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Reparative and similar therapies

Introduction, Part 3: Acceptance. An Email. Safety.
Effectiveness. Exodus International reverses course.

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This essay is continued from Part 2.

Acceptance of conversion therapies: 

Within the mental health community there are two schools of thought about these therapies: 

bulletMany hundreds of conservative Christian therapists and ministries promote them as effective and safe. These therapies mesh well with their fundamental religious beliefs:
bulletStarting with three fundamental religious beliefs common to most conservative Christians, that:
bulletThe Bible condemns homosexual behavior
bulletGod hates homosexual acts.
bulletGod is involved in every life event, including fertilization of ova.

Then it would appear irrational for God to create about 5% of the embryos as homosexual. Thus, sexual orientation cannot be genetically predetermined.
 

bulletStarting with another two fundamental religious beliefs:
bulletGod is omnipotent, and thus has the power to change a person's sexual orientation.
bulletGod has promised to answer the sincere prayers of born-again believers.

Then, sexual orientation must be changeable, at least for born-again believers, through effort, counseling, and prayer.
 

bulletAlmost all of the hundreds of thousands of remaining mental health professionals feel that therapy is:
bulletincapable of changing a person's sexual orientation, 
bulletis contraindicated, 
bulletmay be damaging to the client, and 
bullethas the potential to cause serious depression
bullettriggers suicide in some cases. 

How we answered an Emailed inquiry:

We received an Email from an evangelical Christian who wants to start a ministry for gays and lesbians, and asked for help. We responded:

We have studied a bunch of services to gays, lesbians and bisexuals, ranging from transformational ministries, to reparative therapy to psychotherapy.

One concern we have is with terminology. Religious and social conservatives typically define "homosexuality" in terms of behavior -- what a person does. Gays, lesbians, bisexuals, religious and social liberals, therapists, human sexuality researchers typically define "homosexuality" in terms of sexual orientation -- what a person is. Sexual orientation is mainly defined in terms of the gender of persons to whom  one is attracted -- opposite sex for heterosexuals, same-sex for homosexuals, or both sexes (but not necessarily to the same degree) for bisexuals.

The lack of consensus on definitions causes immense confusion. For example, a homosexual who decides to become celibate is referred to as an ex-gay by conservatives and as a celibate homosexual by others. A bisexual who decides to confine their relationships to opposite-sex persons is referred to as an ex-gay by conservatives and as a bisexual by others.

What I see lacking in many of these efforts is objectivity and truth. They often talk about "change" and "freedom from homosexuality". Their potential clients and the public often interpret this as the possibility of changing their sexual orientation from homosexual or bisexual to heterosexual.

But that is never -- or almost never -- possible.

If you are going to start a ministry to gays and lesbians, I suggest:
1) that you expand your range to include bisexuals.
2) that you tell gays and lesbians that the only path out of homosexual behavior with a significant chance of success is via celibacy.
3) that you tell bisexuals that, with effort, they can choose to confine their relationships to opposite-sex persons only.

If you don't do this, then: many of your gay and lesbian clients will expect a change to their sexual orientation. All, or at least the vast majority, will:
-  experience failure, leave the program, and become depressed; suicide is a major possibility, or
-  experience failure, leave the program, realize that they cannot change their sexual orientation, accept themselves for what they are, and pursue a relationship with a person of the same gender, perhaps with the aim of attaining a loving, committed relationship, perhaps with the goal of marriage or civil union and raising a family.

Safety of these therapies:

Within medicine, there are strong governmental controls that govern the introduction of new medications and treatment regimens. But mental and physical therapies are largely unregulated. Anybody can introduce and promote a new, totally unproven, form of experimental therapy. If it catches on, thousands of therapists may adopt the concept and start treating their patients. Over the last two decades we have seen treatments based on therapists' beliefs in: abuse of patients during former lifetimes, abuse during UFO visitations, facilitated communication for autistic children, indwelling demonic spirits, mind control within religious Cults, multiple personality disorder/dissociative identity disorder, recovered memory therapy, ritual abuse in day care centers, Satanic ritual abuse, and therapeutic touch

All of these treatment methods have a few points in common:

  1. None are currently accepted by most therapists.
  2. None were accepted by most therapists at any time in the past.
  3. All are, or have been, widespread forms of therapy by a minority of therapists and clergy.
  4. None have been meaningfully researched and shown to be helpful.

Most of these have been shown to be frauds; all might eventually prove to be ineffective. Many generate a trail of devastated lives; some have been shown to trigger deep depression and suicide. 

According to Wikipedia:

"While no comprehensive study has been yet carried out into the long-term consequences of conversion therapies, the Schroeder and Shidlo study...found that the majority of respondents reported being left in a poor mental and emotional state after the therapy, and that rates of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug abuse and suicidal feelings were roughly doubled in those who underwent reparative therapy. Of particular concern was the lack of support given by reparative therapists and counselors to those who found their program to be contributing to psychological distress" 1

No consensus exists on the safety, effectiveness, and possible adverse consequences of conversion therapies at this time. We urge extreme caution.

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Effectiveness of these therapies:

From our study of reparative therapy, we suspect that:

bulletMany bisexuals have been convinced, during therapy, to confine their relationships to the opposite gender. This is commonly referred to by therapists and Evangelical Christian ministries to gays and lesbians as "leaving the homosexual lifestyle,"  "changing their homosexuality,"  "becoming an ex-gay," "set free from the addiction of homosexuality and lesbianism," "seeking freedom from homosexuality," "called...to a new kind of life," "being a recovered gay," "redeem their lives from the pit," etc. Note that their sexual orientation is unchanged; they simply decided to behave differently  -- to only become romantically involved with members of the opposite gender.
 
bulletSome homosexuals have been convinced during therapy to choose celibacy. Therapy promoters generally use the above terms to describe this group as well. Note that their sexual orientation is unchanged; they remain homosexual; they simply decided to not act on their sexual longings -- to not have a sexual partner, and to accept a life of loneliness. 
 
bulletSome homosexuals have completed therapy in a temporary euphoria. They believe that they have changed their sexual orientation. Some are even able to engage in sexual intercourse with members of the opposite gender, by closing their eyes and fantasizing that they are actually making love to a person of the same sex. The belief that they are now heterosexual always, or almost always, fades with time. 
 
bulletSome have entered therapy with great anticipation that they will be able to change their sexual orientation. When it proves unsuccessful:
bulletMany become severely depressed. Some of these have attempted or actually committed suicide.
 
bulletSome have the opposite reaction. They achieve greater self-esteem. They finally realize that they have exhausted all their options; their homosexual orientation cannot be changed. They accept themselves for what they are, and pursue gay/lesbian relationship(s) without guilt.
 
bulletWe have been able to find a few documented case of individuals with a homosexual orientation who report having changed to a heterosexual orientation. Almost all of the cases that we have located turned out to be false leads: the individual later admitted that he/she had not changed their orientation. Many have left the "ex-gay" movement to become an "ex-ex-gays." 

Unfortunately, these suspicions are based on inadequate evidence. Certainty awaits a meaningful, credible study by mental health professionals. Unfortunately, the studies that have been made to date are seriously flawed.

We wrote those words in 1996. The world is still waiting a comprehensive, valid study.

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Related essays on this web site:

bulletMenu: Reparative and similar therapies
bulletHomosexuality - all aspects
bulletHomosexuality: fixed or changeable; genetic or chosen?
bulletThe causes of sexual orientation
bulletStatements by professional groups, etc. about homosexuality
bulletEx-gay newspaper advertisements

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Reparative therapy," Wikipedia, downloaded at 2006-JUN-04, from: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  2. Mel White, Stranger at the Gate: To be Gay and Christian in America", Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, (1994) Read reviews or order this book.
  3. Erik Eckholm, "Rift Forms in Movement as Belief in Gay ‘Cure’ Is Renounced," New York Times, 2012-JUL-06, at: http://www.nytimes.com/

Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-PCT-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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