Psychologist Warren Throckmorton once met a woman who was in a lifelong lesbian relationship and suddenly, with no prefaced desire to leave her lesbian lifestyle, fell in love with a guy at work. She left her lesbian partner and married the man.
The American Psychological Association just published a report on whether therapists can make this change happen. In examining change therapy, which claims that people with homosexual desires can switch to heterosexual desires, the report says there is insufficient evidence that the therapies work.
But it also found that while people are unlikely to change their desires, they can change their identity and behavior. People who underwent change therapy sometimes reported that they learned to tolerate same-sex attraction, even if they didn't act on it. Some eventually identified as heterosexuals and had heterosexual relationships. The APA also said that therapists can help people choose to live in a way that affirms their religious beliefs.
Considering the unbalanced makeup of the committee, the religious tolerance was a positive step, said David Pruden, vice president of operations for the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH): "It would be like a bunch of atheists saying, 'You know, a lot of people believe in God and I think there's a good reason that they might.'"
The panel surveyed 83 peer-reviewed studies, most of which occurred before 1978 and had methodological flaws, according to the panel. But the 138-page report left out certain key studies by Jones and Yarhouse, Karten, and Spitzer, said Pruden, adding that there was no minority report and a lack of ideological diversity on the task force. In a response to the APA report, NARTH argued that "homosexuality is more fluid than fixed" and that there's substantial evidence someone can change his sexual orientation.
Pruden also objects to the way homosexual activists may spin the report. For instance, some interpret it to say that the APA advocates changing religions if the religion conflicts with sexual orientation; but the APA only says that some have found it helpful. NARTH is also looking into the possibility that people could construe the report to limit a therapist's freedom to choose not to treat a client, if treatment means affirming their sexual behavior.
Throckmorton, associate professor of psychology at Grove City College in Pennsylvania and a contributor to WORLDmag.com, agrees with the report's general conclusion about change therapy, based on his experience as a therapist. He says some people's sexuality can slightly shift-for instance, men might feel homosexual desire grow less intense-but he doesn't see males who feel same-sex attraction becoming exclusively attracted to women. In his experience, change occurs more often in women than men.
The idea that people develop homosexual tendencies because of sexual abuse or distant parents is "one of the easiest theories to falsify," he argues. "There are many gay people who have perfectly fine relationships with their parents and are not sexually abused." Instead of telling his gay clients that they can become straight, Throckmorton helps them figure out how they want to live and then helps them get there.
Both Throckmorton and Pruden agreed that the APA's handling of faith was positive. The APA, in compiling its report, met with religious leaders, seeking evangelical insight into the needs of religious clients.