People magazine on Ted Haggard and reparative therapy

The February 26 issue of People magazine has a story on Ted Haggard and reparative therapy. The article references the comments or views of Rev. Haggard, his overseers, Richard Cohen, Joe Nicolosi, Bob Spitzer, Jack Drescher, Peterson Toscano, and Dan Gonzales.

As with most pieces on the subject, this one oversimplifies the intersection of faith and sexuality. I do note that psychiatrist Jack Drescher is getting more creative in his characterizations of change programs — “it’s a giant infomercial,” he says. But this article, like so many before it, comes down to the same opponents saying about the same thing: one side says change doesn’t work and the other side saying homosexuality is a reaction to being wounded in childhood, thus requiring lengthy therapy to undo. Sure seems like deja vu all over again.

It is sad and frustrating to me that this polarity is generally all that people in conflict ever hear about.

New York Times covers sexual reorientation issue

Michael Luo has a story in the New York Times this morning titled, “Some Tormented by Homosexuality Look to a Controversial Therapy.” Intended to provide coverage of reorientation efforts in the greater New York City area, the article reviews some familiar ground.

The article focuses on Corey Larson, a young man who is seeking change through People Can Change and David Matheson, a student of Joe Nicolosi’s. At first read, it looks to me like a surface review of some issues that breaks little new ground.

Bob Spitzer is quoted sounding like he has changed his views on the prevalence of change. However, he has been saying that change is rare ever since the study came out.

In the audio accompanying the article (Part one, Part two), Mr. Larson described how he has reframed his attractions as being expressions of emotional neediness rather than sexual attractions. Specifically, he says he has emotional needs to connect with men at an emotional level but that these needs are not met through sexual contact. He also describes how change to become completely heterosexual is not now his objective but rather to live consistent with his beliefs is more it.

Mr. Larson speaks highly of the People Can Change group and the Journey Into Manhood weekend. A glance through the website reveals the heavy reliance on reparative drive theory to explain homosexual attractions. I am not sure the creators of this site would say all homosexuals are subject to a deficit in masculine identification but they are saying that their homosexuality was based on that dynamic.

NARTH adopts Leona Tyler Principle

February 8, 2007 – The Leona Tyler Principle, adopted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1973, has just been unanimously adopted by NARTH’s Governing Board on the advice of its Scientific Advisory Committee.

In essence, the principle states that when psychologists are speaking as members of their profession, any advocacy in which they engage should be based on scientific data and demonstrable professional experience. Perhaps Dr. Tyler, then APA’s president, was able to foresee the day when organized psychology would be influenced by activism, and she wanted to ensure that psychology as a profession would not be eroded.

Read the rest on the NARTH website

Mental health status and homosexuality

Since the LA Times article appeared in October, I have received several emails asking about various aspects of my views that were reported in the article. Some ask about my view that same-sex attraction does not always stem from poor parenting, others ask about my views on homosexuality and increased risk for pathology. I have covered the parenting issues in prior posts and want to address briefly the matter of risk for pathology.

Some wrote to say that when I was characterized by reporter Stephanie Simon as believing homosexuals can have a “fulfilling life” that I ignore research documenting a higher level of mental health problems among homosexuals.

I disagree that the reporter’s characterizations of my views ignore social science research. On the contrary, my views are quite consistent with what we know about homosexual adjustment. While there are consistent reports of elevations of various mental health problems among homosexuals, there are many homosexually identified people who are untroubled by diagnosable conditions.

For instance, the most recent published comparison of gays and straights on suicidality found that homosexuals were more likely to feel suicidal than heterosexual participants, even with psychiatric history considered. However, the effect sizes on dimensions of self-injurious thoughts and behaviors were small to modest (2-4%). For women, when psychiatric history was considered, the relationships disappeared for all indicators except the contemplation of self-harm. Even for men, the modest effect sizes indicate there is much overlap between straight and gay groups; the results cannot be accounted for by sexual orientation differences alone. (Archives of Sexual Behavior, June 2006).

To withhold “even the possibility” (quote from the LA Times article) of homosexuals experiencing happiness is not warranted by the research we have. In all studies of psychiatric problems among homosexuals, large numbers of homosexuals report no psychiatric distress. In the study of suicidality noted above, the majority of homosexuals reported no indication of difficulty. While rates are frequently elevated among homosexual men, and sometime among lesbians, such elevations do not preclude the possibility of a satisfying life. If so, then we would need to extend such thinking to other groups (both essential human categories and those socially constructed as well) where elevated risks are found. For instance, other groups who have elevated risk for depression include the elderly, women, people of low socioeconomic class, people who smoke, people living in high stress situations, and people with chronic medical conditions. Suicide risk is elevated among Native American teens compared to all youth (2.5 times). Higher rates of psychiatric disorders and substance abuse problems have been reported among physicians. Evidence from a large study of physician suicide indicates that the suicide rate among male doctors is twice that of men in general. The rate among female doctors is four times higher than for all women. (South Med J 93(10):966-972, 2000). Women in general are about three times more likely to attempt suicide than men. Would one deny the possibility of a rewarding life to members of these groups? Surely not.

Thus, it would be inconsistent with the research on psychiatric risk to deny members of at-risk groups “even the possibility” of a “fulfilling life,” whether partnered or not. Higher risk, yes; inevitable mental health maladjustment for all members of a group of people? No.

PS – I want to note that some of the correspondence about the LA Times came via a coordinated effort from NARTH to my college with the intent to appear that the effort was not coordinated.