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Studies of reparative and similar therapies

An overview of studies by reparative
therapy and transformational ministries

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Results of studies by reparative therapy and transformational ministries:

Some evaluations of these therapies have been performed. None have been published in peer reviewed journals. None seem to have produced really useful data:

bulletEx-gay conservative Christian ministries: Some ex-gay ministries do not claim specific success rates; a few estimate 30 to over 70%. But their data should be considered suspect, because:

bullet Many of the groups do not clearly differentiate between homosexual behavior and orientation.

bullet Many appear to ignore the existence of persons with a bisexual orientation.

bullet Many of the groups do not perform rigorous studies; they feel that this is not in their mandate.

bullet Many of studies that are conducted cover only a short term.

bullet Most, if not all, of the clients retain their original bisexual or homosexual orientation. They continue to have feelings of same-sex attraction, but do not act on them. Both groups are generally recorded as having been "cured."
bullet Exodus International: Two psychiatrists, were allowed to interview members of Exodus International in 1978. They found that the percentage of clients with a homosexual orientation who became heterosexual, was under 0.4%. Two of the founders of the organization, Michael Bussee and Gary Cooper, later fell in love with each other. They criticized their own organization and other ministries for gays as fraudulent. They said that their program was "ineffective...not one person was healed."
bullet In 1979, Masters and Johnson claimed an impressive conversion rate of 50 to 60% which was maintained for 5 years after treatment. These results are often quoted by proponents of reparative therapy. Unfortunately, the number is not particularly significant, because:

bullet 93% of the subjects were not homosexual; they were bisexual.

bullet Sexual orientation was not measured; only sexual behavior.

It is not known whether any homosexuals were able to change either their sexual orientation or behavior during the study. 1 All of the successes in the program may have been bisexuals who simply decided to persue only opposite-sex relationships. That is, no change to their sexual orientaiton was needed or accomplished.

bullet National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality: In 1997, NARTH announced the results of a study of 860 clients who had experienced reparative therapy. The study is not particularly useful, because they have not published data on the percentage of persons with a homosexual orientation who were able to change their orientation to heterosexual, even temporarily. More details.
bulletDr. Spitzer study: Dr. Robert Spitzer is a psychiatry professor at Columbia University. He conducted a study of 143 ex-gays and 57 ex-lesbians who report that they have become "straight." 2,3 He reported his findings at a meeting of the American Psychiatric Association on 2001-MAY-9. He concluded, as a result of 45 minute interviews with each subject, that 66% of the males and 44% of the females had arrived at "good heterosexual functioning." It is important to realize that the subjects in this study did not end up with a heterosexual sexual orientation; almost all report that they are currently bisexual. They may always have been bisexual.

Unfortunately, there appear to be serious flaws in the study, and in its reporting in the media:

bullet The most serious deficiency is that 43% of the subjects were referred to Dr. Spitzer by conservative Christian ministries. Another 23% were referred by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This, in itself, would not be a problem, However, it seems that these individuals were hand-picked from a much larger number of bisexuals and homosexuals in therapy. As David Elliot, spokesperson for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said, "The sample is terrible, totally tainted, totally unrepresentative of the gay and lesbian community."
bullet No information source that we have been able to find described the original sexual orientation of the subjects. We suspect that most or all had a bisexual orientation and engaged in at least some homosexual activity. After therapy, we suspect that they remain bisexual. 

bullet More details on this study.

bulletSchroeder and Shidlo: Another North American study was launched to determine the experiences of people who have been treated by either ex-gay ministries or by individual reparative therapists. The study was sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and funded by the H. van Ameringen Foundation. 4 By late 1997, they were half-way towards their goal of 200 subjects. Dr. Shidlo had yet to find a single "cure" as a result of reparative therapy. Two of their subjects initially reported that they had been cured, but later admitted that they had simply decided to become celibate; their sexual orientation was unchanged. They found some harmful effects which effected some individuals during and after therapy.

They concluded their study in 2001. They determined that:

bullet 88% of subjects failed to achieve a sustained change in their sexual behavior.

bullet 4% reported changing their orientation to heterosexual.

bullet 9% reported either losing all sex drive or continuing to struggle to remain celibate.

An article in Wikipedia speculates:

"Of the 8 respondents (out of a sample of 202) who reported a change in sexual orientation, 7 were employed in paid or unpaid roles as 'ex-gay' counselors or group leaders, something which has led many to question whether even this small 'success' rate is in fact reliable." 5

It is probable that few if any conservative Christians participated in the Schroeder and Shidlo study because it was sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. In their appeal for subjects, the researchers indicated their bias by stating:

"You can be of help in the long process of getting the message out that these conversion therapies don't work and do the opposite of healing by informing your l/g/b communities of our search for participants to be interviewed. Please announce our project in any upcoming lesbian and gay community meetings and spread the word. Help us document the damage!" 6

Schroeder and Shidlo presented a paper about their study at the same annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association, in 2001-MAY.

According to the New York Times:

"Dr. Schroeder said 18 subjects who deemed themselves 'successes' in becoming heterosexuals 'don't fit into what the public sees as success'."

" 'They were celibate or they continued to really struggle with homosexual desire or behavior,' he said."

"Many subjects, Dr. Schroeder said, had invested 5 to 15 years in the therapies, and when they were not successful experienced 'an inordinate sense of loss'." 7

Although both this study and Spitzer's study were presented together at the APA conference, this study received almost no attention from the media.

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More detailed information is available on most of these studies.

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Related essays on this web site:

bullet Homosexuality - all aspects
bullet Reparative and similar therapies

bulletStatements by professional groups:
bullet about homosexuality
bullet about reparative therapy

bullet "Cure rate" of reparative therapy

bullet Homosexuality: fixed or changeable; genetic or chosen?

bullet Ex-gay newspaper advertisements

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Masters and Johnson, "Homosexuality in Perspective", 1979
  2. "Study suggests some gays can go straight," news, 2001-MAY-9, at:
  3. Malcolm Ritter, "Some gays can turn straight, controversial study suggests," Associated Press, 2001-MAY-8.
  4. "Changing sexual orientation: Does counseling Work," at: 
  5. "Reparative Therapy," Wikipedia, at:
  6. "Survey -- Homophobic therapies: Documenting the damage," at:
  7. Erica Goode, "Scientist Says Study Shows Gay Change Is Possible," New York Times, 2001-MAY-09, at:

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Copyright © 1996 to 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2010-DEC-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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