The Associated Press reported last night that a first-of-its-kind ban on the rather controversial method of psychotherapy intended to eliminate same-sex attraction, or reparative therapy, is making its way through the California statehouse.
Plenty of conservative religious groups are upset about this. Representatives for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a non-profit organization that offers reparative therapy and other regimens that purport to change sexual orientation, have called the bill “a piece of social engineering masquerading as a solution to a clinical problem.” David Pickup, a California-registered clinician, said that “Any therapist worth his salt knows that homosexual feelings commonly occur in victims as a result of abuses. I ought to know because I was one of those boys.”
There does sometimes seem to be a strong causal connection between child sex abuse and later same-sex attraction. And because of this, a method of therapy that aims at repairing the individual, whether resulting in heterosexual attraction or not, is needed. But unfortunately, pathologizing sexual orientation has been shown to cause extreme depression and increased chances of suicide. The American Counseling Association and American Psychiatric Association disavow the therapy.
Robert Spitzer’s widely-cited 2001 study lends support to the idea that highly motivated individuals can in fact change, or at least mitigate, their same-sex attraction. But famously, he expressed doubts about his own study. When asked about the (many) criticisms leveled against him, he said “In retrospect, I have to admit I think the critiques are largely correct. The findings can be considered evidence for what those who have undergone ex-gay therapy say about it, but nothing more.” He even spoke with the editor of Archives of Sexual Behavior about writing a retraction, which the editor declined.
Stanton L. Jones, professor of psychology at Wheaton College, has written at length in the pages of First Things about the difficulties of integrating psychological diagnoses with traditional religious beliefs about the human person. In particular, he brings home the reality that religious voices went sorely amiss in their simplified acceptance of the clinical view of homosexuality as a disease, and were rather unprepared when the APA removed it from the category:
We were complicit, even if ignorantly and passively so, in the cultural embrace of the disease conceptualization of homosexuality. We off-loaded responsibility for the articulation of a thoughtful, caring, theologically rich, and pastorally sensitive understanding of sexual brokenness grounded in our various religious traditions by conceptualizing homosexuality as a disease, and so we were unprepared for the vacuum created by that explanation’s timely demise.
You can read the entire article in our February issue here.
The bill won’t apply to clergy or other religious institutions—insofar as they don’t offer licensed psychological counseling—and will almost certainly be taken to the full Senate.