Pray Away the Gay?

Lost amid the discussion of the American Psychological Association’s recent statement about reparative therapy was the APA’s affirmation of religious-focused therapy that helps believers “reject” their sexual orientation.

In a terrific–but imperfect–piece in the Wall Street Journal, Stephanie Simon looks at what the APA said about therapy that helps clients reject their sexual orientation–instead of change it–to accommodate religious belief.

According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.

But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.

“We’re not trying to encourage people to become ‘ex-gay,'” said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA’s task force on the issue. “But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.”

Simon does a nice job explaining that this isn’t “ex-gay therapy,” something that was rejected by the APA. Instead, this is accepting ones sexual orientation, but also acknowledging it conflicts with ones religious beliefs and how to live with that conflict.

The new approach allowing therapists to help clients transcend their sexual orientation was developed by an APA task force of six academics and counselors, some active in gay-rights causes, and endorsed by the group’s governing body. Their original mandate was to respond to the growing visibility of sexual orientation “change therapists” who claim it is possible to alter arousal patterns. The task force reviewed scientific literature on change therapy and found no evidence it worked.

But the task force also gained an appreciation for the pain some men and women feel in trying to reconcile their sexual attractions with their faith. There are gay-affirming churches. But the task force acknowledged that for those from conservative faiths, affirming a gay identity could feel very much like renouncing their religious identity.

“They’re faced with a terrible dilemma,” Dr. Glassgold said. The profession has to offer alternatives, she says, “so they don’t pursue these ineffective therapies” promising change.

Except for a throw-away quote from Wayne Besen, there was not anyone in the piece who disagreed with this approach or who expressed concerned about the efficacy. It seems hard to believe that everyone in the psychology community is comfortable with the APA’s guidance.

I was also confused by the quote at the end by the head of Exodus International. I’ve always associated Exodus with the “ex-gay” movement and reparative therapy but maybe I’m wrong since Chambers appears to be proposing a more extreme version of approach discussed by the therapists.

One Response

  1. […] because the story wasn’t compelling and interesting.  Instead, because these kinds of stories are a “no win” situation, no matter how careful the reporter may be.  So, let’s […]

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