A Toronto therapist who attempted to “treat” homosexuality in his male patients has been found guilty by his peers of sexual misconduct.
Earlier this month, the Discipline Committee of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario (CPSO) determined that Melvyn Iscove, 72, had engaged in multiple acts of “professional misconduct,” including the sexual abuse of two long-term patients.
The two patients said they were subjected to sexual misconduct by Iscove during their testimonies before the Discipline Committee. The patients, given the pseudonyms “A” and “B,” respectively, said that even as they saw Iscove as a father figure, he slowly coerced them into entering a sexual relationship with him throughout the course of their therapy sessions.
Patient A, who saw Iscove for about 18 years starting in 1991, said he went to the therapist to help him deal with the fear that he was gay. Iscove was a Freudian therapist who subscribed to the theories of Edmund Bergler, an Australian psychoanalyst who saw homosexuality as a mental condition traced to infancy that could be cured with enough effort. Iscove, according to Patient A, told A to read Bergler’s books, and A said he came away with the impression that Iscove hoped to have him someday renounce his homosexuality. So-called conversion therapy is not backed by science and is opposed by major medical groups, including the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, and others.
More than a decade in, around 2002, Iscove started becoming physical, eventually asking A to touch him sexually, according to A’s testimony. For the next few years, A said, he and Iscove would periodically engage in mutual masturbation and oral sex in Iscove’s office. It wasn’t until 2005 that the sex stopped, when A requested it, according to his testimony. He continued to see Iscove for several years afterwards.
The same pattern was seen with patient B, though B said he didn’t have any concerns with his sexuality prior to seeing Iscove, starting in the late 1980s. In 2007, B said, he began having sex with Iscove. According to B, the relationship began after he told Iscove that he started wondering if he was actually gay. B said he told Iscove that he wanted to get involved with a random man to figure this out, but Iscove told B that he’d be better off having sex with someone familiar, and offered himself up. Iscove and B then engaged in oral—and one occasion, anal sex—over the next year, in both Iscove’s office and his home, B testified. After B stopped the sexual relationship, he said in his testimony, B continued therapy with Iscove on and off until 2011.
B confided his relationship with Iscove to another therapist in 2012; the therapist then reported the incident to the CPSO, which prompted the investigation into Iscove. B only agreed to testify after he learned that another patient, A, had similar experiences with Iscove.
Iscove denied the allegations of sexual misconduct, and that he himself was homosexual, in his own testimony. He did admit that he gave or tried to give both patients his personal belongings; let them cheaply rent out apartments that were provided by the Bergler Foundation that he ran; and regularly asked them to describe their sexual fantasies to him in therapy. Iscove also affirmed that he broadly agreed with Bergler’s theories of homosexuality, though he disagreed with the suggestion that he saw it as an illness that needed to be cured.
“Given that Dr. Iscove had admittedly devoted his professional life to studying and applying the theories of Dr. Bergler, it was not clear to the Committee why Dr. Iscove refused to acknowledge that he agreed with Dr. Bergler on these points,” the CPSO wrote in its ruling.
Despite Iscove’s protestations, the Discipline Committee found A and B’s testimony compelling and immediately suspended Iscove’s license to practice therapy. Another hearing is scheduled to be held to determine Iscove’s penalty, which could presumably include full disbarment. Iscove is also being investigated by the Committee over an allegation that he engaged in “improper conduct in a public men’s washroom in about January, 2014,” according to a partially redacted notice on the CPSO website.
Iscove’s practice of trying to treat homosexuality—so called “conversion” therapy—wasn’t up for deliberation as an ethical failure in the hearing. But the province of Ontario did ban the therapy from being used on minors in 2015. The US, meanwhile, has explicitly banned it in 10 states and Washington D.C., most recently Washington this month, citing the harm it causes to patients. A similar legislative effort, however, failed to get enough Republican support in New Hampshire earlier this January. One patient who underwent conversion therapy described it as “torture” in a January article for the New York Times.