From Gay to Straight? Controversial Retreat Helps Men Deal With 'Unwanted Attraction'

Controversial retreat has men confront fears of unwanted homosexual feelings.

ByABC News
October 29, 2010, 1:18 PM

Nov. 8, 2010— -- When Preston met up with a bunch of his friends in New Caney, Texas, for a guys' weekend at a secluded camp, it wasn't for hunting or fishing. These men traveled here to attend emotional counseling sessions to cope with unwanted sexual attraction towards other men.

"To be able to connect from one man to another, with no facade, with no you know nothing holding back, it's just amazing," said Preston, a 28-year-old from outside of Salt Lake City, Utah. He requested only his first name be used.

The retreat called "Journey to Manhood" offers therapeutic peer counseling over 48 hours to help men like Preston, who voluntarily come to learn how to deal with what they call "same-sex attractions." For the first time ever, the retreat allowed cameras inside their controversial organization and ABC News was granted exclusive access.

"You walk into a room with these men and suddenly they know more about you than people your whole life have known about you," Preston said.

David Matheson, a counselor, and Rich Wyler, who referred to himself as a "life coach," founded the retreat in 2002. The two men say they have both overcome their own issues with "same-sex attraction" through years of their own therapeutic work.

Over the course of the weekend, they lead the participants in a variety of exercises to help them cope with what they say is a conflict between their sexual feelings and their personal values.

"For some people 'gay' is never going to work. That kind of life and that kind of living is never going to gel -- ever -- with their value system," Matheson explained. "For those men, that's why we exist, so that they can have another way, another approach of dealing with their sexual feelings."

"It can be dramatically transformative in a short amount of time," added Wyler. "We really welcome men from all ages, races, walks of life, religion or no religion. We've had men as young as 18 and well into their 60s."

The founders do not promise their clients they will transition from being gay to straight over night, but the overall goal is to give the men a foundation so they can work on making the change over time.

"It is truly a journey and it starts on one of these weekends," Preston said.

Visualizations and role play exercises are some of the techniques Wyler uses to help the men understand and accept their same-sex attractions, so that they can start to re-work their feelings.

"I want you to identify someone that you felt you had an attraction to recently, that you need to process," Wyler said to the attendees.

Retreat Participant: 'It Is Truly a Journey'

The cost for attending "Journey Into Manhood" is $650 per weekend, not including travel expenses. Wyler said he has lead 50 retreats like this in 12 states across the country and in England as part of his larger outreach program, "People Can Change."

The particular weekend that ABC News documented was a reunion -- all of the men present had already attended at least one retreat in the past. Many of them are religious and married to women, and some have children. For the majority, their struggle with homosexuality is something they keep secret.

Preston said he remembered being interested in boys from an early age. But with a strong Mormon background, he feared rejection from family and friends and decided to keep his feelings private.

"Probably at around age 12...There was a curiosity about boys my age but it wasn't a problem until I was, you know, kind of taught that it was a problem," he said.