An analysis of Dr. Spitzer's 2001 study into
whether adults can change their sexual orientation
2001: APA presentations. 2005: Our conclusions.
2006: Dr. Spitzer's interview.
2001: Presentation of studies to the APA:
Although the panel discussion at the 2000-MAY annual conference of the American Psychiatric
Association never materialized, two studies were presented at the APA's
Dr. Robert Spitzer presented a paper described above and titled: "200 Subjects Who Claim to
Have Changed Their Sexual Orientation from Homosexual to Heterosexual."
Two psychotherapists from New York City, Ariel Shidlo and Michael
Schroeder, discussed their own study:
"... 202 randomly recruited subjects who had tried to change their sexual
orientation through therapy. 88 percent failed completely, while 9 percent
considered themselves successful but were celibate or still struggling with
same-sex behavioral "slips"; only six people (3 percent) were actually
"Additionally, Shidlo and Schroeder found that a great number of their
subjects suffered 'significant harm' due to instances in which reparative
therapists appeared 'not to be practicing in a manner consistent with the APA
Ethics Code' -- encouraging patients to remember childhood abuse as the 'cause'
of their homosexuality when no such abuse occurred; insisting that lesbians
and gays can never live happy, healthy or monogamous lives; or practicing
coercion (for example, students at religious universities were sometimes
required to attend conversion therapy in order to graduate or receive
financial aid." 10
The latter study also has deficiencies. The subjects were self-selected, and thus may not represent the experiences of all gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.
There are at least four fatal flaws in the study. In our opinion, any one of them
seriously weakens the validity of the study:
Most of the 200 subjects interviewed were referred by
reparative therapists or by Christian transformational ministries. Some were in leadership roles in such groups.
Apparently most of the clients were evangelical Christians.
They probably would have defined "homosexuality" in terms of
behavior, not orientation.
Any results would not necessarily be representative of
Dr. Spitzer seems to have asked the subjects whether they rated
themselves as "homosexual" before therapy. Being conservative Christians,
they probably would have answered this question in terms of their
behavior, not their sexual orientation. Dr. Spitzer did not include
"bisexuality" as an option. "Spitzer told Extra! he did not include
a category for bisexuality in his study 'because there's no accepted
definition of what bisexuality is'." Thus it is not known what percentage
of the 200 subjects initially had a homosexual orientation, and what
percentage had a bisexual orientation. The difference between the two groups is
massive. It is much easier to confine ones relationships to members of the
opposite sex if one is bisexual and thus sexually attracted to both men and women. We suspect that
most of the subjects had a bisexual orientation and had previously engaged in at least
some homosexual activity. After therapy, we suspect that they
remained bisexual, chosen to confine relationships with members of the
opposite sex, and feel that they have successfully developed such
relationship. Others had a homosexual orientation, still have that
orientation, and decided to be celibate.
Telephone interview data on behavior and practice are notoriously
unreliable. Individuals often answer questions according to what
they think others expect of them. For example:
17% of American adults say that they tithe (i.e. give 10 to 13% of their income to their church). Only 3% really do. 9
Many polls indicate that the percentage of adults who
say that they regularly attend religious services is about 44% in the U.S.,
and a little under 20% in Canada and perhaps 10% or less in Europe. But when
noses are actually counted, the true figures are about half
the stated North American figures (about 20% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.)
On a topic as incendiary as changing one's sexual orientation,
a lack of honesty can be expected on the part of many of the participants.
This problem is even more severe in this study because so many
of the subjects were so closely associated with ex-gay or
anti-gay groups, and were heavily motivated to show that
transformational ministry and reparative therapy works.
Assuming that the more than 1,000 therapists in NARTH each have had 50 clients
per year over the previous five years, then they have treated a total of over 250,000
homosexuals and bisexuals with reparative therapy. Various transformational
ministries have treated thousands or tens of thousands of additional gays, bisexuals and lesbians who were
seeking change. Yet, Dr. Spitzer was only able to find 200 potential subjects
for his study in all of America, even with NARTH's help. This observation, alone. indicates that reparative
therapy is almost always a failure.
Considering the near universal failure and the widespread depression, suicide ideation, and completed suicide when clients leave reparative therapy and transformational ministries, it would seem that coming to terms with one's sexual orientation is a far safer choice than trying to change it. It would certainly be less expensive in terms of time and money.
2006: Dr. Spitzer's comments on his study:
Dr. Warren Throckmorton interviewed Dr Spitzer in 2006 in which he gave his candid views on the meaning and value of his study:
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
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,
2005-AUG-16, at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/
Jack Drescher, "Letter from the
American Psychiatric Association to the Finnish Parliament,"
2001-SEP-23, at: http://www.finnqueer.net/