And now for something completely different

Newsweek-726254Earlier today we looked at some of the mainstream media reports of the American Psychological Association’s resolution on treatment for those dealing with same-sex attraction. The Wall Street Journal took a completely different approach than almost every other report out there. Religion reporter Stephanie Simon writes on a new therapy for people whose faith and sexual identity are in conflict and how the APA changed its treatment guidelines to allow counselors to help clients reject their same-sex attraction. It was certainly different than the headlines over most of the AP reports. Here’s how she began:

The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven’t been able to shake sexual attractions to other men — impulses they believe to be immoral.

Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.

The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren’t a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.

But he also tells them they don’t have to be gay.

For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward “gay affirming” therapy — encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.

But in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical — and can be beneficial — for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions.

Simon goes through the specific guidelines, which sort of discourage change therapy. But if clients desire to overcome their attractions, counselors may help them live celibately, learn to deflect sexual impulses or come to see the struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God. Simon also discusses the make-up of the task force and that some are active in gay-rights causes. She says the group’s mandate was to respond to change therapists:
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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.

It isn’t a step to be taken lightly, added Jack Drescher, a psychiatrist and member of the APA task force. “We try to find a balance between what the patient says he wants, what we think is best for the patient, and what is reasonable and feasible,” Dr. Drescher said.

Simon includes the views of gay activists, such as those affiliated with Truth Wins Out, that the report is misguided and that therapeutic approaches such as the ones endorsed by the APA could cause suffering. And then she get a member of the task force denying the charge. Simon also includes the views of those who have changed their self-identification away from homosexuality. One man compares the struggle against same-sex temptation with the struggle against alcoholism.

It’s just a very balanced, interesting and civil piece. It’s nice to see that it actually is possible to discuss some of these hot-button and divisive topics in an informative and fair manner. It’s also nice to see journalists take a different approach than the pack when writing up a big story like this one.

As with the previous post, discussion should focus on this article and the journalistic treatment of the issue — not your personal feelings about same-sex attraction, unwanted same-sex attraction, etc. I have an itchy trigger finger today and will delete any comments that are incendiary or off-topic. Thanks — the mgmt.

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  • TylerEzro

    One thing I am wondering about in all of this is the fact that people are often unresponsive to treatment (therapy and drugs) to change behavior all the time, on a wide variety of behaviors that nobody seems to feel the need to suggest that they are biologically predetermined. So why isn’t that part of the conversation?

  • Jerry

    It was certainly different than the headlines over most of the AP reports.

    Is there a place in purgatory for those who write misleading headlines?

    Simon also includes the views of those who have changed their self-identification away from homosexuality. One man compares the struggle against same-sex temptation with the struggle against alcoholism.

    There are two important points here. It’s important for stories to reflect the diversity of human beings and avoid stereotyping gays as being all alike. Someone who is bi-sexual, for example, is different than someone with strong impulses to a single sex. We do know that there are gay animals and even some that are temporarily gay due to lack of partners of the opposite sex.

    The other point is also important: We don’t yet know how much of sexual orientation is genetic versus environmental. But maybe that’s less important for now compared to responding to what people need rather than to our preconceptions such as “sex is good; celibacy is bad”. Dealing with desires of all kinds can be tricky and I’m glad to see the report was much more balanced compared to what I’ve seen in the past.

  • dalea

    This strikes me as a fairly balanced treatment of the subject even though it does not cover the full scope of grass roots rage against reparative therapy. ExGayWatch links to about 40 websites devoted to the subject:

    http://www.exgaywatch.com/wp/

    This struck me as the important point:

    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.

    What this does is restrict objections to homosexuality to strictly religious grounds. IOW, there is no scientific reason for not accepting a gay identity. What is left out of article is that anti-gay psychology has been a shrinking part of psychological practice for over 70 years. Fifty years ago, orientation change was a standard feature of psychiatric practice; today it is almost non-existant. Psychologists who provide change therapy are now exclusively religious. This is a major change that the article seems to glide over.

  • Pingback: Get Religion discusses media coverage of the APA report — Warren Throckmorton

  • Dave

    It looks to me like this report gives no comfort to practioners of “reparative” or “conversion” therapy. It does give comfort to those who, troubled with their homosexuality, regard it a problem with sexality in general and don’t treat their orientation as an objective condition to be “fixed.”

  • JonathanR.

    ‘It looks to me like this report gives no comfort to practioners of “reparative” or “conversion” therapy. It does give comfort to those who, troubled with their homosexuality, regard it a problem with sexality in general and don’t treat their orientation as an objective condition to be “fixed.”’

    I wouldn’t say that. I’d say that those conversion therapists have won a seemingly impossible victory; getting the mainstream of American psychology to recognize the fact that it is possible that there are people out there for whom there is a good reason not to be gay. Heck, five years ago, you’d be demonized for even suggesting as such.

    Sure, for now, the language hems it in as a “religious issue”. But once even a little bit of legitimacy is conveyed, it is like a foot in the door that further discussion can grow upon. Sort of like how activists got homosexuality struck off the APA’s list of mental disorders.

  • http://queerpsychologist.blogspot.com Dr. Matthew

    @ JonathanR – I would disagree with that assessment. The report is still strongly worded against conversion therapists in its conclusions that no change to an actual sexual orientation occurs – only one to identity. In fact, the report frequently points out that the only beneficial changes that occur related to achieving greater congruence with one’s faith are likely best accomplished through standard therapy, not promises of the impossible.

    That said, it seems a stretch that the APA is agreeing that there are “good” reasons not to be gay or identify as such; what has occurred is a formal acknowledgment that if we (as mainstream psychologists) don’t respond to those strongly conflicted by their sexuality due to their faith, we leave them vulnerable to predatory and dishonest therapeutic enterprises. This is definitely not an endorsement of psychologists working to “change sexual orientation” as the summary above states; further, the APA report sharply clarifies the distinction between ethical approaches (such as Dr. Throckmorton’s honest candor with his clients) and unethical ones. Religiously motivated clients might want to explore ways to live in accordance with their faiths. Honestly appraising the role of sexual orientation and working to help a client reduce his or her suffering in a manner consistent with both their faith (not identifying as gay, perhaps) while remaining within the confines of reality (acknowledging no change of their underlying orientation is likely) is the heart of this report. The full text of the APA report is available through many of the links already included, I’d encourage going to the source!


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