The National Association for the Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) issued a statement last week on “Sexual Orientation Change” that attempts to downplay the poor success rates and negative PR surrounding ex-gay therapy — not to mention the harmful impact it has on clients. Without any empirical research to support its conclusions, NARTH advocates redefining the very standard of “change” from an absolute category to a client-defined goalpost on a supposed continuum of change:
NARTH affirms that some individuals who seek care for unwanted same-sex attractions do report categorical change of sexual orientation. Moreover, NARTH acknowledges that others have reported no change. However, the experience of NARTH clinicians suggests that the majority of individuals who report unwanted same-sex attractions and pursue psychological care will be best served by conceptualizing change as occurring on a continuum, with many being able to achieve sustained shifts in the direction and intensity of their sexual attractions, fantasy, and arousal that they consider to be satisfying and meaningful. NARTH believes that a profound disservice is done to those with unwanted same-sex attractions by characterizing such shifts in sexual attractions as a denial of their authentic (and gay) personhood or a change in identity labeling alone.
In other words, NARTH wants to claim that clients have successfully changed their sexual orientation so long as they believe that they are actually changing. NARTH tries to distinguish itself as a psychological organization that stands apart from religious ex-gay ministries, but here it is literally admitting that it should be applauded for creating a placebo effect — that clients should be encouraged to pursue ex-gay therapy in spite of the expected lack of results.
The language of “change” is at the heart of NARTH’s work and messaging. Its mission statement acknowledges a “right of all individuals to choose their own destiny.” In position statements, NARTH suggests “the right to seek therapy to change one’s sexual adaptation should be considered self-evident and inalienable,” encourages schools to allow “discussion about those who have chosen to change their orientation,” and boasts that there are “numerous examples exist of people who have successfully modified their sexual behavior, identity, and arousal or fantasies.” NARTH also offers that change is a “worthy” goal and that “significant numbers” have experienced “substantial healing.” In 2004, Robert Perloff, a former president of the American Psychological Association, addressed the annual NARTH conference, proclaiming, “The individual has the right to choose whether he or she wishes to become straight. It is his or her choice, not that of an ideologically driven interest group.” The implied standard has always been that a person can change from one sexual orientation to another.
Like all proponents of ex-gay therapy, NARTH thinks it’s more important to defend those who have unwanted same-sex attractions than to challenge the internalized homophobia that troubles its members’ potential clients. And like almost all proponents of ex-gay therapy, NARTH continues to profit so long as individuals are susceptible to anti-gay stigma and the hope of changing their sexual orientation. By lowering its standard of “change” to whatever clients are willing to believe is “change,” this group of “psychologists” has admitted that the service they offer produces no results whatsoever.