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Tuesday, July 19, 2005


Salon Goes Undercover to Investigate a Reparative Therapist

In part two of their series on reparative therapy, Salon's Mark Benjamin lies to Maryland therapist, Barry Levy to get his story.

The session with Mr. Levy sounds believable enough, although I would want to hear from Mr. Levy as well. Several aspects of the commentary on the story however are questionable. Benjamin writes:

The theory that homosexuality is a mental disorder that needs to be cured is the moral underpinning of the Christian right's crusade against gay marriage, sodomy laws, gay adoption and sex ed curriculums in schools.

This is a theory that is based in the reaction of European psychiatry to the idea that homosexuality is a condition and not a behavior. Kertbeny and Ulrichs defined homosexuality as an inborn trait in the 1860s in a political effort to prevent the maintenance of sodomy laws in Prussia. European psychiatrists grasped this concept but looked for environmental causes. Freud came along and in the spirit of the day located the cause in the first six years of life. Freudian thinking about homosexuality dominated psychiatry for decades as it did on most other psychiatric issues. In the Salon article, Levy is not exactly off when he says psychoanalysts still consider homosexuality a treatable condition. Not officially, mind you, but there a number of them who were trained in this way and maintain that approach to practice. It should be noted that homosexuality is not the only issue they view this way. They are being consistent in their theoretical outlook when they consider homosexuality through Freudian lenses.

I wouldn't call this theory the moral underpenning as Mr. Benjamin does. I don't think the political opposition to gay marriage, for instance, is conditioned on the belief that homosexuality is a mental disorder.

Benjamin writes:

One study, often cited by conservative groups like Focus on the Family, shows incremental success from reparative therapy. But critics point out that the study was based solely on interviews with subjects arranged by ex-gay ministries; in fact, many of them worked at the ministries.

He is undoubtedly referring to Spitzer's work. And the charge that the study was based solely on interviews "arranged" by ex-gay ministries is false. Spitzer says where his participants came from. About half were referred by a combination of NARTH and ex-gay ministries, but even then the interviews were not arranged. These groups put out the call for research participants and people answered.

It is worth pointing out that Mr. Levy cautioned Mr. Benjamin that change may take some time and that it didn't work for everyone. While I personally go into much greater detail (and he may have as well, we don't know), I think it speaks well of him that he was not coercive and did not over promise as reparative therapist are often accused of doing.

I think this article is detrimental in that it portrays reparative therapy as the only approach that holds that sexual orientation is flexible and that people can get real benefit from seeing a counselor for sexual orientation distress. I am not a reparative therapist but I do see clients that do not wish to integrate same sex attraction into a gay identity. And I do find that over time (not the same for all), some of the clients find that the same sex attractions go away and are replaced with opposite sex attractions. My approach is not to tell the client what might have caused their feelings but to allow the client to tell me via history taking. Not all same sex attraction is association with the reparative history as described by Mr. Levy in the Salon article. Many ex-gays have that background and the reason for this should continue to be researched but I have seen many who do not fit that Freudian based theory.

Sexuality is indeed fluid. I've talked with a number of people who identify as gay who experienced no same-sex attractions for decades and then did.

Its funny, though, that when change is discussed among reparative therapy proponents, it always seems to be this one way street with the arrow pointing to straight.

There is a distinction between someone changing spontaneously and changing in response to stimulus, therapy or desire. Could change be so desired by both the shame-ridden and the politically motivated that this gift horse has never been given the dental inspection it deserves?
I mostly talk about it this way because so many critics focus on this but I know of people who have gone from straight to gay. I have never denied this.
Most of the gay people I know do recognize that sexuality is fluid. My partner has had relationships with both men and women, although she now identifies as a lesbian.

What you choose to do with your attractions is up to you (whether you choose to have them is another story). At last year's Gay Pride, our softball booth was approached by some ex-gay activists who were getting the scoop on the local scene. After they left, the conversation I had with my fellow softball players was about how we were glad that these people could be content with themselves and their religious path, but we wished that they wouldn't make it seem as if "Change is possible" is as easy as snapping your finger.

And, if they don't want to be demonized and ostracized, a little fairness to the other side (whose perspective they know more about than they wish to admit) would be nice as well.

Anyway, I'm watching the Salon series closely and looking forward to commenting when it is complete. Until then, I'm withholding judgment.

PS: Are you doing any more follow up studies? Not that I want to be sure to skew your data or anything...just for the sake of, well, fairness.

Good to hear from you. I think you are very fair in your statements. I agree that some ex-gays are pretty zealous in their statements. I would say that is true of some "ex-ex-gays" as well.

And yes, I am doing the follow up. I am planning long range a follow up of people who feel benefit and harm. Hopefully, the resources and time will come this school year for such an effort. I'll be posting that on this blog and ex-gay watch as well when the time comes.
Yeah, the rhetoric on both sides gets tiring. I am an "activist", though I never thought I'd be, because of that. I believe strongly that I and my partner should have access to the same protections that married straight people should have, and I'm sick of the debate about marriage going round and round the wrong issues, in inflammatory ways.

Sadly, though, when you're talking about issues related to sex, whether it is gay or straight, how many people can you expect to be mature? I really think that, on both sides, there is an unwillingness to grow up and face emotional triggers which can be at the bottom of rhetoric.

Anyway. That's why I follow both sides of the dicusssion. And yes, ex-ex-gays can be equally vitriolic. Peace.
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