Sunday, June 21, 2015, 12:45 by Ivan Martin
A 2011 protest outside the River of Love premises. On the left is River of Love evangelist Gordon Manché.
A gay man is claiming he was told his sexual orientation was “disgusting” and could be cured by a psychologist with ties to the Christian fellowship River of Love.
The 28-year-old, who asked to remain anonymous, said he had attended two counselling sessions with warranted psychologist Mariella Blackman when he came out to his friends and family seven years ago.
He recounted how Ms Blackman, a popular television psychologist and wife of controversial evangelist Gordon Manché, had started treating him for his homosexuality.
Ms Blackman denied allegations that she had conducted such therapy after her husband organised a faith conversion event entitled ‘Gay No More’ in 2011, or that he was in any way involved.
Her former patient, however, told this newspaper that not only had she spoken of a cure for his sexuality but that one particular session had seen her husband perform a ritual similar to an exorcism on him during counselling.
There was a period when I was suicidal
“She told me she had someone who could help me. It was Pastor Manché. They started praying over me and telling me to reject the devil, which was making me gay… It’s wrong and it’s dangerous and definitely shouldn’t be done by a psychologist,” he said, describing how he shook during the “uncomfortable” session. He said Mr Manché had likened his same sex attraction to bestiality.
When contacted, Ms Blackman said the claims were a “lie from the pit of hell,” insisting that if patients had a problem with her services she should have been contacted directly. However, the man said his mother had learnt of Ms Blackman’s belief that his homosexuality stemmed from a problem with his parents, which caused an upheaval in his family home.
“My parents blamed each other and it tore my family apart for some time. There was a period when I was suicidal. I wouldn’t eat and had even found myself outside her clinic deciding whether or not to go in and confront her for what she did to me,” he said.
The young man said he had the Church to thank for pulling him out of the therapy. “I told my priest what was happening. One day he told me to stop this therapy and that the Church did not agree with what was happening there. They gave me support and were very helpful,” he said.
Malta Gay Rights Movement head Gabi Calleja said this was not the first time she had heard of such therapy conducted by Ms Blackman. She said she had spoken to two people who had undergone such therapy and resorted to MGRM for help.
A former vice president of the Malta Union of Professional Psychologists, Ms Blackman is no longer on the union’s executive and sources said they had received complaints during her time on the executive. Union president Paul Attard Baldacchino said the union was against any form of gay conversion therapy and strongly advised against it.
The Malta Psychology Profession Board did not reply to questions about whether any complaints had been filed against her.
The government is currently drafting legislation to criminalise conversion therapies, and Civil Liberties Minister Helena Dalli said a first draft of the Bill was expected to be finalised by the end of the year.