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APA CONSIDERS GAY CONVERSION THERAPY

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Source: Washington Post article by Rick Weiss, "Psychologists Reconsider Gay 'Conversion' Therapy. Group's Proposal Seeks to Curb Such Treatment", 1997-AUG-14; Reuters News Agency, 1997-AUG-15.

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Some psychologists and other therapists engage in a controversial practice of attempting to convert homosexuals into heterosexuals. It is called "conversion" or "reparative" therapy. Essentially all such therapists are motivated by strong religiously conservative beliefs. Many are from Evangelical Christian ministries who believe that God hates homosexuality, that people choose their sexual orientation, and that they can change it with some counseling effort and prayer.

In 1995, a resolution was defeated by the APA membership that would have called such therapy unethical professional behavior. A similar resolution was defeated by the American Psychiatric Association in 1994.

On 1997-AUG-14, they did pass a resolution which "stops short of declaring reparative or 'conversion' therapy unethical." It was passed by an overwhelming vote in spite of vehement opposition by "a vocal minority of psychologists, psychiatrists and religious groups."

The procedure of attempting to covert gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals to heterosexuality has been criticized as bigotry posing as science. Doug Haldeman, president of the APA's Society for the Psychological Study of Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Issues helped to write the resolution. He said "In the past 10 years, Christian fundamentalists have enlisted a coalition of old-style psychologists, psychiatrists and social workers who have become very visible in this country and internationally, and who have as a mission to `help' homosexuals get rid of their sexual orientation...Our aim is not to try to stop them per se or interfere with anyone's right to practice [therapy] but we want to expose the social context that creates this market." APA officials are concerned that some who enter therapy are being coerced by their families, employers, church members etc.

Robert Pollard, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Rochester, commented "The question is, are you going into this [therapy] knowing that homosexuality is not a mental illness, and knowing that you do not necessarily have a problem, and knowing that people who are gay and lesbian can demonstrate perfectly normal mental health?"

No real data is available on "reparative therapy." The APA has no idea how many people submit to this therapy. There has never been an article in any peer-reviewed journal on its effectiveness. "Advocates say they have many examples of people who have been successfully converted and lived happily and heterosexually ever after. Critics claim that in most cases the therapy does not work and in many cases it amplifies a homosexual person's feelings of alienation."

The APA resolution affirms that the therapist obtains "informed consent" from the client. This includes:

  1. a full discussion of the client's potential for happiness as a homosexual,
  2. communication to the client that there is no sound scientific evidence that the therapy works,
  3. raising the possibility that therapy may exacerbate the client's problems, and
  4. an analysis of the client's true motivation for wanting to change. 

Some comments on the resolution:

bullet The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) promotes "reparative therapy." Spokesperson C.W. Socarides stated: "It is a very serious resolution cloaked in lamb's wool...an attempt to brainwash the public...Homosexuality is a psychological and psychiatric disorder, there is no question about it...It is a purple menace that is threatening the proper design of gender distinctions in society." (The APA decided that homosexuality was not a mental disorder in 1973).
bullet Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, a clinical psychologist and executive director of NARTH, called the informed consent principles "intimidating and discouraging. It's like having a restaurant and having a big sign in the window saying, `You might be poisoned, you might not be happy with the food.'"
bullet R.H. Knight, spokesperson of the Family Research Council, a leading Christian Religious Right group, opposed the resolution. He said: "I'd like to know if the APA will require therapists to tell patients that there are strong cultural and religious reasons for saying homosexual sex is wrong."
bullet D.M. Smith of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay and lesbian civil rights group, commented: "These therapies amount to nothing more than psychological terrorism and are usually performed by practitioners who harbor intense bias against gay people."

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