from What do clinical studies say?
By Roy Waller and Linda A. Nicolosi
The results of a study conducted by Dr. Robert L. Spitzer have just been published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 32, No. 5, October 2003, pp. 403-417.
Spitzer's findings challenge the widely-held assumption that a homosexual orientation is "who one is" -- an intrinsic part of a person's identity that can never be changed.
The study has attracted particularly attention because its author, a prominent psychiatrist, is viewed as a historic champion of gay activism. Spitzer played a pivotal role in 1973 in removing homosexuality from the psychiatric manual of mental disorders.
Testing the hypothesis that a predominantly homosexual orientation will, in some individuals, respond to therapy were some 200 respondents of both genders (143 males, 57 females) who reported changes from homosexual to heterosexual orientation lasting 5 years or more. The study's structured telephone interviews assessed a number of aspects same-sex attraction, with the year prior to the interview used as the comparative base.
In order to be accepted into the 16-month study, the 247 original responders had to meet two criteria. First, they had to have had a predominantly homosexual attraction for many years, including the year before starting therapy (at least 60 on a scale of sexual attraction, with 0 as exclusively heterosexual and 100 exclusively homosexual). Second, after therapy they had to have experienced a change of no less than 10 points, lasting at least 5 years, toward the heterosexual end of the scale of sexual attraction.
Although examples of "complete" change in orientation were not common, the majority of participants did report change from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation in the past year as a result of reparative therapy.
These results would seem to contradict the position statements of the major mental health organizations in the United States, which claim there is no scientific basis for believing psychotherapy effective in addressing same-sex attraction. Yet Spitzer reports evidence of change in both sexes, although female participants reported significantly more change than did male participants.
The statistical and demographic details of the respondents include the following:
In addition, participants were asked to react to a series of possible reasons for desiring change from homosexual orientation to heterosexuality as well as being asked to assess their marital relationships.
Some of the findings of the Spitzer study, particularly regarding motivations for change, included:
Spitzer acknowledges the difficulty of assessing how many gay men and women in the general population would actually desire reparative therapy if they knew of its availability; many people, he notes, are evidently content with a gay identity and have no desire to change.
Is reorientation therapy harmful? For the participants in our study, Spitzer notes, there was no evidence of harm. "To the contrary," he says, "they reported that it was helpful in a variety of ways beyond changing sexual orientation itself." And because his study found considerable benefit and no harm, Spitzer said, the American Psychiatric Association should stop applying a double standard in its discouragement of reorientation therapy, while actively encouraging gay-affirmative therapy to confirm and solidify a gay identity.
Furthermore, Spitzer wrote in his conclusion, "the mental health professionals should stop moving in the direction of banning therapy that has, as a goal, a change in sexual orientation. Many patients, provided with informed consent about the possibility that they will be disappointed if the therapy does not succeed, can make a rational choice to work toward developing their heterosexual potential and minimizing their unwanted homosexual attractions."
Is reorientation therapy chosen only by clients who are driven by guilt--that is, what's popularly known as "homophobia"? To the contrary, Spitzer concludes. In fact, "the ability to make such a choice should be considered fundamental to client autonomy and self-determination."