Some thoughts on the recent APA developments

I blogged two weeks ago on the APA report on reparative therapy – please do go and read my comments there before continuing if you haven’t done so as I don’t intend to repeat remarks made there. Since then Jones and Yarhouse (as mentioned below) have issued a second paper on the longitudinal study of reparative therapy and it makes interesting reading.

Dr Yarhouse has written about the Symposium where his paper with Dr Jones was launched:

The chair of the symposium, Dr. Dean Byrd, opened the session with an overview statement and then introduced each of the presenters and the discussant. My co-author (Dr. Stanton Jones) and I presented our paper, which was 6 to 7 year follow-up data on attempted change of sexual orientation through involvement in Exodus affiliated ministries. Then Dr. Nicholas Cummings, past president of APA, presented his paper. (He was actually ill and asked a colleague to give his paper for him.) The Cummings paper covered a lot of ground, including concerns about APA governance, political correctness, and other topics, some of which are covered in his edited book Psychology’s War on Religion. So those were the two actual papers in the symposium. The discussant was Dr. Frank Farley, who is also a past president of APA. He reiterated some of the concerns raised by Dr. Cummings, although he was more restrained. Dr. Farley also raised concerns he had about the misuse of the ethics code within the APA, which was interesting. He also offered his thoughts on our study. He seemed to appreciate the challenges in conducting such a study (politically or ideologically), but he offered some suggestions that might be quite difficult to do in a similar project. Dr. Byrd then distributed packets with the two papers included.

We then took questions from the audience. Dr. Jones was able to respond to one question on how the recent APA Task Force report dealt with our previous report on attempted change. I thought he offered important counterpoints to that specific review. Other questions dealt with a range of topics, such as methodological considerations (e.g., what about the use of a control group), but each of these exchanges was appropriate and professional. It was a good session from that standpoint.

In a later post, Dr Yarhouse brought together some of his thoughts on the APA conference.

Although we have not yet analyzed all of the questions at Time 6 that we analyzed at Time 3, I was struck in the Time 3 report by what participants found helpful in their local ministry. They appreciated the support they received – they knew that they were not alone. They appreciated the opportunity to grow in their identity in Christ – to be strengthened in their faith. It is not really my place to speak to how ministries provide services, but I imagine these are the strengths of ministries affiliated with Exodus. They may be at their best when they focus on fostering a religious identity that is in keeping with the ministry statements of faith. In the context of this support, might some people experience a reduction in same-sex attraction? Apparently some do. Might some even experience an increase in attraction to the opposite sex? Apparently some do, although this seems less likely and less salient (again, on average, for those who reported it).

The evidence from the Exodus study does not appear to reflect categorical change (from completely gay to completely straight). Rather, these are meaningful shifts for some participants, and some individuals experienced more of a shift. That was enough for us to conclude that change is possible for some, but it is unclear exactly what percentage. That we are talking more about shifts in degree (rather than categorical shifts) will be important to a ministry and to participants.

As for the identity focus, this seems to be a good fit with religious ministries that emphasize an identity ‘in Christ’ or similar understandings. Whether sexual attractions change or shift for an individual will be an important question for him or her, but it may be less critical if the primary emphasis of the ministry is on identity, support, and coping, much as what was recommended in the report.

Read that last paragraph again because it fits in with what I was saying in my blog post on the APA report.

So where does this leave us?

  • The APA report indicates two things about the research done so far
    • A lot of the research has been badly laid out and suffers from poor statistical methodology. That means that a lot of the claims being made in favour of reparative therapy cannot be substantiated
    • What is needed therefore is more accurate research, not no further research. The Jones and Yarhouse longitudinal study is one such example of research that does fit the necessary criteria
  • The Jones and Yarhouse longitudinal study is throwing up some interesting results
    • Some people do see orientation change, but this is not so much gay to straight but rather either diminishing homosexual desires, appreciating heterosexual desires or a combination of the two
    • There seems to be some significant results not so much in the area of sexual orientation but rather sexual identity
  • As pastors we need to be understanding this and reflecting whether our guidance understands this crucial issue. We need to be thinking Biblically about issues of identity, what the Scriptures do (and do not) say about “gay” and “straight” and acting accordingly.

Rather than this being a big slam-down on reparative therapy, the last few weeks have actually seen the APA open itself to the possibility that reorientation therapy might have some substance to it. Although some gay activist websites have spun the APA report as condemning reparative therapy, that is simply not the case. One thing though we can learn from the APA report is that if reparative therapists want to be taken seriously they need to publish in APA recognised journals and to engage on the academic terms laid out within such journals. Jones and Yarhouse have done so, and the fruit of that approach is clear to see.

3 Comments on “Some thoughts on the recent APA developments

  1. I was not aware that J&Y published their study in an APA-recognized journal. While I know they have presented their study at APA conventions, I thought they published their study through a conservative Christian publisher.

    While I do think they manipulated their sample a bit by accepting new people in the study, I think J&Y’s efforts are more credible than NARTH’s recent efforts.

    • I think that’s a fair point Norm. That said, the second paper was presented at an APA symposium so it does meet the necessary criteria for peer acknowledgement and critique.

  2. Peter said

    Rather than this being a big slam-down on reparative therapy, the last few weeks have actually seen the APA open itself to the possibility that reorientation therapy might have some substance to it. Although some gay activist websites have spun the APA report as condemning reparative therapy, that is simply not the case.

    To be clear, reparative therapy as practiced by most such practitioners was negated pretty soundly in the APA report. The developmental theory on which it is founded was rejected and the practice of considering homosexuality as a developmental disorder was denounced.

    Where the APA has been helpful is in recognizing the flexibility of sexual identity and the central role of religion in the lives of some people. Therapists may ethically work with religious SSA clients toward non-gay-affirming identity outcomes.

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