Homophobic therapies: Documenting the damage

The following comes from a More Light Presbyterian newsletter dated May, 1996. It is apparently a copy of what was to be sent to More Light supporters, either via email or print or both. In light of our discussions about the Jones and Yarhouse study, bias, and the recruitment of participants, I thought it would provide context to include the call for participants used by Shidlo and Schroeder for their study of harm from change therapies. This was sent to numerous gay affiliated groups looking for participants.


Homophobic Therapies: Documenting the Damage

The National Lesbian & Gay Health Association is sponsoring an investigation of the outcomes of so-called treatments of the so-called disorder of homosexuality. Here’s their press release:

Did you know that counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists still attempt to treat **homosexuality** as a **disorder**?

Did you know that currently there is an organized association of psychologists/psychiatrists who meet yearly to develop new **”conversion treatments”** for homosexuality?

Did you know that countless “gay recovery” programs exist through the United States, yet these programs refuse to publish their data on treatment outcomes?

We are currently attempting to research the outcomes of these so-called treatments of the so-called disorder of homosexuality. Our purpose is to document the damage which we believe occurs when a gay or lesbian client encounters “psychological help” from a homophobic treatment program or provider. Despite the American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association’s stance that homosexuality is *not* a disorder, there continue to be professionals and organizations who foster the belief that homosexuality is a learned and reparable emotional illness.

You can help make this research possible. If you know of any individuals who have experienced such a program and are willing to talk about it anonymously and confidentially, please refer them to our project. We can interview them either in person or by telephone.

You can be of help in the long process of getting the message out that these “conversion” therapies don’t work and do the opposite of healing *by informing your lesbian/gay/bi communities of our search for participants to be interviewed.* Please announce our project in any upcoming lesbian and gay community meetings and spread the word. **Help Us Document the Damage!** — Drs. Michael Schroeder & Ariel Shidlo, Co-Researchers, 412 6th Ave., Suite 602, New York, NY 10011, 212-353-2558, gayconvert@aol.com

Debate continues on the Jones-Yarhouse study of sexual orientation

Although only one mainstream newspaper has picked up the Exodus study, blogosphere is providing some dialogue. A particularly civil exhange can be found on BoxTurtleBulletin. Stanton Jones has gotten involved as well…

InterVarsity Press to Publish Research on Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation

Here is the official announcement of the release of research regarding religiously mediated changes in aspects of sexual orientation. Conducted by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, this study will likely influence the discussion of this topic for quite some time. Next week will be a big week in Nashville with the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference, the Exodus Regional Conference and several other events around town. Watch the blog for more information and events.


InterVarsity Press to Publish Controversial Research

Westmont, IL — In September, InterVarsity Press will publish the results of a longitudinal study conducted by researchers Stanton L. Jones (Wheaton College) and Mark A. Yarhouse (Regent University). Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation directly addresses two of the most contentious and disputed questions of our day—Is change of sexual orientation possible? and Is the attempt to change harmful?—and the findings of the study appear to contradict the commonly expressed views of the mental health establishment. InterVarsity Press will hold a press conference at the American Association of Christian Counselors (AACC) World Conference on September 13, 2007, in Nashville, Tennessee, to announce the results of this study.

In a joint statement, Jones and Yarhouse explain the reasoning for their research: “We are evangelical Christians committed to the truth-seeking activity of science. In conducting and reporting this study, we took seriously the words of one of our heroes, C. S. Lewis, who said that science produced by Christian persons would have to be ‘perfectly honest. Science twisted in the interests of apologetics would be sin and folly.’ ”

Stanton Jones is provost and professor of psychology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. He is a member of the American Psychological Association and served on the Council of Representatives, the central governing body of the APA, representing the Psychology of Religion division from 1999-2001. He has published many other professional and popular articles and books, including Modern Psychotherapies, coauthored with Richard E. Butman.

Mark Yarhouse is professor of psychology and director of the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity (www.sexualidentityinstitute.org) at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia, where he has taught since 1998. He has written extensively for professional publications and has authored several books, including Modern Psychopathologies, coauthored with Richard E. Butman and Barrett W. McRay, and Sexual Identity Synthesis, coauthored with Erica S. N. Tan.

The InterVarsity Press book, scheduled to be published in September 2007, is the most scientifically rigorous study of its kind to date, and uses multiple measures regarded as “industry standards.” Knowing their results would generate controversy, Jones and Yarhouse have thoroughly described the rationale for their procedures. George A. Rekers, Professor of Neuropsychiatry and Behavioral Science Emeritus at the University of South Carolina School of Medicine, states that the study “meets the high research standards set by the American Psychological Association that individuals be validly assessed, followed and reported over time with a prospective, longitudinal outcome research design.” The study will set the standard for all future work in this field and demands a serious reading from social scientists. Publisher Bob Fryling comments, “In a highly politicized environment, this book is another ‘inconvenient truth’ of scientific research data countering prejudice and ignorance.”

Founded in 1947 as an extension of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA, InterVarsity Press serves those in the university, the church and the world by publishing thoughtful Christian books that equip and encourage people to follow Jesus as Savior and Lord in all of life.


American Association of Christian Counselors Conference

September 13, 2007

Opryland Hotel

2800 Opryland Drive

Nashville, TN 37214

Room: Jackson E/F 3:30 p.m. Central Standard Time


PRINT: Heather Mascarello, 630.734.4012, hmascarello@ivpress.com

ELECTRONIC: Heather Mascarello, 630.734.4013, kkcarnet@ivpress.com

Although results of the research are embargoed until the press conference, my endorsement of the book is as follows:

Can some motivated people alter aspects of their sexuality through religious ministry? With the publication of Ex-Gays? A Longitudinal Study of Religiously Mediated Change in Sexual Orientation, Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse have produced the most rigorous study to date to address this question. Knowing their results would generate controversy, the authors have thoroughly described the rationale for their procedures. While the authors fully acknowledge that change in sexual attractions did not occur for some individuals, they offer cogent and compelling reasons to believe that participation in religious ministry resulted in durable changes for others. The Jones and Yarhouse study will set the standard for all future work in this field and demands a serious reading from social scientists. For anyone interested in the study of sexuality, values and human change, this book is a must read.

Neuroimaging study differentiates gay and straight males

It must be Bailey week here on the blog. I am reporting here on a study done in his lab led by Northwestern undergraduates Adam Safron and Ben Barch. The study titled: “Neural Correlates of Sexual Arousal in Homosexual and Heterosexual Men” was published in the April, 2007 edition of Behavioral Neuroscience.

Dr. Bailey described this study at the December conference at Catholic University. Essentially, brain scans demonstrate that activation in the brains of gay and straight men differ in response to sexual images. The abstract reads:

Men exhibit much higher levels of genital and subjective arousal to sexual stimuli containing their preferred sex than they do to stimuli containing only the nonpreferred sex. This study used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to investigate how this category-specific pattern would be reflected in the brains of homosexual (n = 11) and heterosexual (n = 11) men. Comparisons of activation to preferred sexual stimuli, nonpreferred sexual stimuli, and sports stimuli revealed large networks correlated with sexual arousal, spanning multiple cortical and subcortical areas. Both homosexual and heterosexual men exhibited category-specific arousal in brain activity. Within the amygdala, greater preference-related activity was observed in homosexual men, but it is unclear whether this is a cause or a consequence of their sexuality. In a subsequent analysis of regions hypothesized to support arousal, both participant groups demonstrated widespread increases in evoked activity for preferred stimuli. Aggregate data from these regions produced significant differences between stimulus types in 16 out of 22 participants. Significant activational differences matched reported sexual orientation in 15 of these 16 participants, representing an advance in psychophysiological measures of arousal.

At the Catholic University conference, Bailey showed videos of the collective response of men to preferred sexual images compared to neutral images and the results were striking. There was lots of activation with preferred sexual images (gay men to men and straight men to women) and next to nothing with non-preferred imagery. Here is his description of the scans:

And what I’m going to show you next is a movie. It’s a quick movie of somebody’s brain activity while he watches — well, it’s a contrast, actually — preferred stimuli minus neutral. So, this study has both gay men and straight men, and this is the way their brain reacts when they see their preferred sexual stimuli, which, for a straight man, would be women, for gay man would be men, against watching neutral things like — actually, our neutral stimuli here are people playing sports.

And the thing to pay attention to, these hot colors mean that preferred is activating the brain more than neutral, these cold colors mean that neutral stimuli is activating the brain more than preferred. Doesn’t really — just look at all the — you’re going to see a lot of colors like this. Okay? …did you see all those bright colors there? That is a big, big, bold brain reaction to preferred stimuli. The brain really likes seeing preferred sexual stimuli, in men.

Safron et al

Okay. So, the next one is the same sort of thing, except now what you’re going to see is nonpreferred stimuli, so this would be a straight man looking at nude men, and a gay man looking at nude women. Okay? Look how different it looks.

Were all subjects congruent with their self-reports? No, one subject, “Participant 16” demonstrated activation to same-sex imagery but his self-report was heterosexual.

Participant 16 showed unusually positive evaluations for nonpreferred stimuli. This participant, a self-reported heterosexual, had 10 instances in which he gave positive evaluations to nonpreferred stimuli, whereas other heterosexual men averaged 0.6 positive evaluations. He also tended to give less negative evaluations for nonpreferred stimuli compared with other heterosexual men (the percentages rated “strongly dislike” were 48% and 66%, respectively). Furthermore, he rated preferred stimuli less positively compared with other heterosexual men (the percentages rated “strongly like” were 46% and 82%, respectively).

Was participant 16 bisexual? In denial? Bothered by the procedure? Hard to tell. Dr. Bailey thinks his erotic preferences were really same-sex but his self-concept straight. In practice, who knows? In theory, someone like this could experience attractions to the same sex and process those attractions in a manner that would not lead to a self-attribution of being gay. To me, this highlights one interpretive issue with research like this. Clearly, brain reactions were different associated with sexual orientation differences – and before the person was very aware of the stimuli. However, humans may make a variety of meanings of the same brain activity. This research can tell us what brains are doing but not exactly what it means to any given individual.

Another issue of some import to me as Dr. Bailey and I collaborate to apply this technology with ex-gays is the difficulty some religious participants will have viewing nude pictures. We will need to discuss how what the brain might do with mixed feelings about participation and where that state might show up on the scan. And we might need to have another set of pics to view.

APA sexual identity therapy symposium

APA conference

The symposium went well with about 130 in attendance. Here are my power point and notes that were distributed. Later, after I get permission from the other presenters, I will post their slides as well.

APA symposium

In the picture below, Lee Beckstead and I are fielding a question; Mark Yarhouse is trying to get us off stage so the man on the left can start his presentation. APA symposium

Above, from left to right, are Mark Yarhouse, Erica Tan and yours truly. Lee had to run off to another session. Thanks to each of the presenters and especially Mark and Lee for organizing the symposium.

Sexual identity therapy and neutrality, Part two

In this second post about therapeutic neutrality, I want to discuss what it does and doesn’t mean in sexual identity therapy. Again, I want to react to some of the thoughts from Dr. Nicolosi in his article, Why I Am Not a Neutral Therapist.

Dr. Nicolosi writes:

What will happen when the uncommitted (“neutral”) therapist hears his client revealing self-destructive behaviors that are statistically proven to be associated with SSA? How will he interpret these behaviors? Staying out of philosophical territory with the client would require a sort of “Rogerian neutrality” that even Carl Rogers himself couldn’t live up to. I can’t imagine any psychologist who actually does this therapy on a regular basis believing that such an approach would be successful.

This needs to be unpacked a bit. First of all, when clients, either gay or straight or in between, describe self-destructive behavior, I believe therapists should confront the consequences to the client and others of this behavior. Asking clients about the consequences and pointing out denial is a standard therapeutic stance. SIT can be used by directive and non-directive therapists. There is nothing in the SIT framework that prevents the confrontation of self-harm.

What Dr. Nicolosi seems to be implying about the behavior of homosexuals in this paragraph, he make more explicit in the next:

Along the way, clients always report a host of maladaptive, self-defeating behaviors that restrict their maturation. The successful clinician must have an understanding of the meaning of these common factors. He will also observe fundamental distortions of self-identity. Once seen, how can these factors — including their meaning and likely origins — be ignored?

Apparently, he sees self-destructive behaviors in all of his clients. I do not, and in my research investigations, I have not found this to be invariably true. Statistical association is not cause nor does statistical significance implicate an entire group of people. I have addressed elsewhere on this blog, to wit:

Thus, it would be inconsistent with the research on psychiatric risk to deny members of at-risk groups “even the possibility” of a “fulfilling life,” whether partnered or not. Higher risk, yes; inevitable mental health maladjustment for all members of a group of people? No.

To further address Dr. Nicolosi’s question: when maladaptive, self-defeating behaviors are evident, therapeutic respect for the client’s value position does not mean that these behaviors are ignored. They are not. However, not all clients who are attracted to the same sex have the same issues. The SI therapist does not assume that all same-sex attracted clients have the same concerns, problems, issues, behaviors or backgrounds. This is more like theoretical neutrality; the SI therapist interprets the literature to depict a varied clinical landscape, not one of uniform histories and dynamics. We also do not tell clients that being attracted to the same sex assigns them to a life of despair and promiscuity. Nor do we tell them that their attractions to the same sex mean one thing. In the advanced informed consent phase, we discuss the research on the health and mental health correlates of behavior. Thus, if we have a client who is engaged in risky behavior, we inform them of the risks. If we learn that a client’s draw to the same sex has some historical referent, we certainly help that client process the issue. However, we do not assume that all attractions to the same sex mean the same thing, or that such attractions are of necessity tied to some historical set of deficits.

Dr. Nicolosi then contrasts himself further:

As Charles Socarides once said, the therapist must be neutral in judging the client, his behavior, and his choices; but he cannot be neutral about the condition of homosexuality.

Indeed the SI therapist is open to the distinct possibility that sexual preferences derive from multiple pathways and follow multiple trajectories. The SI therapist agrees with APA past president Nicholas Cummings who said: “There are as many kinds of homosexuals as heterosexuals. Homosexuality is not a unitary experience.”

So to summarize, SI therapists are not neutral when confrontation of self-destructive behavior is warranted, but we do not presume a uniform set of antecedents and outcomes of homosexual attractions. I guess you might say, we have an “Ask, Don’t Tell” policy.

Genetics and sexuality: Why ask why?

The Toronto Star features an article about genetics and gayness. I thought the contrasts between Canada and the US were interesting and the explanations about behavioral genetics enlightening for a lay audience. Discussing Hamer’s early Xq28 research, the article notes the media fascination with the topic:

Because of the social, political, and cultural implications, his results – inevitably headlined “Gay gene found” – were hailed globally as a major breakthrough. Wrongly so, said the genetics community. The coverage was inflated, simplistic and misleading. No “gay gene” had been found, nor ever would be. Why? Because behavioural genetics is much more complex than “Mendelian” genetics. In other words, traits such as eye colour are 100 per cent inheritable but the genetic contribution to various behaviours, aggression, shyness, extroversion and so on, is considerably less, below 50 per cent.

Ruth Hubbard, Harvard emeritus professor of biology and biochemistry and author of Exploding the Gene Myth, has said that searching for a gay gene “is not even a worthwhile pursuit.

“I don’t think there is any single gene that governs any complex human behaviour. There are genetic components in everything we do, and it is foolish to say genes are not involved, but I don’t think they are decisive.”

Behavioral genetics research is going to continue to explode. The fun is going to be in examining pathways for the expression of various traits under various conditions.