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Religious Tolerance logo

Reparative therapy & transformational ministries

An analysis of Dr. Spitzer's 2001 study about
whether adults can change sexual orientation

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Dr. Robert Spitzer is a Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at Columbia University. During his three decades of psychiatric research, he has specialized in the topic of human sexual orientation. In 1973, he was one of the members of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) who took a lead role in removing homosexuality from their list of mental illnesses. The APA was the first major mental-health agency to do so. All but a very small professional group -- NARTH -- followed their lead.

He conducted a number of telephone interviews with specially selected "ex-gays." These were adults who entered counseling with a bisexuals or homosexual orientation and who claim to have changed their sexual behavior as a result of reparative therapy or the activities of transformational ministries. He became convinced that some of these subjects had actually changed their sexual orientation.

Dr. Spitzer reported 66% of the males and 44% of the females had arrived at "good heterosexual functioning."

The study was deeply flawed:

  • Perhaps its main deficiency was that the persons studied were not a representative sample of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation. Many were directly involved in a leadership role in transformational ministries. Most of the subjects were carefully selected as "success stories" from a very large number of clients -- perhaps numbering in the tens or hundreds of thousands -- who had failed to change their orientation even after many years of sincere effort. Thus an average 55% change in behavior for the test subjects could easily imply a 1% or lower change in behavior for a random sampling of persons with a homosexual or bisexual orientation.

  • Another deficiency is that Dr. Spitzer does not recognize bisexuality as a valid sexual orientation. Thus he would consider a person with a bisexual orientation who was involved in same-sex behavior to be a homosexual. Most bisexuals, and only bisexuals, experience what can be called a "sexual preference:" they are attracted more to one gender than to the other. If that person simply makes a decision to confine their relationships to the opposite-sex, Dr. Spitzer would conclude that they had changed their orientation to heterosexual. We suspect that all or almost all of the subjects of this study would fit into this description.

Eventually, Dr, Spitzer recognized that the study was deeply flawed. He apologized to the LGBT community for the damage that it caused to lesbians, gays and bisexuals. Unfortunately, many clients of reparative therapy suffered deep depression and suicidal ideation. Some completed suicides.

Topics covered in this section:

A book about the Spitzer study:

Book cover "Ex-gay research: Analyzing the Spitzer study and its relation to science, religion, politics, and culture." Edited by Jack Drescher & Kenneth J. Zucker.

According to the product description by, the book discusses:

  • the ex-gay movement.
  • the nature of scientific inquiry.
  • the relationship between science and politics.
  • the results of sexual conversion therapies.
  • gay and lesbian rights.

Ex-Gay Research: Analyzing the Spitzer Study and Its Relation to Science, Religion, Politics, and Culture is essential reading for sex researchers, mental health professionals, pastoral counselors, political activists, and any person asking if one can truly "change" his or her homosexual... [orientation].

This book received a rating of 4 stars out of 5 by customers.

Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

Parts of the first part of the book can be read on Google Books at:

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Other information sources used:

These essays were mainly based on sources that are listed at the end of the essay. They were also partly based on a number of information sources which are no longer online, including:

bullet"Ex.Ex" examines and explores "the reality of the Ex-Gay movement." See:
bulletRandall Edwards, "Can sexual orientation change with therapy?" APA Monitor. Online at:
bullet"Study suggests some gays can go straight," news, 2001-MAY-9, at:
bulletMalcolm Ritter, "Some gays can turn straight, controversial study suggests," Associated Press, 2001-MAY-8.
bulletStuart Shepard, "Ex-gays protest APA," Focus on the Family, at:

Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-FEB-16
Latest update and review: 2012-OCT-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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