The Robert Spitzer Study
Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation (Archives of Sexual Behavior, October 2003, p.403-417 ).
Robert Spitzer's controversial 2001 paper has finally found a publisher, the Archives of Sexual Behavior, October 2003 issue. This is the paper claiming that the so-called 'reparative therapy' can 'cure' gays and lesbians and make them straight.
The controversy is not restricted to the article itself. Its publication is also the subject of controversy. One member of the association sponsoring the journal, the International Academy of Sex Research, resigned after the decision to publish the article. Read about the incident here.
The main criticism of the article involves the method of 'selection' of the participants. The subjects were fed to Spitzer by a religious organization involved in so-called 'reparative therapy' and an association consisting of a very small minority of mental health professionals who promote so-called 'reparative therapy'. It is not a random sampling of gay and lesbian individuals or even a random sampling of gay and lesbian individuals who have experienced so-called 'reparative therapy'.
Another criticism revolves around what is considered to be 'success'. The religious organization is admittedly anti-science. Its measure of "success" has little if anything to do with a change of sexual orientation. Randy Thomas, spokesman for Exodus International, the religious organization that fed subjects to the Spitzer study had this to say. "So what is a nice faith based ministry like us doing hanging out with secular therapists? We were giving testimony to the righteousness of Christ of course. ... orientation shift is not *the* goal of Exodus. Jesus Christ Himself is the goal worth pursuing; loving and Serving Him is it's[sic] own reward. We do believe that orientation shift or complete orientation change can happen as a by-product of pursuing holiness but is not in and of itself the only barometer of success."
As shown in the work of Michael Schroeder and Ariel Shidlo, a scientific measure of success arrives at very different results. Out of a sample of 202 people who met the criteria laid down (that they were initially primarily gay), the following facts emerged:
1) Many of the therapists were behaving unethically. For example 1/4 of those who had been through the treatments had been pressured into joining, almost none of those who felt it wasn't working were given advice on alternative counseling, and most were misled about the position of the APAs and about the supposed success rates of 'ex-gay' treatments. See Responses of US professional bodies to 'ex-gay' treatments.
2) Most patients go through an initial 'honeymoon' with the 'ex-gay' movement, followed later by disillusion.
3) Because of the hostility and lack of support by most 'ex-gay' therapists to 'failures', most patients continued to lie to their therapists about their progress. This is almost certainly the reason why Exodus and Narth therapists continue to claim 30-50% success rates, when outsiders find much less.
4) Based on self-reporting by the patients to Schroeder and Shidlo, 14% did manage long-term to either greatly reduce or completely stop homosexual practices. Of these, 5% were 'struggling'. Another 5% reported being reasonably happy (almost all of this group were celibate).
5) Only 4% (i.e. 8 patients) reported a shift in sexual orientation from 5 or more to 3 or less on a 1-7 scale of hetero/homosexual balance. Of these - the only ones who could perhaps be classified as 'ex-gays' - 7 out of 8 put down as occupation that they were 'ex-gay' counselors. The eighth person refused a follow-up interview. Obviously there is a serious conflict of interest/secondary gain issue among this group.
A.Shidlo and M.Schroeder (2002): 'Changing Sexual Orientation: A Consumers' Report'. Professional Psychology, Records and Practice 2002 vol 33 248-259
M.Schroeder and A.Shidlo (2001): 'Ethical Issues in Sexual Orientation Conversion Therapies: An Empirical Study for Consumers'. Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychotherapy 5(3/4), 2001. Haworth Press
American Psychiatric Assocation Official Disavowal of Spitzer's conclusions: The American Psychiatric Association issued a formal disavowal of conclusions reached by Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist at Columbia University, who said in a paper submitted this week at the group's annual convention that "highly motivated" individuals could "successfully" change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual. Speaking for the organization, APA Medical Director Steven Mirin, M.D., issued a blunt statement. "There is no published scientific evidence supporting the efficacy of reparative therapy as a treatment to change one's sexual orientation," he said. Mirin made clear that presentations made at its Annual Meeting are not sanctioned by the organization nor do they necessarily reflect APA policy. Those Not Very "Ex" Gays, by Paul Varnell: "[Spitzer's] new study is seriously flawed and instead of showing that some "highly motivated gays can change to heterosexuality," it nearly demonstrates the opposite." A detailed criticism of the Spitzer study. Analysis of Dr. Spitzer's Study of Reparative Therapy, Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance: "We have not been able to find any information on the 200 subjects' original sexual orientation. We suspect that most or all had a bisexual orientation and had previously engaged in at least some homosexual activity. After therapy, we suspect that they remained bisexual, and feel that they have successfully developed a relationship with a person of the opposite gender." Robert Spitzer's comments about the manner in which his study has been misrepresented. "Even when Spitzer clarified that his study had nothing to do with the question of choice or biology, some reporters continued to pose it. After Spitzer began a CNN interview (5/9/01) saying "It's not a question of choosing one's feelings," reporter Carol Lin went on to ask whether people are "actually born heterosexual but are leading or choosing a gay lifestyle." "No I'm not talking about how they were born," Spitzer responded, "and the issue is not choosing a lifestyle." Still, Lin demanded, "So, on the bottom line here, are you saying that a homosexual can choose to be straight?" Spitzer: "No, I'm certainly not saying that."
"I was appalled at how media simplified it," Spitzer told Extra!. "It's easier to say 'homosexuals can change' than to say 'a number of homosexual indicators on a continuum' can change. I would have preferred that they avoid the misuses I anticipated [in the last few slides of my presentation], such as that it applied to all homosexuals, and that they wouldn't have raised irrelevant issues like the issue of choice or genetics."
American Psychological Association criticizes `cure' for homosexuality
'Ex-Gay' Watch: Monitoring the political activities of the so-called 'ex-gay' movement.