In part two of their series on reparative therapy, Salon’s Mark Benjamin lies to Maryland therapist, Barry Levy to get his story.
The session with Mr. Levy sounds believable enough, although I would want to hear from Mr. Levy as well. Several aspects of the commentary on the story however are questionable. Benjamin writes:
The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right’s crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools.
This is a theory that is based in the reaction of European psychiatry to the idea that homosexuality is a condition and not a behavior. Kertbeny and Ulrichs defined homosexuality as an inborn trait in the 1860s in a political effort to prevent the maintenance of sodomy laws in Prussia. European psychiatrists grasped this concept but looked for environmental causes. Freud came along and in the spirit of the day located the cause in the first six years of life. Freudian thinking about homosexuality dominated psychiatry for decades as it did on most other psychiatric issues. In the Salon article, Levy is not exactly off when he says psychoanalysts still consider homosexuality a treatable condition. Not officially, mind you, but there a number of them who were trained in this way and maintain that approach to practice. It should be noted that homosexuality is not the only issue they view this way. They are being consistent in their theoretical outlook when they consider homosexuality through Freudian lenses.
I wouldn’t call this theory the moral underpenning as Mr. Benjamin does. I don’t think the political opposition to gay marriage, for instance, is conditioned on the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder.
One study, often cited by conservative groups like Focus on the Family, shows incremental success from reparative therapy. But critics point out that the study was based solely on interviews with subjects arranged by ex-gay ministries; in fact, many of them worked at the ministries.
He is undoubtedly referring to Spitzer’s work. And the charge that the study was based solely on interviews “arranged” by ex-gay ministries is false. Spitzer says where his participants came from. About half were referred by a combination of NARTH and ex-gay ministries, but even then the interviews were not arranged. These groups put out the call for research participants and people answered.
It is worth pointing out that Mr. Levy cautioned Mr. Benjamin that change may take some time and that it didn’t work for everyone. While I personally go into much greater detail (and he may have as well, we don’t know), I think it speaks well of him that he was not coercive and did not over promise as reparative therapist are often accused of doing.
I think this article is detrimental in that it portrays reparative therapy as the only approach that holds that sexual orientation is flexible and that people can get real benefit from seeing a counselor for sexual orientation distress. I am not a reparative therapist but I do see clients that do not wish to integrate same sex attraction into a gay identity. And I do find that over time (not the same for all), some of the clients find that the same sex attractions go away and are replaced with opposite sex attractions. My approach is not to tell the client what might have caused their feelings but to allow the client to tell me via history taking. Not all same sex attraction is association with the reparative history as described by Mr. Levy in the Salon article. Many ex-gays have that background and the reason for this should continue to be researched but I have seen many who do not fit that Freudian based theory.