by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
The American Psychological Association (APA) released a report August 5 firmly stating that homosexuality cannot be cured and that mental health professionals should not tell Gay clients they could become straight through therapy or other treatments.
In a resolution adopted by a 125 to 4 vote by the APA's governing council, and in a comprehensive 138-page report based on two years of research, the association went on record in opposition of "reparative therapy" which seeks to change sexual orientation.
Instead, the APA said therapists should consider other options, such as celibacy or switching churches, for helping clients whose sexual orientation and religious faith conflict. The report advises that people "avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder."
The APA declassified homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973.
The report said no solid evidence exists that "reparative therapy" is possible and some research suggests that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.
"Contrary to the claims of sexual orientation change efforts [SOCE] practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change," said Judith Glassgold, chair of the task force assigned to the study. "In other words, 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."
"EX-GAY THERAPY" INEFFECTIVE, DAMAGING
Glassgold cited religious beliefs as a major cause of distress over orientation. Ex-Gay therapy is practiced by a number of religious organizations and has been condemned as ineffective at best, and deeply damaging at worst. The report says that when a therapist is dealing with a client from a conservative faith, they should "be very cautious about suggesting treatments aimed at altering their same-sex attractions."
"This [APA] report confirms what many of us have known for years: Gay reparative therapy and ex-Gay ministry is not necessary, does not work, and in many cases causes significant harm," Peterson Toscano told SGN. "No matter how the Religious Right tries to spin this, we have a definitive answer about these treatments."
Toscano is the co-founder of Beyond Ex-Gay, a national support group consisting of ex-Gay survivors. He said the survivors would continue to share their stories of why they pursued the ex-Gay route, including how much harm it caused them and how they found a better way by integrating their orientation and gender differences in a positive way.
As a starting point, the APA task force took the belief that homosexuality is a normal variant of human sexuality, not a disorder, and that it remains stigmatized in ways that can have negative consequences.
Addressing whether adolescents should be subjected to therapy aimed at altering their sexual orientation, the APA said any such approach should "maximize self-determination and be undertaken only with the youth's consent."
Jacob Wilson, a 23-year-old ex-Gay survivor, told SGN, "We've been working to educate people, both Gay and straight, about the harm that ex-Gay programs can cause. This report is a resounding declaration of support from the APA."
Wilson said he believes the report's information will help young men and women struggling to understand and accept themselves by telling them that they are not broken or sick.
"You are who you are," he said. "Rather than trying to change it or be ashamed of it, we need to embrace ourselves and each other irrespective of sexual orientation," he added.
43-year-old Ron Poindexter, a Seattle ex-Gay survivor, said to SGN, "This is one more step toward the day when young men and women will not be tormented by the lie that they have to become someone they are not, and by the false hope that they can be someone they are not."
SOME THERAPIES "EXTREMELY QUESTIONABLE"
The APA report said the subgroup of Gays interested in changing their sexual orientation has evolved over the decades into mostly well-educated white men whose religion is an important part of their lives and who participate in conservative faiths that frown on homosexuality. The APA based the reports findings from examining 83 studies on sexual orientation change conducted since 1960.
Exodus International, whose core message is "Freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," is one of the largest organizations that promotes the possibility of changing sexual orientation. Exodus' President Alan Chambers describes himself as someone who "overcame unwanted same-sex attraction." Surprisingly, Chambers expressed satisfaction with parts of the APA report.
"It's a positive step - simply respecting someone's faith is a huge leap in the right directions," he said. "But I'd go further. Don't deny the possibility that someone's feelings might change."
Metropolitan Community Church Seattle Pastor, Rev. Ray Neal, said people should not be asked to choose between their sexual preference and their church.
"I have met many LGBT persons who have been through the horror of ex-Gay therapy," Rev. Neal told SGN. I find it incredible that in this day and age, several have reported that they were subjected to aversion therapy by way of electrical shock treatments."
Rev. Neal said others have reported on therapies that he "can best describe as extremely questionable and arcane. & [They were] Things I have never heard of being used in any other type of so-called psychological treatment plan by any psychiatrist or psychologist I have ever known."
He said that although many have overcome their experience with ex-Gay therapy and now live happy lives with a same-sex partner, others might be haunted by their experience, crippled from ever having a meaningful, loving relationship with another human being.
"I personally cannot believe that anyone would subject another person to such terrorizing tactics and twist the word of God to conform to their own very limited social expectations and religious agenda," Rev. Neal said. "They get their views shared widely. But, there are many who do not agree with them, to include renowned theologians, Biblical scholars and numerous pastors and priests."
SOME CHURCHES WELCOMING TO ALL
Rev. Neal knows all too well the price that any LGBT person might pay by choosing between faith, society, and their sexual preference. He said he felt forced to conform to society's expectations. Mostly on the basis of his relationship with the church of his childhood and family expectations, he got married and had children. Looking back, Rev. Neal says that although he is glad for the friendship that still remains between himself and his ex-wife, four children, and seven grandchildren, he lived most of those 32 years in constant depression, frustration and anger, "which was not good for my family, nor myself."
"I am afraid that those who try to submit to the ex-Gay therapies find themselves in similar situations, their lives filled with depression, frustration, anger and lack of hope for their futures as they deny the truth about their sexuality," Rev. Neal said, adding, "I am afraid they deny themselves the loving relationships they could have had while attempting to conform to other's expectations for them instead of being honest with themselves and others and living their lives as God intended they should."
What they can change, he said, is their church.
"An affirming, welcoming, inclusive church can give a person hope that what they have been told was true by others was God's word being misrepresented, mistranslated and misinterpreted," said Rev. Neal. "There are other ways to interpret scripture which results in affirmation and hope for all of God's rainbow human creations."
The Metropolitan Community Church Seattle Pastor said he is glad the APA made their announcement based upon peer-reviewed scholarly research into the question.
"I can only hope this will reduce the number of persons who are being subjected to false claims by so-called experts offering to change a person's sexuality through unproven and obviously harmful psychological treatments," he said.
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