2004 Interview with Dr. Robert Spitzer

In early 2004, I interviewed psychiatrist Robert Spitzer for the documentary, I Do Exist. Only a portion of the footage made it in the video. During the Spring semester, GCC senior Randy Fulton transcribed the entire interview for an independent study. Thanks to Randy for that. The interview fully covers Dr. Spitzer’s much discussed study. Of current interest is what Dr. Spitzer had to say about sexual orientation and depression. There is some conflict over what his study actually suggested with regard to the relationship of sexual reorientation and depression. Wayne Besen quotes Dr. Spitzer as complaining that Melissa Fryrear misinterpreted his study. As I read Ms. Fryrear’s comments, it appears to me that she accurately represents what Dr. Spitzer said in 2004.

Here is what Melissa Fryrear said about the Spitzer study to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation: “Some clinical studies, including one by Dr. Robert Spitzer, have linked contemplating suicide to unwanted attractions to the same sex, she said.”

Wayne Besen is reporting that Dr. Spitzer said this about Melissa’s comments:
“Unfortunately Focus on the Family has once again reported findings of my study out of context to support their fight against gay rights,” said Dr. Robert Spitzer, a professor of psychiatry at Columbia University.”

and then…

“Although a third of the subjects in my study reported having had serious thoughts of suicide related to their homosexuality, not one of them blamed the gay rights movement’s advocating a ‘born-gay’ theory of homosexuality as the cause of their suicidal thinking,” said Spitzer.

I do not see Melissa saying that Dr. Spitzer’s study made a direct connection between the gay rights’ movement and contemplating suicide.

Now on point, I have reproduced my interview with Dr. Spitzer from 2004. It appears that some of the subjects did in fact feel depressed as the result of being told by therapists that they couldn’t change.

From our 2004 interview:

Dr. Throckmorton: Were there any mental health consequences of attempting to change?

Dr. Spitzer: The majority of subjects reported moderate to severe depression before they went into therapy. And a marked change, very few were depressed after therapy. So that was an important finding, I think, that depression was, you know, there was a tremendous conflict over homosexuality, and many were very depressed that they had made previous efforts, that was another interesting thing, was many of the subjects reported that they had gone to mental health professionals and were told, just, you know, accept it, that there’s no way to change. And they were not satisfied with that, and were very depressed thinking that they could not, you know, change.

Dr. Throckmorton: Were there any other mental health consequences.

Dr. Spitzer: Um, well many had been so depressed they were suicidal. And a few had made actual attempts. So, I mean they reported a very unhappy state of mind before they changed. The other thing is that the change was not quick…another reason why I believe in credibility; you would think that, if you want to present the best way of presenting therapy, you would say that it started to work pretty soon. You wouldn’t say that it was on average two years before there was really much change, which was the case. Many said it took several years before they actually noticed change, and on average it was two years. The people were in some kind of therapy for an average of 7 years. But, often that was still being in some group experience they would keep going to a support group for several years.

It does appear that he did get feedback from subjects saying that mental health professionals discouraged change and the position that sexual orientation was immutable was associated with depression. In other words, the depression was not adequately addressed by the mental health professionals saying just accept your feelings.

To read the entire interview, go here.