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Therapies being promoted to change sexual orientation,
sexual behavior, or acceptance of one's sexual orientation

Two approaches to therapy

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Types of mental health therapies:

There are two contrasting beliefs about same-gender sexual behavior as practiced by gays, lesbians, and persons with a bisexual orientation:

  1. It is a morally neutral activity, like opposite-gender sexual behavior. However, it has the potential to be profoundly immoral if it involves coercion, lack of safety, and other factors. Absent these factors, it can be moral, positive, and relationship-strengthening -- again just as opposite-sex behavior can be.

  2. That it is always immoral because it is abnormal, unnatural, and hated by God, and condemned by various holy books and by the conservative wings of many religions.

With such opposing beliefs concerning homosexual behavior, there are obviously two different approaches to the counseling and therapy of homosexuals.

The two main types of mental-health therapies are:

  • Gay Affirmative Therapy (GAT) generally assumes that a homosexual orientation is:
    • Part of what a person is,
    • Discovered, not chosen,
    • Fixed in adulthood,
    • Normal and natural for a minority of adults, and
    • Is morally neutral.

    The purpose of GAT is to help the individual accept their sexual orientation and to overcome:

 "... the psychological effects on lesbians and gays from the heterosexism, homophobia and homo-ignorance of society, family religion, and one's culture..." 1

This form of therapy is promoted by many persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation, religious liberals, secularists, and all of the large mental health professional associations in North America.

As with all forms of therapy, clients will have various degrees of success with GAT, depending largely on their relationship with their therapist.

  • Reparative therapy and transformational ministry programs. These assume that homosexuality is:
    • Part of what a person does,
    • Chosen, not discovered,
    • Changeable, through therapy and/or prayer,
    • Abnormal and unnatural, irrespective of the nature of the relationship,
    • Always immoral, and
    • Hated by God.

    The common stated purpose of these therapies is to produce change of the individual's sexual orientation.

Convincing clients to undergo reparative therapy is not particularly easy, because:

  • Over a dozen national professional associations in the mental health, counseling, and education fields have condemned reparative therapy for two reasons. Its success rate at converting homosexual orientation to heterosexual orientation appears to be between less than 0.5% and may well be zero. 3 Many leaders who have left the reparative therapy movement, including Michael Bussee and Alan Chambers of Exodus International have said that they have never encountered a person who has been able to change sexual orientation of a gay or lesbian to heterosexual. Also there is  a great deal of anecdotal evidence that failure at reparative therapy often causes serious depression, which can lead to suicidal ideation and even completed suicide.

  • The only real mechanism that reparative therapists can, in practice, offer to gays and lesbians to "leave the homosexual lifestyle" is for them to attempt to remain celibate, lonely for the rest of their life, and without an intimate relationship with another person. That is a very difficult program to sell to potential clients.

  • Reparative therapists can make a more attractive offer to their bisexual clients: simply decide to confine one's sexual relationships to members of the opposite gender. We suspect that almost all of the "ex-gays" generated by the reparative therapy movement are bisexuals who have followed this path. This is still difficult for some bisexuals who are primarily attracted sexually to members of the same gender and yet are expected to develop relationships with the opposite gender.

  • Reparative therapy has become a bit of a laughing stock. One example was Ted Haggard, the former president of the National Evangelical Association. He allegedly hired a male prostitute over a three year period. When caught, he entered reparative therapy under the direction of an oversight board, and was declared to be "completely heterosexual" after three weeks. Needless to say, this speedy conversion generated a lot of skepticism.

These therapies are promoted many religious conservatives and by one very small professional mental health association: the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH).

Unfortunately, the advertising campaigns of many reparative therapy groups result in many clients with a homosexual orientation entering therapy with the expectation of changing their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. All or essentially all fail. This has produced serious clinical depression among many clients and has triggered many suicides and needless loss of life.

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Description of reparative therapy and transformational ministry programs.

There are dozens of topics involving medical science, physics, psychology, natural science, etc., where religious conservatives hold views that conflict from those of many other faith and science groups. Specific topics  include abortion, homosexuality, cosmology, age, origin and development of the world and its life forms, religion, transsexuality, and therapies designed to convert homosexuals to heterosexuals -- the topic of this section.

Attempts have been made to change sexual orientation through psychotherapy, aversion therapy, nausea producing drugs, castration, injections of estrogen, LSD, hypnosis, electric shock, brain surgery, breast amputations, etc. Both the U.S. government and the Nazi government of Germany tried to find a way of changing homosexuals to heterosexuals. All of these programs have one factor in common: they were miserable failures.

These methods were largely abandoned by the mid-1970's. However, Outrage!, a British support group for lesbians and gays, recently found it necessary to ask the Royal College of Psychiatrists to renounce aversion therapy and instruct its members to halt "the use of all therapies that attempt to cure homosexuality." 2

Many groups that practice reparative therapy and try to help clients "pray the gay away" estimate their "cure" rate at 70% or more. Many gays, lesbians, mental-health professionals, religious liberals and human sexuality researchers estimate a rate of adult sexual orientation conversion as equal to or near 0.0%. 3 We suspect that the latter estimate is much closer to reality. Unfortunately, no long-term objective studies have ever been conducted, so there is little hard data to consider.

Millions of dollars per year are spent by competing individuals and groups:

  • Obtaining individual counseling to change sexual orientation,
     
  • Promoting these methods as safe and effective "cures" for homosexuality, and 

  • Denigrating these methods as useless and potentially life threatening. 

However, no money or motivation appears to be available to fund a meaningful study of these counseling methods' effectiveness and potential adverse side effects. That is a pity, because there exists a lot of anecdotal evidence that failed therapy can drive many gays, lesbians, and bisexuals into deep depression; some commit suicide. Alternately, when some people fail to change their sexual orientation after reparative therapy, they realize that their orientation is fixed. Some come to terms with this and lead much better lives.

Whether reparative therapy generates more dead bodies than persons with changed orientations remains an open question. We suspect that it does.

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Current status of reparative therapy:

The public is beginning to realize that reparative therapy does not work and is potentially dangerous. John Smid, the former director of one of the largest of the reparative therapy groups, Love in Action, left his post during 2011-OCT claiming a 0% success rate. After decades of promoting reparative therapy, the largest group in the field -- Exodus International -- abandoned the therapy in mid-2012. More details.

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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. Joe Kort, "So you'd like to learn about Gay Affirmative Therapy (GAT) at: http://www.amazon.com/ Kort has provided a list of 43 books on the topic.
  2. "Christian Ex-gay ministry hosts Chicago conference," Charisma. Online at Maranatha Christian Journal, at: http://www.mcjonline.com/
  3. G.M. Herek, "Attempts to change sexual orientation," at: http://psychology.ucdavis.edu/ 
  4. Eric Gorski, "Haggard says he is 'completely heterosexual'," Denver Post, 2007-FEB-06, at: http://www.denverpost.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-OCT-08
Author: B.A. Robinson

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