Psychoanalyst disavows study of lesbians; questions the Bieber study

Reparative therapists consider the 1962 Bieber study to be a landmark investigation of the psychodynamics of male homosexuality. The study authors claimed to find evidence for the role of weak, distant fathers and overly protective mothers in the development of homosexuality in their patients. They also claimed that 27% of the patients in the study were cured of their homosexuality.

Four years later, in 1967, a companion study on lesbians was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry. Using the same methodology and one of the same co-authors (Cornelia Wilbur), the Society for Medical Psychoanalysis sought to explore the factors involved in the causing and curing lesbians. The lead author of that study was psychoanalyst Harvey Kaye.

Today, I talked to Dr. Kaye and asked him about his study and what he thought about his findings now. At the time, Kaye’s team reported that the fathers of lesbians were puritanical and discouraged sex play with boys (sounds like evangelical dads). Generally, Kaye’s team put the spotlight on the fathers rather than mothers. Kaye’s group also reported that 50% of the lesbian clients were significantly changed via psychoanalysis.

Today, in conversation with me, Dr. Kaye discredited his results.

“I disavow the validity of the study,” Kaye said. “I don’t agree now with what we wrote.”

He added, “Frankly, I haven’t the vaguest idea what causes homosexuality in men or women, although I lean toward intrauterine events.”

Kaye explained that he has treated numerous gays and lesbians and that his experiences had influenced his current views.

About Irving Bieber’s views on the origins of male homosexuality, Kaye said, “I disagree with Bieber’s views violently. He was one of the last ones to hold on to the idea of the role of the mother and father.” Referring to Bieber’s methodology of relying on the reports of psychoanalysts, Kaye said, “He knew what he wanted to find before he did his study.”

The Kaye study is one of the psychoanalytic reports referenced in NARTH’s review of past research on change of orientation. The introduction to the review says:

In the clinical and scholarly literature over the past 125 years, mental health professionals document many different ways to assist men and women to successfully change from a homosexual to a heterosexual orientation. (NARTH, 2009, p. 19)

The NARTH report then briefly describes Kaye’s 1967 article:

Kaye et al. (1967) sent 26-page surveys to more than 150 psychoanalysts who saw homosexual women in their practice, and received back 24 completed surveys. Eight of the 15 cases that were reported to be in the “homosexual range” (Kinsey scores of 4-6) at the onset of treatment had shifted to a Kinsey score of 0 (exclusively heterosexual) either at termination of treatment or when the analyst filled out the survey. Kaye et al. concluded, “Apparently at least 50% of them can be helped by psychoanalytic treatment” (p. 633). (NARTH, 2009, 23)

Or not.

Dr. Kaye’s current evaluation throws more doubt on NARTH’s methodology of reporting old research as “historically state of the art” (NARTH, 2009, 37). There is reason to question that allowing psychoanalysts to fulfill their own prophecies was ever state of the art. In any case, Dr. Kaye’s candor is one of many reasons to remain skeptical of the 125 years of research trusted by NARTH.

No Date Set for Uganda's Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Yesterday, I reported that the Parliament of Uganda voted to return unfinished bills from the Eighth Session to business in the current session. One of those bills specifically referenced was the Anti-Homosexuality Bill.
This morning I spoke with Parliament Spokeswoman, Helen Kawesa, who told me that no date had been set for debate on the anti-gay measure. “The Business Committee will meet to decide what bills are considered. Then they will be listed on the daily Order Paper,” Kawesa explained. The Business Committee is chaired by Speaker of the House Rebecca Kadaga and made up of all other committee chairs. Currently, no date has been set for this committee to consider a schedule for the bills returned from the Eighth Parliament.
I also spoke briefly to Stephen Tashobya, chair of the Legal and Parliamentary Affairs committee. His committee prepared a report on the Anti-Homosexuality Bill in May and recommended passage with some minor changes. He had no comment on the status of the anti-gay bill since he has been traveling.
According to Kawesa, the Business committee could recommend that the anti-gay bill go back to committee or it could recommend that the former committee report become the basis for debate in the Parliament. Apparently, the return of the bill to the floor is not automatic. The Speaker has some ability to delay it or expedite it. The decision of the Business committee may signal how quickly the bill will move.
The committee report from Tashobya’s committee left the severe aspects of the bill intact, including the death penalty and life in prison (see an analysis here).

Uganda's Parliament continues Anti-Homosexuality Bill

Here it is. I thought it would be back, just didn’t know when.
Here is a little more from Melanie Nathan.
Today’s Order Paper contained the motion:

Mover:    Hon. Sarah Mpabwa, UPDF Representative
Seconder:    Hon. Ayena Krispus, MP Oyam North (UPC)

I will have an update later today or tomorrow.

What if NARTH was a scientific organization?

Yesterday, I pointed out that most members of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) are not mental health professionals or scientists. Even though the name of the organization promotes research and therapy, three-fourths of the members are not trained or credentialed to do either activity.
Despite the constituency of the group, NARTH is promoted by religiously conservative groups as a scientific organization. One example of this is an appearance in July of this year by NARTH President Julie Hamilton on Washington Watch Weekly, a radio program of the Family Research Council. FRC has taken a lot of heat, from me included, about the information they disseminate about sexual orientation. Some of that criticism should also be directed at the sources of their misinformation. As this interview illustrates, one such source is NARTH.
Tony Perkins sets up the interview by referring to the then current controversy over Marcus Bachmann’s counseling clinic and the allegations that he provides reparative therapy. Then he gets to the interview:

There’s a bigger agenda here. They [gay advocates] want to discredit anything that has to do with Christianity. But there’s something even more troubling here. And what they are doing is that they are trying to discredit a type of therapy that’s based on scientific research and that’s why I’ve invited my next guest to join me. Dr. Julie Hamilton is the President of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, or NARTH. NARTH is a professional scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted same-sex attraction. They’re not a Christian organization per se, they are focused on the science to help people who want to escape the lifestyle of homosexuality. Dr. Hamilton is also featured by the FRC’s new documentary, The Problem with Same-Sex Marriage and you can find out more about that at

After the introduction, he gets to the bottom line:

Perkins: It’s no surprise to us that faith based counseling is under attack but what does the scientific research say about sexual orientation and an individual’s ability to change it?
Hamilton: The research is clear that people are not simply born gay and that people can change in the area of their sexual orientation.

After some conversation about client self-determination, the interview returns to what research says about change therapy.

Perkins: Now in the wake of this attack on Congresswoman Bachmann and her husband Marcus, we see a number of quote-unquote experts, counselors parade out on cable networks, and I’ve not seen, it’s certainly not a debate, it’s one-sided and they’ve all said, ‘well, all of this type of counseling, the reparative therapy, the idea that people can come out of the lifestyle, that’s been disproven, it’s been rejected and that is harmful and should not be allowed.’
Hamilton: Ok, that’s simply not true. What’s missing from the discussion is what research really reveals. Recently, NARTH releases a landscape survey and an analysis of 125 years of data. So basically we looked back 125 years of case studies, reports and research studies looking to answer the question, is change possible? And what we found is that over the last 125 years, change of sexual orientation has been documented in the scientific literature. And so we know looking at that that for years it has been clear, and even in the recent studies it has been very clear, that people can and do change in the area of behavior as well as attraction. So, and the other thing that we looked at in our landscape review was whether or not change attempts were harmful. And we found very clearly that there is no established report of harm to individuals that therapy tends to be more helpful to people and that it is not a harmful thing. There’s no, and even the American Psychological Association did admit in a report in 2009 that there is not enough evidence to claim that it’s harmful.

There is a lot wrong with Hamilton’s defense of change therapy. First, she glosses over the fact that even the most charitable reading of studies of orientation change find that most participants aren’t successful. Second, she cites the NARTH review which dismisses the flaws in the studies conducted over those 125 years of research. In the NARTH review, George Rekers is cited and we now know the rest of the story about his failed research on gender variance and his own personal issues. The work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson is cited despite the fact that none of Masters’ co-workers have come forward to say they ever saw any of the conversion therapy clients claimed by Masters. Even Masters’ wife and co-author, Virginia Johnson had questions about the existence of the conversion cases.
Some therapists who produced case studies of cure simply made up the cases (e.g., Cornelia Wilbur in collaboration with journalist Flora Schreiber). Many of those old studies were aversive therapy studies where electric shock was used to provide pain in association with same-sex attraction. While some people reported changes, there is very little follow up to find out if they remained changed or simply adapted to the shocks. These methods were discontinued for ethical reasons. NARTH continues to tout studies of approaches no one uses now to bolster their claims. I could go on, but I’ll stop after I note that Hamilton did not mention the studies that find minimal or no change, like the Edification study where the same-sex attracted member of mixed orientation marriages reported no change in attraction on average.
What if NARTH’s representatives disclosed the problems with the research in their public statements? What if they were candid and reported that some of the old studies are flawed to the degree that they cannot be used? What if these representatives disclosed that many of those who report change continue to be attracted to the same sex? Or also mentioned that some studies find no change? What if the differences in results for men and women were disclosed? Or the existence of bisexuality was included in the discussion of what the reported changes mean? What if they reported data from studies discrediting reparative therapy?
Can you imagine a 125-year landscape review of autism or childhood schizophrenia produced in the manner NARTH touts its survey? NARTH reps would be on the radio bringing back cold, distant refrigerator mothers as the cause.
It is possible that groups like the Parents Action League, ACPEDS, and Defend the Family International (Scott Lively) could find some other way to promote their views, but if NARTH was a scientific organization it wouldn’t be NARTH.

NARTH is not primarily composed of mental health professionals

Last week, the Family Research Council promoted the annual conference of the National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, touting the group as “one of the best sources of information about homosexuality.” In the description of NARTH, the FRC claimed that NARTH is “primarily composed of psychiatrists, psychologists, and other professional therapists and counselors who offer ‘sexual reorientation therapy’ to help people overcome unwanted same-sex attractions.”
However, this is not accurate. NARTH is not composed primarily of mental health professionals. Actually, according to NARTH’s operations director, David Pruden, only about 250 of NARTH’s approximately 1000 members are mental health professionals. Furthermore, some of those 250 members who have mental health degrees are academics who write about sexuality but do not provide sexual reorientation therapy. Thus, the lion’s share of NARTH’s members consist of lay people, ministers, and activists who have an interest in the materials provided by NARTH but are not scientists or therapists.
By comparison, the American Psychological Association has 150,000 members. All mental health groups are by far much larger than NARTH. I suspect most, if not all, state chapters of these groups are larger than NARTH.
The influence of NARTH comes from the fact that religiously conservative groups like FRC recommend the organization and refer to it as a counterpart to the established organizations. However, in the mental health marketplace, NARTH is not attracting members or supporters. Given the fact that 75% of the members have no professional or scientific credentials, it seems more accurate to consider NARTH to be an advocacy group with some like-minded mental health professionals as members, rather than a scientific group.
This impression is reinforced by the fact that two prime speakers at next week’s convention in Phoenix are not scientists at all, but anti-gay activists. Sharon Slater will speak in a session about her work with United Nations’ countries, especially in Africa and the Middle East, which aims to keep laws on the books criminalizing homosexuality. Then, following Slater, will be Michael Brown who is a minister. Read this post for more about these individuals.
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