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EDGE Boston Examines Reparative Therapy

Jim Burroway

July 25th, 2007

EDGE Boston has published David Foucher’s third part of his four part series on the ex-gay movement. I’m very impressed with this series — he really did his homework. In this especially well-written installment, Foucher examines the pseudo-Freudian theories underlying the ex-gay movement in general and reparative therapy in particular — theories which Robert-Jay Green of the Rockway Institute points out aren’t very well proven. Although Warren Throckmorton doesn’t agree with Dr. Green that these theories have been “disproven” (in Dr. Green’s words), he does broadly agree that these theories aren’t compelling in the way the ex-gay movement uses them:

“When I read the research, what appears to me to be the best rendering of it is that different factors operate differently for different people,” he explains. “In an environment like that, when you don’t know the answer to what causes sexual orientation, it’s really not proper in my opinion to inform clients of anything different than that. The reparative therapists inform clients that their attractions are due to childhood dynamics. The gay-affirming therapists may go the other way and say that sexual orientation is an intrinsic aspect of who you are, it’s because of your genetics or it’s prenatal, and that it would be harmful to try to alter it in some way. I don’t think the research would allow either dogmatic conclusion.”

Fourcher also uncovers what ends up being the very essence of what it means to be ex-gay: the naming and labeling of homosexuality. Jack Drescher is quoted this way:

“You can switch identities, they’re not fixed. But sexual orientation is not as flexible as identities. A person can come out, say they’re gay, change their mind, say they’re not gay, change their mind again, say they’re gay again. It has nothing to do with their perceptual feelings – because people who call themselves gay don’t have all the same sexual feelings, and people who call themselves ex-gay don’t have all the same sexual feelings either. These are just labels.”

But towards the end of the article, where Fourcher discusses the APA’s task force to examine conversion therapies, he gets this whopper from NARTH president Joseph Nicolosi:

“We do not want to diminish the rights or civil liberties of gays or lesbians — they have a right to pursue their lives, their happiness, their dreams; those rights should not be limited in any way,” (Nicolosi) counters. “But for those who are unhappy for any reason, for those who want a conventional sexuality, a conventional marriage, we want to help them achieve that.”

That stated position may not be completely supportable; as of this writing the top article on NARTH’s homepage is titled, “Marriage as Culture: The Case Against ‘Same-Sex Marriage'” – a clear indication that NARTH is embroiled, at least philosophically, in more politically-charged issues surrounding gay and lesbian rights.

“People such as Joseph Nicolosi might today claim that they do not take a pathologizing perspective on homosexuality,” (Clinton W. Anderson, Director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office) agrees. “But if you look at the history of their careers and what they have advocated, that’s just not a credible position. They do seem to bring a prejudiced attitude towards homosexuality to the table.”

This is turning out to be one of the best articles I’ve seen on conversion therapies in a long time.

See also:

EDGE Boston Features Love In Action



July 26th, 2007 | LINK

I think it’s fairly clear that Warren Throckmorton isn’t agreeing with Robert-Jay Green to any great extent.

Green states that there is no evidence for the traditional Freudian theories about close mothers and distant fathers – Throckmorton says that there is some evidence, although ‘only of modest effect statistically speaking’.

Those are two very different claims. The bottom line is that if Throckmorton is correct, Green is at best misinformed.

Samantha Davis
July 26th, 2007 | LINK

Warren Throckmorton, isn’t he that bloke who has been trying to legitimize reparative therapy. If I remember correctly he’s a psychiatrist who has been taking the stance that reparative therapy might not be the right thing for every gay person but because some people might want a heterosexual love life and because, in his view, reparative therapy works for some people it ought to be available.

It never ceases to amaze me the number of psychiatrists who simply fail to grasp that the Hippocratic Oath isn’t there for impressionable med students; it’s actually there so that doctors like Throckmorton don’t go around hurting their patients.

Jim Burroway
July 26th, 2007 | LINK

I think there is overlap in agreement. I’ve clarified the post to better reflect what I meant to say.

The article focused a great deal on the environmental theories, and the fact is, they really haven’t proven a whole lot. Where I think they agree is on the error of basing an entire therapeutic industry on theories which are not persuasive, with the dogmatic belief that such theories explain homosexuality for everybody. Where they disagree is that Green says the environmental theories are “disproven”; Throckmorton says that their effect sizes are modest at best.

And for the record, I believe that if, in a parallel universe, the ex-gay movement were somehow based as exclusively on biological theories, we’d probably still be talking about the same problem. My own understanding of the “causes” of homosexuality is similar to Throckmorton’s, although I am generally more skeptical of most of the environmental research that focuses on specific parenting characteristics.

Warren Throckmorton
July 27th, 2007 | LINK

RE: parenting and homosexuality. The Bell, Weinberg and Hammersmith (1981) work found modest effects (in single digits) of paternal distance and identification. This is about the same effect size as the studies of birth order advanced by Tony Bogaert (more older brothers, the more likely you would be gay). Birth order and parental relationship may explain a lot for some gays and nothing for others. For yet others, it may be relevant but of little overall significant. Saying something is disproven means we have several studies with fantastic methodologies all saying the same thing. Not true.

Samantha – You are badly misinformed. I have an approach that is at odds with how reparative therapy is conducted. I have been a persistent critic of reparative therapy and am a counselor, not a psychiatrist. I am confident that some therapy will yield changes in aspects of sexuality inasmuch as those aspects are related to emotional issues (Gay psychotherapist Joe Kort believes this as well), but this is not reparative therapy. You did get my name correct, though.

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