The APA Nixes "Ex-Gay Therapy": A Win for the Religious Right?

| Fri Aug. 7, 2009 9:03 AM EDT

On Wednesday, the American Psychological Association made headlines by repudiating gay-to-straight therapy. In a report, the APA found that not only is there no evidence that the practice actually works, but it can also lead to depression and suicidal tendencies. Considering that so-called "reparative therapy" has been enthusiastically championed by the religious right, you might be surprised to learn that they're touting the report as a major victory.

Confused? Here's what happened. In addition to instructing members not to seek to change a patient's sexual orientation via therapy, the APA also issued additional guidelines advising therapists how to deal with a patient struggling with their sexual identity. And these guidelines explicitly state that it may sometimes be appropriate for a therapist to help a client deny his sexual orientation because of his faith.

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Here's a summary from the Wall Street Journal

According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.

But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.

"We're not trying to encourage people to become 'ex-gay,'" said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA's task force on the issue. "But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else."

It's that last part that has some Christian conservatives crowing. Here's how Christian Broadcast News, the television network founded by evangelist Pat Robertson, reported the story:

Evangelical scholars and therapists are enthusiastic about the APA’s report, because it recognizes the distress of those who are same-sex attracted and yet, hold a faith that discourages such behavior. CBN News interviewed psychologists Warren Throckmorton and Mark Yarhouse about the report.

"Psychologists are now being urged to take a very client-centered approach, allowing clients to set the value direction and that means that some clients that are same-sex attracted will not identify as gay if that identification violates their religious beliefs,” Throckmorton said. "Probably this report more than any other I’ve seen has attempted to take religion seriously,” Yarhouse said. "Such respect is a drastic departure for the APA. Evangelicals credit the dialogue they have been able to develop.”