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APA report warns against conversion therapy [12 August, 2009]

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In recent years, the ex-gay movement has been making claims that it is possible to convert gays and lesbians to heterosexuality.  Those claims may be somewhat dulled now that the American Psychological Association (APA) has published a resolution explicitly stating that mental health professionals should avoid telling clients that they can change their sexual orientation through therapy or other treatments.

Released on August 5, the “Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts” should provide an essential tool in the dismantling of homophobia and heterosexism, according to Dr. Judith Glassgold, head of the task force that presented the report.  Glassgold spoke with Windy City Times from Toronto, site of the APA conference.

The idea that conversion therapies should be discouraged by the medical community might seem an obvious one to LGBTs and allies, so why did the APA feel the need to release this report? Glassgold said that the APA had done a similar study in 1997, but it only “addressed ethical issues in a very neutral way.”  However, in the last 10-12 years, “several new studies emerged in the press, that claim to show evidence that sexual orientation could be changed.”  The APA, concerned about the prevalence of such reports, determined that it was time to revisit the issue.

The task force consisted of six members including Glassgold.  The others were Drs. Lee Beckstead, Jack Dreshcher, Beverly Greene, Robin Lin Miller, and Roger L.  Worthington.  The task force did not engage in any new clinical studies but reviewed the available scientific literature to determine whether any evidence existed to support claims about the efficacy of conversion therapy or or sexual-orientation change efforts (SOCE).

According to Glassgold, the “very few people” who seek SOCE usually come from religiously conservative backgrounds.  The report is aimed at those religious organizations and therapists who might advocate SOCE.  She said that the hope was also that the “few secular therapists who conduct this kind of therapy will stop and rethink their assumptions about homosexuality.  We did a very good job of reviewing the literature and providing other options for religious organizations and therapists.  We hope that religious psychologists will rethink the type of treatment and not mislead their clients.  I would hope that therapists that promise change would stop.”  Glassgold went on to emphasize that for some religious LGBTs, the question might be “How do you bring your religious beliefs and sexual orientations into sync? How are they to reconcile different identities?”

The APA’s hope in releasing this report is that it might lead to “greater tolerance, greater support for LGBT teens, and a greater compassion on the part of religious groups.”  Speaking about the research process itself, Glassgold said that one of the surprising elements was finding British studies that indicated many people worked to integrate religious and gay identities.

For Glassgold, one drawback of the report was that there was not enough research done on non-Christian LGBTs: ‘the majority of research seems focused on Christian men who are white.  We could only summarize existing research.  We don’t know the suffering and the resilience of a broader category of people.  I hope that [future researchers] reach out to other faiths.”

Glassgold also emphasized the role of children and adolescents in the research: “If a child brings up an attraction to the same sex, we recommend against the impulse to reject the child; it’s most important to accept the child.  We urge parents to avoid therapists that tell them their children need curing.”

The report can be found at www.apa.org/pi/lgbc/publications/therapeutic-response.pdf.

Originally published in Windy City Times, 12 August, 2009.


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