Blog Theme: Sexual Identity Therapy – Interview with Mark Yarhouse

I released the advocacy film “I Do Exist” in July 2004. It was supposed to be a documentary style account of five former gays who had become straight through religious means. I showed the film at a conference of change therapists in November of that same year to great fanfare. It was shown all over the world, but ultimately it was not an accurate portrayal of reality for at least 4 of the participants. Gradually over the next couple of years, I became aware of that and stopped selling the video in early 2007.

My experience with “I Do Exist” drove me back to the research on change and sexual orientation. After realizing that I had been moving in the wrong direction with my earlier claims, I  became a critic of reparative therapy. I chronicled that change on this blog from the beginning in July 2005. All of the posts on reparative therapy and sexual orientation change efforts in general would take hours to review. That story is summarized in this Yahoo News account by Jon Ward.

However, I did not simply criticize change therapy, I wanted to find an alternative for people who struggled morally with their sexual orientation. In 2005, I began a process of developing a framework to help guide therapists who worked with religious clients conflicted by their sexual orientation. Right away, I asked Mark Yarhouse to collaborate. By 2006, we came out with the sexual identity therapy framework. Mark and I discuss that story in this interview.

Of the two of us, Mark has been the prolific writer and researcher. His book Sexual Identity and Faith contains applications of the SIT framework and I recommend it for that purpose. I have multiple posts about the framework on the blog and those can be found here.

In addition to talking over our work together, Mark describes his more recent work with Revoice and gender identity. Thanks to Mark for taking time to reminisce.

Dr. Mark Yarhouse is a clinical psychologist who specializes in conflicts tied to religious identity and sexual and gender identity. He assists people who are navigating the complex relationship between their sexual or gender identity and Christian faith. He is the Dr. Arthur P. and Mrs. Jean May Rech Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College, where he runs the Sexual and Gender Identity (SGI) Institute. He is an award-winning teacher and researcher. He was a past participant with the Ethics and Public Policy Center think tank in Washington, DC, and he was named Senior Fellow with the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities to conduct a study of students navigating sexual identity concerns at Christian colleges and universities. He has been a consultant to the National Institute of Corrections to address issues facing sexual minorities in corrections, and he was part of a consensus panel from the American Psychological Association on sexual orientation and gender identity change efforts that convened to provide input to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in Washington, DC.  He is currently the Chair of the task force on LGBT issues for Division 36 (Psychology of Religion and Spirituality) of the American Psychological Association. He was also invited to write the featured white paper on sexual identity for the Christ on Campus Initiative edited by Don Carson for The Gospel Coalition.

He has published over 80 peer-reviewed journal articles and book chapters and is author or co-author of several books, including Understanding Sexual Identity: A Resource for Youth Ministers and Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture. His most recent books are Sexual Identity & Faith and Costly Obedience: Listening to and Learning from Celibate Gay Christians. (this is the book where the celibacy research is reported)

3 thoughts on “Blog Theme: Sexual Identity Therapy – Interview with Mark Yarhouse”

  1. I just finished watching the entire interview, and here is my reflection.

    It appears that Mark is a very nice guy who as a professional psychologist respects different experiences of different people in terms of what they consider as a change in their sexual identity. While discussing Spitzer’s study, it comes across to me that Mark has a very abstract view to a question asked by this study whether people can change their sexual orientation. This is just my observation of the video, since I don’t know Mark personally, and I could be wrong about him. Spitzer and even Warren, especially after learning that 4 or 5 people from I Do Exist resumed their gay identities, appeared to embrace a more definite position that gays can never change. Even if this is the case, I don’t see a problem for people to learn good heterosexual functioning if such people want to have a traditional marriage with biological children according to their beliefs. I wonder why Warren and Mark never mentioned what triggered Spitzer to make his study disappear, which was his encounter with a man named Gabriel Arana, who claimed that he was a patient of a conversion therapy but felt harmed by it. Yet, they do mention the people of I Do Exist, one of whom was Noah Gutierez. Still, their experiences resonate with one another.

    I don’t understand why should we consider someone like Noah as speaking with authority on whether people can change. To me, it’s just his experience. I am not an expert in psychology thus I cannot speak professionally about this, but as someone who reads the Bible, I can tell that there is a lot of temptation in this world to commit various sins, including the practice of homosexuality, and we as humans can so easily yield to such temptations, unlike Jesus. I read how Noah was blaming exgay ministries for his failure to be obedient to God. It tells me that we are all fragile souls who are constantly failing to live to God’s expectations, thus the failure (if we can call it a failure) of I Do Exist can teach us that we need Jesus in our life more than ever.

    I also don’t understand why after learning that people from I Do Exist turned out not what Warren expected them to be, he started blaming not only particular people in the exgay industry but all social conservative pastors and thinkers and even Republican politicians. It appears that Warren’s disillusionment with I Do Exist, which is not his fault, became a catalyst to this everlasting irrational online tirade against everything and everybody that is conservative.

    I find this to be very strange.

  2. A couple of quick questions:

    1) in the interview he mentions studies he has done on celibacy. Was any of that published? if so do you have any cites?

    2) Warren, where you the person who coined the phrase: “spouso-sexual”?

  3. I have a lot of comments on this one 🙂

    I wanted to start with the Spitzer study. I agree Spitzer didn’t need to “recall” the study, it wasn’t flawed in a way that would require that. He was very clear on what he did and his results. However, his clarification as to how he misunderstood the extent to which “ex-gays” could fool themselves and others as to the changes in their orientation was important.

    Both sides of the argument misused his study. One side claimed “Spitzer says our therapy works!” (not what he said). The other “Spitzer shows change almost never happens” (again not what he said). And ignored what he really said which was it may be possible, however, we need more research. His study was a lot like Hooker’s original study, in that both were simply attempting to disprove a rule about gays. “If you are gay you are mentally disordered”, “If you are gay you can’t ever become straight.”

    While Hooker’s work spawned a lot of other research, Mark Yarhouse and Stanton Jones were the only 2 researchers I know of who actually did any sort of follow up to the Spitzer study.

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