APA Report on Sexual Orientation Therapy Draws Praise Despite Skepticisms

The American Psychological Association (APA) adopted a resolution Wednesday advising mental health professionals to 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."

"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 Dr. Judith M. Glassgold, chair of the task force behind a newly released report that examined the efficacy of reparative therapy, or sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE).

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"Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose," she continued. "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."

While the report's criticisms of clinical techniques such as reparative therapy and its view of sexual orientation change did not sit well with groups such as Exodus International, a ministry that promotes "freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ," the report overall was widely commended for its "fair" and "thoughtful" approach, especially when wading through touchy areas.

"Generally, I believe the paper to be a high quality report of the evidence regarding sexual orientation and therapy," commented Dr. Warren Throckmorton, an associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania.

"The authors of the paper 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," he added.

According to Throckmorton, one of the highlights of the 130-page report is the discussion of religion and sexual orientation, which the expert in sexuality issues said was approached in a "balanced and thoughtful" way.

"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," Throckmorton stated. "As the paper notes, this is an acceptable alternative."

Exodus International also hailed the report's acknowledgment of the role of an individual's faith in dealing with conflicts between religious beliefs and same-sex attraction.

The ministry's president, Alan Chambers, who says he overcame unwanted homosexuality as young adult, noted that faith is not only an essential part of life for many gay men and women, it is almost always the motivating factor behind their decision to leave it behind and that many in Exodus have experienced a shift in attractions along the way.

"The role of religion and the importance of faith cannot be understated when it comes to the ongoing dialogue over sexual and gender identity," said Chambers. "It is an essential element of many people's lives and creates great moral conflict and tension for those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction.

"We are grateful that the APA has acknowledged this and hope to see more done to ensure that religious diversity and personal autonomy are respected in the future," he added.

Though the six-member task force behind the report confessed that they were unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE, they suggested that the "appropriate application" of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek SOCE involves acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome.

The task force recommended that licensed mental health care providers treating clients seeking to change their sexual orientation 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," task force chair 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."

Though evangelical psychologist Mark Yarhouse of Regent University was among those who praised the APA report for urging a creative approach to gay clients' religious beliefs, like Chambers, Yarhouse disagrees with the task force's skepticism about changing sexual orientation.

Jones believes change is possible for some people and on average the attempt to change will not be harmful, as many critics of reparative therapy insist it is.

On Sunday, the final day of the APA's annual convention in Toronto, Yarhouse and Dr. Stanton L. Jones of Wheaton College are expected to present a paper on data from their six-year longitudinal study of attempted change of orientation through involvement in religious ministries, most notably Exodus International.

From their study, the Christian scholars found that more than half of 61 subjects either converted to heterosexuality or "disidentified" with homosexuality while embracing chastity.

Jones said in a past interview that the study results suggested that "the forceful way in which the secular mental-health community is saying change is impossible and harmful is just not well-advised."

"For an individual who feels they need to pursue change, particularly on a religious basis, our study encourages them to pursue that path," he and Yarhouse told CitizenLink, the website of Focus on the Family Action.

The title of the paper Yarhouse and Jones will present Sunday is "Ex-Gays? An Extended Longitudinal Study of Attempted Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation."

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