Reparative therapy & transformational ministries
Estimates of success rates
||"...the Holy Spirit is available to transform all persons - including homosexual
persons." Transforming Congregations.
"A variety of studies have shown that between 25% and 50% of
those seeking treatment experienced significant improvement."
NARTH letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal. 1
"There is no scientific data that substantiates a genetic or
biologic basis for same-sex attraction. Anybody can change."
Richard Cohen, speaking at the year 2000 conference of Parents
and Friends of Ex-Gays.
||"People need to know this [homosexuality] is not a lifetime
sentence. No one has been saying that. Change is possible." D. James Kennedy, Coral Ridge Ministries.
Other statements by conservative Christian groups promoting reparative therapy.
||"There is no published scientific evidence supporting the
efficacy of 'reparative therapy' as a treatment to change ones sexual
orientation." American Psychiatric Association fact sheet,
||"...scientific evidence does not show that conversion therapy
works." American Psychological Association, 1994.
||"...[reparative therapy] " can provoke guilt and anxiety while having little or
no potential for achieving changes in orientation." American
Academy of Pediatrics, 1993.
Other statements by mental health
professional organizations opposing reparative therapy.
In this essay, we will use the term "conversion therapy" to
refer to attempts to change homosexuals into heterosexuals. These attempts take
Both are extremely controversial.
In North America, reparative therapy is mainly promoted by one small professional
mental health organization, NARTH, and by many Evangelical and other
conservative Christian ministries. Transformational ministries also
promote their own programs of prayer, religious conversion and
counseling to change their clients' orientation. These groups generally teach that homosexuality is an unnatural,
abnormal, chosen and changeable sexual behavior. This is consistent with conservative Christian
theological beliefs: They interpret the Bible
as condemning homosexuality. They feel that
God hates homosexual behavior, and that God is all powerful, all present, all
knowing, and answers sincere prayers. With these beliefs, it is logical
that God would help a sincere, gay believer who wants to become
||All other major mental health professional organizations and many
gay and lesbian groups have issued
warnings against reparative therapy. They generally teach that
homosexuality is natural, normal, unchosen and unchangeable sexual
orientation for a minority of people. They believe that an adult
cannot change their sexual orientation, that reparative therapy is
potentially dangerous to some clients' self-esteem, and that some
clients leave therapy seriously depressed -- occasionally with
It is extremely important that therapists, gays, lesbians, parents, and the
rest of the public gain an understanding of the
effectiveness of conversion therapies. Tens or hundreds of thousands of gays
and lesbians have experienced these form of counseling. There is considerable anecdotal
evidence that all or essentially all gays and lesbians fail to achieve their goals
during reparative therapy. Many become very depressed; some of these attempt or
Unfortunately, reparative therapy still remains experimental; there appears
to be no reliable data on either its effectiveness or its dangers. No long-term
studies have never been done.
Defining "conversion rate" and other terms:
Unfortunately, both sides in this debate define
basic terms very differently. In this essay, we will use the definitions
that are recognized by most of the public, including religious liberals, mental
health professionals, human sexuality researchers, gays, lesbians, etc. These include:
||Heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality are the three
possible sexual orientations.|
||A heterosexual is an individual who is sexually attracted only to
members of the opposite gender. They may act on these feelings or
decide to remain celibate.|
||A homosexual is an individual who is sexually attracted only to
members of the same gender, whether they act on these feelings or not.|
||A bisexual is an individual who is sexually attracted to both men
and women, although not necessarily to the same degree. Some are
celibate; some have engaged in sexual behavior with both men and women; some
restrict their sexual relationship(s) to one gender.|
A person with a homosexual orientation who emerges from conversion
therapy with their sexual orientation unchanged is obviously not
converted to a heterosexual orientation. If they decide to be celibate as a result of the
therapy, then they have merely made a mental decision to become sexual
inactive; their sexual orientation remains homosexual. |
A person with a bisexual orientation who emerges from conversion
therapy with their sexual orientation unchanged is obviously not converted
to a heterosexual orientation. They may decide to confine their sexual
relationship(s) to members of the opposite gender. However their
sexual orientation remains bisexual.|
A person with a homosexual orientation who emerges from conversion
therapy with their sexual orientation changed to either bisexual or
heterosexual would be successfully converted from homosexuality.|
||The "conversion rate" of conversion therapy is defined as
the percentage of persons with a homosexual orientation who have
entered conversion therapy, have changed their orientation to either bisexual or heterosexual, and who
have achieved "good heterosexual functioning." |
Religious conservatives might refer to this as the "cure rate"
However. "cure" implies that the person has been
freed from a disease or disorder. A shrinking percentage of people
regard a homosexual orientation to be a disease or disorder to be
description of a conversion therapy study
by Dr. Robert Spitzer, CNN.com defined such heterosexual functioning as:
||being "in a sustained, loving heterosexual relationship within the
||"getting enough satisfaction from the emotional relationship
with their partner to rate at least seven on a 10-point scale."
satisfying heterosexual sex at least monthly," and
"never or rarely thinking of somebody of the same sex during
heterosexual sex." 1,2
Conversion rate estimates:
Unfortunately, as of 2001-MAY, no study of conversion therapy has been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
Those studies that have been conducted have many deficiencies. Often
complete data has been withheld. This makes
the "conversion rate" impossible to estimate accurately.
However, a few studies have uncovered sufficient information by which we may
be able to make a very crude estimate of the conversion rate:
Exodus International (1978): The ministry selected 30 of their 800
members as having changed from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual in orientation.
Two outside psychiatrists interviewed the 30 and found that only three were
Subsequent to the study, two of the male founders of Exodus
fell in love and were united in a union ceremony. They claimed that the Exodus
program was "ineffective...not one person was healed." The conversion
rate, based on the study is 3 in 800, on the order of
Masters and Johnson (1979): This study claimed an impressive conversion
rate of 50 to 60% which was
maintained for 5 years after treatment. Unfortunately, only five of the 67
participants (7%) began the study with a homosexual orientation. From the
available data is quite possible that none of these five converted to heterosexuality.
of the conversion rate can be obtained from this study.|
NARTH (1997): They studied 860 clients whose data was sent by 200
therapists who were members of the organization. When the subjects entered
therapy, 68% identified themselves as totally or almost exclusively homosexual. It
is not clear whether this referred to sexual behavior or sexual orientation. The
actual percentage of homosexuals was not reported; most of the subjects might
have been bisexual. When they left therapy, 33% said they were
exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual. Again, it is unclear whether this
refers to behavior or orientation. Again, the percentage of heterosexuals is
unknown. Unfortunately, 63% of the subjects were still undergoing therapy at the
time of the survey. Of greater interest would be the percentage of subjects who
entered with a homosexual orientation, converted to bisexuality or
heterosexuality, and were able to sustain their sexual orientation for, say, two
years following therapy. The NARTH report did not track the results of those
clients after therapy. It is possible that none of the subjects who entered
therapy with a homosexual orientation was able to change their orientation. No estimate
of the conversion rate can be obtained from this study.|
Schroeder & Shidlo: This study is aiming at
analyzing the experience of 202 people who have undergone conversion therapy.
Eight of their subjects reported a change in sexual orientation.
Unfortunately, seven of the eight were ex-gay counselors or leaders who
statements may have been false. They are fairly certain that one of the
202 was able to change his/her sexual orientation They reported a conversion rate of 0.5%.|
OCRT pilot study (2000): The sponsors of this web site surveyed each
of the 36 websites of the GayChange WebRing. 3 These
are mainly Internet sites created by individuals or small Christian ministries.
From the sites' content, all appear to be Evangelical Christian in outlook. Of
the 28 accessible web sites, only one reported what they felt were conversion
success. They had two clients who
entered therapy with a homosexual orientation, and decided during therapy to
remain celibate. One entered therapy as a bisexual and has developed a
relationship with a person of the opposite sex. Neither actually changed their
sexual orientation. The conversion rate of the Christian ministries sampled was 0%.|
||Exodus International (2000): On 2000-JAN-21, the board of
directors of the National Association of Social Workers issued a
statement which condemned all therapies which attempt to change a
person's sexual orientation. Exodus International (EI) offered
a rebuttal to that statement. In his rebuttal, Bob Davies, North
American director of EI wrote that:|
Over 250,000 individuals have contacted various EI offices
inquiring about a sexual orientation change. This includes "gays,
lesbians, family members, friends, counselors and pastors."
Thousands of men and women have stopped homosexual behavior.
That is, they have decided to become celibate. These are now
"in the process of seeking deeper change in their sexual
feelings and attractions."
Unfortunately, he does not estimate how many of these thousands of
clients have actually changed their sexual orientation. On
2001-MAY-14, we Emailed EI asking for additional information. As expected, no
response was received.
does mention that some "are now happily married and raising
children." However he does not give estimates of their
number, nor does he indicate how many were entered EI as bisexuals and
have remained with that sexual orientation. No estimate
of the conversion rate can be obtained from this study.
In 2013, the head of Exodus International admitted that their attempts to convert persons with a homosexual orientation to heterosexuality had been a failure and had caused a great deal of harm to their clients. They closed their office after three decades of operation and apologized for the harm that they had done.
Spitzer (2000): Dr. Robert
Spitzer conducted a study of 143 "ex-gays" and 57 "ex-lesbians" who had reported
that they had become "straight." In fact, the data shows that few are
now heterosexual. He reported that 89% of the men and 63% of the subjects
emerged from therapy still having
feelings of attraction to persons of the same-sex. 16 (11%) of the men and
21 (37%) of the women report that they now have a heterosexual orientation.
Again, it is not known how many entered therapy as bisexuals or as homosexuals.|
A total of
86 of the 200 subjects were referred to Dr. Spitzer by conservative Christian
groups specializing in homosexual ministry; NARTH referred 46 subjects; other
sources provided 68. It is apparent that the individuals that Dr.
Spitzer interviewed were hand-selected from a very large group of
persons who had either a homosexuals or a bisexual orientation. The 46
subjects from NARTH might have been chosen as the most successful
patients from as many as 250,000 individuals who entered therapy.
Unfortunately, no data has been reported about the total number of
persons from whom the 200 carefully selected patients were provided.
Assuming that only 100,000 subjects were involved -- a VERY conservative
figure, then 37 "success stories" represents a conversion rate of 0.04%
More details on this study.
From the available data, four studies reported a "success" rate during conversion
therapy of 0.4%, 0.0%, 0.5 and 0.04%. That is, conversion therapy has a
failure rate in excess of 99.5% during each study. Considering the anecdotal
data which indicates a large percentage of extremely depressed and suicidal
clients emerging from conversion therapy, it would appear that this form of
therapy is worthless. It my well result in the death by suicide of more gays and
lesbians than it "converts" to a heterosexual orientation. Unfortunately, we cannot be certain
of this. The quality of the studies is extremely poor.
Jack Drescher is a New York psychiatrist
and chairperson of the American Psychiatric Association's
committee on gay, lesbian and bisexual issues told a Washington Post
reporter in 2005: "There are probably a small number of people with some
flexibility in their sexual identity who can change. Out of the hundreds of
gay men I've treated, I've had one." If we assume that his term "sexual
identity" is a synonym for "sexual orientation," and that Dr. Drescher has
treated 200 gay men, then he would seem to estimate that about 99.5% of gay
men have a fixed sexual orientation, and that only about 0.5% can change
their orientation. 6
Personal note by the author:
I am enraged by the state of therapy in North America. During recent decades,
minorities of Psychiatrists, Psychologists, church counselors, social workers,
etc. have wholeheartedly embraced worthless experimental
therapies, like recovered memory therapy, facilitated
communication, multiple personality
disorder/dissociative identity disorder. In each case, an experimental therapy
du jour has been accepted by a minority of therapists. Typically, over a 15
year interval, the popularity of each therapy increases, levels out, and then
sinks into oblivion, sometimes leaving a trail of dead bodies and accused parents
falsely accused of child abuse. The complete lack of any hard data supporting
these therapies, and anecdotal evidence of the great harm that they cause,
results in their eventual demise. I have a hunch that conversion therapy is another one of
these worthless therapies. However, we just do not know for certain.
My personal opinion is that the North American public needs to be protected
from experimental therapies until their effectiveness and safety can be evaluated with properly designed studies. The American
Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, and other
similar groups have warned about the dangers and lack of effectiveness of
various experimental therapies, but have taken no action to prevent their
members from using them in their practices. The Federal Governments have taken no
action to evaluate and approve therapeutic practices in the same way as they
handle pharmaceuticals. Yet dangerous drugs and dangerous therapies have both
If even 1% of the money involved in conversion therapy were diverted into a
study of its efficacy and safety, then a meaningful evaluation could have been completed
years ago, and conversion therapy would either be encouraged or discouraged.
NARTH asked the American Psychological Association to join with them in
conducting such a study. But the APA has refused to participate.
Associated essays on this web site:
"Study suggests some gays can go straight," CNN.com news,
Malcolm Ritter, "Some gays can turn straight, controversial study
suggests," Associated Press, 2001-MAY-8.
A list of web sites in the GayChange Webring is at: http://www.webring.org/cgi-bin/webring?ring=gaychange;list
Charles Socarides, et al., "Don't forsake homosexuals who want
help," Letter to the Editor, The Wall Street Journal, 1997-JAN-9.
A statement by the National Association of Social Workers which
condemns reparative therapy, along with a rebuttal by Exodus
International, is available at: http://www.exodusnorthamerica.org/
Sandra G. Boodman, "Vowing to Set the World Straight: Proponents of
Reparative Therapy Say They Can Help Gay Patients Become Heterosexual.
Experts Call That a Prescription for Harm," Washington Post,
Copyright © 2001 to 2017 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Originally written: 2001-MAY-10
Latest update: 2017-SEP-07
Author: B.A. Robinson