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Reparative & other therapy to alter sexual orientation

Introduction, Part 1:
Quotations, Overview, & Terminology

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bullet Dr. Robert Spitzer: "They have a choice whether to go into therapy, about whether they adopt a gay lifestyle, whether they tell their friends and their family. They don't have a choice as to whether their basic sexual orientation is gay or straight -- that they don't have a choice about." Dr. Spitzer's response to a question posed Scientific American Mind magazine in 2006: "Do gays have a choice?" 4 [We assume that to "adopt a gay lifestyle" means making the choice of being celibate or sexually active]

bullet "There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of 'reparative therapy' as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation". American Psychiatric Association's 1997 Fact Sheet on Homosexual and Bisexual Issues. Sad to say, this deplorable situation remains in 2010.
bullet "Exodus upholds redemption for the homosexual person as the process whereby sin's power is broken, and the individual is freed to know and experience true identity as discovered in Christ and His Church. That process entails the freedom to grow into heterosexuality" Exodus International's statement of belief.
bullet "Relationship with Jesus Christ and a life of prayer are the keys to changing homosexual desires and fostering the development of healthy, nonsexual intimate relationships." Martha Kleder, Focus on the Family.
bullet "There is no documentary evidence showing someone's sexual preference can be changed by therapy. There is only anecdotal evidence, mostly from the therapists themselves, claiming that what they do works. That's not very scientific. On the other hand, there's no scientific evidence to show that this is impossible...It hasn't been studied." Dr. Robert Spitzer,  professor of psychiatry at Columbia University. In 2001, after he made this statement, he reported on a study that he had made. It indicated that reparative therapy has as a very high failure rate.


The term "reparative therapy" (a.k.a. "sexual orientation change efforts," SOCE,  "conversion therapy," "reorientation therapy," and "RT") has multiple definitions:

bullet Some define it as a specific secular counseling technique. It typically involves helping a gay or lesbian bond in a close, intimate but non-sexual relationship with an adult member of the same gender. This is supposed to substitute for the bond between the client and their same-sex parent which therapists allege did not properly form during childhood.
bullet Others define the term reparative therapy more inclusively to include any formal attempt to change a person's sexual orientation -- typically from homosexual to heterosexual. It thus includes attempts by conservative Christian transformational ministries to use prayer, religious conversion, one-on-one and group counseling, etc. to change a person's sexual orientation.

Joseph Nicolosi of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) describes has specialized in SOCE for almost three decades. Reporter Melissa Lafsky writes of Dr. Nicolosi's SOCE technique:

" 'If [a patient] can accept his bodily homoerotic experience while staying connected to the therapist,' he wrote in 'The Paradox of Self-Acceptance,' 1 'the sexual feeling soon transforms into something else: the recognition of deeper, pain-generated emotional needs which have nothing to do with sexuality'."

"He cites the following case: A 43-year-old married accountant was recalling another man that he had seen at the airport while on a business trip. 'This had awakened his sexual fantasies and dreams. I asked him to hold onto that image and observe his bodily sensations while staying connected to me. As he did, he felt an intense sexual longing. But as he followed that fantasy through an imaginary sexual scenario, quite unexpectedly, he then experienced an embodied shift to sadness, longing, and emptiness. In tears, he spoke of his sense of deep unworthiness. 'I would just love him to be my friend! He's the kind of guy that I always wanted to be close to. How much I just want to be friends with a guy like him'." 2

A person's "sexual orientation" is normally defined by the gender of those to whom the person is sexually attracted; homosexuals are attracted only to members of the same sex; bisexuals are attracted to both men and women, but not necessarily to an equal degree. However, promoters of these therapies often define "sexual orientation" in terms of sexual behavior.

The effectiveness of these therapies has yet to be properly evaluated. They may be found to be helpful; they may turn out to be useless; they may be eventually recognized as ineffective and potentially harmful. Many information sources do agree that:

bullet No research into the effectiveness and safety of reparative therapy has ever been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
bullet No accurate, longitudinal survey has been conducted to track the outcome of clients who have completed these therapies. 

Although there have been a few studies, all have serious deficiencies. A 2001 study by Dr. Robert Spitzer, of Columbia University is the closest to a meaningful study of these therapies. It is grossly inadequate because it relied on telephone interviews with study subjects, and involved a small pre-selected group, multiply filtered, taken from a very large group of reparative therapy patients. Some anecdotal evidence is available -- both negative and positive. Some clients who end therapy without having been able to change their sexual orientation become depressed; some experience suicidal ideation. Others whose orientation remain unchanged are pleased because they feel that they have tried every technique to change their orientation without success and so accept that it is unchangeable.

Therapists who engage in these therapies are exposing their clients to an unproven, experimental treatment. Clients should realize that little is known about the potential benefits or dangers of these therapies. Dr. Jack Drescher, a medical doctor who works extensively with homosexuals stated: "It is not clear...if reparative therapists ever provide informed consent to explain these substantial risks to the patients they treat, or even if they are fully aware of the costs to the unrepaired." 3

Many recent, experimental forms of therapy have proven disastrous to the quality of life of the client-victims. Recovered memory therapy was one; another is multiple personality disorder therapy (a.k.a. dissociative identity disorder). Both triggered many suicides and caused a great deal of pain, at both the personal and family level. Therapies which attempt to change sexual orientation may be similarly dangerous. Nobody knows, because no peer-reviewed study has ever been reported.

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Terminology used:

There are two "solitudes" within society dealing with homosexual issues:

bullet Many conservative religious individuals, therapists, ministries, and groups believe that homosexual behavior is abnormal, unnatural, chosen and sinful. They promote these therapies as helpful and safe techniques to "cure" homosexuality.
bullet Essentially all gays, lesbians, mental health professionals, human sexuality researchers and religious liberals accept that a homosexual orientation is normal and natural for a minority of people. They believe that sexual orientation cannot be changed. They generally believe that both heterosexual and homosexual behavior can be either sinful or not, depending upon the circumstances. They regard these therapies to be non-productive and potentially dangerous.

Each of these groups assigns different meanings to common English words and phrases. This is not unique. The same phenomenon occurs in the field of abortion, corporal punishment and other areas of social debate. It makes dialog and communication very difficult.

Common conservative Christian usage Common usage by other groups
Homosexuality is a behavior. Homosexuality is an orientation
Homosexuality is what one does. Homosexuality is what one is.
Sexual preference Sexual orientation
"I am cured of homosexuality" OR 
"I am an ex-gay."
"I was a sexually active homosexual; I am now homosexual who has chosen to be celibate."
"I was once in the homosexual lifestyle, but I am a heterosexual now." "I was a bisexual who engaged in same-sex relationships. My orientation is still bisexual, but, I now choose to have only relationships with the opposite gender."
A person involved in the homosexual lifestyle A person with a bisexual or homosexual orientation who is sexually active with members of the same gender.

This essay is continued in Part 2.

Related essays on this web site:

bullet Menu: Reparative and similar therapies
bullet Homosexuality - all aspects
bullet Homosexuality: fixed or changeable; genetic or chosen?
bullet The causes of sexual orientation
bullet Statements by professional groups, etc. about homosexuality
bullet Ex-gay newspaper advertisements

References used:

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

  1. Joseph Nicolosi, "The Paradox Of Self-Acceptance," NARTH, 2009-JUL-24, at:
  2. Melissa Lafsky, "Is It Possible to Systematically Turn Gay People Straight? A century of treatments have ranged from horrifying to horribly unscientific," Discover Magazine, 2009-SEP-09, at:
  3. "Homosexuality," Letters to the Editor, Psychiatric News, 1998-APR-17, at:
  4. David Roberts, "Previously unreleased Spitzer video gives candid results," Ex-gay Watch, 2007-APR-05, at:

Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-DEC-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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