Friday, August 7, 2009

American Psychological Association: Therapists Should Stop Trying To "Cure" Gays

The American Psychological Association (APA) urged therapists to stop counseling gay people that they can change their sexual orientation:

The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments.

...In a resolution adopted on a 125-to-4 vote by the APA's governing council, and in a comprehensive report based on two years of research, the 150,000-member association put itself firmly on record in opposition of so-called "reparative therapy" which seeks to change sexual orientation.

No solid evidence exists that such change is likely, says the report, and some research suggests that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.

Of course, there are those who continue advocating gay-to-straight transformation:

One of the largest organizations promoting the possibility of changing sexual orientation is Exodus International, a network of ministries whose core message is "Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ." Its president, Alan Chambers, describes himself as someone who "overcame unwanted same-sex attraction."

Regarding the validity of this therapy, I trust the expertise of the American Psychological Association over Chambers (upper left). That's why I find the following testimony compelling:

Wayne Besen, a gay-rights activist who has sought to discredit the so-called "ex-gay" movement, welcomed the APA findings.

"Ex-gay therapy is a profound travesty that has led to pointless tragedies, and we are pleased that the APA has addressed this psychological scourge," Besen said.

If someone told straights that they could become gay through therapy or prayer, would that person be taken seriously? Why, then, are gays subject to this claptrap? The APA's stance is based on the fact that sexuality is an innate orientation, not a "choice" as social conservatives would have it, and that homosexuality is not a deviancy in need of a cure:

The APA task force took as a starting point the belief that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality, not a disorder, and that it nonetheless remains stigmatized in ways that can have negative consequences.


Hunter W said...

The APA is being political and not looking at the actual facts. I personal know of 3 people who were in the gay lifestyle and left it through Jesus-centered counseling.

I don't know if homosexuality is genetic or not -- the studies I've seen haven't been comprehensive. However, I do know that in some cases it can be a physiological problem.

Take a woman who is in an abusive relationship. She gets beat up and beat down but returns time and time again. Is that genetic and therefore we shouldn't intervene? Or is that a psychological issue?

Jeff Tone said...

Hunter: There’s no basis for stating that the American Psychological Association is being “political.” Would you say the same if they decided that homosexuality is aberrant? Would you then say that they are politically catering to social conservatism?

Being gay, by the way, is not a “lifestyle,” anymore than being straight is; it is a sexual orientation. You know some people who left that “lifestyle”–does that mean that they are no longer attracted to the same sex? In any event, whatever you’ve heard is anecdotal and cannot form the basis for an empirical assessment. For a different perspective, you may be interested in one writer’s bitter assessment of religiously based attempts to “cure” gays:

I don’t understand what you mean by “a physiological problem”; indeed, I don’t see being gay as a “problem” at all. Nor do I see the relevance of the abused woman. Of course someone who returns to an abusive relationship has a psychological problem, whether they’re gay or straight. As far as intervention, clearly anyone who assaults someone else should be arrested and brought before the criminal justice system.

Hunter W said...


Sorry -- I meant to say "politically correct". My fingers don't always type as fast as I think.

As for the word "problem" -- I fully believe that in some cases it is a psychological issue. I don't know if anyone has ever done a full study on this (it would be controversial if it was ever done) but I estimate that over half, and probably close to 2/3, of the gay men and women I know were sexually abused as a child by someone of the same sex.

One of my friends, who is in recovery, recounted his story for me. His sexual abuse went on for several years. He liked how everything felt (I won't go into details but I'm sure you know what I mean). As he got older he thought that meant he was gay -- because he associated the stimulation with men. When he graduated college he spent 1.5 years in a relationship with another man. The whole time something didn't feel right to him but it was all he ever knew. Through counseling he discovered the connection between his abuse and his current situation.

He is now married with 3 kids. He is head-over-heels in love with his wife. He is still in a support group with other men who used to be in homosexual relationships. For him, his homosexual leanings and desires stemmed from sexual and psychological abuse.

I can make the argument that homosexuality is genetic -- I can even use the Bible to do it. But I don't think you can say that in every case the guy is either gay or not and that he is just lying to himself. I know too many people like my friend to share that story.

I read the story you sent about Saddleback. I'm sure you would find other stories that are the opposite.

You said that my story is anecdotal -- what empirical evidence is there to say the opposite?

As for the bridge from abused women to homosexuality -- these women are in relationships that aren't good for them and they know it. Yet there is something inside of them that blocks that. For SOME people in homosexual relationships it can be the same way. My friends were in relationships that they knew weren't healthy for them but something was blocking them from leaving. It wasn't until they found the root cause of things until they figured it all out.

A woman in an abusive relationship can leave one but she'll often go into another. It isn't until she finds out the root cause as to why she is drawn to those relationships that she can truly free herself from that.

Again, I am not smart enough to make broad brush strokes that in every case it is this way or that way. I'm only painting a picture around some of the cases -- perhaps a small portion -- of those who have desires for same-sex relationships as their sexual orientation.

To say (in general, not to imply you have said this) that sexual orientation is simply genetic and can't be influenced by outside forces is, IMHO, short sighted and really downplays how our experiences, especially those from our childhood, can influence our lives.

Jeff Tone said...

Hunter, Yes, of course, everyone can give specific cases of individuals who were abused and who suffered lifelong repercussions. But these cases pertain to both gays and straights. Of course our identities are influenced by outside forces. But regardless of what influences us, we do recognize an innate sexual orientation. I didn’t choose to be a straight male; it is my innate identity. I don’t see why it should be any different with gays. I believe that many gays have had psychological problems imposed on them from without, by societal and religious disapproval.

Ultimately, all adults should be free to enter relationships of their choosing. I find it ironic that the conservative movement (and I’m also making this statement in general, not pointing at you) is always taking about freedom and individual rights while moralizing about personal issues.

Hunter W said...

Funny what happens when you go to the source. Here is a copy of one of the studies (and one of the few cited in the APA report done in the last 25 years):

Interesting read (some real nerd stuff in there too!).

If someone wishes to attempt this kind of therapy, shouldn't they be allowed to do it?

As for morality -- our entire justice and legal system is based on it.

Jeff Tone said...

Hunter: Yes, of course if someone wishes to attempt this therapy, they should be allowed to do it. I think it's regrettable that someone would feel compelled to fight against their innate orientation, and I'm skeptical about their chances of success. The consensus among psychologists seems to be skepticism too, as reflected by the APA.

Morality is one thing--but moralizing to others about their personal life is another. That's why I wouldn't lecture someone who has accepted his gay identity or, on the other hand, tell someone who wants to "reverse" it not to try.