Comment on reactions to the Jones and Yarhouse study

Reaction has been swift to the Jones and Yarhouse study. Many on this blog and elsewhere are questioning the ability of Jones and Yarhouse to fairly present their data because they are Evangelical Christians reporting on people supplied by Exodus International and funded by Exodus. While I understand the question, I believe that the book and their public presentations make it clear that, from the beginning, they intended to present the results of their prospective study no matter what the results were. And in fact, the results are not glowing endorsements of complete change, thus adding to the credibility of their promise and delivery.

Another criticism leveled is that Jones and Yarhouse should take public notice and offense at the misuse of their work. On this point, I have some experience given the concerns over the misuse of my documentary I Do Exist. Clearly, some critics and proponents have gone far afield of this study. Wayne Besen is perhaps the biggest offender, calling the study a “sham” before it was even out. And then an article in today’s Washington Blade quotes Chrisine Robinson as having problems with the study – which she hasn’t read.

Sociologist Christine Robinson, a professor at James Madison University who focuses on social control of deviance and sociology of sexualities, said she has two major concerns about the study, which she has not yet read. The first is that some will abuse its findings and the second is the methodology.

“The authors are right to say that one limitation … is the lack of independent/objective measures of sexual attraction beyond self-reports,” Robinson wrote in an e-mail. “This is a major weakness of the study. In addition, and even more problematic to me, is that the study is being touted as evidence to counteract the claim that reorientation therapies are not inherently harmful, but the study doesn’t examine reorientation therapies of Exodus ministries.”

The study would have been stronger, Robinson said, if it included an independent, in-depth assessment of the therapeutic methods themselves.

She notes one limitation already mentioned by the authors (and addressed in the book) and then faults the study somehow for how others will use it. And indeed it will be cited in a variety of ways — some misleading. For instance, Lifesite News wrote that Christian counseling helps people leave the “homosexual lifestyle.” Unless you consider Exodus involvement Christian counseling, this is of course incorrect. I suspect other types of spin on both sides will occur.

In all of this I am reminded of another study. The study of harm by Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder is one that has been advanced by critics of change therapies as proof that such therapy doesn’t work and is uniformly harmful. I have documented this error in previous posts, most notably when psychiatrist Alicia Salzer said on the Montel Williams Show that:

Science has shown us that 96% of people cannot change and along the way, absorb an enormous amount of self-loathing, a lot of confusion, a lot of family conflict, so I know the harm.

And then a PFLAG representative misrepresented the study in a replied to a Chicago Tribune article. No one on my blog or anywhere else I can find called on Shidlo and Schroeder to chastise the PFLAG speaker, or Alicia Salzer for misreprenting their work. Why not?

Anything alledged against Jones and Yarhouse about objectivity could be said about Shidlo and Schroeder. The authors are gay psychologists who started with a desire to find harm from change efforts. Their study was sponsored by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and funded by the H. van Ameringen Foundation (a frequent GLB benefactor). Their original call for participants was titled: Homophobic Therapies: Documenting the Damage” and included this description:

“You can be of help in the long process of getting the message out that these conversion therapies don’t work and do the opposite of healing by informing your l/g/b communities of our search for participants to be interviewed. Please announce our project in any upcoming lesbian and gay community meetings and spread the word. Help us document the damage!”

Sometime during the process of seeking participants, some people reported benefit and so they changed the title of the study and the call for participants to:

Changing Sexual Orientation: Does Counseling Work?

If you have taken part in counseling or psychotherapy that has attempted to change your homosexuality please give us a call. We are conducting a national study of individuals who have gone through such counseling. Did it work? Did it fail? We want to know how it affected you.

For a confidential interview please call: Dr. Michael Schroeder and Dr. Ariel Shidlo at 1.800.592.9815 or 212.886.3770. You can also E-mail us at therastudy@aol.com, or visit our Web site at http://www.jasperweb.com/therastudy.

Any quantification of their participants into categories is pointless because the sample was clearly non-representative and the study not prospective. Jones and Yarhouse’s made a good effort at representativeness (although not completely successful) and their study was prospective. Shidlo and Schroeder were anticipating and seeking their results in the call for participants.

Regarding misuse of their study, Shidlo and Schroeder noted as much in their study:

The data presented in this article do not provide information on the incidence and the prevalence of failure, success, harm, help, or ethical violations in conversion therapy. (italics in the original, p. 250).

So if critics want to discount Jones and Yarhouse based on perceptions of bias and limitations, then Shidlo and Schroeder must go too. And when advocates refer to their study improperly, I expect us all to call on Drs. Shidlo and Schroeder to take them on.