Give Us Your Opinions: What Should The APA Symposium Have Looked Like?
May 14th, 2008
Yesterday, I wrote about the deficiencies I saw in the make-up of the canceled APA Symposium, “Homosexuality and Therapy: The Religious Dimension.” Dr. David Scasta, the organizer of the symposium, saw my piece and left a thoughtful comment. I want to raise that comment in this post and ask you to share your thoughts on what a useful symposium might look like.
One important thing to remember is this: The symposium was not structured as a “debate.” I didn’t call it that in my post, but I didn’t clarify what it was exactly. It wasn’t a debate. Each participant had a topic on which they would talk on for a few minutes, and then questions would be entertained from the audience — at least that’s how I understand it.
Here is Dr. Scasta’s comment:
Dear Mr. Burroway,
I have read your observations regarding the symposium which I organized. Let me first complement your organization for its stated goal because it could easily be used as a mantra for the symposium. I have taken the liberty of repeating such verbatim because I think it is so well put:
“In the heat of the debate, several things have been lost. We’ve lost the ability to look at the situation calmly, rationally and with civility. We’ve lost the ability to oppose other viewpoints without demonizing those who hold them. We’ve lost the ability to know who is telling the truth and who is practicing deception or spreading falsehoods. We’ve lost the ability to treat each other with respect and dignity. We’ve lost a lot. Box Turtle Bulletin exists to help address this problem. I hope to shed some light, with honesty and integrity, and without rancor. I hope to earn your trust in what we report, and your respect in how we report it.”
I have been distressed that the media hype has so grossly mischaracterized the symposium. The symposium was portrayed unfortunately as a “debate.” All of the panel members on the symposium agreed that it was not to be a debate and that our goal was to be able to present our views in a collegial way that opened discussion instead of angry debate — exactly what the Box Turtle stands for.
All on the panel have also shown a willingness to make some concessions in their belief system when they are presented with new information and perspectives. Dr. Throckmorton, for instance, has distanced himself from his film, “I Do Exist.” A few copies are still available for historical purposes but he has clearly changed some of his views about the appropriateness or likelihood of change. By the same token, I have called into question some of the “scientific facts”” in the film that I helped to fund and create: “Abomination: Homosexuality and the Ex-Gay Movement.” It is not that I do not support the message of the film (that gay people of faith who go through reparative therapies become free when they shake off the chains of dogma and discover an accepting God). It is just that one of the studies seems to imply more “science” than is justified — a point that was effectively pointed out by Dr. Throckmorton. Dr. Mohler has taken extensive heat among his Southern Baptist constituency for suggesting that homosexuality might not be a choice. His concept that a cure for homosexuality should be sought, in the same way that a cure is being sought for Huntington’s chorea, is a concept which deserves fuller discussion. Perhaps as a physician I can give him a different perspective. Whether or not my arguments are persuasive, I can tell you that I have no doubt that Albert Mohler will give me a full and fair hearing and will respond with both insight and incisive thinking. And, he will put me to my proofs. I also believe that, if he is persuaded otherwise, he is the type of person who has the strength and moral fortitude to stand up for what he believes, even when it contradicts what he is “suppose” to believe.
The goal of the symposium was not to settle questions about reparative or change therapies. I do not know where you got the information that the panel was a “response to the APA’s decision to form a working group to review its stance on ex-gay therapy.” This statement is false — completely false. The Assembly of the APA (the legislative body of which I am a member) has asked that ALL position statements be reviewed and updated every five years. We are going through that process now. I sit on the Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues of the APA which is reviewing all of the statements related gay and lesbian issues. I can assure you with absolute certainty that the APA does not have a working group to reassess its view on ex-gay therapy and there is absolutely no desire in my committee to change the current stance. My symposium would have addressed how religion colors therapy with gays and lesbians as a separate dimension from therapy; it would not have posited any substantive change in APA position papers on the subject. I have the advantage of knowing the positions that the panel speakers would have taken. It is unfortunate that I was compelled to withdraw the symposium because I believe that rational people would realize that the ultimate outcome of the symposium would have been less change therapy, not more, if it had been allowed to proceed.
The issue is not over. There are still legions of lesbian and gay people of faith who say to mental health professionals, “I understand that mental health professionals believe I should accept myself as I am; but, if I do that, I am damned.” It is my goal to find a path out of that conundrum. To do so, we have to begin talking respectfully and rationally with people of faith — including some former enemies. It is time to stop preaching to the choir; but rather to enter into the lions’ den — and tame lions. If your are truly committed to Box Turtle’s goals of talking reasonably to our opponents without demonizing them, we are uncannily on the same page and I ask you for your help and guidance with this project.
David Scasta, M.D., DFAPA
Scasta, D. (2007). “John E. Freyer, M.D., and the Dr. H Anonymous Episode.” Ch. 1, in Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: An Oral History. (J. Marino and J. Drescher, Eds.). Haworth Press; New York
Scasta, D. (1998). “Historical perspectives on homosexuality.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatry. 2(4):3-17.
Scasta, D. (1998) “Issues in helping people come out.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatry. 2(4):87-98.
Scasta, D. (1998) “Moving from coming out to intimacy.” Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychiatry. 2(4):99-111.
So readers, here’s the question: If you think a symposium with participation from both sides is a good thing (and I think it is), what do you think should be the makeup of such a symposium? I’ll offer my thoughts later today in the comments to this post.
Discuss! I am especially interested in input from those who support the goals of sexual reorientation therapy as well as those who are opposed. But as a corollary, and to ensure people feel safe in providing their thoughts on the subject, I will ask that everyone be respectful per our Comments Policy.