Tuesday, May 14, 2013

I Have a Strong Aversion to This

I've just begun reading Isherwood on Writing (Minnesota, 2007), which publishes lectures given by Christopher Isherwood at California universities in the 1950s and 1960s.  Compulsive that I am, I waded through the introductory material, and was brought up short by this statement in "Isherwood scholar" Claude J. Summers's foreword:
Clearly, the real subject here is not conformity but the abandonment of  Freud's tolerance toward homosexuality by his disciples; while Freud was skeptical of any attempt to "cure" homosexuality, many of his followers in the early 1950s and 1960s, such as Edmund Bergler, Charles W. Socarides, and Irving Bieber, became advocates of "aversion therapy," and other psychoanalytic attempts to change homosexuals into heterosexuals [xiv].
Aversion therapy is not a psychoanalytic practice, it's a behaviorist practice.  That may be a sectarian distinction, but it's not trivial.  Psychoanalysts and behaviorists represented completely different approaches to the mind, and detested each other cordially.  As I understand it, the behaviorist patriarch B. F. Skinner rejected aversion therapy on the ground that punishment doesn't work well, and distributing rewards is more effective at changing behavior.  But it appears that Summers doesn't know the difference.  Maybe he confused "aversion therapy" with "conversion therapy" or the current buzzword, "reversion therapy": the religion-based therapies which claim to change sexual orientation use an opportunistic mix of psychoanalytic theory and behaviorist methods -- but those ministries are a much later development, not relevant to the period Summers is talking about.  And it's not exactly ancient history, but then I forget how old I am.  Scholars are supposed to inform themselves about these things, however.