After the 9th Circuit court upheld CA’s law banning reorientation therapy for minors, NARTH issued a statement in response. For context, I reproduce the entire statement with comments to follow:
NARTH finds today’s ruling by the court to be disappointing and plans to appeal this decision. If left standing, this ruling will constitute a serious intrusion by government on the freedom of minors and their families to choose their desired form of psychological care.
At a time when adolescents who experience themselves as being the wrong biological sex are allowed to pursue sexual reassignment surgery, licensed therapists who are willing to assist youth with unwanted same-sex attraction and behaviors will be prohibited from even talking to minors in a manner that could be construed as promoting the pursuit of change.
Politicians and non-elected judges have seen fit to approve of such encroachments on personal and professional freedoms in spite of the fact that the American Psychological Association admits the exact causes of same-sex attractions are not known, virtually no research exists directly addressing the modification of same-sex behaviors and attractions with minors, and the prevalence of harm from such change efforts is unknown and has therefore not been established as being any greater than the rates of harm documented for psychotherapy in general. Furthermore, much research has documented that fluidity in sexual attractions and identity often occurs naturally and is particularly pronounced in adolescence and early adulthood, which suggests the viability of therapeutic change efforts for some youth.
These facts make it clear that science is not at the forefront of this effort to restrict freedoms. If that were the case, gaps in our knowledge of this area would be addressed through a bipartisan program of research, not by the heavy hand of government squelching professional practice in order to appease powerful interests of activists within professional associations and lobbying groups. NARTH sincerely hopes that these crucial facts will be considered by a more receptive judicial audience in the future.
Strong point of the statement: They are correct that more research is needed on minors who are in conflict over their attractions to the same sex.
Given the concerns over safety and effectiveness, it seems reasonable to take seriously adult reports about when they were minors. In one sense, retrospective (but still inadequate) research has been done by asking adults about their experiences while teens.
Weak point of the statement: Spontaneous developmental change in attractions does not “suggest the viability of therapeutic change efforts for some youth.”
Being situationally or temporarily attracted to the same sex is not the same experience as exclusive attraction to the same sex throughout adolescence. The CA law allows therapists to discuss sexual orientation issues and engage in self-discovery. However, when a youth declares a gay orientation, a therapist is not allowed to engage in therapeutic techniques designed to change orientation.
Weakest point of the statement: The hypocrisy of NARTH whining about research.
Opponents of reorientation therapy are reacting to many stories of youth and young adults who felt harmed by being dragged to the conversion therapist and asked to do something they couldn’t do. There are some studies that link parental lack of acceptance (one manifestation of which is forced attendance at conversion therapy sessions) with mental health adjustment in GLBT youth. Surely those studies are relevant and are unanswered by NARTH.
It is just as accurate to say “science is not at the forefront” of NARTH’s effort to maintain access to conversion therapy. “If that were the case (science at the forefront), gaps in our knowledge of this area would be addressed through” a program of research led by NARTH. However, this has never been the case. Despite numerous calls for such research from various sources, NARTH has done just one survey of adults since the organization was founded in 1992.
The lack of research complaint is a dodge. While I haven’t been on the inside for quite awhile, I was at one point. I actually did some research on the subject and attempted to address concerns of both sides. I did it on my own dime and worked to get it published. However, where has NARTH been? It is my settled opinion that the defense of conversion therapy is not based on science because if it was, there would be some NARTH-generated science to talk about.
Perhaps those who defend NARTH should ask why NARTH has not tested it’s claims. And perhaps NARTH should stop talking about science until it has some to talk about. If NARTH’s leaders were serious about research, they would channel all of their funds and efforts into a large multi-year study of their efforts designed by legitimate scholars instead of legal fees.