Thoughts on the status of the Reorientation Wars

So now that the dust has started to settle from the APA convention in Toronto, let’s review the status of the Reorientation Wars.

Does therapy change orientation?

In anticipation of the APA’s report, NARTH fired an opening salvo with their paper (What Research Shows…). Perhaps sensing, incorrectly as it turns out, that the APA would advocate a ban on reorientation therapy, NARTH tossed every positive reference to change they could find into the paper. They noted problems in defining sexual orientation but did little to distinguish the various definitions and their meaning in the many studies they cited. They concluded, of course, that therapy can change orientation.

The APA on the other hand, differentiated sexual orientation and sexual orientation identity. Sexual orientation for them is the biological responsiveness to one gender or both. According to their literature review, the evidence that therapy can change orientation is not sufficient to permit therapists to inform clients that therapy can change their orientation. However, sexual orientation identity (i.e., self-labeling) may shift and be responsive to a variety of factors, including religious mediation.

It seems to me that what NARTH is calling sexual orientation includes the APA’s sexual orientation identity. While this statement risks taking us into the “all or nothing” dead end discussion about change, I do not mean that one must change completely for change to be important and psychologically relevant. I suggest instead that what many studies measure is how people see themselves, even if their sexual responsiveness (orientation) has only shifted by a degree (e.g., an average of less than a point on the Kinsey scale in the Jones and Yarhouse study). Jones and Yarhouse suggest as much in their recent paper when they write:

There is also the question of sexual identity change versus sexual orientation change (see Worthington & Reynolds, 2009). Recent theoretical (e.g., Yarhouse, 2001) and empirical (e.g., Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; Yarhouse & Tan, 2004; Yarhouse, Tan & Pawlowski, 2005; Wolkomir, 2006) work on sexual identity among religious sexual minorities suggests that attributions and meaning are critical in the decision to integrate same-sex attractions into a gay identity or the decision to dis-identify with a gay identity and the persons and institutions that support a gay identity. In light of the role of attributions and meaning in sexual identity labeling, is it possible that some of what is reported in this study as change of orientation is more accurately understood as change in sexual identity?

I believe the answer to their question is that it is not only possible but probable that change in sexual identity is what is being reported. The distinction between orientation and identity (or attraction and identity as we often describe it here) is key, in my view, in order for us to understand the experience of those who say they have changed while at the same time experiencing same-sex attraction. I also believe that men and women are different and their change may be different. Women seem to describe less exclusivity than men. Fluidity may be more likely with complete shifts described. I think we need to accommodate atypical experiences such as men and women who completely shift for a time and then shift back. Whatever the pattern, I hope we can agree that sexual attraction patterns may be one thing while meaning making aspects may lead two people with the same attraction pattern to identity in disparate ways.

Is sexual reorientation harmful or beneficial?

NARTH says reorientation might harm some people but that for the most part it is not harmful. The APA says existing studies are not good enough to allow conclusions. Point for the APA here. All we can say is that some people report harm and some people report benefit. The APA notes that the benefits can occur in programs which promote congruence with religious faith. This is clear and the Jones and Yarhouse study demonstrate that health status improves modestly for those who remained in the study. However, I would say we do not yet know much about what the potent or beneficial elements of those programs are. The APA report identified some of those elements.

Homosexuality and pathology

NARTH says homosexuals have more pathology than any other group of similar size. The APA says homosexuality is normal. By this they mean that homosexuality is not a developmental disorder or indicator of a mental disorder. The two recent reports go off in different directions but some observations can be made.

The NARTH report spends lots of time reporting on greater levels of mental health and health problems among homosexuals as compared to heterosexuals. The APA report does not do this. However, I believe the point regarding different levels of symptoms would be stipulated by the APA. However, the APA raises the minority stress model as responsible for many difficulties faced by non-heterosexual people. The NARTH report discounts the role of stigma.

I doubt the APA would dispute the health status data for another reason: greater group pathology does not mean inherent disorder. The APA’s position is not that gays have equal health outcomes but rather that the unequal health outcomes do not imply inherent pathology – that SSA is not inherently the result of pathological development. This is of course in great contrast to the reparative therapists. Joseph Nicolosi says that the only way you get SSA is to traumatize a child.

The reparative impulse to find trauma behind every gay person is misguided I believe, conceptually and for sure empirically. Women have greater levels of mental health problems than men but we would not consider women inherently disordered. NARTH has chosen some good studies to cite in the section of their paper which relates to health status (as well as some really bad and irrelevant ones). However, I don’t think it really gets them where they want to go.

And where do they want to go? This is clear from their press release complaining about the APA task force report. They state:

Further, if some clients are dissatisfied with the therapeutic outcome [of reorientation therapy], as in therapy for other issues, the possibility for dissatisfaction appears to be outweighed by the potential gains. The possibility of dissatisfaction also seems insignificant when compared to the substantial medical, emotional, and physical risks associated with homosexual behavior.

NARTH would suggest that these medical and emotional risks, along with the incongruity of homosexual behavior with the personal and religious values of many people will continue to be the motivation for some individuals to seek assistance for their unwanted homosexual attraction.

According to NARTH, gays ought to seek reorientation therapy because being gay is a risky life, full of health and mental health disadvantages. Their hypothesis is implied but hard to miss: reduce the SSA and reduce the health risks. The assumption appears to be that ex-gays will have better health outcomes than gays. One problem with this line of thinking is that there is no empirical evidence for it and some evidence against it.*

One researcher quoted in the NARTH paper regarding health risks was New Zealand’s David Fergusson. Dr. Fergusson has done significant work in this field. I asked him to look at the section of the NARTH paper in which his work was quoted. Here is a statement he provided about it:

While the NARTH statement provides a comprehensive and accurate analysis of the linkages between sexual orientation and mental health, the paper falls far short of demonstrating that homosexuality should be classified as a psychiatric disorder that may be resolved by appropriate therapy. To demonstrate this thesis requires an in depth understanding of the biological and social pathways that explain the linkages between homosexual orientation and mental health. At present we lack that understanding. Furthermore it is potentially misleading to treat what may be a correlate of mental disorder as though it were a disorder in its own right.

Fergusson also told me that one would need to develop studies to demonstrate that any changes in orientation associate with improvements in health status. The Jones and Yarhouse study provide some very general assessment but many potential confounds are uncontrolled. For instance, it is not possible to say that the modest shifts on the Kinsey scale were responsible for the shifts in health status. These folks were quite religious and religion is associated with enhanced health status. I suspect religious gays have a better health status than non-religious gays, on average. The point is we do not have evidence that sexual orientation status per se is what leads to the differences in health status.

While I am on the subject of health status, I need to mention that there are other factors which NARTH ignored. One, gender non-conformity is strongly correlated with adult homosexuality and is also associated with poorer mental health. Two, homosexuals report higher levels of sexual victimization which is also associated with higher levels of mental health problems. And, three, no one can discount the possibility that biological factors which associate with the development of homosexuality may also influence the development of emotional problems (i.e., in the same way women are more likely to report depression than men).

So where are we? I hope we have a larger middle and smaller numbers of people at the opinion extremes. People on both sides can agree that erotic responsiveness is extremely durable for men and perhaps less so for women, but behavior and self-identity reflection is alterable. People on both sides agree that conclusions about benefit and harm are not possible in any general sense. Also, I hope we can agree that full informed consent should be conducted prior to engaging in counseling. Regarding health status, both sides can agree that homosexuals have higher levels of problems but there is little agreement about what the differences mean.

Those on the far sides of the continuum will continue to argue that change is possible or change is impossible, and/or that reorientation is always harmful or never harmful and/or that health status difference mean something vital or irrelevant about inherent pathology.

The wars will continue but perhaps fewer people will be engaged in them; now is the time rather to reason together.

*Nottebaum, L. J., Schaeffer, K. W., Rood, J., & Leffler, D. (2000). Sexual orientation—A comparison study. Manuscript submitted for publication. (Available from Kim Schaeffer, Department of Psychology, Point Loma Nazarene University, 3900 Lomaland Drive, San Diego, CA 92106) – In this study, the authors found that mental health was better among the gay sample than the Exodus sample.

Get Religion discusses media coverage of the APA report

The Get Religion blog has two entries up today discussing media coverage of the APA sexual orientation and therapy report. The first one deals with the articles by the Associated Press, Washington Times, and Baptist Press.

The second one hearts the Wall Street Journal article by Stephanie Simon which discusses the sexual identity therapy framework and the APA report.

FYI

Jones and Yarhouse Exodus study follow up

This morning at the American Psychological Association annual convention, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse are presenting their Time 6 and final follow up to the study of Exodus participants seeking change of orientation. The paper is titled, Ex Gays? An Extended Longitudinal Study of Attempted Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation. They are presenting these data as a part of a APA symposium titled Sexual Orientation and Faith Tradition Symposium chaired by Dean Byrd.

You can review the paper in full so I will only highlight a few points in the post.

The paper begins by recounting the skepticism toward change evinced by the professional mental health associations. Then, they note an important limit and hypotheses of the study:

Our study addresses the generic questions of whether sexual orientation is changeable, and whether the attempt is intrinsically harmful, by focusing only on the religiously mediated approaches to change; this is not a study of professional psychotherapy. Our hypotheses for this study were taken directly from the prevailing professional wisdom: We hypothesized 1) sexual orientation is not changeable, and 2) the attempt to change is likely harmful. We already cited the American Psychological Association’s (2005) claim that sexual orientation “is not changeable.” Regarding harm, our study was framed in light of the American Psychiatric Association’s (1998) claim that the “potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great, including depression, anxiety and self-destructive behavior.” The tools of scientific study are ideally suited to investigate empirically such strong, even absolute claims.

I bolded the statement about the study not being an examination of psychotherapy because I predict that NARTH affiliated therapists and various religious conservative groups will not clearly communicate this point when messaging the results of this study. Despite the fact that Christian self-help groups are different than therapy as practiced by many psychodynamic therapists, I suspect some therapists will hope the public does not catch the distinction.

Now for some results. Retention is sure to be an issue as this study is discussed:

Retention. We began with 98 subjects at T1. Our sample eroded to 73 at T3, a retention rate of 74.5%. This retention rate compares favorably to that of respected longitudinal studies. 63 subjects were interviewed or categorized at T6, for a T1 to T6 6 to 7 year retention of 64%.

Kinsey scale changes:

Table 1

This table shows the shifts in Kinsey scale scores (7 is exclusively homosexual with 1 being exclusively heterosexual). You can see that the shifts on average were about a point on the scale – less than one for the entire group and more than one for the group which were deemed more gay identified at the beginning. Although statistically significant, this would not on average take the group to the straight side of the continuum but rather by considered bisexual by most observers.

They also used the Shively-DeCecco scale which asks participants to rand both same-sex attraction and opposite-sex attraction. As you can see below, the change reflected in the Kinsey moves was due to reductions in SSA and not increases in OSA.

Table 2

Regarding categorical self-assessments, Jones and Yarhouse report modest shifts.

Table 5

Regarding these changes, Jones and Yarhouse say:

Several results are particularly notable. Despite a smaller N for the T6 sample than at T3, we found growth in absolute size in the two Exodus “success” outcome groups moving from row 1 to row 3: Conversion cases grew from 11 to 14 and Chastity cases from 17 to 18. But the group that grew the most in absolute and proportional terms was Failure: Gay Identity which doubled in absolute size from 6 to 12. The percentage of those showing stability of outcome T3 to T6 (row 4) is greatest in columns 1 and 6: the Success: Conversion (73%) and Failure: Gay Identity (67%) categories, with slightly less in the Success: Chastity category (53%). Of the one subject each that shifted from the Success: Conversion and Failure: Gay Identity categories from T3 to T6, each moved to the Continuing category at T6. The largest absolute shift from T3 to T6 of those who participated in the T6 interview was a T3 Success: Chastity case that became a Failure: Gay Identity case; next largest was a Non-Response case at T3 that became a Success: Conversion case.

Most germane to our principal hypothesis that change of sexual orientation is not possible, 53% of the T6 sample of 61 cases that self-categorized (row 3) did so as some version of success, either as Success: Conversion (23%) or Success: Chastity (30%). At T6, 25% of the sample self-categorized as an Exodus failure (Confused or Gay Identity).

In my view, this means of description confuses success with change. Over half did describe some version of success but that is not the same as over half describing sexual orientation change. I will be interested to see how this is reported in the press.

The changes reported here are significant and no doubt welcomed by the people involved. However, they are not the types of changes which I suspect the various mental health groups mean by “sexual orientation change.” Whatever happened to the participants in this study, they do not appear to have gone from gay to straight — in the sense that people who have always been straight are straight. They have gone from gay to less gay and a bit more straight. I do not mean to suggest that this is not important information; it is. But I am wondering if anyone at APA would dispute the within category changes reported here. I am going to ask and will report what I learn.

Jones and Yarhouse seem to be aware that the results can be understood as a change in identity and not orientation. They write:

There is also the question of sexual identity change versus sexual orientation change (see Worthington & Reynolds, 2009). Recent theoretical (e.g., Yarhouse, 2001) and empirical (e.g., Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; Yarhouse & Tan, 2004; Yarhouse, Tan & Pawlowski, 2005; Wolkomir, 2006) work on sexual identity among religious sexual minorities suggests that attributions and meaning are critical in the decision to integrate same-sex attractions into a gay identity or the decision to dis-identify with a gay identity and the persons and institutions that support a gay identity. In light of the role of attributions and meaning in sexual identity labeling, is it possible that some of what is reported in this study as change of orientation is more accurately understood as change in sexual identity?

The entire section on identity and orientation in the discussion section of the paper is good reading. Finally, in light of the APA task force report, I wonder if the discussion section of the Jones and Yarhouse paper could be revisited. The APA report, while skeptical of categorical change, did not take a strong stance regarding harm. Actually, the APA report and the Jones and Yarhouse paper agree on the inconclusive nature of the evidence on that question.

Media reports regarding the APA sexual orientation and therapy report

In addition to the separate posts on the topic, here is some additional coverage. If time permits, I may add a comment or two of opinion to them.

USA Today

Christianity Today

World Magazine

Mother Jones

AP Radio Network

Associated Press

Los Angeles Times

Southern Voice

The Advocate

Citizenlink, Day 1

Citizenlink, Day 2

Washington Times

CBN reports on APA report

The Christian Broadcasting Network reports this morning on the APA task force findings.

UPDATE: The video now does not reflect the news report linked above.

Wall Street Journal covers APA task force report and sexual identity therapy

The Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Simon has captured well the application of the APA task force sexual orientation report in an article out this morning. Of course I would say that…

The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven’t been able to shake sexual attractions to other men — impulses they believe to be immoral.

Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.

The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren’t a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.

But he also tells them they don’t have to be gay.

For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward “gay affirming” therapy — encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.

But in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical — and can be beneficial — for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions.

The APA is the largest association of psychologists world-wide, with 150,000 members. The association plans to promote the new approach to sexuality with YouTube videos, speeches to schools and churches, and presentations to Christian counselors.

According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.

But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.

While the report doesn’t use my exact words (e.g., I don’t say ‘you don’t have to be gay’), she does catch important aspects of the APA report and the stance I use within the sexual identity therapy framework. Furthermore, I don’t show the video at the same time in the same order of things to clients and then they make a decision about their direction. I do however, do extensive informed consent and answer lots of questions which involves videos and slides to answer. Thanks for Michael Bailey for those vids.

This report captures the essence of the novel findings in the APA report in contrast to the AP report which continues to present a polarized picture. For sure, as long as the dialogue around change is important to people, we keep talking past each other. However, when you look at what both sides actually claim, they are not that far apart. According to the AP report, Jones and Yarhouse are going to report over half of 61 subjects either changed or are celibate. Whatever the percentage, it is clear that change cannot be promised to clients as a predictable function of therapy or ministry. We should be able to agree about that and then place emphasis on belief and value congruence. From there, see what happens.

I will have other posts on the media reaction and additional analysis…

APA sexual orientation task force report: Analysis

Earlier today, the American Psychological Association governing board received the report of the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Response to Sexual Orientation. The report and press release were embargoed until now. With this post, I want to comment on the paper and recommendations made by the Task Force.

Generally, I believe the paper to be a high quality report of the evidence regarding sexual orientation and therapy. The authors of the paper (see this post for the new release which contains authorship information) provide a very helpful discussion of the professional literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), potential benefits and harm and the role of religion and values in sexual orientation identity exploration. Before I get to a more detailed look at highlights, I want to note an important statement from the APA press release made by Task Force Chair, Judith Glassgold:

Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome.

Dr. Glassgold here describes sexual identity therapy. In fact, as I will point out, the SIT framework is referred to positively throughout the paper. Whereas some evangelicals may be troubled by the negative view of sexual reorientation in this report, there is much here that clarifies important aspects of work in this field. The paper is long (130 pages) and so one post cannot capture all that is important. I want to start with what for me are the high spots, beginning with the abstract:

The American Psychological Association Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation conducted a systematic review of the peer-reviewed journal literature on sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) and concluded that efforts to change sexual orientation are unlikely to be successful and involve some risk of harm, contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates. Even though the research and clinical literature demonstrate that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality, regardless of sexual orientation identity, the task force concluded that the population that undergoes SOCE tends to have strongly conservative religious views that lead them to seek to change their sexual orientation. Thus, the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients and the facilitation of clients’ active coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome. (p. v)

While the paper takes a dim view of change efforts, the authors indicate that attempts to change have been viewed as helpful by some and harmful by others. This is a fair reading of the research. Given these assessments of the research, the stance the APA recommends is to provide supportive psychotherapy without imposing an identity outcome on the client. To get to this view, the authors review change literature, literature on outcomes and research regarding religion and sexual orientation. I want to briefly recap each section.

Efficacy of change efforts

The Task Force reviewed 83 studies that met basic standards for inclusion. They were not impressed with the methodological rigor of the body of research. Their conclusion:

Thus, the results of scientifically valid research indicate that it is unlikely that individuals will be able to reduce same-sex attractions or increase other-sex sexual attractions through SOCE. (p. 3)

Safety of change efforts

The Task Force provided a cautious and nuanced response to the question of harm or benefit from SOCE. I believe they are on target here. Some people report harm and some report benefit but there are no studies which allow conclusions about likelihood of either outcome for any given person. About safety, the press release notes:

As to the issue of possible harm, the task force was unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE: “There are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom,” according to the report.

Religion and change efforts

One of the highlights of the report is the discussion of religion and sexual orientation. The authors are to be commended for their balanced and thoughtful approach. I especially like the discussion surrounding the concepts of “organismic congruence” and “telic congruence.” On page 18, the paper summarizes these concepts well:

The conflict between psychology and traditional faiths may have its roots in different philosophical viewpoints. Some religions give priority to telic congruence (i.e., living consistently within one’s valuative goals) (W. Hathaway, personal communication, June 30, 2008; cf. Richards & Bergin, 2005). Some authors propose that for adherents of these religions, religious perspectives and values should be integrated into the goals of psychotherapy (Richards & Bergin, 2005; Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006). Affirmative and multicultural models of LGB psychology give priority to organismic congruence (i.e., living with a sense of wholeness in one’s experiential self (W. Hathaway, personal communication, June 30, 2008; cf. Gonsiorek, 2004; Malyon, 1982). This perspective gives priority to the unfolding of developmental processes, including self-awareness and personal identity.

This difference in worldviews can impact psychotherapy. For instance, individuals who have strong religious beliefs can experience tensions and conflicts between their ideal self and beliefs and their sexual and affectional needs and desires (Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; D. F. Morrow, 2003). The different worldviews would approach psychotherapy for these individuals from dissimilar perspectives: The telic strategy would prioritize values (Rosik, 2003; Yarhouse & Burkett, 2002), whereas the organismic approach would give priority to the development of self-awareness and identity (Beckstead & Israel, 2007; Gonsiorek, 2004; Haldeman, 2004). It is important to note that the organismic worldview can be congruent with and respectful of religion (Beckstead & Israel, 2007; Glassgold, 2008; Gonsiorek, 2004; Haldeman, 2004; Mark, 2008), and the telic worldview can be aware of sexual stigma and respectful of sexual orientation (Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006; Tan, 2008; Yarhouse, 2008). Understanding this philosophical difference may improve the dialogue between these two perspectives represented in the literature, as it refocuses the debate not on one group’s perceived rejection of homosexuals or the other group’s perceived minimization of religious viewpoints but on philosophical differences that extend beyond this particular subject matter. However, some of the differences between these philosophical assumptions may be difficult to bridge.

On this blog, we have frequently grappled with these differences. Many such discussions have sides talking past each other because different views of congruence are assumed to be determinative. In this CNN clip about the Task Force, Psychiatrist McCommon and I came to about the same conclusion regarding congruence.

There are different assumptions about what best constitutes the answer to the question: ‘who am I?’ This paper nicely addresses these assumptions and acknowledges that people who are deeply committed to a non-gay-affirming religious position may stay same-sex attracted but not identify as gay. As the paper notes, this is an acceptable alternative.

Clinical approaches

The authors consider the role of therapy and ministries groups as aspects of SOCE. What they say about support groups is interesting.

These effects are similar to those provided by mutual support groups for a range of problems, and the positive benefits reported by participants in SOCE, such as reduction of isolation, alterations in how problems are viewed, and stress reduction, are consistent with the findings of the general mutual support group literature. The research literature indicates that the benefits of SOCE mutual support groups are not unique and can be provided within an affirmative and multiculturally competent framework, which can mitigate the harmful aspects of SOCE by addressing sexual stigma while understanding the importance of religion and social needs. (p. 3)

In a nutshell, support groups can have benefit when the singular focus is not change of orientation. Our conversations here regarding the change versus congruence model is relevant. I think the kind of changes that are most common are ideological and behavioral. And when I say behavioral, I mean both cessation of unwanted behavior and also less preoccupation with seeking harmful sexual behavior. I think some people feel they have moved on the Kinsey scale because they have better self-control regarding same-sex behavior. These are good and important telic changes but they don’t represent the kinds of changes which reflect dramatic organismic shifts. Orthodox Christianity does not require organismic changes in order to pursue spiritual development.

Moving from ministry to clinical worlds, the application seems obvious to me. And perhaps it seems obvious since I have been advocating for this stance for several years now. The client sets the value direction and the outcome is not imposed.

In our review of the research and clinical literature, we found that the appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for adults presenting with a desire to change their sexual orientation has been grounded in a client-centered approach (e.g., Astramovich, 2003; Bartoli & Gillem, 2008; Beckstead & Israel, 2007, Buchanan et al., 2001; Drescher, 1998a; Glassgold; 2008; Gonsiorek; 2004; Haldeman, 2004, Lasser & Gottlieb, 2004; Mark, 2008; Ritter & O’Neill, 1989, 1995; Tan, 2008; Throckmorton & Yarhouse, 2006; Yarhouse & Tan, 2005a; and Yarhouse, 2008). (P.55)

It is heartening to see the SIT framework referenced here (and elsewhere in the APA paper) as one “appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions.” In general, I think the APA strategies and the SIT framework are quite compatible.

Bottom line: The APA report will likely be quite influential for years to come. They call for more research on SOCE and a cautious, and I think accurate, interpretation of the research on reorientation. I believe the therapeutic strategies called for are akin to the SIT framework and clarifies nicely the appropriate stance of therapists. The report also respects the place of religion in identity development and exploration. These issues were not clear prior to this report.

In additional posts, I will deal with various aspects of the paper as well as media coverage. The press release is here and here on the APA website.

Press release: APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation Report

The APA released the report from the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation today. This post is the APA press release, I also have an analysis of the report and another post coming with press reports.

APA PRESS RELEASE

August 5, 2009

Contact: Kim Mills

(202) 336-6048 until Aug. 5

(416) 585-3800 – Aug. 5-9

——————————————————————————–

INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE THAT SEXUAL ORIENTATION CHANGE EFFORTS WORK, SAYS APA

Practitioners Should Avoid Telling Clients They Can Change from Gay to Straight

——————————————————————————–

TORONTO—The American Psychological Association adopted a resolution Wednesday stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.

The “Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts” also advises that parents, guardians, young people and their families avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and instead seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services “that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”

The approval, by APA’s governing Council of Representatives, came at APA’s annual convention, during which a task force presented a report that in part examined the efficacy of so-called “reparative therapy,” or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

“Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation,” said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force. “Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.” Glassgold added: “At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet, these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted or its long-term mental health effects. Also, this result was much less likely to be true for people who started out only attracted to people of the same sex.”

Based on this review, the task force recommended that mental health professionals avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others’ sexual orientation.

APA appointed the six-member Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation in 2007 to review and update APA’s 1997 resolution, “Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation,” and to generate a report. APA was concerned about ongoing efforts to promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed through psychotherapy or approaches that mischaracterize homosexuality as a mental disorder.

The task force examined the peer-reviewed journal articles in English from 1960 to 2007, which included 83 studies. Most of the studies were conducted before 1978, and only a few had been conducted in the last 10 years. The group also reviewed the recent literature on the psychology of sexual orientation.

“Unfortunately, much of the research in the area of sexual orientation change contains serious design flaws,” Glassgold said. “Few studies could be considered methodologically sound and none systematically evaluated potential harms.”

As to the issue of possible harm, the task force was unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE: “There are no methodologically sound studies of recent SOCE that would enable the task force to make a definitive statement about whether or not recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom,” according to the report.

“Without such information, psychologists cannot predict the impact of these treatments and need to be very cautious, given that some qualitative research suggests the potential for harm,” Glassgold said. “Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome.”

As part of its report, the task force identified that some clients seeking to change their sexual orientation may be in distress because of a conflict between their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The task force recommended that licensed mental health care providers treating such clients help them “explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client’s religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life.”

“In other words,” Glassgold said, “we recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality.”

A copy of the task force report may be obtained from APA’s Public Affairs Office or at http://www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/therapeutic-response.pdf.

Members of the APA Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation:

Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, Rutgers University – Chair

Lee Beckstead, PhD

Jack Drescher, MD

Beverly Greene, PhD, St. John’s University

Robin Lin Miller, PhD, Michigan State University

Roger L. Worthington, PhD, University of Missouri

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States and is the world’s largest association of psychologists. APA’s membership includes more than 150,000 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance psychology as a science, as a profession and as a means of promoting health, education and human welfare.

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Sexual identity therapy: A blast from the past

In light of conversations on the Exodus-PFOX thread, I thought it might be good to review a past mainstream media article that brought SIT more into the mainstream conversation.

The LA Times article now titled “Approaching agreement in debate over homosexuality” by Stephanie Simon (now with the Wall Street Journal) was published on June 18, 2007 with the title, “New ground in debate on ‘curing’ gays.”

The article begins with some familiar ground to this blog:

Alan Chambers directs Exodus International, widely described as the nation’s largest ex-gay ministry. But when he addresses the group’s Freedom Conference at Concordia University in Irvine this month, Chambers won’t celebrate successful “ex-gays.”

Truth is, he’s not sure he’s ever met one.

With years of therapy, Chambers says, he has mostly conquered his own attraction to men; he’s a husband and a father, and he identifies as straight. But lately, he’s come to resent the term “ex-gay”: It’s too neat, implying a clean break with the past, when he still struggles at times with homosexual temptation. “By no means would we ever say change can be sudden or complete,” Chambers said.

His personal denunciation of the term “ex-gay” — his organization has yet to follow suit — is just one example of shifting ground in the polarizing debate on homosexuality.

I am not sure if I am correct, but I think Alan later nuanced the remarks about not knowing ex-gays, but I do think he has made efforts including the recent article regarding Bryce Faulkner, to paint an accurate picture of his personal situation.

This article brought to a wide audience conversations that we have been having here for quite awhile — and continue to have. The ex-gay conversation is a recurring one here. Some newer readers may want to review this post (Ex-ex-gay?) and this one ( What does change mean?) and this one (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy).

The LA Times article quoted several people who approved of the framework, including commenter Michael Bussee.

“Something’s happening. And I think it’s very positive,” agreed Michael Bussee, who founded Exodus in 1976, only to fall in love with another man — a fellow ex-gay counselor.

Now a licensed family therapist in Riverside, Bussee regularly speaks out against ex-gay therapies and is scheduled to address the Ex-Gay Survivor’s Conference at UC Irvine at the end of the month.

But Bussee put aside his protest agenda recently to endorse new guidelines to sexual identity therapy, co-written by two professors at conservative Christian colleges.

Other notable folks gave a thumbs-up to the framework as well.

He and other gay activists — along with major mental-health associations — still reject therapy aimed at “liberating” or “curing” gays. But Bussee is willing to acknowledge potential in therapy that does not promise change but instead offers patients help in managing their desires and modifying their behavior to match their religious values — even if that means a life of celibacy.

“It’s about helping clients accept that they have these same-sex attractions and then allowing them the space, free from bias, to choose how they want to act,” said Lee Beckstead, a gay psychologist in Salt Lake City who uses this approach.

The guidelines for this type of therapy — written by Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University — have been endorsed by representatives on both the left and right. The list includes the provost of a conservative evangelical college and the psychiatrist whose gay-rights advocacy in the 1970s got homosexuality removed from the official medical list of mental disorders.

“What appeals to me is that it moves away from the total polarization” common in the field, said Dr. Robert Spitzer, the psychiatrist.

“For many years, mental-health professionals have taken the view that since homosexuality is not a mental disorder, any attempt to change sexual orientation is unwise,” said Spitzer, a Columbia University professor.

Some therapies are widely considered dangerous, and some rely on discredited psychological theories. “But for healthcare professionals to tell someone they don’t have the right to make an effort to bring their actions into harmony with their values is hubris,” Spitzer said.

Just over two years later, we continue to discuss very similar concerns and the tension remains.

Activists on both sides caution that the rapprochement only goes so far.

Critics of Exodus note the group still sponsors speakers who attribute homosexuality to bad parenting and assert that gays and lesbians live short, unhappy lives.

And though Chambers has disavowed the term “ex-gay,” his group’s ads give the distinct impression that it’s possible to leave homosexuality completely behind.

Haven’t we just been discussing this topic?

The article concludes with a reference to the APA Sexual Orientation Task Force.

The American Psychological Assn. set up a task force this spring to revise the group’s policy on sexual orientation therapy. The current policy is a decade old and fairly vague; it states that homosexuality is not a disorder and that therapists can’t make false claims about their treatments.

The new policy, due early next year, must help psychologists uphold two ethical principles as they work with patients unhappy about their sexuality: “Respect for the autonomy and dignity of the patient, and a duty to do no harm,” said Clinton Anderson, the association’s director for lesbian, gay and bisexual concerns. “It’s a balancing act.”

In fact, the Task Force will report soon, in August, sometime during the APA convention. Stay tuned…

Although we will soon migrate the website, more on the SIT Framework is now here.

NARTH releases journal

The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality recently released a journal.

PRESS RELEASE

For Immediate Release

June 10, 2009

Contact: David Pruden

Phone: (888) 364-4744

E-mail: dpruden@earthlink.net

New Scientific Research Refutes Unsubstantiated Claims Regarding Homosexuality

Encino, CA- A new report in this month’s edition of the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Sexuality finds that sexual orientation is not immutable and that psychological care for individuals with unwanted homosexual attractions is beneficial and poses no significant risk of harm. The study, What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to the American Psychological Associations Claims on Homosexuality, examines over 100 years of professional and scientific literature as well as over 600 reports from clinicians, researchers, and former clients principally published in professional and peer-reviewed journals.

This research, assembled over a period of eighteen months by three of the leading academics and therapists in the field and under the direction of the NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee directly refutes unsubstantiated claims made by some factions of the American Psychological Association and several other professional mental health organizations. The study, conducted by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a network of professionals dedicated to upholding the rights of men and women dealing with unwanted homosexual attraction to receive effective psychological care, confirms the results of a 2007 longitudinal study conducted by researchers Stanton L. Jones and Mark Yarhouse that found that religiously mediated sexual orientation change is possible for some individuals and does not cause psychological harm on average.

“This research is a significant milestone when it comes to the scientific debate over the issue of homosexuality,” said NARTH president Dr. Julie Hamilton. “It also confirms what we have seen evidenced in hundreds of individuals who have benefited from the help of NARTH therapists. We believe that every person should have the right to independently determine their own course in life and for many that involves seeking counseling options that affirm their personal beliefs.”

In addition to What Research Shows, a collection of peer-reviewed scholarly and professional papers entitled Understanding, Preventing, and Treating Sexual Identity Confusion in Children and Adolescents, will be published in Volume II of the Journal of Human Sexuality.

Requests for copies or for a more detailed summary of the inaugural issue of the journal should be addressed to: Journal of Human Sexuality • 307 West 200 South, Suite 3001 • Salt Lake City, UT 84101. The journal can also be ordered by phone at 1-888-364-4744 or online at www.narth.com. A PDF summary of the journal may be downloaded at www.narth.com.

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NARTH is a professional, scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality. As an organization, it disseminates educational information, conducts and collects scientific research, promotes effective therapeutic treatment, and provides referrals to those who seek assistance. NARTH upholds the rights of individuals with unwanted homosexual attraction to receive effective psychological care and the right of professionals to offer that care.

I have a copy of the report heading my way and will review it later this summer. For now, it is worth pointing out that there is no new research in the response to the APA, rather it is a review of literature. If the paper “confirms the results” of Jones and Yarhouse, does that mean that NARTH will scale back the claims about change to the 15% found by those authors? That result would require a change in rhetoric from NARTH leaders when on the stump.

In any event, this paper and the journal as an effort is likely a response to the APA Task Force which will probably report in August at the APA annual meeting.