Change for a man wrestling with homosexual attractions is not only possible but the pursuit of change can also be a positive experience, a recent survey shows.
The survey by People Can Change, a non-profit and non-religious organization that offers training, healing and support for men with unwanted same-sex feelings, revealed that 9 out of 10 men who participated in a weekend program reported a decrease in distress, shame and self-condemnation. They also felt better about themselves.
People Can Change founder Rich Wyler calls it an "incredibly vital" finding, especially at a time when psychologists, gay rights groups and other critics of ex-gay programs contend that the process of change out of homosexual attractions is harmful.
The organization surveyed men from across the country who participated in a program called "Journey Into Manhood" – a 48-hour intensive personal-growth and self-discovery weekend for men serious about resolving unwanted homosexual feelings – between January 2002 and December 2006. They were surveyed mid-2007, which was anywhere between six months and six years after the men experienced the Journey.
Among the more than 200 individuals who responded to the survey, 79 percent reported a decrease in the frequency or intensity of same-sex feelings since the Journey Into Manhood weekend; 13 percent reported no change and that their same-sex feelings continue; and 6 percent said such attractions actually increased.
In terms of behavior, 73 percent reported a decrease in same-sex behaviors; 8 percent said such behaviors continue; and 5 percent reported an increase in same-sex behaviors.
Given that the program is a short weekend, it is not clear what exactly led some men to change their feelings and behaviors during the months or years after the Journey.
While 56 percent had experienced "significant" same-sex attraction at the time they took the Journey Into Manhood, the number dropped to 14 percent after the Journey.
Diminished same-sex attraction does not necessarily amount to increased heterosexual feelings, but Wyler says that's likely the case.
"What we find is that as homosexual attractions are resolved, very often heterosexual attractions emerge spontaneously," he told The Christian Post.
According to survey results, 58 percent reported an increase in heterosexual attractions and 50 percent said they experienced an increase in heterosexual behaviors (dating, intimacy, etc.) since the weekend program. Still, 28 percent reported neither an increase nor decrease in heterosexual attractions and 44 percent also reported no change in heterosexua behaviors.
Overall, 13 percent said they experienced enough change to now consider themselves straight and another 73 percent said they will continue to work on further change. Meanwhile, 12 percent said they have come to peace with their same-sex attractions and are not pursuing further change.
Change is possible, Wyler – who also came out of homosexual attractions – simply concluded.
Wyler says many opponents argue that because such programs haven't worked for them, they can't work for anyone else. At the same time, he also says it's faulty for people who have changed to say everyone else can change. Wyler's main goal is for people to overcome the distress of homosexuality and the behavior if that's what they want to do.
And the Journey Into Manhood was designed to bring emotional healing to the individual whether they successfully come out of homosexual attractions or not.
"They come into the program wanting their homosexual feelings to diminish but also come to ... not feel distressed about it," Wyler said. "If you're at peace with your life and living the life you believe God wants you to, that to me is the bottom line."
The survey showed 93 percent of participants said Journey Into Manhood had a positive impact on their efforts to diminish same-sex attraction and/or increase opposite-sex attraction; 91 percent reported a decrease in distress, shame or self-condemnation; 83 percent said they feel more masculine, feel more peace in their lives, and are happier; 79 percent said they have less shame or guilt in their lives; 74 percent said they brought their behavior and feelings more in line with their values and beliefs; 65 percent said they have less lust; and 63 percent said they feel more connected to God/spirituality.
Wyler founded People Can Change in September 2000 and co-created Journey Into Manhood in 2002 with David Matheson, a therapist specializing in gender affirming therapy. Part of the reason they created the weekend program was in response to the opposition within the therapeutic community to programs helping people struggling with homosexual attractions.
"They (therapeutic community) have turned their back on those of us who seek change," Wyler said. "People mistakenly think it causes harm."
The American Psychological Association is currently revising its 10-year-old policy on counseling homosexuals after years of pressure from pro-gay groups that say such therapy is harmful. Some groups, most notably religious ones, have expressed concern that the revised policy, due out mid this year, may ban all reparative therapies and have called psychologists to respect religious commitments and allow those who are seeking change out of same-sex desires to be offered the help.
"There's a lot of evidence that change happens for at least some people," Wyler insisted. "So for therapists to suggest there is no evidence of change is idiocy.
"The pursuit of change can be a very positive experience when it's pursued in a healthy appropriate way."
Correction: Tuesday, Feb. 12, 2008:
An article on Monday, Feb. 11, 2008, about a new survey of men who participated in a program to come out of same-sex attractions and reduce distress incorrectly reported that the men were queried twice. The Christian Post confirmed that this was not a longitudinal study but a survey that queried the men once, anywhere between six months and six years after their participation in the Journey Into Manhood.