from Interviews/Testimonials and Ethical Issues
By Debbie Thurman
A six-member APA Task Force has been formed to address the therapeutic interventions used to change same-sex attraction. They will be updating the 10-year-old guidelines for such therapies.
If the APA decides to ban such therapy, not only will it disregard empirical evidence, but it will also close itself off to recognition of the fourth realm (in addition to the bio-psycho-social) where change has been shown to be especially effective -- the spiritual. This defines the work of counseling ministries for ex-gays in recovery, more properly referred to as "discipleship." And that omission would, most assuredly, "do harm."
I can count myself among the growing numbers of men and women who have overcome a significant struggle with same-sex attraction. While our stories and the degree to which we have found wholeness may be different, the central themes are often similar. Frequently, you will find we came from broken homes, were alienated from one or both parents, were sexually abused as children, are sensitive by temperament, and suffered from depression.
Preservation of a Marriage
I raise my hand to all of the above. In fact, I fought a 10-year, life-and-death battle with major depressive disorder. Were it not for my faith and loving, nonjudgmental people coming alongside me -- in addition to wise counsel from professional therapists -- I might be living in a very different place today. Instead, I am with my husband of 26 years in a marriage that tottered on the brink of failure because of my quest for what I perceived as self-fulfilling wholeness with other women -- a "need" that had plagued me since my youth.
Remember the story about a scene in hell where people are trying to feed themselves with spoons that are too long to reach their mouths? That about sums up the state of desperately needing -- but never finding -- nourishment through a self-destructive, counterfeit version of love. That's why so many of us seek help in changing.
Yet, I have had gay activists virtually tell me to my face that I -- as I define myself -- simply don't exist. Will the APA, too, simply choose to "poof" me away? If so, they'd better think again. The elephant in the living room is getting larger.
Just as many gays remain closeted, so do a number of ex-gays. Not all of us are going to be front and center in discussing our journey. Most of us have no interest in going on the Oprah Show. It's painful for most people to disclose their personal struggles. The time has come, however, when more of us are realizing the need to stand up and be counted. We have watched pro-gay sentiment, based on lots of raw emotion and little fact, win the day in the court of public opinion as reflected through the established pillars of society -- the medical/mental health fields, public education, the mainstream media and, to a growing extent, even the church. This has all been the result of a 30-year, concerted gay propaganda effort. We have drawn the final straw, as far as I am concerned.
Disrespect for the Ex-Gay Experience
In order for gay activists to disparage the very possibility of change in one's sexual orientation -- and convince the mental health establishment to do the same -- they generally must engage in the predictable ploy of ad hominem attacks on ex-gays, and the process by which many claim to have achieved -- or be in the process of achieving -- stability and meaning in their lives.
It's not a black-and-white process, of course. "Change" covers a range of acceptable degrees for those who have long been unhappy living as homosexuals. No, they are not unhappy because of a society that discriminates against them. Their misery lies much deeper. I believe it is an instinctive recoiling against the new, man-created image of human nature that bears so little resemblance to the divine image we are meant to reflect. Humanity will never be able to draw what it needs from its own shallow, self-contained wells. The most effective therapists are the ones who understand human nature in this way.
Why is this plain and simple, counterfeit quality of homosexuality so hard to see? On an elemental level, two negative or two positive poles simply cannot be united. Neither can two locks ... or two keys. For a person to accept a gay identity, he or she must deny the fundamental truth that we are created for gender complementarity. Deny something long enough, and you may actually believe you are happy in your delusion. Is it ethical for a therapist to facilitate that "happy" delusion? It's certainly the popular path of least resistance. I believe that ultimately, this "swimming-downstream-with-the-crowd" strategy will ultimately fail for both gay activists and the APA.
Isn't it significant that highly respected studies (Laumann, et al) have shown homosexuality to be an unstable trait that can change over time, rather than the immutable identity gay activists insist that it is? Show me just one other instance where the "proof" needed to declare a behavior or trait as in-born boils down to "But it feels like it's so!"
Many self-proclaimed lesbians, in particular, have long admitted to choosing their gay orientation as an act of feminist solidarity. Bisexuality is en vogue among women, particularly teen girls. It is something they simply put on or take off at will, in many cases. It's a dangerous game, of course. Suicidal depression rates are unusually high among young women who are sexually confused, as shown in a study headed by Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc at the University of British Columbia's McCreary Centre Society, reported in 2006.
Sticky problems arise when a number of those who have "always felt" homosexual begin moving along the continuum of feeling less so, and at the same time, actually begin feeling better about themselves. How dare we forsake the gay cause célebrè? Like crabs trying to escape from a bucket, gay activists begin dragging us down.
Detractors insist that measurable results must be quick, and that change "isn't change" if it requires a long process. These same people generally see life as a continual "journey" in all other respects. But if someone gives up during the long process, that is somehow "proof" that change is a sham. Never mind that overeaters, alcoholics or drug addicts fall off the wagon every day. The standard for sexual identity change remains "all or nothing"!
So where are the mental health professionals who will stand up and challenge these untruths? Why do they allow the APA to hijack the truth?
APA Refuses to Meet with Leaders
Holding Dissenting Worldviews
The APA recently dismissed a group of conservative religious leaders and counselors who were requesting input into the proceedings of APA's new Task Force, denying the group's request for a meeting.
"Church denominational leaders, practicing psychologists, counselors and organizations dedicated to assisting individuals who want to change their sexual orientation requested to meet with the task force to share their understanding of the issue," according to a Baptist Press story.
But the APA cited its need "to keep the emphasis on the science" and maintain their distance from advocacy groups, according to a Sept. 7 letter sent to the conservative coalition.
That "distance from advocacy groups" that the APA said it needed, apparently did not refer to pro-gay groups. Clinton Anderson, director of an APA committee on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) concerns, met with Ron Schlittler, former assistant director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), prior to the forming of the Task Force, according to bloggers at Ex-Gay Watch. The meeting between Anderson and Schlittler was to discuss the "aggressive promotion of 'reparative therapy' by right-wing groups," according to Ex-Gay Watch.
"We cannot take into account what are fundamentally negative religious perceptions of homosexuality -- they don't fit into our worldview," Anderson is reported to have said. Anderson further insisted that the new APA Task Force "would base its findings on research, not ideology."
But "the concern about 'worldview' didn't stop them from including Dr. Jack Drescher in their Task Force," says Rev. Bob Stith, head of the Gender Issues Office of the Southern Baptist Convention. "He [Drescher] just happens to be the editor of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy."
If the panel adopts a position that such therapy is unethical, therapists who offer help to homosexuals wishing to change could be censured or lose their licenses to practice.
All this politicization of science is the reason I have chosen to remain a layperson in my own mental-health advocacy and recovery work. I simply refuse to bow to that kind of politically correct pressure. I'll take the freedom to work outside the politicized APA umbrella, over the prestige of having professional credentials, any day. And, I am joined by an entire "army" of similar volunteers.
A new book by Dr. Stanton Jones and Dr. Mark Yarhouse, Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, concludes that there is little risk of harm from therapy willingly sought by individuals seeking to change their same-sex attraction, and substantiates that change (either the ability to maintain celibacy, or a shift toward satisfactory heterosexuality) does occur in a significant percentage of people, at a success rate at least equivalent to treatment for depression. This study, combined with the growing numbers of people drawn to ex-gay conferences sponsored by Exodus or Focus on the Family, has greatly agitated the gay-activist community.
"The APA said it would consider alternate viewpoints, but totally shunned nationally recognized therapists who treat those wanting to leave homosexuality," said Stith. "I wonder why, if they're so committed to 'science,' they would be afraid to hear an alternate viewpoint."
Stith received a letter earlier this year from Dr. Gerald Koocher, a former president of the APA, in which Koocher stated, "Obviously, some people change their sexual orientation: they change from straight to gay and from gay to straight. What has never been shown is that therapy of any type is effective in changing sexual orientation."
"The interesting thing is that he says, 'it has never been shown that therapy is effective.' All of this sounds a lot like Orwellian doublespeak," Stith said. "As I expressed in a letter to Dr. Koocher, I think at some point, rank-and-file Americans are going to lose confidence in therapists because more and more of them are going to see the living proof of that which the APA says 'doesn't happen.'"
Debbie Thurman, award-winning columnist and author of such books as From Depression To Wholeness: The Anatomy of Healing, and Outsmarting Depression: Surviving the Crossfire of the Mental Health Wars, is the founder of Family Mental Health Advocacy. She is a former recovery ministry lay counselor/group facilitator. This article is inspired by a forthcoming book.
 Edward O. Laumann, John H. Gagnon, Robert T. Michael and Stuart Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States (University of Chicago Press, 1994), p. 283.
 Elizabeth Saewyc, PhD, RN, PHN, Carol Skay, PhD, Sandra Pettingell, PhD, "Suicide Ideation and Attempts in North American School-Based Surveys: Are Bisexual Youth At Increasing Risk?" Journal of Adolescent Health, 34(2):138.
 Erica Simons, "APA Task Force Shuts Door to Conservatives," Baptist Press News, Nov. 20, 2007.
 Daniel Gonzales, "Focus Reports Half The Story On APA's Re-Evaluation of Position On Reparative Therapy," Ex-Gay Watch (www.exgaywatch.com), Feb.28, 2007.
 David Crary, "Psychologists to Review Stance on Gays," The Huffington Post, July 10, 2007.
 Rev. Bob Stith, in an e-mail to the author.
 Stanton L. Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, Ex-gays?: A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation (Downers Grove, Illinois: IVP Academic), 2007.