Leading mental health experts today strongly condemned the Christian counseling center owned by GOP presidential candidate Michele Bachmann and her husband Marcus for engaging in a discredited therapy designed to convert gays to straights through prayer and self-reflection.
"This is so far outside the mainstream it's practically on Mars," said Dr. Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist who has written extensively on the practice of gay conversions.
Marcus Bachmann had denied the family's suburban Minneapolis treatment centers employed so-called reparative therapy in a newspaper interview five years ago, but ABC News reported Monday on the experience of a former patient, and on an undercover operation mounted by gay rights advocates. Both provided evidence that practice is occurring there.
The "path for my therapy would be to read the Bible, pray to God that I would no longer be gay," said Andrew Ramirez, who was 17 years old at the time he sought help from Bachmann & Associates in suburban Minneapolis. "And God would forgive me if I were straight."
An undercover video shot by the group Truth Wins Out shows a Bachmann & Associates therapist telling a gay client that God designed men to be attracted to women, and with prayer and effort he could eventually become straight.
Both Drescher and Dr. Clinton Anderson of the American Psychological Association, the nation's leading professional organization for psychologists, told ABC News that efforts to convert patients from gay to straight not only don't work, they can actually harm patients.
"They may feel more depressed, more anxious, some people may feel more suicidal because this treatment didn't work," Drescher said. "There's a lot of technical language that sounds like mainstream psychology or mainstream psychiatry, but it's not."
Gay rights advocates decried the practice, circulating a petition calling on Bachmann to disavow the practice. Officials at the Washington-based Human Rights Campaign said they would be deeply concerned if federal or state funds went to support it.
"It would be a real disservice to the people who are harmed if any kind of public money were to be going towards the clinic that practiced them," said Michael Cole-Schwartz, the group's spokesman.
Bachmann & Associates has received tens of thousands of dollars in state and federal funds, but it is not clear whether any of the public money was used to support these therapies. Questions about this sent to the Bachmann campaign went unanswered.
Rep. Bachmann, her Congressional office, and her campaign staff remained silent on the issue -- other than to say the congresswoman is proud of the Christian counseling center that she and her husband have co-owned since 2003. The center's web site was unresponsive Tuesday.
On Capitol Hill, ABC News briefly caught up with Rep. Bachmann and asked her why she unwilling to discuss the methods used at the clinic.
"I'm focusing on turning the economy around and on jobs so that's what I'm focusing on," she responded as she hustled to her car.