Sexual Identity Therapy: How it begins

Within the next couple of weeks, Grove City College will publish the sexual identity therapy guidelines authored by Mark Yarhouse and me. In preparation for this, I am putting together materials to help describe how they can be implemented. One such paper is a narrative of an interview I conducted with David Akinsanya of the BBC. While he was in the US filming his documentary, he stopped by Grove City for a visit. This was filmed by the crew but never used in the documentary. David and Kathryn Park of the BBC gave me permission to use the transcript for training and educational purposes. Thanks to them for that. This segment will be published in a book on this subject, hopefully within the next year.

5 thoughts on “Sexual Identity Therapy: How it begins”

  1. Reparative therapy/Conversion therapy has a terrible rate of success – and even murkier means of measuring the little amount reported. What is change? Not fantasizing, not engaging in activity with, etc…

    Even Exodus has had a difficult time keeping its employees/leaders from reverting back to their natural affectional inclinations, to its detriment. That, along with the APA statements on the potential harms of such therapy.

    I understand that gay/lesbian individuals often feel distressed by their orientation living in the discriminatory society that we do.

    The APA makes particular note that there is a duty to discuss that being gay/lesbian does not preclude you from living a productive, happy life …and I wonder if a true discussion of this can be had if the therapist does not believe it, and works against causes which could offer this client a more seamless integration into society (equality in employment, housing, marriage, etc..).

    Just as any person who comes to therapy might not like who they are, and come to an understanding and appreciation of the wonderful gifts/potentialities of their life….so I hope that the person who struggles with same-sex attractions can find therapy and come to appreciate the beauty of what they offer – being the person they are.

    As a profession, psychology needs to be consistent in following the science. We know same-sex couples can lead healthy, happy and productive lives – having fulfilling family lives and life-long commitments.

  2. The interview with David Akinsanya was fascinating and really helpful.

    A couple things come to mind.

    Little Richard notes that he was happy being a homosexual, until he was convinced that it was evil. He later married and had a kid. See “The life and times of Little Richard: the authorized biography”

    Lord Bath – writes in his autobiography online about his early childhood homosexual experiences. Now he is a raging heterosexual. His change was not caused by religion. If anything he is a pagan and has three wives. Clearly any change was not brought about by social pressure.

    Also, the gay sheep in the news recently come to mind. According to one news report I read many farmers say rams are not fussy and will have sex with anything. This leads me to think that the biological or genetic component to sexuality is not the dominant factor and animals can enjoy different sexual experiences.

    Finally, I found the website interesting. They have free files that claim to turn you gay or straight through hypnosis. One fellow on the forums documents his successful attempt to become a gay man.

  3. Steve: I did not get there with David but yes, that would be a part of the values clarification process. Here is a frequent scenario. A client reflects on how unhappy he was before he entered therapy and wonders how his past friends are doing. He says something like, I could never have found happiness, since I knew no one who did. And I ask, what if you could find happiness or live a stable relationship, would that change your values? What if 50 percent of homosexuals were monogamous? 70%? Would that change your values? So I point out the things such as you mentioned. It seems to me that this is a real test of values.

    For many men I work with, the disordered life is something that needs changing and would be whether they were promiscuous with men or women or both. However, they often conflate this with all gays. I am certainly try to using the same empirical perspective and caution that I try to use with all other aspects of this issue.

  4. Warren, the tone and the topics from your interview with David Akinsanya are largely familiar to me from my work with a therapist in 1993/94. It was about exploring what I was feeling in the context of my family, my values, my community.

    My therapist encouraged me not to focus on labels (gay, straight, bi), especially in the early conversations, while concentrating on my values, my sense of what would help me integrate my life best with them, while dealing openly with being something other than completely heterosexual.

    David’s opening statement relates to topics we did spend some time on:

    Never fit in really into the lifestyle, you know the clubs and the one night stands and the bars, and the bathhouses and all that sort of stuff and thought that I would find love and companionship and haven’t been able to find that.

    I had come into this process in 1993 with plenty of stereotypes and preconceptions how it would impact me if I accepted that I was more attracted to men than women, some of which David describes here — that I would be thrust into a foreign (to me) subculture in which monogamous and/or stable long-term relationships were unlikely or impossible.

    In response, my therapist insisted on distinguishing between sexual orientation and lifestyle. Coming to terms with being gay, if I ended up choosing to do so, would not suddenly make me promiscuous or sexually compulsive. It would not thrust me into a new subculture against my will. I would not change my desire for, or my skills and aptitudes (or lack of them) for building and sustaining, a long-term healthy relationship.

    Another thought…

    Going into my marriage, I had presumed that focusing on the value which fidelity holds for me, and that I was like any straight guy dealing with temptation, would make it a workable, functional and healthy place for me to be. In doing so, the questions I had been afraid to ask, nevermind answer, were: What might I get from a relationship with a man that I might not get from a woman, and vice versa? And, In the process of creating a meaningful, healthy life which coincides with my values, which can I live without?

    For me, the first answer ended up being that I found that relationship with a man was meaningful and vibrant, leaving me feeling grounded and authentic, in ways which differed significantly from what I’d found with a woman. And, answering the second question, my life would have been less had I walled off any possibility of connecting in an intimate relationship with a guy.

    For me there is a difference between struggling with monogamy due solely to internal resistance to monogamy and struggling with it because the relationship is not capable of meeting a baseline need/desire for connectedness.

    My question for you is, do you share the commitment to bringing facts to the table with a client like David? I’m thinking of facts like being gay does not preclude folks from being an integral part of family- and child-friendly, stable communities. And, many productive, healthy adults have grown up in households with gay parents.

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