NARTH issues statement on sexual orientation change

Apparently in response to Alan Chambers’ candor about sexual orientation change, the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality issued a clarification of what that organization means by change.

Issued January 27, the statement reads in full:

Current discussions of homosexual sexual orientation change are unavoidably occurring within a sociopolitical climate that makes nonpartisan scientific inquiry of this subject very difficult.  In light of this reality, a few considerations are crucial for accurately understanding the sometimes contradictory opinions regarding the possibility of sexual orientation change.   First and foremost, it is important to recognize that how change is conceptualized has vast implications for our thinking about change.  Some of the more ardent proponents and opponents of homosexual sexual orientation change may view change in strictly categorical terms, where change is an all-or-nothing experience.  Proponents and opponents with this view differ only in the direction of their desired outcome.  Proponents of change understood in categorical terms may view a homosexual sexual orientation as a lifestyle choice that merely needs to be renounced. Opponents who take this viewpoint, on the other hand, may conceive of sexual orientation as essentially hard wired and simply not modifiable.  NARTH does not support either of these perspectives.

NARTH believes that much of the expressed pessimism regarding sexual orientation change is a consequence of individuals intentionally or inadvertently adopting a categorical conceptualization of change. When change is viewed in absolute terms, then any future experience of same-sex attraction (or any other challenge), however fleeting or diminished, is considered a refutation of change. Such assertions likely reflect an underlying categorical view of change, probably grounded in an essentialist view of homosexual sexual orientation that assumes same-sex attractions are the natural and immutable essence of a person.  What needs to be remembered is that the de-legitimizing of change solely on the basis of a categorical view of change is virtually unparalleled for any challenge in the psychiatric literature.  For example, applying a categorical standard for change would mean that any subsequent reappearance of depressive mood following treatment for depression should be viewed as an invalidation of significant and genuine change, no matter how infrequently depressive symptoms reoccur or how diminished in intensity they are if subsequently re-experienced.  Similar arguments could be made for any number of conditions, including grief, alcoholism, or marital distress.  The point is not to equate these conditions with homosexuality, but rather to highlight the inconsistency of applying the categorical standard only to reported changes in unwanted same-sex attractions.

Rather than pigeonholing homosexual sexual orientation change into categorical terms, NARTH believes that it is far more helpful and accurate to conceptualize such change as occurring on a continuum.  This is in fact how sexual orientation is defined in most modern research, starting with the well known Kinsey scales, even as subsequent findings pertinent to change are often described in categorical terms. NARTH affirms that some individuals who seek care for unwanted same-sex attractions do report categorical change of sexual orientation.  Moreover, NARTH acknowledges that others have reported no change. However, the experience of NARTH clinicians suggests that the majority of individuals who report unwanted same-sex attractions and pursue psychological care will be best served by conceptualizing change as occurring on a continuum, with many being able to achieve sustained shifts in the direction and intensity of their sexual attractions, fantasy, and arousal that they consider to be satisfying and meaningful. NARTH believes that a profound disservice is done to those with unwanted same-sex attractions by characterizing such shifts in sexual attractions as a denial of their authentic (and gay) personhood or a change in identity labeling alone.  Attempts to invalidate all reports of such shifts by presuming they are not grounded in actual experience insults the integrity of these individuals and posits wishful thinking on an untenably massive scale.

Finally, it also needs to be observed that reports on the potential for sexual orientation change may be unduly pessimistic based on the confounding factor of type of intervention.  Most of the recent research on homosexual sexual orientation change has focused on religiously mediated outcomes which may differ significantly from outcomes derived through professional psychological care.  It is not unreasonable to anticipate that the probability of change would be greater with informed psychotherapeutic care, although definitive answers to this question await further research.  NARTH remains highly interested in conducting such research, pursuant only to the acquisition of sufficient funding.

To summarize, then, those who are  highly pessimistic regarding change in sexual orientation appear to have assumed a categorical view of change, which is neither in keeping with how sexual orientation has been defined in the literature nor with how change is conceptualized for nearly all other psychological challenges.  NARTH believes that viewing change as occurring on a continuum is a preferable therapeutic approach and more likely to create realistic expectancies among consumers of change-oriented intervention.  With this in mind, NARTH remains committed to protecting the rights of clients with unwanted same-sex attractions to pursue change as well as the rights of clinicians to provide such psychological care.

I hope to post something on this Monday or Tuesday; but for now here is NARTH’s official word on the subject of orientation change. Discuss…

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  • John Blatzheim

    I think NARTH misunderstand the objections to repairitive therapy by focusing only on one aspect of criticism. While repairitive therapy’s efficacy is certainly part of the push back against it, I think that the presumption that homosexuality needs to be “cured” to begin with is just as major of a criticism. They try to compare repairitive therapy to other kinds of therapy for issues such as depression, alcoholism, grief etc. What they fail to understand is that everyone can pretty easily agree that those things are impediments to living a full and healthy life, while not everyone agrees that homosexuality is such an impediment. I do not believe that the kind of therapy NARTH advocates can be judged on the same standards as these other therapies until they can prove that homosexuality is just as negative and destructive as the issues which other legitimate therapies seek to remedy.

    I also think they entirely missed the point when talking about “categorical change”. People do not view the outcomes of repairitve therapy in categorical terms so much as they view sexual orientation in categorical terms. Advocates on both sides look for categorical changes from repairitive therapy because they see sexual orientation as something categorical. That is to say that if you claim sexual orientation change is possible, that implies a change from one category (gay) to another (straight, or potentially bi). I don’t think that this is an unreasonable expectation. If NARTH wanted to start claiming that it really changes gay people into bi people, and then encourages them to ignore their same-sex attractions in favor or their opposite sex attractions, I’d likely be okay with that statement. But that is not what NARTH is claiming, and I doubt they ever will claim such.

  • GayGrandfather

    “It is not unreasonable to anticipate that the probability of change would be greater with informed psychotherapeutic care, although definitive answers to this question await further research.”

    That view promises to be financially rewarding, doesn’t it. It is founded upon the view that if you can pathologize *any* human experience, you should. It’s the foundation for the entire field of drapetomania, cosmetic surgery, hair growth, hair removal, cosmetics, bad breath, shoe elevators to increase your height, personal coaching, and so on. Even the current fear of a war on religion holds the probablity that recoving from that internalized disturbance “would be greater with informed psychotherapeutic care.”

    People who have been through this therapy, as I have, manage to recover from it with the realization that it’s not homosexuality that is unwanted. Rather, it’s the rejection by our family, friends and community that is unwanted. Is there a contiuum for that? I’d say there is. If you had two gay focus groups and treated one for unwanted same sex attraction and the the other for unwanted social rejection, I going to stick my neck out and say that the positive result in the latter group would be real and life-long while the former group would be in therapy for life.

  • Kyle

    From what I can see in the research, even small changes in the direction of sexual attractions are rare, and usually not voluntarily controllable. NARTH is making it seem like therapy will almost certainly result in change of some kind (from exclusively gay desires), but that seems unsupported.

    Does it ever happen? I’m sure it does. Much of the time it is probably because the issue was something else. Other times, perhaps there is a genuine change of some kind (as when a gay man randomly falls in love with a woman and is physically attracted to her). But even this limited change seems rare.

  • Lynn David

    Sinking ship….

  • David M.

    NARTH: “wishful thinking on an untenably massive scale.”

    Too rich an irony coming from NARTH!

    What is crystal clear to me is that change-oriented therapy is not God’s answer to the question of homosexuality. The changes are too small, too infrequent, too costly and too arbitrarily measured. No thinking person can say that gays could change if they wanted to (meaning become heterosexual). The hope that therapy could solve the church’s problem was indeed “wishful thinking on an untenably massive scale.”

    It is time for the church to move on to other options. Even if reparative therapy has some benefits for some people, NARTH has effectively confessed its own irrelevance.

  • Bernie

    “NARTH remains highly interested in conducting such research, pursuant only to the acquisition of sufficient funding.”

    A plea for donations?

  • Bernie

    I’d love to hear your perspective on this Warren.

  • Teresa

    NARTH believes that it is far more helpful and accurate to conceptualize such change as occurring on a continuum.

    Since when did NARTH find a ‘continuum’ for ‘change’? Who’s kidding who here? The vast majority of their literature through the years has always been about a change from gay to str8. Let’s not mistake that. NARTH was never about a continuum of change.

    They falsify, distort, deceive and cherry-pick any scientific study to fit their agenda that most homosexuals can become str8; given enough money, enough time, enough hard work, enough prayer and their absolutely failsafe psychotherapy (RT).

    NARTH cared less about homosexuals who lived single, chaste lives. We were casually thrown under the bus. NARTH’s poster children were always the gay men who became happily married str8′s … however, few that may be.

    And, now, to add fuel to their newfound ‘continuum’ strategy; they’re playing the victim. You all have to understand we always meant continuum; we always meant some change; we always meant a little bit, means change; we always meant, we always meant.

    No, NARTH, you didn’t always mean some ‘change’, whatever, was good enough. No you didn’t always mean ‘change’ was on a continuum.

    No, you didn’t.

  • http://aebrain.blogspot.com Zoe Brain

    I agree with their first paragraph.

    Had this come from an organisation without a long history of wilful distortion, I might have agreed with much of the rest too.

    NARTH remains highly interested in conducting such research…

    (Inset horse laughs)

    pursuant only to the acquisition of sufficient funding.

    Send money. Lots of money.

    No matter. what counts is not who says something, but the extent to which it is true.

    Most of the recent research on homosexual sexual orientation change has focused on religiously mediated outcomes which may differ significantly from outcomes derived through professional psychological care. It is not unreasonable to anticipate that the probability of change would be greater with informed psychotherapeutic care, although definitive answers to this question await further research.

    In other words, after decades of “research”, they’ve got no hard data, other than that the Divine Intervention approach they apparently have advocated in the past doesn’t appear to be effective. “Informed psychotherapeutic care” when practised by others hasn’t worked too well either, has caused harm, but they conjecture (with no evidence) that in their hands it may be less ineffective. Or not.

    In other words… “Send money to help us test our blind guesswork, even though we’ve lied through our teeth in the past, pretending to be “secular”. Ignore the obvious, that a secular group would have already been using “informed psychotherapeutic” methods, as other have, and known whether they’re effective or not, as others do.”

    Send money. Lots of money.

  • Patrocles

    John Blatzheim: ” If NARTH wanted to start claiming that it really changes gay people into bi people, and then encourages them to ignore their same-sex attractions in favor or their opposite sex attractions, I’d likely be okay with that statement.”

    I think, if NARTH survives at all, they will have to adopt that position.

  • StraightGrandmother

    I said on the David Pickup article that this is about cha-ching. This is about loosing your money pipeline. If Exodus Stops referring clients to NARTH, these NARTH therapists can’t survive. David Pickup stated that 95% of his practice is Reparative Therapy. Where do you think his patients come from? I’ll be the hole against the doughnut that they come from Exodus referrals.

    What we are seeing is a fight for economic survival.

    1. NARTH needs Exodus.

    2. Exodus does NOT need NARTH.

    3. NARTH is trying to convince Exodus that Exodus really does need NARTH.

    This is why Alan Chambers comments has scared the crap out of NARTH. This is why you now suddenly see NARTH speaking up and saying, “We can do it better than you can Exodus.” And “Exodus your parishioners need OUR help because, Pray Away The Gay standing on it’s own doesn’t work, Exodus YOU Need US in order to accomplish your mission. God alone isn’t enough ”

    It is all about cha-ching!! If you owned a business that lost 95% of it’s sales you would have to go out of business. This is a fight for economic survival we are witnessing.

    Message to NARTH, if you think your therapy is so great, then fund your own studies. Take some of the money you are making off of all those miserable men who come to you for help, and spend some if it back on them, instead of putting all those fees into your own pockets and then claiming that you have insufficient funds for outside peer reviewed research. And outside peer reviewed data validation. What are you afraid of?

    Message to Exodus, You don’t need NARTH. Focus on your missionary work. Become like Catholic Courage who does not encourage it’s parishioners to attempt to change their sexual orientation. If men need outside psychological counseling let them seek out on their own counselors to help them. Be honest, remove all references to Sexual Orientation Change from your website. Put on your website what Alan Chambers talks about in person, which is “We are here to help you become closer with God, to lead a God pleasing life, not to change your sexual orientation” Stop promoting NARTH. Get out of the business of Psychology and get back into the business of God. You do that by dumping NARTH.

    Catholic Courage does not receive anywhere near the criticisms that Exodus does, and for good reason. I think they offer their parishioners the most honest guidance for men who wish to live according to their religious beliefs and not act on their homosexuality. They don’t promise anything that they can’t deliver. Exodus, stop making promises on your website that you can’t deliver on.

    Alan Chambers expect a struggle of epic proportions from NARTH, to prevent you from leading Exodus away from them. They will come after you personally, they are fighting for economic survival and will do anything possible to remove any threat to their survival.

  • Jamie O’Neilll

    Shorter NARTH: Empowering the bisexual within you.

  • AJ

    The first “ex-gay” event that I attended was a Love Won Out conference. I went to Nicolosi’s session where he stated that if any gay man did the work to become comfortable around straight men, he wouldn’t be gay anymore. That’s all it would take. No talk of continuum or subtle changes or complex remedies. Well, I have many straight male friends that I am very comfortable around, and I’m still gay.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred

    Current discussions of homosexual sexual orientation change are unavoidably occurring within a sociopolitical climate that makes nonpartisan scientific inquiry of this subject very difficult.

    I’ll be honest and admit that it took effort to read beyond this first sentence. The implication of this statement is that NARTH is somehow acting outside of that “sociopolitical climate” and acting in terms of “nonpartisan scientific inquiry.” Recent posts on Warren’s blog demonstrate that implication to be a falsehood.

  • Carol A Ranney

    “Similar arguments could be made for any number of conditions, including grief, alcoholism, or marital distress.” In none of these afflictions can anyone say, “born this way.” Has NARTH ever even read any of the research that shows the multitude of physical characteristics that are likely to go along with a gay orientation? Also, from what I understand, NARTH is a pseudo-scientific organization at best. It would take a lot for me to trust any research that they conducted, both because of their bias and their questionable competence.

  • David M.

    @GayGrandfather: “It’s not homosexuality that is unwanted. Rather, it’s the rejection by our family, friends and community that is unwanted.”

    Well said. For some of us, add to this list our church. And the rejection of our church has too easily translated to the rejection of God.

  • Teresa

    For example, applying a categorical standard for change would mean that any subsequent reappearance of depressive mood following treatment for depression should be viewed as an invalidation of significant and genuine change, no matter how infrequently depressive symptoms reoccur or how diminished in intensity they are if subsequently re-experienced. Similar arguments could be made for any number of conditions, including grief, alcoholism, or marital distress. The point is not to equate these conditions with homosexuality, but rather to highlight the inconsistency of applying the categorical standard only to reported changes in unwanted same-sex attractions.

    I disagree with NARTH’s statement here. NARTH has always equated homosexuality to alcoholism, depression, etc. So much so, that it’s not uncommon for NARTH members to suggest use of a 12-Step Program for ‘change’.

    The implications of this latest statement from NARTH is an attempt by NARTH to ‘change’ their focus without admitting it … no apologies. NARTH is at a crossroads here, forced by their greatest ally’s seeming change of course. NARTH has always been a ‘religiously mediated’ organization, wrapping themselves under a ‘scientific’ cloak.

    NARTH’s inability to acknowledge who and what they are, really and truly, is the basic stumbling block. They were just another variant of Exodus; although, NARTH is now quite happy to throw them under the bus, as well. NARTH seems to have no real consideration, loyalty to anyone; least of all to us, homosexuals.

  • Richard Willmer

    To be honest, I couldn’t understand much of the statement. It is long on words and short on meaning! I think Jarred felt the same way?

    What I could understand smacked of ‘self-proving brief’ (‘we believe this, therefore it’s true, therefore we believe it’).

  • Pingback: Thoughts on NARTH’s statement on sexual orientation change — Warren Throckmorton

  • StraightGrandmother

    GayGrandfather

    If you had two gay focus groups and treated one for unwanted same sex attraction and the the other for unwanted social rejection, I going to stick my neck out and say that the positive result in the latter group would be real and life-long while the former group would be in therapy for life.

    StraightGrandmother = I am sure you are right.

  • http://musings.northerngrove.com/ Jarred

    Richard: Actually, no. What I was saying is that the first sentence struck me as rife with so much disingenuity, that it was difficult to maintain the motivation required to keep reading.

  • Richard Willmer

    Fair enough, Jarred.

  • http://lgbttraining.blogspot.com/ Anthony Venn-Brown

    “those who are highly pessimistic regarding change in sexual orientation appear to have assumed a categorical view of change, which is neither in keeping with how sexual orientation has been defined in the literature nor with how change is conceptualized for nearly all other psychological challenges”

    Reads like a lot of psycho-babble mumbo jumbo to me. Interesting that they turned the blame on the client in the end and not prepared to look at themselves.

  • Michael Bussee

    Sounds like NARTH is pretty sure they could do a better job than Exodus, if only they had the money:

    “NARTH remains highly interested in conducting such research, pursuant only to the acquisition of sufficient funding.”

  • http://beyondexgay.com Dr. Jallen Rix

    Cut to it NARTH, where’s all the happy hetero’s that once we flaming gays? Showing us your documented proof of “all the people” who have changed and the debate would be finished. As Dr. Ralph Blair has stated so adeptly, “The only people who think change is possible are the people who think change SHOULD be possible. That’s very suspicious.”

  • Krissy

    A “continuum” of change for a continuum of human sexuality, how charitable of them. And what is the ultimate goal of this,but to make a gay man into straight marriage material. These mixed orientation marriages are terrible and how can a woman settle for a man who doesn’t love her romantically? Churches rely on Narths methods so that they can play matchmaker with the wrong 2 people.

  • Richard Willmer

    @ Anthony

    Very much my reaction … ‘psycho-babble mumbo jumbo’ indeed.

  • Michael Bussee

    Abandon ship. The “Reorientation Boat” is taking on water and sinking fast. Exodus admits that 99.9 % don’t change their sexual orientation and NARTH is downplaying its claims of change due to lack of funds. Maybe it’s time for the captain at Exodus to steer the boat in the direction Jeff Buchanan of Exodus laid out last year:

    “In no way shape or form is our message about trying to cure or do we try to promote that type of methodology or message… Exodus believes the opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. It is holiness. We promote the belief that one can live a life that is congruent with their faith. That is our mission – period.” ~ Jeff Buchanan, Christian Post, 3/22/11

  • ken

    Dr. Jallen Rix# ~ Jan 30, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    “where’s all the happy hetero’s that once we flaming gays? ”

    they couldn’t tell you that, that would breach dr/patient confidentiality. As well as expose their patients to attacks by the hostile pro-gay activists.

    NARTH has 2 decades worth of experience in polishing their excuses and evasions.

  • David M.

    “The opposite of homosexuality is not heterosexuality. It is holiness.” ~ Jeff Buchanan (quoted by Michael Bussee above)

    Ah, so homosexuality is evil itself. And I thought they were trying not to shame us.

  • http://www.AffirmingTheology.com Romell Weekly

    So, in other words, ex-gays aren’t straight, but at least they’re not quite AS gay as they used to be??? Seriously?!?!?!?!?!

  • Michael Bussee

    I can respect that folks with Exodus believe that homosexual behavior is “sin”. That is one way to read and understand the Bible. I have no problem with them helping Christians to “resist temptation” or not act on their “SSA” — if that is what their conscience and their faith tells them to do.

    There are folks who believe that dancing is sin. They shouldn’t dance. There are folks who believe that women should not be ordained. Don’t ordain them. There are people who believe that blood transfusions are contrary to the Bible. Let them opt for another medical option, if that’s possible.

    But don’t spread misinformation about “change”. Or shame those who don’t “change”. Don’t tell them they “didn’t have enough faith” or “didn’t want change badly enough” or “weren’t really saved”. Don’t shun them or cast them out when they don’t “change”. Don’t blame their parents . Don’t rely on quack “science”. Don’t get involved in anti-gay politics.

    Don’t allign yourself with organizations who promote these things. Don’t fight against equal civil rights for folks who don’t understand the Bible they way that you do. They deserve the same freedoms and responsibilities that you enjoy. Don’t fight against anti-bullying programs. Don’t go to countries where homosexuality is a crime.

    In short, treat people with dignity and respect their right to live in accordance with their own conscience. Above all, tell the truth. Show what God’s love is really about — that we are all His children, regardless of our sexual orientation — and we all deserve to be treated as such.

  • Carol A Ranney

    @Michael Bussee, well said. If all Christians actually lived this way, the perceived hatred (which often is real hatred) would dissipate from the church and perhaps the church would have the potential to reach out in love to the LGBT community as has not been done before. As things are at present, I believe we (Christians) will have a lot to answer for on Judgment Day.

  • Kellen

    That statement reads quite reasonably to me.

  • Richard Willmer

    The Statement was designed to sound ‘reasonable’, although much of it is, on careful inspection, really quite ‘loaded’. For example, those who take the view that orientation change is rare or non-existent are effectively labelled ‘pessimists’. (From the Statement: “NARTH believes that much of the expressed pessimism regarding sexual orientation change is a consequence of individuals intentionally or inadvertently adopting a categorical conceptualization of change.”)

    My own view is that it is NARTH that is confused. It cannot decide what it really means by ‘orientation change’, whereas most of us commenting here are very clear about what kind of ‘change’ might be realistic and desirable (e.g. greater self-respect, liberation from addiction and/or patterns of destructive behaviour learning to cope better with difficult circumstances such as others’ low-level homophobia, and so on). Such ‘realistic and desirable’ change can take place without ‘orientation change’, and it may well be that the ideologically-driven quest for ‘orientation change’ actually obscures the real issues affecting those requiring or wanting therapy. To put it another way: NARTH has been ‘barking up the wrong tree’, and all the Statement seems to indicate is that it is now less sure than hitherto of the precise nature of that tree! IMO, all that might be said is that perhaps this shift of thinking represents a little progress … although, as others have pointed out, this general thrust of the Statement could perhaps reasonably be regarded as rather disingenuous when set against others things that NARTH and its allies have said.

  • Richard Willmer

    The second bit in parentheses above should have read: “e.g. greater self-respect, liberation from addiction and/or patterns of destructive behaviour, learning to cope better with difficult circumstances such as others’ low-level homophobia, and so on”.

  • StraightGrandmother

    Did anyone notice the law to ban Reparative therapy for Minors pass the California Judiciary Committee yesterday. David Pickup is quoted

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/05/08/MNFE1OF5QT.DTL

  • ken

    In general I like the idea of the bill. Although I’m not to sure of their definintion of SOCE:

    (d) “Sexual orientation change efforts” means psychotherapy aimed at altering the sexual or romantic desires, attractions, or conduct

    of a person toward people of the same sex so that the desire,

    attraction, or conduct is eliminated or reduced or might instead be

    directed toward people of a different sex. It does not include

    psychotherapy aimed at altering sexual desires, attractions, or

    conduct toward minors or relatives or regarding sexual activity with

    another person without that person’s consent.

    This definition would also apply to therapists who want to help gays (or others) to lead a celibate life. Not sure right now exactly how I’d change this wording, but I do think it needs work.

    you can read the lastest version of the bill here:

    http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/postquery?bill_number=sb_1172&sess=CUR&house=B&author=lieu

    (My quotes are from the 04/30/2012 version)

    I do like the wording of the consent form though:

    “Having a lesbian, gay, or bisexual sexual orientation is not a

    mental disorder. Sexual orientation change efforts have not been shown to be safe or effective and can, in fact, be harmful. The risks include, but are not limited to, depression, anxiety, self-destructive behavior , and suicide ….

    I suspect that 1st sentence is really upsetting folks at NARTH, even though they can’t really come out and say so.

    And I found this quote from NARTH’s diatribe against the bill (http://narth.com/2012/04/narth-statement-on-californis-sb-1172-sexual-orientation-change-efforts/) most amusing:

    NARTH believes that the Task Force employed unrealistically stringent methodological standards in dismissing the research on SOCE.

    but later (in the same paragraph) suggest that those SAME STANDARDS are okay to apply to gay affirmative therapeutic approaches.


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