Psychologists: "Reparative Therapy" For Gays Is Useless And HarmfulS

Therapists shouldn't try to make gay people straight, said the American Psychological Association yesterday in its clearest denunciation yet of so-called "reparative therapy."

According to an AP story, a six-member APA panel examined 83 studies on the issue, and found that not only is therapy to change sexual orientation (like that received by Ted Haggard, pictured) likely worthless, it can also cause patients to become depressed and consider suicide. Instead, the APA says therapists should recommend a range of solutions, from celibacy to changing church affiliation, to patients who have a conflict between their sexuality and their religion. Psychologist and panel leader Julia Glassgold told the AP,

Both sides have to educate themselves better. The religious psychotherapists have to open up their eyes to the potential positive aspects of being gay or lesbian. Secular therapists have to recognize that some people will choose their faith over their sexuality.

Alan Chambers, president of a group that purports to use religion to change sexual preference, and himself someone who says he "overcame unwanted same-sex attraction," says he is satisfied with the APA's report. Others are less happy. David Pruden, Executive Director of a nonprofit that claims to help gay Mormons become straight, plans to ignore the APA report. He tells Rosemary Winters of the Salt Lake City Tribune, "The doctrines and standards of the church don't change because of statements by quasi-political organizations."

In a way it's surprising that the APA is even still talking about this issue. Homosexuality was removed from the DSM (a comprehensive handbook of mental illnesses and problems) in 1973, and the APA already has a brochure on sexual orientation that reads, in part,

All major national mental health organizations have officially expressed concerns about therapies promoted to modify sexual orientation. To date, there has been no scientifically adequate research to show that therapy aimed at changing sexual orientation (sometimes called reparative or conversion therapy) is safe or effective. Furthermore, it seems likely that the promotion of change therapies reinforces stereotypes and contributes to a negative climate for lesbian, gay, and bisexual persons.

However, in April, Slate's William Saletan wrote that therapists could in good conscience help patients change their sexual orientation in cases of "borderline homosexuality." He said,

Would you tell [...] a patient that her understanding of God is wrong? Are you sure her attraction to women is more fundamental than her religious beliefs? Is peace with the lesbian part of her sexuality worth the destruction of her family or her faith? And most important: Do you think you can answer these questions without knowing more about her?

Michael King, the professor who led the British study, tries to do just that. When gay people seek therapeutic escape, he argues, "Mental health practitioners and society at large must help them to confront prejudice in themselves and in others."

Help them confront prejudice in themselves? Isn't that just the substitution of one inner war, one purification quest, for another?

Except the war to confront prejudice is one the patient might actually win. Saletan mentions friends of his who have dated both men and women as proof that sexuality can change "at the margins." And yes, sexual preferences are not necessarily static, especially over the course of a lifetime. But there's no evidence that these preferences can change as a result of therapy, and a therapist's attempt to force such change likely does more harm than good. More and more, it appears that attraction is something we can't control, is something perhaps mutable but not "reparable." Therapists shouldn't reinforce an untenable status quo that regards people's natural desires as sinful and in need of fixing. The fact that Saletan — conservative, yes, but writing in a publication as mainstream as Slate — thinks they should is evidence that the APA's statement is still necessary.

Psychologists Reject Gay ‘Therapy' [AP, via NYT]
Psychologists Repudiate Gay-To-Straight Therapy [AP, via Breitbart]
APA's Stance Another Positive Step For Gays, Utah Therapist Says [Salt Lake City Tribune]
Shades Of Gay [Slate]