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Conversion therapist found guilty of having sex with his male patients

A therapist and a patient on a couch
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A psychiatrist who specialized in conversion therapy has been found guilty of having sex with two of his male patients.

Dr. Melvyn Iscove, 72, is a psychiatrist in Toronto who had a “special interest” in curing homosexuality, according to the decision rendered at a discipline hearing this week by the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario.

Two of his patients said that his conversion therapy techniques involved having sex with him.

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“Neither complainant described any emotional or romantic aspects of the sexual activity with Dr. Iscove, and both said that at some point, they thought that the sexual activity was part of the therapy and an attempt to cure them of homosexuality by engaging in the acts, rather than fantasizing about them,” the disciplinary committee found.

The committee wrote that Iscove was obsessed with discredited theories about homosexuality from the 1950’s, including those of Freudian psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler, who said, “There are no happy homosexuals.”

Iscove tried to deny that he applied the theories of Bergler, but he “became evasive” when asked if he thought that homosexuality could be cured.

He said that his patients came to him with diverse problems, but those problems couldn’t be addressed until the patients acknowledged that being gay was their real problem.

“He stated that these patients only became responsive to his therapy when they were ready to fight it (i.e., the homosexuality),” the committee found.

The complaints brought against Iscove come from former patients over the last several decades. The men, who are now in their 40’s, were not identified to protect their privacy.

One former patient said that he went to Iscove when he was in his 20’s because he had anxiety “associated with fears he was gay.” He testified that Iscove made him describe his sexual fantasies.

In one session, the patient said that Iscove hugged him and said, “What are you thinking you want to do?” and “You may touch me if you like.”

“The sexual activity subsequently progressed to Dr. Iscove removing his penis from his trousers, then Patient A doing the same,” the committee wrote. “This progressed on later occasions to mutual masturbation and oral sex. Patient A estimated that such activity occurred on between 10 and 20 occasions with oral sex occurring on one-third of the episodes.”

The other complainant said that he was sent to Iscove in the late 1980’s by his parents for depression and anxiety. Unlike the first former patient, he said that he thought he was straight.

But thinking he was straight wasn’t enough for Iscove, who told him that his heterosexual fantasies were “a way of denying his homosexuality.”

“Patient B firmly believed that Dr. Iscove was attempting to ‘cure’ his homosexuality,” the committee found.

He continued seeing Iscove for decades. In 2007, he said that he considered having sex with another man and told Iscove about it.

“After discussing this with Dr. Iscove, who persuaded him that a random partner was undesirable, Dr. Iscove made it known that he, himself, would be available,” the committee wrote.

The patient and Iscove engaged in masturbation and oral sex on several occasions. They had anal sex once.

The committee also found that he engaged in other inappropriate behavior with his patients, like selling a juicer to the second complainant.

Iscove’s license was immediately suspended, but a penalty hearing has not been held. Other doctors who have had sex with patients in Ontario have lost their licenses.

“Dr. Iscove has always denied the allegations, he continues to do so, and he’s seriously considering an appeal,” his lawyer said.

Iscove has another disciplinary hearing coming up about “improper conduct in a public men’s washroom.”

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