Keeping Focus on the Family Honest on Reparative Therapy

In a recent CBS News report on reparative therapy (sexual orientation change efforts), Focus on the Family’s Jeff Johnston was quoted in support of the practice and a link to FOTF’s website was a part of the story. I have a long history with Focus on this issue. There are some misleading statements on this page which I outline below.

Focus says:

Focus on the Family does not and has never offered sexual-orientation change therapy, also referred to as “reparative therapy.” We have licensed counselors on staff who take one-time phone calls and refer to other therapists, upon request. We also support an individual’s right to counseling for unwanted homosexuality — and the rights of counselors to offer such help.

Although technically true, Focus did recommend reparative therapy via their Love Won Out traveling ex-gay workshops from the late 1990s into the late 2000s. Reparative therapy popularizer Joe Nicolosi was the featured speaker on the origins and treatment of homosexuality. Exodus, Focus on the Family and NARTH (National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality) were the trinity of sexual orientation change efforts in the United States. Even if Focus didn’t have counselors on site who offered counseling, they promoted reparative therapy to the world in a very aggressive manner.

Focus really confuses matters in their definition of “sexual orientation change efforts.”

“Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” (SOCE) is a broad term that deals with any kind of help from a licensed mental-health professional for those with unwanted homosexuality. This is counseling, or talk therapy, to assist someone with unwanted homosexuality —whether it’s behavior, attractions or identity — to live according to their faith and values.

Focus tries to soften the meaning of the word “change.” SOCE is a broad term but it doesn’t refer to “any kind of help from a licensed mental-health professional for those with unwanted homosexuality.” Change means change. SOCE is about trying to help people change their orientation. Opponents of SOCE oppose the efforts of counselors to change orientation.

Focus confuses the issue by saying SOCE includes counseling efforts to help clients “live according to their faith and values.” That would only be SOCE if living according to one’s faith meant changing sexual orientation. However, sexual identity therapy (which is what Mark Yarhouse and I developed) helps people without focusing on orientation change as a goal. Our perspective is that clients can be assisted within their religious framework without any SOCE.

Sexual identity therapy is not SOCE. SIT is a kind of help for people who are conflicted about their sexual orientation but it isn’t SOCE. SIT does help people seek harmony within themselves without using SOCE. Focus’ description of SOCE is too broad and misleading. Focus appears to want to make this issue about religious freedom when in fact, it is about what is helpful with clients.

Focus then speculates about what isn’t allowed by a ban on SOCE.

If this therapy is banned, think about the impact this would have on minors:

A teen boy who is hooked on gay pornography — and wants to stop — could not get help from a licensed professional counselor.

A young girl who was sexually abused, and was questioning her identity, could only get help to identify as lesbian, bisexual or transgender.

A boy who wants to develop his sense of masculinity and identity could not get help to affirm his masculine identity from a state-licensed counselor.

A girl who’s involved in a same-sex relationship, but whose faith says that’s not best for her, could not get help to stop the relationship from a licensed counselor.

As worded above, SOCE is not required to address any of these situations. Laws prohibiting SOCE for minors allow for identity exploration and the treatment of sexual abuse. The laws do not forbid clients from acting in line with their religious beliefs as long as the counselor does not implement techniques designed to change a client’s sexual orientation. For instance, if a same-sex attracted teen is in a same-sex relationship but believes it is wrong, she can seek help to take steps to end it and cope with the results.

10 thoughts on “Keeping Focus on the Family Honest on Reparative Therapy”

  1. Thank you for providing clarification on what Focus on the Family has been doing and is doing in regards to SOCE, and also for helping to see better what laws banning SOCE for minors actually do and do not do.

  2. A few points about what you’ve written. 1st, you have allowed yourself to fall in to FoF’s misleading trap about SOCE. Reparative therapy (i.e. the specific treatment pushed by Nicolosi) is not the only SOCE treatment. FoF deceptively claims SOCE and reparative therapy are one and the same, so that they can imply they never tried SOCE by claiming they didn’t offer reparative therapy, even though they clearly offered other SOCE treatments and referred to reparative therapists.

    2nd, when SIT was 1st proposed (over 10 years now), it did include SOCE therapy as part of it. Certainly SIT was more than just SOCE, however, even though you have changed your views on SOCE, it was a part of SIT when you and Yarhouse 1st proposed SIT.

  3. I noticed a statement by Alan Chambers in that piece as well in which he basically said that Exodus only tried to change behavior, not orientation. This is also a deceptive statement as presented, and I was rather surprised considering Alan’s frankness about the issue since Exodus was shut down. It did include his statement about never having seen a case where someone’s orientation actually changed.

    The stuff above from FOTF is deceptive as hell and they aren’t the only one’s saying it.

    1. Re: Alan Chambers quote. The article doesn’t say when he made that quote. I.e. they may be taking the quote from some time ago (i.e. before Chambers actually shutdown exodus) rather than having actually interviewed him for the article.

      1. It was in the video interview and definitely after shutdown. Again, considering how frank he has been since the shutdown, I’m willing to consider it was an editing issue. I’m just very sensitive to the way that comes across no matter what the reason. It was a major point of the whole deception of Exodus, both internal and external.

        1. You are right, I didn’t actually watch the video. I just know that Exodus (and many other orgs that pushed SOCE), changed how it presented itself as the science against SOCE (and about the factors that determine orientation) became harder and harder to refute.

    2. Exodus themselves was not engaged in changing anybody’s orientation, but they were promoting SOCE practitioners like NARTH, and Chambers admitted it.

      1. Not so. The major study of ex-gays during that period was done with Exodus participants. They didn’t do reparative therapy per se but they did try to use religion to change orientation. Remember the slogan: Change is Possible.

        1. Oh yeah. The 2001 Spitzer’s study with most of its participants were affiliated with Exodus and its kind. I certainly remember their slogan and that they never could clarify what it really meant.

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