Keeping Focus on the Family Honest on Reparative Therapy

In a recent CBS News report on reparative therapy (sexual orientation change efforts), Focus on the Family’s Jeff Johnston was quoted in support of the practice and a link to FOTF’s website was a part of the story. I have a long history with Focus on this issue. There are some misleading statements on this page which I outline below.

Focus says:

Focus on the Family does not and has never offered sexual-orientation change therapy, also referred to as “reparative therapy.” We have licensed counselors on staff who take one-time phone calls and refer to other therapists, upon request. We also support an individual’s right to counseling for unwanted homosexuality — and the rights of counselors to offer such help.

Although technically true, Focus did recommend reparative therapy via their Love Won Out traveling ex-gay workshops from the late 1990s into the late 2000s. Reparative therapy popularizer Joe Nicolosi was the featured speaker on the origins and treatment of homosexuality. Exodus, Focus on the Family and NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) were the trinity of sexual orientation change efforts in the United States. Even if Focus didn’t have counselors on site who offered counseling, they promoted reparative therapy to the world in a very aggressive manner.

Focus really confuses matters in their definition of “sexual orientation change efforts.”

“Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” (SOCE) is a broad term that deals with any kind of help from a licensed mental-health professional for those with unwanted homosexuality. This is counseling, or talk therapy, to assist someone with unwanted homosexuality —whether it’s behavior, attractions or identity — to live according to their faith and values.

Focus tries to soften the meaning of the word “change.” SOCE is a broad term but it doesn’t refer to “any kind of help from a licensed mental-health professional for those with unwanted homosexuality.” Change means change. SOCE is about trying to help people change their orientation. Opponents of SOCE oppose the efforts of counselors to change orientation.

Focus confuses the issue by saying SOCE includes counseling efforts to help clients “live according to their faith and values.” That would only be SOCE if living according to one’s faith meant changing sexual orientation. However, sexual identity therapy (which is what Mark Yarhouse and I developed) helps people without focusing on orientation change as a goal. Our perspective is that clients can be assisted within their religious framework without any SOCE.

Sexual identity therapy is not SOCE. SIT is a kind of help for people who are conflicted about their sexual orientation but it isn’t SOCE. SIT does help people seek harmony within themselves without using SOCE. Focus’ description of SOCE is too broad and misleading. Focus appears to want to make this issue about religious freedom when in fact, it is about what is helpful with clients.

Focus then speculates about what isn’t allowed by a ban on SOCE.

If this therapy is banned, think about the impact this would have on minors:

A teen boy who is hooked on gay pornography — and wants to stop — could not get help from a licensed professional counselor.

A young girl who was sexually abused, and was questioning her identity, could only get help to identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

A boy who wants to develop his sense of masculinity and identity could not get help to affirm his masculine identity from a state-licensed counselor.

A girl who’s involved in a same-sex relationship, but whose faith says that’s not best for her, could not get help to stop the relationship from a licensed counselor.

As worded above, SOCE is not required to address any of these situations. Laws prohibiting SOCE for minors allow for identity exploration and the treatment of sexual abuse. The laws do not forbid clients from acting in line with their religious beliefs as long as the counselor does not implement techniques designed to change a client’s sexual orientation. For instance, if a same-sex attracted teen is in a same-sex relationship but believes it is wrong, she can seek help to take steps to end it and cope with the results.

Sponsor: Celibacy as Therapy Goal Allowed by CA's Anti-Conversion Therapy Bill

The outrage surrounding California’s anti-conversion therapy bill (AB 2943) is growing by the press release. For instance, last Monday (April 30) Summit Ministries canceled a conference in CA because they contend the bill (when it becomes law) will forbid advice which doesn’t affirm homosexuality. According to the press release,

Summit’s program would fall under the proposed law because its lineup includes defenders of traditional man/woman marriage and people who advocate pursuing only those sexual activities approved in the Bible. Myers said it has also been common during prior trainings for students to ask questions of Summit staff about how to address confusion over gender identity and sexual attraction in the context of their faith. By prohibiting such conversations, AB2943 would cripple Summit’s ability to care for and equip its students, Myers said.
“What are we going to say to a young person experiencing sexual confusion?” he asked. “That the state of California forbids us from allowing a biblical ethic embraced by billions of people for thousands of years to inform our answer?
“California state authorities are hijacking good-faith concerns about reparative therapy to deny constitutional protection to those who hold traditional views of sexuality and marriage,” Myers added. “We cannot and will not bend God’s truth to accommodate the state of California.
“This is the most blatant chilling of free speech in America in my lifetime.”

According to the bill’s sponsor, the bill doesn’t relate to speech or religious teaching. It regulates sexual orientation change efforts. The bill would only apply to their conference if Summit Ministries charges conference goers for sexual orientation change counseling.
If students ask questions about what the Bible teaches, the teachers are free to provide whatever teaching they believe. They can recommend change efforts, celibacy, prayer, meditation, or whatever they believe. They can recommend books, sell books and tapes, and even recommend therapists. However, those therapists can’t conduct those treatments under the new law.

Would the Bill Prohibit Counseling to Live a Celibate Life?

Summit Ministries argued that biblical advice, such as celibacy, would be prohibited by the bill. I asked bill sponsor Evan Low’s office if counselors could help clients seek celibacy if clients wanted to avoid homosexual behavior. Low’s office referred me to policy advisor Anthony Samson who answered by email that “AB 2943 would not prohibit one from providing therapeutic help to an individual seeking to become celibate.”  He pointed to the word “includes” in the following definition of “sexual orientation change efforts”

(i) (1) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means any practices that seek to change an individual’s sexual orientation. This includes efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex.

Samson said, “The term ‘includes’ means that the practices following it must be in connection with seeking to change an individual’s sexual orientation.  In other words, ‘efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex’ would be precluded to the extent they were provided in connection with seeking to change one’s sexual orientation.” Samson explained, “Because providing services to help one become celibate would not be in connection with changing one’s sexual orientation, it would be permitted.”
So biblical advice would not be banned and therapeutic help for traditional clients will still be available as well. For instance, I have no hesitation in conducting or recommending sexual identity therapy in CA.
To me, these protestations appear to be efforts to derail the bill in order to protect reparative therapy. Having read the bill, I can tell that the Summit press release, and most of the Christian news articles on this bill are reactionary efforts which don’t deal directly with the actual bill. If these groups want to be ta ken seriously, they should secure scholarly opinions from serious legal scholars and not culture warriors.
Furthermore, if religious conservatives want to have an impact on this legislation, I encourage them to do what I have done. Contact the sponsor and enter into a respectful, rational, fact-based dialogue.

Fact Sheet on AB 2943

Why the Mental Health Professionals Want to Ban Conversion Therapy

Sponsor: CA Conversion Therapy Bill Won't Ban Books or the Bible

Some conservative pundits are worried that a bill moving to the California State Senate will ban the Bible or at least some Christian books. Upon examination, I don’t see a basis in fact for that claim.
The bill is AB 2943 and would amend state law on unlawful business practices with a prohibition on performing sexual orientation change therapy for a fee. A fact sheet for the bill provided by bill sponsor Assemblyman Evan Low can be viewed at the link below.

Fact Sheet on AB 2943

Liberty Counsel has been spreading the view that the Bible would be banned by the bill and National Review’s David French has made a serious case that the bill would lead to a ban on certain Christian books.  Essentially, they say that the current law prohibits the sale of “goods” which result in harm from being sold. They argue that books which promote changes in behavior away from homosexual behavior even if the goal is celibacy might be considered within the reach of the statute since the statute defines sexual orientation change as including “efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions.”
Since the entire bill is about sexual orientation change, it seems clear to me that the reference to behavior change is due to the practice of some change therapists to get gay clients to engage in heterosexual behaviors even when it doesn’t seem natural as a kind of behavior therapy. This isn’t a reference to celibacy – which by the way doesn’t reflect a change in orientation.
In fact, the next section of the bill says that sexual orientation change efforts as defined by the statute don’t include interventions which:

(A) provide acceptance, support, and understanding of clients or the facilitation of clients’ coping, social support, and identity exploration and development, including sexual orientation-neutral interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and (B) do not seek to change sexual orientation.

Clients who decide to live a celibate life can count on a counselor’s help as long as those interventions are neutral regarding change of orientation.

Does the Bill Ban Books?

I wrote Assemblyman Evan Low to ask if AB 2943 prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting conversion therapy by therapists. I also asked if the amended law would prohibit the sale of religious books or videos which advocate that gays should change their sexual orientation by religious means. Finally, I asked if AB 2943 prohibited the sale of books or videos promoting celibate behavior for gays as a way to adhere to religious beliefs.
Low’s Communications Director Maya Polon wrote back to answer all three questions negatively. According to the sponsor, the bill doesn’t relate to books or speech. I followed up by asking if any of the unlawful business practices has ever led to the banning of any books or speech. She wrote back to say that she wasn’t aware of any instance where books about any those practices have been banned. I also asked Mr. French via Twitter if he was aware of books banned in CA due to the unlawful practices law but have not heard back from him as yet.
A few days ago Evan Low responded to this issue via Twitter:


I haven’t decided what I think of the bill yet but unless this part of the law has ever been used to try to ban books before, then it doesn’t seem to be a serious reason to oppose it now. There is a lot wrong with conversion therapy but generally I favor more freedom not less. What makes me think this could be a reasonable response to the harm reparative therapy can do is that there is nothing in the bill that stops a person from trying to make personal changes outside of a professional context. Furthermore, I don’t see how the bill prohibits counselors from helping clients who pursue celibacy. However, it does remove the stamp of approval of the mental health professions for change therapy.

Family Policy Alliance Misleads Public on Conversion Therapy Legislation

To hear Focus on the Family’s public policy arm, Family Policy Alliance, talk about it, the opponents of forcing teens to go to sexual orientation change efforts (aka conversion therapy) don’t want kids to go to counseling. Listen to Stephanie Curry use the phrase “basic talk therapy” like it is her job (which in this case it is).

Transcript:

Hi, I’m Stephanie Curry and I’m a public policy manager with Family Policy Alliance. I’m here today to talk to you about a series of bills that we’re seeing across the country that would seek to ban basic talk therapy for our children. Family Policy Alliance cares about this issue because we care about our children and that they’re able to have access to basic talk therapy if they are struggling with unwanted same-sex attraction and gender identity issues. We believe that families and parents know what’s best for their children and they should have the ability to find licensed therapists that support their moral and religious principles.
Some bills we’re seeing that are cause for concern are for example a bill in Massachusetts that said it was child abuse for a family to take their child to a therapist to get therapy for their unwanted same-sex attractions or gender identity issues. We also have seen a bill in Massachusetts that equates this type of basic talk therapy to torture. Now we know that this isn’t true. Because we love our children, we want them to have access to compassionate and ethical basic talk therapy that is open to change. Thank you so much for joining us today.

The Basic Talk Therapy Bill

In fact, the only bill I could find in MA did not refer to therapy as child abuse or torture. The bill does not prohibit basic talk therapy. The 2017 bill — H1190 — specifically forbids interventions which serve sexual reorientation or gender identity change. However, the bill does allow a neutral exploration of sexual and gender identity issues.
Read the the bill below:

SECTION 1. Chapter 112 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2014 Official addition, is hereby amended by adding following new section:-
Section 266. (a) Definitions.
For the purposes of this section, “licensed professional” means any licensed medical, mental health, or human service professional licensed under Chapter 112, including any psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, psychiatric nurse, allied mental health and human services professional, licensed marriage and family therapist, licensed rehabilitation counselor, licensed mental health counselor, licensed educational psychologist, or any of their respective interns or trainees, or any other person designated or licensed as a mental health or human service professional under Massachusetts law or regulation.
The term “sexual orientation” shall mean having an orientation for or being identified as having an orientation for heterosexuality, bisexuality, or homosexuality.
The term “Gender identity” shall mean a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth. Gender-related identity may be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held as part of a person’s core identity; provided, however, that gender-related identity shall not be asserted for any improper purpose.
“Sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” means any practice by a licensed professional that attempts or purports to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity, including but not limited to efforts to change behaviors or gender expressions, or to eliminate or reduce sexual or romantic attractions or feelings toward individuals of the same sex. The term “sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts” does not include practices:
(A)(1) to provide acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression; (2) facilitate an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development; or (3) that are sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices; and
(B) Do not attempt or purport to impose change of an individual’s sexual orientation or gender identity.
(b) Under no circumstances shall a licensed professional advertise for or engage in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts with a patient less than 18 years of age. Any licensed professional violating this prohibition shall be such subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing board, which may include suspension or revocation of license.
(c) Whoever violates this section shall be considered to have violated section 2 of chapter 93A. Any such claim brought under this section shall be subject to sections 5A and 7 of chapter 260.
SECTION 2. (a) Subsection (a) of Section 51A of chapter 119 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2010 Official addition, is hereby amended by inserting after the words “chapter 233” the following words:-
or (vi) being subjected to sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined by section 169 of chapter 112
(b) Section 51A of chapter 119 is further amended in subsection (i) after the word “family.” by adding the following words:-
Any report including licensed professionals engaging in sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts as defined under section 169 of chapter 112 shall be filed within 30 days to the appropriate licensing board for review and possible suspension or revocation of license.

Therapists Should Be Neutral

Religious right pundits have been distorting these bills since they first came along. The MA bill clearly allows “basic talk therapy” which “provide[s] acceptance, support, and understanding of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression” and “facilitate[s] an individual’s coping, social support, and identity exploration and development” or “that [is] sexual orientation-neutral or gender identity-neutral including interventions to prevent or address unlawful conduct or unsafe sexual practices.”
Therapist should facilitate coping, social support and identity exploration and do so in a neutral manner. Therapists should not try to push sexual reorientation.
As a result of supportive therapy, some teens will determine that they are straight or cisgender and others will come out as a sexual minority. Such therapy is legal under this bill. Religious therapists should be perfectly fine with this arrangement. Therapy should not be a platform for spreading religious beliefs or making clients into Christian disciples.
What the state of MA is trying to prevent is for a therapist to use the cover of a state license to pursue sexual orientation or gender identity change. Therapists may do many things to support families who are traditional in their beliefs, but under a law like this, they may not actively use techniques or prescribe methods which have the intent to change orientation. Given that those techniques rarely, if ever, work, this would be beneficial for teens on balance.

People Can Change Becomes Brothers on a Road Less Traveled

Several years after the collapse of Exodus International, now comes sexual orientation change group People Can Change to say they are changing focus from change of orientation to a focus on living congruently with traditional religious teaching on sexuality. My prior posts on People Can Change and their flagship program Journey into Manhood can be view by clicking the links.
I wasn’t a fan of the program when it was People Can Change. I doubt this will improve things much although I can say it gets closer to a more honest presentation of what is possible. In any case, if the procedures and processes haven’t changed, then I am still not a fan.

People Can Change‘ is Changing Its Name
International Fellowship for Men Who Put Faith and Values Before Homosexual Attractions  Takes on a New Identity as It Marks Its 100th ‘Journey Into Manhood’ Weekend Program
Contact: Rich Wyler, Founder and Executive Director, Brothers, Road, 434-227-9346,richwyler@brothersroad.org
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va., Oct. 4, 2016 /Christian Newswire/ — A high-profile non-profit organization that provides peer- support programs primarily for men who experience same-sex attractions – but who chose not to live gay lives or to identify as gay – is changing its name.
Known since its 2000 founding as People Can Change, the international non-profit is renaming and rebranding itself as an interfaith fellowship called Brothers on a Road Less Traveled – or Brothers Road for short. Its website is moving fromwww.peoplecanchange.com to www.brothersroad.org. Its new self-descriptor: “Men supporting each other in addressing our same-sex attractions in affirming ways that align with our faith, values, morals and life goals.”
This change also reflects an important acknowledgement of what has long been the reality of its mission and membership – that it is largely a religious community supporting members of a wide range of faith traditions, including Christians of all denominations, religious Jews, Muslims and others.
The group is best known for its experiential weekend intensives called Journey Into Manhood. In fact, this past weekend in Texas the organization concluded its 100th three-day Journey Into Manhood event. Since the first “JiM” weekend in Maryland in January 2002, the group has now presented Journey Into Manhood 100 times in 11 U.S. states and in England, Poland and Israel.
Some 2,500 men from 45 U.S. states and more than 40 countries have participated over the past 15 years. Participants range in age from 18 into their 60s, although the average age is about 36. About a third are already married to women. Participants attend primarily in an effort to make peace with themselves and their sexuality, to minimize their eroticization of other men to the extent possible, and to bring their sexual behavior and feelings more in line with their morals, values and life goals.
“Our new name, Brothers on a Road Less Traveled, better communicates who we are and what we’re really about,” explained Rich Wyler, founder and executive director.
“The word ‘Brothers’ emphasizes our vital need for authentic brotherhood, community and acceptance as we seek to meet our same-sex bonding needs through deep platonic friendships rather than sexual relationships,” Wyler said. “The phrase ‘on a Road’ emphasizes that this is a life journey-a new way of living, not a quick-fix. And the words ‘Less Traveled’ recognize and honor the reality that we are a minority within the larger gay minority.”
The reference to a road less traveled comes from the 1916 Robert Frost poem, The Road Not Taken, in which the writer encounters two equally valid choices but concludes, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I, I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”
“Experiencing deep internal conflict over same-sex attractions can feel for many of us like standing at that crossroads where two roads diverge,” Wyler said, “Do you follow society’s gay-affirming path, or do you take a more faith-affirming road that acknowledges the reality of same-sex attractions but addresses those needs through platonic brotherly love rather than sexual relationships?”
Wyler emphasizes that the newly renamed organization is not backing away from the personal, lived experience of so many of its participants who have, in fact, seen profoundly positive changes in their self-esteem, thought lives, relationships and behaviors. Many have seen their same-sex sexual attractions diminish over the years or have seen sexual or romantic interests in the opposite sex develop or increase. These kinds of shifts are not universal, Wyler says, but they’re not unusual either.
Based near Charlottesville, Virginia, Brothers on a Road Less Traveled is an interfaith fellowship serving members of numerous religions. It is run as a virtual organization with no physical offices and no full-time employees, but with volunteers, contractors, supporters, participants and donors across the world.
The Brothers Road community offers eight to 10 inner-healing and personal-growth weekend intensives a year in the U.S., Europe and Israel, as well as online groups and webinars and in-person support groups and reunion retreats in some locations. It also offers a weekend program for wives of men who experience same-sex attractions or sex addictions, called “A Wife’s Healing Journey”-including one coming up Dec. 2-4 in the Nashville, Tennessee area.

Robert Spitzer, Father of Modern Psychiatric Diagnosis, Dies at 83

Robert Spitzer at his home in 2004, screencap from I Do Exist.
Robert Spitzer at his home in 2004, screencap from I Do Exist.

According to the New York Times, psychiatrist and author of the third edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual Robert Spitzer died on Christmas Day. Spitzer is credited with changing the way mental health professionals view diagnosis of mental disorders. By basing the assessment of mental disorder on personal distress and diminished functioning, Spitzer promoted a more rigorous approach to diagnosis.
More famously, Spitzer’s modifications also paved the way for reconsidering homosexuality as a mental disorder. After meeting gay psychiatrists who did not experience distress over homosexuality, Spitzer, in the early 1970s, led the effort to remove homosexuality from psychiatry’s list of mental disorders.
I first talked to Bob Spitzer when he invited me to take part in a debate over sexual orientation change efforts at the American Psychiatric Association meeting in 2000. The debate was canceled when, near the beginning of the conference, the two psychiatrists arguing against sexual orientation change backed out. Bob later told me that the psychiatrists who declined to participate wanted out because they heard that I was a member of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). While I had been a NARTH member for one year in 1997, I had allowed my membership to lapse by 2000. An irony is that I later became one of NARTH’s biggest critics. Bob knew I tracked NARTH’s actions and about once a year asked about any news on their activities.
Although I was unable to attend, the following year Bob invited me to speak as a part of a symposium where he presented results of his research on ex-gays. Eventually, that study was published in 2003 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior and was one of the most controversial studies in modern psychiatry. At the time, due to his conversations with people who described themselves as ex-gay, Spitzer believed that some gays had been able to modify their sexuality toward the straight side of the continuum. Later, in 2012, Spitzer retracted that interpretation of his research, denounced his earlier beliefs, and apologized to gays.
In 2004, I met Bob Spitzer in person and spent a few hours at his home near New York City while filming for the video I Do Exist, a video with the testimonies of five people who told me they changed from gay to straight. Because one of the main participants retracted his statements and two others had significant changes, I later retracted the video in January 2007. My views were also altered by the emergence of new data on sexual orientation and the failure of change therapy supporters to produce evidence in their favor.
After he published his study, Bob’s collaboration with social conservatives was something he later regretted. On one occasion in November 2008, I sent him a link to Focus on the Family’s website where they had misrepresented his study. He wrote back and said, “That is awful. Whoever wrote it must have known it to be incorrect. Can you do something about it?” Focus later modified the statements slightly but still did not fully represent Bob’s views. 
In 2007, Spitzer told me in a phone call that he endorsed the sexual identity therapy framework that I developed with Mark Yarhouse. The endorsement was later published on the SIT framework site:

I have reviewed the sexual identity framework written by Warren Throckmorton and Mark Yarhouse. This framework provides a very necessary outline to help therapists address the important concerns of clients who are in conflict over their homosexual attractions. The work of Drs. Throckmorton and Yarhouse transcend polarized debates about whether gays can change their sexual orientation. Rather, this framework helps therapists work with clients to craft solutions tailored to their individual situations and personal beliefs and values. I support this framework and hope it is widely implemented.
Robert L. Spitzer, M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York State Psychiatric Institute, New York City, NY. Co-editor of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental and Emotional Disorders, 3rd Edition and 3rd Edition (Revised).

On a personal level, I liked Bob immediately. He was friendly and very approachable. While he seemed to like the controversy, in my hearing he communicated no malice toward any side of the gay change debate. He seemed to be a genuine truth seeker and wanted to follow the evidence no matter what. I will miss him.
Bob Spitzer, R.I.P.

Interview with Mark Yarhouse on SAMHSA Report Calling for an End to Sexual Orientation Change Efforts for Minors

On October 15, I linked to a report published by SAMHSA which called for an end to sexual orientation change efforts for LGBT minors. At the time, I wrote:

Ending Conversion Therapy: Supporting and Affirming LGBTQ Youth was released today by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The report recommends the end of change therapies for minors via professional advocacy and legal strategies.

Mark Yarhouse, co-author with me of the Sexual Identity Therapy framework and professor at Regent University, was an evangelical presence on the panel of experts who produced the consensus statements.

I also said I hoped to have commentary from Mark. Today, I have an interview with him on his committee experience and his views of the consensus. Mark is professor of psychology at Regent University and Director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity. He is co-author with me of the Sexual Identity Therapy Framework, which is a model for ethically and effectively helping clients with distress surrounding their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. For more on SITF, see the website which supports the framework. This will be cross–posted there.
This interview comes amid a bit of a controversy involving Mark and a speaking engagement in Canada. I hope those who assume they know Mark’s views will also read this and the SITF.

Warren Throckmorton: In general, what was your experience like being on the consensus committee? Did you feel the rest of the committee members took religious concerns seriously?
Mark Yarhouse: Overall, it was a good experience. I am always grateful for the opportunity to engage with others around complex issues, to learn from other experts, and to share from my own lines of research. We reviewed existing research and past policy statements, as well as shared from our professional experience working with children, adolescents, and families. In answer to your question about religious concerns, I think committee members wanted to take religious concerns seriously, although the primary focus was the well-being of minors who are navigating sexual identity and gender identity. As you know all too well, the beliefs and values of religious families are important considerations when working with families whose teen may be navigating gender identity or sexual identity concerns. In any case, my experience was that other committee members were interested in the experiences I’ve had – and others had – working with conventionally religious families.
WT: Even though the sexual identity therapy framework (SITF) wasn’t mentioned or cited, do you feel the report is supportive of the approach we take in the framework?
MY: Yes, I think so. We had the opportunity to review many documents, including the SITF and the 2009 APA task force report on appropriate therapeutic responses to sexual orientation, which, as you know, cited the SITF favorably. The kind of practice we saw as helpful would emphasize identity exploration without an a priori fixed outcome. I think the framework does that in the area of sexual identity. However, the framework does not address in much detail working with minors, and that may be something we consider if we offer a revision in the future.
WT: Do you have any comments, reservations about the consensus reported in the paper?
MY: As the SAMHSA report notes, we decided at the outset that we would define consensus as a reasonably high percentage of agreement rather than unanimous consensus. We all agreed to that, but that meant that what counted as consensus in at least a few occasions was not reflecting unanimity. We worked hard for unanimity in all cases, but that did not always happen. I at times found myself in disagreement with some of the wording, for example, but the threshold for consensus was met in those instances, and I understood and respected that process.
WT:It seems to me that the consensus surrounding sexual orientation is more settled than gender identity. How do you see that?
MY: There are fewer professional debates about sexual orientation, which likely reflects the consensus you are referring to. There seem to be more professional discussions about a range of clinical options with gender dysphoria. However, I was impressed by how little research is published on minors – particularly efforts to achieve congruence between gender identity and biological sex.  I was under the impression that more studies of higher quality had been published in some areas, and as the committee looked at them together, we found them lacking. Also, while research was one consideration, we drew on other sources, too, such as committee members’ professional experience and prior reports. In any case, I would have preferred to frame and word various aspects of the consensus report differently, but again that in some cases goes back to what counted as consensus. Without going into too much detail, you could imagine someone favoring the language of  ‘insufficient evidence’ in discussions of effectiveness and harm, to reflect how little published research is available in a given area of inquiry. Other topics, such as how to conceptualize sexual and gender identities and expressions in a diverse and pluralistic culture raise important philosophical and theological questions that were beyond the scope of the discussion.
WT: In general, do you support the recommendations of the paper (or asked another way). Is there anything in the recommendations you have concerns about?
MY: It is important to distinguish the consensus statement from the SAMHSA report. I did provide feedback on portions of the SAMHSA report, especially around family, community, and religious considerations, but it was written by designated persons from that agency. I think it reflects a little more regard for conventionally religious persons and families and provides for more resources than otherwise may have been available. But many committee members provided input and suggestions, and I imagine the author of the report had to balance various considerations in putting together the final document.
As far as concerns, I indicated at the outset that I did not think the government should be involved in legislating around the complexities of clinical practice in these two areas. I prefer to see government support the regulatory bodies that provide oversight to mental health professions in a given jurisdiction. I shared more of my thoughts on that in an interview with First Things. My opinion has not changed on that matter.

Southern Baptist Seminary Leaders Reject Reparative Therapy

Let me just say that I opposed reparative therapy before it was cool to oppose it.
Yesterday, Al Mohler and others articulated their position against reparative therapy, also known as sexual orientation change efforts.
Atlantic has an article on Alan Chambers’ new book and chronicles the demise of the ex-gay movement from Alan’s point of view.
Essentially, Mohler and colleagues believe changing orientation is not the Christian goal. Rather, avoidance of same-sex sexual relations is the objective in the narrow sense, and more broadly, pursuit of a spiritual life is what Christians should seek. Some same-sex attracted people are bisexual and others sometimes fall in love cross-orientation to form a mixed orientation marriage.
Although it is dated, I have a page on reparative therapy which demonstrates my approach to the issues in the professional sense.

JONAH Guilty of Consumer Fraud According to NJ Jury

That didn’t take long.
Today, the jury in the sexual orientation change case in NJ said Jews Offering New Alternatives to Healing (JONAH) was guilty of consumer fraud by claiming sexual orientation can be changed.
According the report, the jury found that JONAH founders Arthur Goldberg and Elaine Berk and life coach Alan Downing:

…engaged in unconscionable commercial practices” and misrepresented their services.

This is a big deal and should have a chilling effect on such services elsewhere. Hopefully, fewer therapists will engage in such practices and instead work with clients in conflict over sexual attractions to explore realistic options.
JONAH will have to refund fees collected.
 

Major New Study Finds Sexual Orientation Change Efforts To Be Ineffective

A study in the Journal of Counseling Psychology, released online in March, examined sexual orientation change efforts by over 1,600 current or former Mormons. Some beneficial results were noted but the primary finding was that sexual orientation is highly resistant to change attempts, and the efforts were either ineffective or damaging. The study was conducted by John P. Dehlin, Renee V. Galliher, William S. Bradshaw, Daniel C. Hyde, and Katherine A. Crowell.*
Here is the study abstract:

This study examined sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) by 1,612 individuals who are current or former members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS). Data were obtained through a comprehensive online survey from both quantitative items and open-ended written responses. A minimum of 73% of men and 43% of women in this sample attempted sexual orientation change, usually through multiple methods and across many years (on average). Developmental factors associated with attempts at sexual orientation change included higher levels of early religious orthodoxy (for all) and less supportive families and communities (for men only). Among women, those who identified as lesbian and who reported higher Kinsey attraction scores were more likely to have sought change. Of the 9 different methods surveyed, private and religious change methods (compared with therapist-led or group-based efforts) were the most common, started earlier, exercised for longer periods, and reported to be the most damaging and least effective. When sexual orientation change was identified as a goal, reported effectiveness was lower for almost all of the methods. While some beneficial SOCE outcomes (such as acceptance of same-sex attractions and reduction in depression and anxiety) were reported, the overall results support the conclusion that sexual orientation is highly resistant to explicit attempts at change and that SOCE are overwhelmingly reported to be either ineffective or damaging by participants.

There is much to digest in this study but a couple of items stand out. First, self-reported results of change efforts were dismal. On page 6 of the online paper, the authors report:

Reported changes in sexual identity. With regard to self-reported sexual attraction and identity ratings, only one participant out of 1,019 (.1%) who engaged in SOCE reported both a heterosexual identity label and a Kinsey attraction score of zero (exclusively attracted to the opposite sex).

No doubt others reported a straight label but their attraction scores told a different tale.
Many participants reported harm, but the quality of life measures did not show a difference between those who had attempted change via an explicit method and those who did not. However, the subjective distress over sexual orientation did significantly differ between the two groups with more distress experienced by the change effort group.
My understanding is that several other articles based on this study are in the pipeline. I look forward to a fuller description of this study. The number of respondents from one faith group makes this survey stand out and worth considering. One would think that change would show up if it happened frequently in a sample of this size.
*Dehlin, J. P., Galliher, R. V., Bradshaw, W. S., Hyde, D. C., & Crowell, K. A. (2014, March 17). Sexual Orientation Change Efforts Among Current or Former LDS Church Members. Journal of Counseling Psychology. Advance online publication. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/cou0000011