(First posted on August 6, 2009)
The Wall Street Journal’s Stephanie Simon has captured well the application of the APA task force sexual orientation report in an article out this morning. Of course I would say that…
The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven’t been able to shake sexual attractions to other men — impulses they believe to be immoral.
Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.
The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren’t a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.
But he also tells them they don’t have to be gay.
For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward “gay affirming” therapy — encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.
But in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical — and can be beneficial — for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions.
The APA is the largest association of psychologists world-wide, with 150,000 members. The association plans to promote the new approach to sexuality with YouTube videos, speeches to schools and churches, and presentations to Christian counselors.
According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.
But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.
While the report doesn’t use my exact words (e.g., I don’t say ‘you don’t have to be gay’), she does catch important aspects of the APA report and the stance I use within the sexual identity therapy framework. Furthermore, I don’t show the video at the same time in the same order of things to clients and then they make a decision about their direction. I do however, do extensive informed consent and answer lots of questions which involves videos and slides to answer. Thanks to Michael Bailey for those vids.
This report captures the essence of the novel findings in the APA report in contrast to the AP report which continues to present a polarized picture. For sure, as long as the dialogue around change is important to people, we keep talking past each other. However, when you look at what both sides actually claim, they are not that far apart. According to the AP report, Jones and Yarhouse are going to report over half of 61 subjects either changed or are celibate. Whatever the percentage, it is clear that change cannot be promised to clients as a predictable function of therapy or ministry. We should be able to agree about that and then place emphasis on belief and value congruence. From there, see what happens.