New Study: Sexual Orientation Can Be Changed

Peer-reviewed scientific survey looks at more than a century of research to determine that those with unwanted same-sex attractions can benefit from therapy and should continue to have access to it.

A new report in this month’s issue of the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Sexuality finds that sexual orientation can be changed — and that psychological care for individuals with unwanted same-sex attractions is  generally beneficial and that research has not found significant risk of harm.

The study, conducted by the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH), examined more than 100 years of professional and scientific literature from 600-plus studies and reports from clinicians, researchers and former clients principally published in professional and peer-reviewed journals.

"This research is a significant milestone when it comes to the scientific debate over the issue of homosexuality," NARTH President Dr. Julie Hamilton said. "It also confirms what we have seen evidenced in hundreds of individuals who have benefited from the help of NARTH therapists.

"We believe that every person should have the right to independently determine their own course in life, and for many that involves seeking counseling options that affirm their personal beliefs."

The survey, titled What Research Shows: NARTH’s Response to the American Psychological Association’s Claims on Homosexuality, was assembled over 18 months by three of the leading academics and therapists in the field and under the direction of the NARTH Scientific Advisory Committee. It confirms the results of a 2007 longitudinal study conducted by researchers Stanton L. Jones and Mark Yarhouse that found that religiously mediated sexual orientation change is possible for some individuals and does not cause psychological harm on average.

The last finding is important, because it directly refutes unsubstantiated claims made by some factions of the American Psychological Association (APA) and several other professional mental health organizations that it is unethical for therapists to assist patients to overcome unwanted same-sex attractions.

"The APA’s own Code of Ethics supports every client’s rights to autonomy and self-determination in therapy and mandates that therapists either respect a client’s practice of religion and sexual orientation or refer the client to a professional who will offer such respect," NARTH explains in the report. "Clients who are not distressed about their sexual orientation should not be directed to change by mental-health professionals. Conversely, clients who seek sexual reorientation deserve properly informed and competent psychological care from therapists who use interventions that have been scientifically demonstrated as helpful for achieving this goal."

Nicholas Cummings, a past APA president and author of Destructive Trends in Mental Health, concurred.

"This is a basic tenant of psychotherapy, that religion for most people is an anchor," he told CitizenLink. "To pull that out from under them is an egregious thing to do."

In finding that there is substantial evidence that sexual orientation may be changed through therapy, the study also found that treatment success for clients seeking to change unwanted homosexuality and develop their heterosexual potential has been documented in the professional and research literature since the late 19th century.

"We acknowledge that change in sexual orientation may be difficult to attain," NARTH says in the report. "As with other difficult challenges and behavioral patterns — such as low-self-esteem, abuse of alcohol, social phobias, eating disorders, or borderline personality disorder, as well as sexual compulsions and addictions — change through therapy does not come easily. Relapses to old forms of thinking and behaving are — as is the case with most forms of psychotherapy for most psychological conditions — not uncommon."

Nonetheless, the report continues, "we conclude that the documented benefits of reorientation therapy — and the lack of its documented general harmfulness —support its continued availability to clients who exercise their right of therapeutic autonomy and self-determination through ethically informed consent."

A third major finding of the study is that there is significantly greater medical, psychological and relational pathology in the homosexual population than the general population.

"Overall, many of these problematic behaviors and psychological dysfunctions are experienced among homosexuals at about three times the prevalence found in the general population — and sometimes much more," the report states. "Investigators using modern, state-of-the-art research methods have documented that many different pathological traits are more prevalent in homosexual than in heterosexual groups. We believe that no other group of comparable size in society experiences such intense and widespread pathology."

Among the scientific findings cited in the study:

• Despite knowing the AIDS risk, homosexuals repeatedly and pathologically continue to indulge in unsafe sex practices.

• Homosexuals represent the highest number of STD cases.

• Many homosexual sex practices are medically dangerous, with or without "protection."

• More than one-third of homosexual men and women are substance abusers.

• Forty percent of homosexual adolescents report suicidal histories.

• Homosexuals are more likely than heterosexuals to have mental-health concerns, such as eating disorders, personality disorders, paranoia, depression and anxiety.

•  Homosexual relationships are more violent than heterosexual relationships.

• Societal bias and discrimination do not, in and of themselves, contribute to the majority of increased health risks for homosexuals.

Jeff Johnston, gender issue analyst for Focus on the Family, said these findings should have an impact on "those who claim to have the best interests of the gay community at heart."

"True social justice, compassion, concern and intellectual honesty," he explained, "dictate that men and women who want to pursue freedom from homosexuality – whether because of their faith or because of the health risks associated with homosexuality – should be afforded that opportunity by the mental health industry, including its associations and educational institutions."

Read Focus on the Family’s analysis of the NARTH study. (see "What Does the Research Show…" below)


To learn more about the NARTH study, visit the organization’s Web site.

(NOTE: Referral to Web sites not produced by Focus on the Family Action is for informational purposes only and does not necessarily constitute an endorsement of the sites’ content.)


Accessed 7/6/09

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