Conversion therapy lawsuit filed against Berkeley therapist

Yukun Zhang/Staff

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This story has been updated to reflect an effort to reach out to Lloyd Willey.

On Thursday, former San Francisco resident Katherine McCobb filed a complaint against Berkeley marriage and family therapist Lloyd Willey for alleged “conversion therapy.”

The case alleges that Willey, who could not be reached for comment, told McCobb that her sexual orientation as a lesbian was unnatural and pathological, and that he attempted to change her sexual orientation. McCobb has allegedly spent more than $70,000 on therapy with Willey over an eight year period.

According to the complaint, McCobb initially entered therapy with Willey to develop self-confidence. Willey later raised the topic of McCobb’s sexual orientation and brought it into her therapy, encouraging her to become more “feminine” by growing out her hair, losing weight and changing her wardrobe.

When McCobb began to date a woman, Willey allegedly told her the relationship was “not genuine.” Months of pressure from both Willey and a support group he ran called the “circle of friends” shamed McCobb into ending the relationship. Willey then allegedly encouraged McCobb to commence a heterosexual relationship with another one of his patients, though she felt no attraction to the man.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights, or NCLR, filed the lawsuit on McCobb’s behalf. According to NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, it is likely that McCobb will recover the cost of the therapy as well as receive additional damages.

This case is the first conversion therapy case in California filed under consumer fraud protection laws, which protect consumers from businesses that lie in order to get people to pay for goods or services, according to Minter. There has been only one other such conversion therapy case in the United States, which was filed in New Jersey in 2012.

“What’s new is the realization that (conversion therapy) is consumer fraud,” Minter said. “This is a powerful tool because it’s often difficult for people who have been hurt by these therapists to do anything about it.”

Nicolas Chang, an internal manager for Cal Queer & Asian, said he is glad the NCLR is taking the case to court so it can set a precedent for similar cases, as conversion therapists’ behavior often “disappears into the ether.”

“The queer community suffers from a lot of mental illness, and (conversion therapy) is just this awful extra thing you have to be looking out for when you try to find a therapist,” Chang said.

Contact Rachael Cornejo at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @RachaelCornejo.

Correction(s):
A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Lloyd Willey as a psychiatrist. In fact, he is a marriage and family therapist.