Therapy for Homosexuals: U.S. Associations Clash

NEW YORK—A position statement issued by the American Psychiatric Association's Board of Trustees in December has set off a firestorm of protests from the American Psychological Association and practitioners who are engaged in “reparative” therapy for homosexuals.

The Psychiatric Association's statement opposes reparative and any other psychiatric treatment designed to change a person's sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual.

The statement said reparative therapy could harm a patient by causing depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior.

“There is no scientific evidence that reparative or conversion therapy is effective in changing a person's sexual orientation,” said Rodrigo Muñoz, Psychiatric Association president. “There is, however, evidence that this type of therapy can be destructive.”

Not so, responded the American Psychological Association, which was named in the statement as also having a policy against reparative therapy. That statement brought a swift rebuke from the Psychological Association and from practitioners involved in reparative therapy.

Dr. Mark Stern, a New York clinical psychologist, played a key role in keeping the Psychological Association from following the Psychiatric Association's ban on reparative therapy. The ban disturbed Stern, who said patients need to know that reparative therapy is successful.

“The American Psychological Association does not condemn reparative therapy or any other therapy that has proven its capacity to help an individual and does not harm him or her,” Stern said. “Any such therapy is valid.”

The question thus arises as to whether homosexuality is “normal” — the result of inherited genetic factors — or is truly a developmental disorder.

Dr. Richard Fitzgibbons is a physician who is a member of a national group of reparative therapists who have researched the topic closely. He said there is substantial evidence based on years of clinical experience that homosexuality is a developmental disorder. Homosexual feelings, he said, can occur when a child's need of a healthy identification with the same-sex parent and friends are not met. They also can occur when the child does not have a confident sexual identify.

“Therapy consists of helping male clients to understand the emotional causes of their attraction and to strengthen their masculine identity,” Fitzgibbons said. “It has been our clinical experience that as these men become more comfortable and confident with their manhood, same-sex attractions resolve or decrease significantly in many patients.”

Jerry Armelli's Story

One former homosexual, Jerry Armelli, agrees with that assessment. Now married, he is director of an ex-homosexual and AIDS counseling group called Prodigal Ministries, which he founded 12 years ago.

He said an advertising campaign called “Gays Can Change” had “a very personal meaning to me.” He also pointed out that homosexual advocates call it a “‘hate campaign’… but it was not a message of hate. It was a message of life.”

Armelli recalled when he was homosexual. “I was depressed; I was suicidal. I thought,’ Is this all I've got, the gay life?’ Is this my only option? It was death-inducing. So, the message that change is possible is not ‘hate speech’ to me.”

As a child, Armelli grew up in a household where his three older brothers were athletes, and his father was a football coach. He admitted he was not interested in becoming an athlete, and he felt different from his brothers and father.

He also said there is no such thing as a “gay gene” in the human makeup that predetermines homosexual behavior.

“I like … [the] analogy of the basketball player,” Armelli said. “There are certain genes that make it more likely a person will be a basketball player — height, quick reflexes — but no gene will make any man a basketball player. There also must be some triggering conditions in the environment. I thought that explained homosexuality very well.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church enjoins Catholics to have compassion toward homosexuals, even while acknowledging the behavior's sinfulness and abnormality.

“Its [homosexuality's] psychological genesis remains largely unexplained,” the Catechism says in No. 2357. “Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that ‘homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.’ They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.”

Catholics Respond

Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, who heads the Thomas Aquinas Psychological Clinic in Encino, Calif., has used reparative therapy for 15 years. He said he believes that homosexuality is a developmental disorder, not an inherited one. “There's no such thing as a ‘gay gene,’” he said. “The media go right along with that theory, and even some Catholic clergy take the same stance.”

Of the more than 400 patients whom Nicolosi has treated over the years, about one-third are fully cured of homosexuality, another third experience improvement, and the final third have no change in their sexual orientation. All, however, come to him seeking to overcome their homosexuality. About 98% of all his patients are men.

Nicolosi also is the executive director of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). This organization's primary goal is to make effective psychological therapy available to all homosexual men and women who seek a change.

NARTH was founded in 1992 by Nicolosi, Charles Socarides, and Benjamin Kaufman. It provides psychological understanding of the cause, treatment, and behavior patterns associated with homosexuality. It is currently the only organized voice against homosexual and professional groups who declare that any type of therapy to change homosexuals is unethical.

Socarides said he believes that there needs to be an open discussion about homosexuality. He is dismayed at the stance of the Psychiatric Association and other such professional organizations which, he said, have “totally stifled the scientific inquiry that would be necessary to stimulate a discussion. It remains very politically incorrect, very marginalizing, even to make the suggestion of a dialogue that opens up the question of the normality of homosexuality.”

Jim Malerba writes from Hamden, Connecticut.