REPARATIVE AND SIMILAR THERAPIES:
OF THEIR EFFECTIVENESS & SAFETY
Reparative and similar therapies are a
group of experimental
therapeutic techniques which attempt
to change a client's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual, or
perhaps bisexual. It has been
condemned by major professional associations as ineffective and/or unsafe. The American
Psychological Association comments:
Can Therapy Change Sexual Orientation?
"No; even though most homosexuals live successful, happy lives, some
homosexual or bisexual people may seek to change their sexual
orientation through therapy, often coerced by family members or
religious groups to try and do so. The reality is that homosexuality is
not an illness. It does not require treatment and is not changeable..."
These therapies is strongly
supported by many conservative Christian ministries as both effective and safe.
Most believe that homosexual behavior in adulthood is caused by poor parenting
received as a child, by sexual molestation of children or some other
environmental factor. There are two main therapies being promoted:
||Reparative therapy which involves non-sexual intimacy with
members of the same gender.
||Programs of Transformational ministries which
involves prayer, various types of therapy, salvation,
and religious conversion.
Few studies have been made into the effectiveness and safety of these
One study is incomplete as of the spring of 2001; the others appear almost worthless. This
situation has happened before within the mental health community. In the
past, thousands of individual psychologists, psychiatrist and other
therapists have occasionally adopted unproven, experimental forms of
patient treatment. They have used it on tens of thousands of uninformed
clients, some of whom have been driven to suicide. Recovered
memory therapy is one such therapeutic technique; Multiple
personality disorder (a.k.a. Dissociative Identity Disorder) is
It would appear from the available data that mental health professional organizations
are correct: these therapies is ineffective, contraindicated and unsafe. In our
opinion, therapists and conservative Christian ministries have an ethical responsibility
to discontinue these therapies until such a time as they can be demonstrated to
be safe. As a minimum therapists and ministries would appear to have a responsibility
to inform their patients and clients (and the parents or guardians of non-adult patients
and clients) that counselling geared to changing sexual orientation has no proven value and can lead to serious
depression and suicide in some individuals.
Dean Klinkenberg, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in clinical psychology at
the Missouri Institute of Mental Health commented: "Nobody
has ever had any real success in changing sexual identity...Is it ethical
to offer therapy that has a long history of being ineffective?" 7
Of the many studies to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of reparative therapy,
none are particularly illuminating:
Exodus International (1978):
They claim a success rate of 71.6%. However, they do not maintain follow-up
data on individuals who have been through their program. Two outside psychiatrists, were allowed to interview members of
in 1978. Of the ministry's 800 members at the time, 30 were selected by the ministry staff
as having changed from exclusively homosexual to exclusively heterosexual in orientation.
The researchers interviewed the 30 and determined that only 11 had really been largely
"cured" of their homosexual behavior; they had remained celibate. Eight of the 11 continued to have a
homosexual or bisexual orientation; they still reported homosexual dreams, fantasies
and/or impulses. However, they have chosen to be celibate. If the rate of success is defined as the percentage of clients with a
homosexual orientation who became heterosexual, then this survey found a less than 0.4%
Two of the 11 should not be counted among their successes. They were Michael
Bussee and Gary Cooper, who were among the many founders of Exodus in 1976. They fell in
love and were united in a commitment ceremony after the above study was completed. As shown in
the documentary movie One Nation Under God they later criticized their own
organization and other ministries for gays as fraudulent. They said that the Exodus
program was "ineffective...not one person was healed." They stated that
the programs tend to increase guilt and a sense of personal failure among those who are
trying to "sexually re-orient" themselves through reparative therapy.
Many had suicidal ideation after they failed.
Masters and Johnson (1979):
Masters and Johnson claimed an impressive conversion rate of 50 to 60% which was
maintained for 5 years after treatment. There were a number of unusual factors in this
||the conversion rate refers to behavior, not orientation or feelings
||the 67 clients were not randomly selected; they had to be highly motivated to change
||all subjects had to have a partner of the opposite gender with whom to attempt
heterosexual sex during the program
||40 of the clients were already married to persons of the opposite sex
||all clients were given a test to determine their sexual orientation, ranging from 0
(purely heterosexual) to 6 (exclusively homosexual). Only five of the subjects (7%) were
given the latter classification. Presumably there were no "0's" in the study.
This means that 93% of the subjects were bisexual. 55 (82%) were rated 2, 3 or 4 and were
more or less equally attracted to men and women.
||the client's own definition of success was used to determine how many subjects changed
behavior. Some of the clients had very limited objectives.
This study basically concluded that many bisexuals are able to decide
to confine their
sexual activity to members of the opposite sex, and to not act on their continuing
attraction to members of the same sex. The results say nothing about homosexuals. It is not known
whether any of the exclusively homosexual subjects were able to convert to
National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality
(NARTH) (1997) 2
NARTH is a small group of about 500 mental health professionals. They are alone among
mental health professional associations in believing that a homosexual orientation is a
curable mental health disorder caused by poor parenting. They beieve that it can be overcome with reparative therapy. On
1997-MAY-17, they announced the results of a two year study
of 860 clients and their more than 200 psychologists and therapists.
Two psychiatrists conducted a study to determine the
experiences of people who have been treated by either ex-gay ministries or individual
therapists with reparative therapy. "Changing Sexual Orientation: Does Counseling
Work?" is sponsored by the National Lesbian and Gay Health Association;
it is funded by the H. van Ameringen Foundation; it is being conducted by Drs. Michael
Schroeder & Ariel Shidlo, 412 6th Ave., Suite 602, New York, NY 10011.
Many of their subjects applied via the Internet. They published a survey form
which gays and lesbians who have undergone reparative therapy could fill out. Subjects
were able to remain anonymous, or could enter their Email address at the bottom of the form.
Unfortunately, this study
may be of limited usefulness. The data probably came from people who were sufficiently
motivated to report on their experiences with reparative therapy; this may or may not be a
representative sample of the total population involved in this form of therapy.
In 1997-SEP-26, the Detroit News published an article about their tentative results up
to that date. The researchers were then halfway towards their goal of 200 subjects. Shidlo
||After reparative therapy, clients: "Frequently... become very, very depressed."
This commonly triggers self-destructive behaviors (e.g. unsafe sex, drug abuse, attempted
||The stability of the client's family of origin can be harmed by teaching the concept that
homosexuality is caused by poor parenting.
||Some religious gays and lesbians felt a profound sense of failure when they cannot
attain what they felt God expected of them.
||One common result of the failure of reparative therapy is that it finally convinces some
clients that their sexual orientation is truly unchangeable. The client may
consider this to be a positive result as it this can lead to their final
acceptance of homosexuality as an integral part of what they are.
||The researchers had not yet found any "cures" as a result of reparative
therapy. Two male subjects initially reported that they had been cured, but later admitted
that they had simply chosen to be celibate; their sexual orientation was unchanged.
Shidlo said: "If it were changeable, I think we would have seen it by now.
There's been so much effort expended on it -- so many tears, so many dollars, so much
energy, so many promises -- that it would have happened to someone. And if there is such a
person out there, I'd love to talk to them...They tell me in retrospect,
it was a sham. They were fooling themselves, or they were fooling others or both.
They presented their paper at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric
Association on 2001-MAY-9. They found that eight of the 202
subjects studied reported that they were able to change their sexual
orientation. However, seven of the eight were involved in the ex-gay
movement as counselors or group leaders. Some have suggested that their
stories may not be accurate. There is a good chance that one of the 202 was
telling the truth, making the reported failure rate for reparative therapy
equal to 99.5%.
Dr. Robert Spitzer (2001)
Dr Spitzer is a psychiatry professor at Columbia
University. He conducted a study of 143 ex-gays and 57 ex-lesbians who
reported that they have become "straight." 2 He
reported his findings at the same meeting of the APA as
mentioned above. 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."
According to Cnn.com, that term is defined as having been "in
a sustained, loving heterosexual relationship within the past year,
getting enough satisfaction from the emotional relationship with their
partner to rate at least seven on a 10-point scale, having satisfying
heterosexual sex at least monthly and never or rarely thinking of
somebody of the same sex during heterosexual sex."
The CNN.com report on the study claim that "some gay
people can turn straight if they really want to."
Unfortunately, there appear to be serious flaws in the study, and
in its reporting in the media:
||The reports in the media imply that most of the subjects have a homosexual orientation.
This is not true. All but 11% of the men and 37% of
the women report that they still have some indicators of homosexual
orientation, including same-sex attraction. That is, after
therapy they are bisexuals, not heterosexuals.
||Most of the subjects referred to Dr. Spitzer were referred by conservative
Christian sources and appear to have been hand-picked from a very
large number of homosexual and bisexual individuals.
||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
More details on this study.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
Masters and Johnson, "Homosexuality in Perspective", 1979.
The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality
(NARTH) has a home
page at: http://www.narth.com/
Mel White, Stranger at the Gate: To be Gay and Christian in America", Simon
& Schuster, New York, NY, (1994) Read
order a copy
"Answers to your questions about sexual orientation and
homosexuality," American Psychological Association, at: http://helping.apa.org/
"Ex.Ex" examines and explores "the reality of the
Ex-Gay movement." See: http://hometown.aol.com/
Queer Resource Directory has an ex-gay section at: http://abacus.oxy.edu/
Randall Edwards, "Can sexual orientation change with therapy?"
APA Monitor. Online at: http://www.apa.org/
Copyright © 1996 to 2006 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2006-MAY-15
Author: B.A. Robinson