July 11, 2011 — -- A former patient who sought help from the Christian counseling clinic owned by GOP presidential hopeful Michele Bachmann and her husband, Marcus, told ABC News he was advised that prayer could rid him of his homosexual urges and he could eventually be "re-oriented."
"[One counselor's] 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 in 2004. "And God would forgive me if I were straight."
In the past, Marcus Bachmann has disputed the clinic has treated gay patients this way. But Ramirez's account, which was first reported by The Nation, is similar to the counseling session that appears on new undercover video shot by a gay rights advocacy group last month. That footage shows another counselor at the Bachmann clinic telling a gay man posing as a patient that, with prayer and effort, he could eventually learn to be attracted to women and rid himself of his gay urges.
Watch the full report tonight on ABC News' "Nightline".
The disclosures have provided fresh insight into what Michele Bachmann has called her family business -- the primary source of income for her family as she left her law practice to move into politics. The counseling center has factored into Bachmann's campaign narrative, as well -- evidence, she said, of her ability to understand what it takes to create jobs and run a small business.
"We're very proud of our business and all job creators in the U.S.," Michele Bachmann told a reporter when asked about the clinic Monday.
The Bachmann & Associates counseling centers appear to offer a wide range of services to people in emotional distress and are clearly billed on the clinic's website as a religious-based approach to mental health treatment. ABC News sought to interview Marcus Bachmann and his wife about the clinic and its practices, but a campaign spokeswoman declined to make them available. The campaign did not respond to written questions, instead sending a statement that says they cannot answer questions about specific treatments provided to patients.
"Those matters are protected by patient-client confidentiality," the statement says. "The Bachmann's are in no position ethically, legally, or morally to discuss specific courses of treatment concerning the clinic's patients."
Questions about how the counselors at Bachmann's clinic respond to patients who arrive seeking help with the tension between their sexual urges and their religious beliefs have long swirled in Minnesota. Marcus Bachmann was asked if his clinic tried to convert patients from gay to straight in an interview with a local newspaper in 2006, and said, "That's a false statement."
"If someone is interested in talking to us about their homosexuality, we are open to talking about that," he is reported to have said. "But if someone comes in a homosexual and they want to stay homosexual, I don't have a problem with that."
The controversial practice of trying to change someone's sexual orientation was roundly discredited by the American Psychological Association in 2009 as ineffective and potentially harmful. The first-hand accounts and video evidence surfacing Monday have rekindled questions about the Bachmann family business.
Clinton Anderson, who heads the association's Office on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, told ABC News that his organization did an exhaustive review and found no evidence that efforts to convert someone from gay to straight could succeed.
"The harm is that when people are already in distress, and feeling conflict about their religion and their sexuality, to tell them they can change if they work hard enough, when in fact they can't do that … just makes their distress and their shame -- their depression -- even worse," Anderson said.
Marcus Bachmann describes a gentle approach to counseling on his website, saying he believes "my call is to minister to the needs of people in a practical, caring and sensitive way." In a talk radio interview, however, he does not deny a tougher approach when it comes to dealing with behavior considered to be sinful.
"We have to understand, barbarians need to be educated," he said during a 2010 appearance on the program Point of View.
Questions about the clinic's approach to counseling gay patients prompted the Vermont-based advocacy group Truth Wins Out to send a gay man undercover, with a camera, to seek guidance from a Bachmann associate.
"I told my therapist that I was struggling with attraction to the same sex, and that my attractions were overwhelmingly, predominately, exclusively homosexual," said John Becker, the man who visited the clinic five times in late June.
Treatment notes and bills that Becker provided to ABC said the counselor's goal was to "increase ability to manage and decrease feelings and actions."
Becker said he was told more explicitly that the goal of his treatment was to end his homosexual urges entirely, and he was provided scriptural mantras to repeat to himself in order to stay on track.
"He seemed to believe genuinely in his heart of hearts that, somehow, my homosexuality could be cured and could be eliminated," Becker said.