Report Challenges Change Therapy
Special Report - August 11, 2009
A report on sexual orientation change therapy that was released last week at the American Psychological Association’s (APA) annual convention is generating both positive and negative reactions from Christian mental health professionals. The six-member panel of the APA’s Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation, which was established in 2007, released the report on August 5. Entitled “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation,” the 130-page report concludes that there is “insufficient evidence that sexual orientation change efforts work,” and recommends that therapists “avoid telling clients that they can change from gay to straight.” In addition, the report states that there is insufficient recent evidence to make a determination about whether or not sexual orientation change efforts are harmful to patients.
Despite these negative conclusions and its generally positive portrayal of homosexuality, the APA report recognizes the existence of men and women who have left homosexuality. It states: “although sexual orientation is unlikely to change, some individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e., individual or group membership and affiliation, self-labeling) and other aspects of sexuality (i.e., values and behavior).” It also acknowledges the importance of religious belief in people’s lives, and recommends that therapists respect the patient’s religious identity in seeking the appropriate treatment. The report recommends that therapists “provide psychological acceptance, support, and recognition of the importance of faith to individuals and communities while recognizing the science of sexual orientation.” According to the APA task force, “Such an approach would focus on increasing positive religious coping, understanding religious motivations, integrating religious and sexual orientation identities, and reframing sexual orientation identities to reduce or eliminate self-stigma.”
Warren Throckmorton, Ph.D., a Christian mental health counselor who teaches psychology at Grove City College, described the APA task force’s report as “high quality.” In an analysis of the APA report posted on his blog, Dr. Throckmorton wrote: “While the paper takes a dim view of change efforts, the authors indicate that attempts to change have been viewed as helpful by some and harmful by others. This is a fair reading of the research.” He commends the report for its positive treatment of what he calls “sexual identity therapy” (SIT), which he uses in his treatment of patients struggling with same-sex attractions. Dr. Throckmorton notes that this type of treatment is described by APA Task Force chair, Judy Glassgold, in the APA press release on the report as “therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome.” He also emphasizes that, “the report respects the place of religion in identity development and exploration.”
While the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) also thanked the APA task force for its emphasis on the “importance of faith and religious diversity,” it criticized the task force for reflecting “virtually no ideological diversity.” According to NARTH, “no APA member who offers reorientation therapy was allowed to join the task force.” In a statement, NARTH said: “Had the task force been more neutral in their approach, they could have arrived at only one conclusion: homosexuality is not invariably fixed in all people, and some people can and do change, not just in terms of behavior and identity but in core features of sexual orientation, such as fantasy and attractions.”
As a result of the APA report, the APA’s governing Council of Representatives formerly adopted the task force’s “Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation and Change Efforts,” which was included in the report. The resolution states in part that the APA “reaffirms its position that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder and opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation,” and that “there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation.”
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