York, PA paper examines faith, sexuality and APA report

The York Daily Record ran a story in the September 6 print edition and then online on the 8th which examined the American Psychological Association report as well as the Jones and Yarhouse study. The article by Melissa Nann Burke included interviews from local Exodus ministries as well. Some good things here…

The men and women who come to Dan Keefer with moral distress about being gay or bisexual often seek to change because their sexual attractions conflict with their religious beliefs.

Keefer, who works at the Christian counseling center Day Seven Ministries in Lancaster, tells the men he can’t “turn them straight,” but he can help them work toward a way of living that’s congruent with their faith, he said.

“We approach it from the angle that ‘there’s hope for you,'” Keefer said.

Efforts might include choosing celibacy, learning to resist sexual urges or viewing the struggle as a way to draw closer to God. Some even go on to marry, Keefer said.

Note that hope and belief congruence are not mutually exclusive. One does not need to promote change as a means to instill hope for a value congruent life.

About the congruence model, Burke continues

For years, such an approach departed from the trend in counseling that encouraged clients to affirm their gay identities and embrace their sexuality.

That was troubling for counselors such as Dr. Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at a Christian college in Mercer County.

He encouraged the 150,000-member American Psychological Association to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it transcends sexual orientation.

“A number of us said many evangelicals are never going to affirm this. Is there any guidance for those of us dealing with them?” said Throckmorton, who teaches at Grove City College.

In a significant departure, the APA last month said it’s ethical for mental health professionals to help some people reject their same-sex urges. Indeed, it can be beneficial.

The association said counselors should explain that homosexuality isn’t a mental or developmental disorder and that there’s insufficient evidence that therapy can change sexual orientation.

I agree with the APA that some harm can come from reparative therapy.

Concerns about so-called “reparative therapy” prompted the two-year study by a task force of academics and counselors, who noted that efforts to produce change could be harmful and induce depression or suicidal tendencies.

Throckmorton said he’s worked with clients who did find harm in “change” therapies — most notably broken familial relationships.

“My particular concern is psychologists who tell people they have homosexual tendencies because of bad parenting,” he said. “I’ve worked with families who’ve been ripped apart over this.”

Here is a rather candid statement by an Exodus affiliated person:

One group that promotes the possibility of change is Exodus International, a network of ministries whose message is “freedom from homosexuality through the power of Jesus Christ.”

In the midstate, visitors to Exodus’ Web site might be referred to Tim Winters of Elizabethtown, a lay member at Hope Community Church near Mount Joy.

“The official stance of the people at these Web sites is that they’ve changed forever. Officially, they’ll say that you turn and stay turned, and you’ve gone on to another plane. But in reality, that’s not a lot of people that happens to,” Winters said.

“You can’t say a magic prayer and make it go away. I’ve known many gay people who have walked away from the lifestyle. But it’s behavioral modification. It’s choosing to do one thing over another.”

While I wouldn’t use the term “lifestyle” to refer to gay identification, I do believe I get what this man is saying. He is describing what the APA described as “sexual orientation identity” which does change and reflects what the APA called “telic congruence.”

The quote from the psychologist indicates where the ongoing work is needed now that the work of the APA task force is complete.

Dr. Elizabeth Revell, a psychologist in Hellam Township, said she probably wouldn’t work with a client who asked her to help him shunt his sexuality to the side.

“Mine is a more gay-affirming approach. If the person says I don’t want to be gay or lesbian, I don’t do those therapies,” she said.

“The concern I have with the ‘re-orientation therapies’ is they start out by promising something (change), instead of listening to what the person’s saying they need.”

Why wouldn’t she work with the client? Because she is gay-affirming. This woman should refer to another counselor in those situations. She seems to conflate “re-orientation therapies” with what the APA recommends. I wonder if she has read the report?

The article concludes with more from Jones and Yarhouse.

Jones said the task force overlooked noteworthy research suggesting otherwise. He and a colleague last month presented a study that followed people trying to change their sexual orientation through Exodus International programs.

Jones and Mark A. Yarhouse, a psychologist at Regent University, concluded that sexual orientation may be “changable for some;” however, those in the study who reported a change to heterosexuality stipulated they weren’t without homosexual arousal.

The study also concluded that concerns over the likely harm caused by re-orientation therapy to be overstated.

“We don’t know what causes (same-sex attractions). We don’t know what the probabilities are of change. It’s a very complex situation,” Jones said.

“We ought to be a lot more hesitant about making assertions about scientific conclusions.”

With all due respect to Stanton, I think the APA report was cautious. The task force concluded that the evidence was insufficient to recommend that therapists tell clients will change with therapy. Actually, given their study, I think the APA pessimism is warranted. Where are the controlled studies showing levels of change (not satisfaction) is likely? Their study did not provide a control group which would allow an examination of the role of spontaneous change.

(PS – to readers, it seems that the end of this post was truncated by the blog software. I am looking in to where it went.)

8 thoughts on “York, PA paper examines faith, sexuality and APA report”

  1. I think the APA pessimism is warranted. Where are the controlled studies showing levels of change (not satisfaction) is likely?

    I give, Warren. Where are they?

  2. And some persons have also reported positive results from reorientation therapies.


    Timothy: Are you talking about published studies or anecdotal reports? How do these persons describe the “positive results”? Did they report that they had changed their sexual reorientation? Or did they mean some other sort of postive change?

  3. “Mine is a more gay-affirming approach. If the person says I don’t want to be gay or lesbian, I don’t do those therapies,” she said.

    I don’t either. Is there somewhere a therapist could go to learn how to do the “other” approach? By that I mean the approach that helps a client refrain from all gay sex, that supports the clien’ts belief that homosexuality is broken and sinful, and that helps a client build a non-gay identity?

    What if the client was a Christian and wanted my help to renounce Christ and become Atheist — and I were a also Christian? Do I help him do it? How do I help him do it? Am I professionally obligated to help him do it? Must I help a client do something that is contrary to my own deeply held values?

    Or for example, should a devoutly Chgristian, Bible-believing therapist (one who believes that folks who persist in “homosexual sin” are thereby placing themselves in eternal danger) help a gay client affirm his gayness? To improve his gay sex life? Is the therapist obligated to do so?

    I agree with Dr. Revell. There is nothing unethical about telling a client what you can — and cannot do. Sometimes, the most therapeutic thing to do is to refer. But where?

  4. -L-

    I suspect the professor was relying on Shidlo and Schroeder’s 2001 paper in which they found that many reorientation patients reported that were harmed by the process. This has also been confirmed by anecdotal evidence through ex-ex-gay individuals and groups.

    While Shidlo and Schroeder are important, at this point we have to consider that they did not identify which methods caused harm and which did not. Nor does it, or the anecdotal reports, provide data to allow us to know, on average, the severity of harm, the lasting impact, or the exact nature of the harm.

    This area is one in which one should be cautious.

    I think it is clear that some people within reorientation therapy have experienced harm and to me it’s easy to see how such harm might even be endemic to the entire process. After all, reparative therapy (the basis for most reorientation therapy) relies for its central core on pitting the patient against his parents in a blame game.

    But we shouldn’t assume that this is always the case. And some persons have also reported positive results from reorientation therapies.

  5. What a well written article. Accurate and succinct expression of each party’s position along with the likely flaws without being obviously biased.

  6. Thanks for this one, Warren. It’s forthright, candid, honest, realistic and not overblown or sensationalized. It’s nice to have a topic that isn’t focussed on a problem.

  7. I look forward to reading the report based on your discussion, Warren.

    This post reminds me of an exchange I had during medical school with a lecturer during the sexuality unit who spent considerable effort emphasizing that reorientation therapy of any kind was unethical and was proven to harm patients. I asked him for the data, which he could not provide. He eventually referred me to a dated statement from the APA which substantially differed from the way he paraphrased, but when I pointed that out there was no response to the e-mail (and definitely no clarification to the class as a whole). I suspect that the current generation of medical students are being strongly indoctrinated with a politically motivated view that is not evidence-based.

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