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Woman files suit against former therapist

by Alex Madison

Katherine McCobb. Photo: Anne Parmeter
Katherine McCobb. Photo: Anne Parmeter  

A Berkeley-based marriage and family therapist is being sued by a lesbian former patient, who alleges that he pressured her to change her sexual orientation.

A lawsuit was filed last week against Lloyd Willey, a California-licensed therapist, by his former patient, Katherine McCobb, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

McCobb claims that she paid Willey more than $70,000 over eight years for treatment and that he urged her to change her clothes and appearance and begin dating a man, who was also one of Willey's patients, the suit states.

McCobb, who still identifies as a lesbian, claims that Willey defrauded her.

So-called conversion therapy, where a medical professional attempts to change someone's sexual orientation, has been discredited by the American Psychological Association and other professional counseling organizations as ineffective, unreliable, and dangerous. The notion that being gay or lesbian is a mental illness or disorder is scientifically unsupported.

The complaint, filed July 13 in Alameda County Superior Court, alleges McCobb gave Willey more than $70,000 from 2006 to 2014 after he told her being lesbian was "unnatural" and pathological and that she could "rewire" her brain to become straight.

"I trusted my therapist, and I was defrauded of tens of thousands of dollars as a result," said McCobb in a statement released by NCLR.

NCLR said that McCobb did not seek out therapy because of her sexual orientation when she first began seeing Willey when she was 25, but that he continually pressured her to become straight. The claim states during their first meeting, Willey concluded McCobb had been sexually abused and said this was the reason she was attracted to women. Willey also drew similar conclusions about other gay members in the group therapy sessions, according to the claim.

Shannon Price Minter, legal director for NCLR, said in a statement that Willey's therapy services were based on fraudulent, harmful lies. This serves as the basis of the lawsuit, which alleges exploitation of the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act and unfair competition law.

"Therapists who exploit vulnerable people by taking their money based on false claims that being lesbian or gay is unnatural and that counseling can change a person's sexual orientation are engaging in fraud," Minter said. "Our complaint alleges that our client in this case paid tens of thousands of dollars based on false promises that therapy could change her attraction to women. Charging a person money based on such bald-faced misrepresentations violates California's consumer protection laws."

According to McCobb, as part of the conversion therapy services she received, Willey told her to dress more stereotypically feminine, including growing out her hair, losing weight, wearing make-up, and changing her clothes. She also said Willey publicly shamed her during group therapy sessions and encouraged her to date one of his male patients.

"Business professionals who are charging fees for services cannot make false and misleading statements about those services to their clients," said Jeremy Kamras, a partner with Arnold and Porter Kaye Scholer LLP, who is also representing McCobb. "Our complaint alleges that the defendant did just that by persuading a vulnerable client to pay him for services based on blatant misrepresentations and fraudulent practices."

Willey did not respond to a request for comment from the Bay Area Reporter.

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