Anglican group hosts reparative therapy conference in London

Beginning today, the Anglican Mainstream is hosting a conference called Sex in the City in London. The speakers are Joseph Nicolosi, Jeff Satinover and Arthur Goldberg. A Christian Today article provides a description of the speakers about the content.

The Sex and the City Conference, hosted by Care and Anglican Mainstream, aims to help clergy, rabbis and psychologists among others to address issues like therapeutic approaches to same-sex attractions, mentoring the sexually broken, the sexualisation of culture, and sex and the Bible.
“We want to convey the message that change is possible,” said Joseph Nicolosi, founder of the US-based therapeutic organisation NARTH, ahead of the conference.
“Many people who have same-sex attractions are told you can’t change, it’s biologically predetermined, it’s genetically based, and that’s not true.
“After 30 or 40 years of trying to find the gay gene it has not been discovered and many people, especially young people, are being told that they don’t have a choice and that’s really tragic.
“Basically they are resigning themselves to a gay lifestyle not knowing that there are options for them.”
Nicolosi said young people were at risk of developing “self-defeating, self-destructive, maladaptive behaviours” because they were not being told of the emotional dangers of entering into homosexual relationships. He said research, including studies from within the gay community, had found that people in homosexual relationships suffer more from depression, anxiety and failed relationships than people in heterosexual relationships.

While virtually all others who write and work in the field of sexual orientation recognize that sexual orientation involves a variable mix of biological, contextual, cultural, and psychological factors, Dr. Nicolosi, Satinover and Goldberg want the world to know that there is no gay gene. Later this year, we will get more specifics about the genetics when Alan Sanders reports on his work. However, the best twin studies we have indicate around 35% heritability. Much is related to individual differences beginning in the womb. The research we have does not support the developmental scheme offered by the reparative therapists as being generally true or most or all gays. See the Reparative Therapy Information Page for more on this point.
Once formed, sexual attractions appear to be quite durable for most people. Recent research has found that brain differences between gays and straights associate with reported sexual orientation. These differences are quite large and make it clear that once formed, sexual attractions become automated. Some people spontaneously change and some seem to alter sexual responses with effort, although there is no reliable evidence that identifies the potent factors even for those changers. In any case, even if we knew the causes, we do not know that such knowledge could lead to consistent change.
Given that this conference is being sponsored by a Christian group, a related question I have is: Why is the basic message ‘change is possible?’ It seems to me that the basic message for a non-affirming group should be ‘a faithful Christian life is possible.’ Later, in the Christian Today article, Nicolosi says,

“The Christian view is to overcome your sin and if a believer believes that his homosexuality is a sin to overcome we are providing the ways with which he can overcome it.”

Surely he means behavior choice and not internal desire. Even Nicolosi acknowledges that most of his successful clients are still same-sex attracted. However, many people will read these promises and think they will hear about a way that the same-sex desires will be eliminated (overcome). This kind of confused presentation is what is so potentially damaging about these conferences and the ‘change is possible’ mantra. Many same-sex attracted people keep looking for the magic path to freedom from their desires. They drop lots of cash and time and untold emotional resources into approaches which may or may not have other benefits but which do not lead to elimination of their same-sex attractions. Many in frustration decide their religious tradition was wrong all along and leave the faith – any faith. Others keep searching and think they need to get “healed” before they can really enter life and pursue their life’s goals. In fact, what is possible is a recognition of what can and can’t be changed (or at least what is or is not within my power to change) and then pursuing a life that is congruent with one’s beliefs and values, bumps and all.

32 thoughts on “Anglican group hosts reparative therapy conference in London”

  1. How about, as a site, if we begin a fun posting about all psychotherapies (and their chief advocates) who over-promise…
    Joe N. is well documented…how does Joe Kort, do?
    What about all advocacy groups…?
    We could get a posting on Pro…Con…org.
    The “overselling” of psychology is directly related to the marketing of psychological services and requires the “pathologization” of the general public through “education.”
    Are you aware that at one point or another 50% of the population will meet the criteria for a mental illness in their lifetime?
    Does that make “mental illness” as a diagnostic category about as useful as “allergy?”

  2. Psychotherapy, GENERALLY, makes the assertion that Nicolosi makes specifically:
    “troublesome interpersonal behaviors are, in part, due to poor developmental relationships which resulted in immature development.”
    It is theoretically sound on many levels, but unprovable.
    Furthermore, it oversimplifies the client, restricts the number of treatment interventions available and focuses the client in the past….

  3. This assessment of the limitations of psychotherapy comes from a trans (female-to-male) therapist I spoke with a few years ago:

    However, I came to see that those who assumed therapy to be non-effective because its results are not scientifically measurable, were illogically assuming that everything worthwhile and effective can be assessed via science. I came to a different conclusion: that people cannot be reduced to variables that can be scientifically manipulated as one can manipulate drug dosages to determine their efficacy. If people cannot be reduced to variables in a laboratory setting then it follows that they cannot be studied using the scientific method, as manipulation of variables under controlled conditions is the very basis of that methodology.
    Taking this line of reasoning further, it occurred to me that assigning people to DSM categories is also a flawed methodology, as there is no objective testing method that can back up the categorical assignment. Assessment itself is subjective, one human being assessing another. I became disillusioned with science as applied to the therapeutic or the diagnostic process. It became clear to me that therapy and assessment is an art, rather than a science.

    It is equally clear that true consensus among APA members is a rare thing. It will be interesting to see what comes out of the task force.

  4. concerned…. people being hurt by gay affirming therapy as well, we just do not focus on these because it is not political correct to do so. The hurt that is created by saying no one can change is enormous.

    Enormous? What, why, how? Because parental units won’t accept their son is gay? Or any other relatives for that matter. I lived with that fear for much of my life only to come out to some when I was nearing 50 including my 90+ year old mother. It was somewhat anticlimatical. The rest I could care less about. Before that bit of affirmation my faith in religion tanked and isn’t ever coming back.
    If homosexuality is the problem that takes one to a therapist, I would assume the therapist should take a neutral stance, even while affirming the existing science to the patient – to wit, that a homosexual orientation does not generally have a psychological basis unless there is something in the person’s past which is eminently apparent. The idea that one goes snooping around one’s background for all the times a father might have disappointed a child and voila! there’s why your gay, now the gay will go away! – is crazy, itself. I did not go gay because my father promised to play catch with my new rubber ball, but instead, suddenly had to go pull my uncle’s bulldozer out of a ditch/pond/mud-hole that he got stuck in. Rather I got pissed.

  5. But David it is so easy and fun to criticize it globally. 🙂
    Seriously, I am skeptical of it due to the premise that if trauma are addressed via affect focused therapy then SSA is reduced. If addressing trauma reduces SSA then I am not going to quarrel with it and indeed if that result fits the clients desires then that is a good outcome.
    I am much more certain that the criticism of the global application is warranted as you suggest.

  6. Rigid therapy is often due to narrowly trained therapists who are expertly trained at one particular kind of therapy.
    Ethical guidelines require that a therapist regularly assess the effectiveness of an intervention and discontinue it, or the therapeutic relationship when it is clear that the intervention is not effective.
    We don’t need to criticize Reparative Therapy globally, we need to criticize its global application.
    Get it?

  7. Concerned – The task force will report in August, at the APA convention. I have to say that the task force has been very open to input from constructive voices so we will see what develops.

  8. There are people being hurt by gay affirming therapy as well, we just do not focus on these because it is not political correct to do so. The hurt that is created by saying no one can change is enormous.

    I am so glad this is being acknowledged and hope it continues – thank you – I know Lisa has mentioned it in her prior posts as well. No enough has been said, probably out of fear, about the harm that is caused by therapists who encourage only one option for those who would like a choice on how to respond to their same gender attractions and desires. Rarely is this side of the story told and to ignore it or pretend like it doesn’t exist is unconscionable. The pain it inflicts is long reaching and difficult to undo, if that possiblity is even left to consider.

  9. I agree Warren and I know there are therapists who cannot accept that someone would not wish to live as a gay person. There are therapists who refuse to accept that someones religious affliliation is more of a benefit to the client than harmful. There are therapists who want the client to focus only on their individual needs and to ignore the ties they have with family. There are just therapists that are more interested in pushing their own agenda on their clients than listening to the needs of the client. Unfortunately, this type of approach is not restricted to one side of the same-sex debate or the other and is also prevelant in the APA in general.
    What ever became of the tack force (stacked with gay affirming therapists) that was to report last fall on this issue?

  10. I will however agree with Lynn David to the extent that if harm is foreseeable, the risk might not be worth taking. Reparative drive theories are clearly not applicable to all those seeking congruence with faith. My biggest problem with most reparatives that I know is their unwillingness to consider any experience/evidence which does not comport well with the theory. For people with abuse histories, estranged parents, etc., reparative therapy might be beneficial even if same-sex attraction doesn’t change much. However, for people who have to torture their histories to get to the reparative narrative, I have seen significant harm done to themselves and to their families. And there is the issue of those who go through all the trauma recovery but do not lose their SSA. If they are informed that such an outcome is possible and they consent to go ahead, I suspect their let down might be more acceptible than for the person who keeps seeking more and more recovery because the SSA isn’t gone. This can be very depressing and is unnecessary.

  11. Gary Welton and I documented the decline in favorable ratings for therapists who pushed clients to affirm homosexuality in a 2006 article in Journal of Psychology and Christianity. Our sample was smallish but we got reports on over 80 therapists some of whom favored gay affirmation and others who did not and still others who were more neutral.
    Part of what led me to craft the sexual identity therapy guidelines was a growing recognition that therapy doesn’t work well when therapists push their own agenda, especially when that agenda or loyalty is directly in contrast to the client.

  12. Thank you concerned. I agree. There are people who get hurt because their therapist has too much of an opinion.

  13. Lynn,
    There are people being hurt by gay affirming therapy as well, we just do not focus on these because it is not political correct to do so. The hurt that is created by saying no one can change is enormous.

  14. Debbie Thurman…. So, let Joe approach it his way. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

    And I guess to hell with the people that get hurt along the way…..

  15. Warren, I see nothing wrong with what Nicolosi was quoted as saying in your post. You would have a very boring blog if you didn’t think change is possible in some way, regardless of what the etiology of same-sex attraction is and what mechanism one uses to change those desires or behaviors. So, let Joe approach it his way. If it works, it works, if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. Complex problem requiring more than one approach.
    Evan, it seemed to me you were rambling in your comments. For example, you cannot compare same-sex attractions or preferences to the way a person may prefer one opposite-sex person over another as if the genders were interchangeable. And gender is no mystery, save for the way our Creator intended for men and women to become “one flesh.” I’ll gladly give up my biases (convictions) when you give up yours.
    David, I thought your comments were very good. I, too, have been chagrined by the way the APA sweeps the poor efficacy of “treatments” for things like depression under the rug. They are frequently out to lunch.

  16. And the chance is not the same for everyone. Probabilites change for every person – don’t know how – but they do.

  17. But as long as you have a shrink who does not believe it – then there is no chance whatsoever.

  18. Yes, there is a chance. And it all depends on who you are, what your make up is, what your experiences are, what your religious beliefs are etc… etc…

  19. Thanks to Warren, I just skimmed through a bunch of stuff — articles, that is — and one thing that struck me was Bailey’s idea of autogynophilia. I have my problems with Bailey, and don’t want to spark a Bailey debate per se, but it seems to me that there is something to the whole issue of sexual preferences and sexual orientation, and that some “gay” men are similar to Bailey’s construct of autogynophilia, in that there are some “gay” men who are “gay” because they like anal sex — because of a sexual preference rather than an orientation (which of course includes preferences, but lots of other stuff as well).
    My gay friends (ie, men capable of close emotional/sexual bonding with men) wouldn’t say they’re gay because the like anal sex. They’re gay… and many like anal sex.
    Contrary to this, there are men who have a different relationship to homosexuality.
    It seems apparent to me that if people want to start looking at what might be involved in male sexual fluidity, these sorts of differences would be a decent place to start.
    Many people who feel strongly that some men are fluid in their sexual orientation also suspect that most of these men were “bisexual” to begin with — bisexual being yet another term covering too much….
    Anyway, the talk about sexual orientation seems incomplete without equal interest in the fetishes, sexual preferences, etc….
    Take care,

  20. It seems that where there are so many definitions for change and ex gay – then documenting that scientifically is also going to be difficult. Nonetheless, change is possible and it does happen. My statement may not be scientific but you cannot deny everyone who speaks and if there is one – then it is possible.

  21. Debbie said:

    When a Christian uses the word change, I presume he means a change of heart, an act that is accomplished through the in-working of the Holy Spirit. There is no more dramatic change in the universe. Yes, desires can change. No, they don’t always change. Only God knows why, and all the scientific research in the world will never answer that question.

    You presume Nicolosi means a change of heart, but that is not what he refers to. He says his therapy is not religious but scientific. If it is scientific, he should expect to provide scientific evidence for it. I am not sure he does mean a change of heart, since he works with all faiths and believes his methods remedy something psychological not spiritual. That you presume one thing and he another and I yet another is a great illustration of why the change is possible slogan does not do what slogans are supposed to do: Communicate the essence clearly.

  22. Debbie – You might want to go ahead and finish your comment. You forgot to say why you thought Evan’s argument was weak and unconvincing.

  23. Debbie Thurman,
    People understand their attractions in many ways to many different people. So I see no contradiction between sexual orientation being biologically set at some point and some women (and men) experiencing different feelings for different people, regardless of sex. It’s the same thing (unknown entity = orientation) being exposed to different people. A heterosexual man is not attracted to all women and a heterosexual woman to all men. It’s similarly complex for all men and women, regardless of declared orientation… And it can be different during different periods of time. This is what people may understand by fluidity. The fact that they respond differently to different contexts.
    It’s not sexual orientation that is the mystery here, it’s gender.
    So judging the degree of change is fraught with subjectivity. Change jugded against what same thing… Gender? People of the same orientation are attracted to different people of the same gender. Does that mean that they are attracted to a gender and only to that one? I think they are attracted to some people of a particular gender (and to some people they don’t want to report, maybe). So how would you judge change?
    Personally, I think it’s largely subjective. You may have to give up all biases to see that. It’s one thing to understand, and quite another to accept/refuse.

  24. Warren, I am really trying to meet you halfway here, but I do find the tone of your post a bit off-putting. I think you need to get over your problem with the word “change.” It’s not a four-letter word. “Change is possible” is a valid statement.
    When a Christian uses the word change, I presume he means a change of heart, an act that is accomplished through the in-working of the Holy Spirit. There is no more dramatic change in the universe. Yes, desires can change. No, they don’t always change. Only God knows why, and all the scientific research in the world will never answer that question.
    Your personal issues with Joe Nicolosi also seem to be bordering on the unprofessional.
    And, you contradict your earlier post about the fluidity of female sexual desires when you say, “Once formed, sexual attractions appear to be quite durable for most people.” That is a sexist statement, spoken with male bravado. Your next statement, “Recent research has found that brain differences between gays and straights associate with reported sexual orientation,” offers no enlightenment as it can’t explain which comes first, the chicken (sexual orientation”) or the egg (brain differences).

  25. Are these stats partitioned based upon gender (change is more possible for lesbians than for gays)?
    Change is possible…and there are many types of change, including change in desires.
    As with all psychological treatments the range of response to treatment varies, from complete remission, to harm. A good clinician assesses the response of his patient to any treatment.
    There are many people who do not respond completely to antidepressant therapy; a new regimen involves adding a low dose antipsychotic…
    It has always concerned me how aggressively the APA recommends all sorts of treatments and how uncritically the effectiveness rates are discussed.
    Yet, with treatment of SSA, all of the sudden there is this “rigorous analysis” of effectiveness. Well, bring it on…and broaden it to the entire profession…and apply it to that vague treatment: Gay Affirmative Therapy.

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