Sexuality, Therapy and the UK

I’m sure most of you have already seen the paper launched on Thursday examining the use of reparative techniques for homosexuality in the United Kingdom. Here’s the BBC report:

A significant minority of mental health professionals had agreed to help at least one patient “reduce” their gay or lesbian feelings when asked to do so.

The survey, published in the journal BMC Psychiatry and conducted by London researchers, involved 1,400 therapists.

Many were acting with the “best of intentions”, said the lead author.

Only 4% said they would attempt to change a client’s sexual orientation, but when asked if they would help curb homosexual feelings some 17% – or one in six – said they had done so.

The incidence appeared to be as prevalent in recent years as decades earlier.

You can read the whole paper here and it makes interesting study, not least because it doesn’t suggest what the headlines seem to think it does. For example, on page 18, Professor King writes:

There is no evidence from the published literature to suggest that a person’s sexual orientation can be changed from homosexual to heterosexual. Earlier forms of both psychoanalytic and behavioural research showed no evidence of efficacy [1] and many therapists later regretted their involvement in such treatments [2, 4]. Furthermore, recent research into the effectiveness of socalled reparative therapy to change sexual orientation in the United States has demonstrated little evidence of efficacy [5-6] and considerable controversy [7] about the quality of the methods used.

However, King’s own paper quotes mental health professionals who report having successfully treated patients wanting to change their sexual orientation. For example, on the bottom of page 11:

“People should be given the opportunity to choose to redirect their sexual feelings depending on their circumstances. For example the homosexual man I helped to become heterosexual came from a working class background where it was completely unacceptable to deviate from the norm. It was extremely important to him to be accepted by that community.” (BPS).

There is also of course the Jones and Yarhouse study and numerous other testimonies of change.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’ve been pastoring in this area for long enough to know that some people change and that some people don’t. The reason of course is very simple – homosexual attraction is most likely a personally unique mixture of nature and nurture, so that which explains my history won’t necessarily explain someone else’s, and the things which unlocked my past won’t necessarily do the same for you. But it seems to me that Professor King is ignoring the number of personal accounts of “successful” reparative therapy, and other forms of pastoring.

Interestingly, Michael King reports at the back of his paper that he has no competing interests, but in June 2008 he set up this website which states boldly on the front page:

Treatments to change a person’s sexuality are unethical and may be damaging. This is because homosexuality is NOT a disorder. Nor is there any evidence that any such “treatments” are effective.

The website collects personal anecdotes of those who have been through reparative therapies. I wonder whether Professor King would be amenable for it to also publish the stories of those who had had positive experiences of such practices or other routes to wholeness?

Warren Throckmorton has a brilliant comment thread on this subject, including input from Professor King.

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