New Paradigm Helps Gays with Conflicting Religious Values

A new paradigm was released to help people struggling with sexual identity reach a place of congruence with their religious beliefs and values.

In the wake of ongoing debates on homosexual identity and gay therapy, Warren Throckmorton – fellow for Psychology and Public Policy at the Center for Vision and Values at Grove City College – and Mark Yarhouse – professor of Psychology at Regent University and director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity – crafted a framework that provides support for clinical interventions that could lead to sexual identity outcomes that respect a client's personal values, religious beliefs and sexual attractions.

"We believe the mental health professions could provide more specific guidance about situations where clients experience religious and value conflicts over sexual attractions to the same sex," said Throckmorton in a statement.

The American Psychological Association says homosexuality is not a mental disorder and does not need to be treated. Some evangelicals say same-sex attraction is not an orientation but rather a temptation, such as ex-gay Tim Wilkins, who speaks at churches and campuses on how to deal with homosexuality.

In any case, there are Christians struggling even to the point of hating themselves with their conflicting Christian faith and homosexual attractions.

Shawn O'Donnell was six years old when he first realized he was "different" from other boys, he told CNN. With his parents being Catholic and kids at school being "merciless," O'Donnell had very low self-esteem and hated himself around the age of 10, he said.

When he became a born-again Christian and joined an evangelical church, religion was "extremely important" to him.

"It was the top of my list," he said on CNN. "I mean, I was always at church."

But having homosexual attractions and being a born-again believer at the same time, O'Donnell began cutting himself and attempted suicide. He tried therapy at a local ex-gay organization and then a live-in program for gay men trying to become straight, CNN reported. Although he started out committed to the programs and felt he was making progress, he would have a slip with a guy and hit another low point.

"God, if anybody tried to do this, I tried. I … I did pray so many hours and sweat so many tears," he said.

In the end after a few slips, O'Donnell decided, "That was it. I was done. I had given it the good old college try. I decided I was going to come out again."

Throckmorton and Yarhouse crafted a sexual identity paradigm to help clinicians work collaboratively with their clients to ultimately arrive at a place of congruence "so that clients' behavior and identity lines up with their beliefs and values," stated Yarhouse.

"Some religious individuals will determine that their religious identity is the preferred organizing principle for them, even if it means choosing to live with sexual feelings they do not value. Conversely, some religious individuals will determine that their religious beliefs may become modified to allow integration of same-sex eroticism within their valued identity," the authors acknowledged. "We seek to provide therapy recommendations that respect these options."

Endorsed by the past president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Nicholas Cummings, the framework – "Sexual Identity Therapy: Practice Framework for Managing Sexual Identity Conflicts" – provides clinicians with a general map to navigate such difficult conflicts as religious values.

"Drs. Throckmorton and Yarhouse have brilliantly resolved contention in psychotherapy by providing the field with unbiased guidelines that are responsive to scientific evidence, are sensitive to professional practice, and which restore patient determination in choosing his/her goals in psychotherapy."

Currently, there are no other means of sexual orientation assessment has found wide acceptance, according to the two authors. They stressed in their report that their recommendations "are not sexual reorientation therapy protocols in disguise."

"We don't know what causes homosexual behavior for any given individual nor do we know how much, if any, change in attractions might be possible but what we can do is help clients to pursue lives they value. In our application of this paradigm with clients, we have found clients to have high levels of satisfaction with this approach."

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