual menace is critical in building understanding. We would not be taking a militant stand, and seek to approach them in a respectful but firm manner," the statement said.

(Click on to page 3 to read the statement by AFFIRM.)
Statement by AFFIRM Network

Homosexuality: Myths & Truths seminar brochure on family.org.sg
To Whom It May Concern:

This letter is to alert the public to serious ethical and scientific concerns about the "reparative therapy" seminar to be presented by Melvin Wong, Ph.D., in Singapore, 25-28 November 2003 (see attached copy of the email announcement of this event). Dr. Wong, under the auspices of James Dobson's group "Focus on the Family," apparently is importing a highly controversial, ethically and scientifically questionable "treatment" to Singapore, playing on the public confusion and prejudices as Singaporean laws regarding homosexuality are changing. Contrary to misleading representations of his qualifications in published announcements, Dr. Wong is not a member of the American Psychological Association, nor is he on staff of the University of California at San Francisco. His approach to working with homosexual clients is not congruent with that of mainstream American psychologists or psychiatrists. Indeed, "reparative therapy" has been largely discredited in America as discriminatory, disrespectful, ineffective, and often harmful to the patient.

There are three serious problems with this seminar, of which the Singaporean public should be aware if they are considering attendance at this event:

First, the description of Dr. Wong's qualifications is misleading. The announcement states that Dr. Wong is "affiliated with" the American Psychological Association (APA). In fact, Dr. Wong is not a member of the APA, and is not even eligible to become a member, because he did not graduate from an APA-accredited institution. Although Melvin W. Wong is licensed as a psychologist in California, his degree is from the "Center for Psychological Studies" in Berkeley, CA, an educational institution that is not regionally accredited and not even eligible for APA accreditation as a doctoral program in psychology. He is not on the staff of the University of California.

Second, Dr. Wong's advocacy of "reparative therapy" is highly questionable in light of the APA Code of Ethics to which all psychologists licensed in California are expected to conform, whether or not they are APA members.

The APA Code of Ethics states:

"Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on... sexual orientation and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices."

Third, there are serious scientific as well as ethical concerns about "reparative therapy" that have been raised by organizations such as the American Psychological Association and the American Psychiatric Association (see postscript below). It is ineffective, provides no demonstrated benefit, and can be harmful.

It is to be hoped that Dr. Wong will become aware of these ethical and scientific problems and work towards eliminating his apparent biases and prejudice, and towards putting his energy into treatments that actually work to relieve psychological suffering, instead of those that create psychological harm.

Sincerely Yours,
The AFFIRM Network Advocacy Committee (http://naples.cc.sunysb.edu/CAS/affirm.nsf)
Miriam Ehrenberg, Ph.D.
Marvin R. Goldfried, Ph.D.
Norman Weissberg, Ph.D., Chair
Karen Wills, Ph.D.

Karen E. Wills, Ph.D., LP, ABPP
Pediatric Neuropsychology
Department of Psychology
Children's Hospitals and Clinics
2525 Chicago Avenue South
(mailcode 17-301)
Minneapolis, MN 55404

Singapore

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