Last week, NARTH, a professional organization for ex-gay profiteers, released new “Practice Guidelines for the Treatment of Unwanted Same-Sex Attractions and Behavior.” This document strives to legitimize ex-gay therapy by downplaying research that shows the efforts to be ineffective and potentially harmful and emphasizing myths about what may “cause” homosexuality, like the impact of sexual abuse. According to the guidelines, clinicians who seek to affirm homosexuality — that is, the preponderance of mainstream therapists — are actually engaging in bias against clients’ religion when they deny the possibility of sexual reorientation:
Furthermore, clinicians with a strong gay-affirming position may tend to emphasize clinical literature that describes examples of harm — such as disappointment in not achieving complete sexual reorientation — in the course of change-oriented therapy and may decide that conducting such therapy is clearly unethical and harmful. They may maintain this view even when clients explicitly say they want to change their unwanted same-sex attractions and/or behavior. These clinicians may believe that clients cannot establish realistic therapeutic goals for themselves nor make a truly voluntary decision to develop their heterosexual potential, assuming that clients want to change only because they have been oppressed and discriminated against by society.
They may discount the reality that many clients who want to explore the possibility of change experience significant conflict between their religious beliefs and their same-sex attraction and that religious affiliation may be the most stable aspect of a client’s identity. Some clinicians have even equated agreeing to help someone develop their heterosexual potential as analogous to agreeing to help an anorexic lose weight. They may tend to espouse the immutability of sexual orientation, basing this conclusion on unsubstantiated biological research — a conclusion that remains premature.
This perspective demonstrates the naivete inherent in bias toward ex-gay treatments. First, ex-gay proponents take advantage of clients’ desire to change their sexual orientation by reinforcing it, essentially sacrificing professional perspective in the process by giving clients’ desired outcomes priority over reality. Then, they place sexual orientation and religious beliefs on a false equal footing, suggesting that sexual orientation might be easier to change if the client’s religious affiliation is more “stable.” This ignores that research has repeatedly demonstrated there is an enduring biological component to sexual orientation, whereas religious beliefs are simply ideas that many people change throughout their lives.
Therapy is not like consumer economics where “the customer is always right.” Rather than help clients work through the conflict they’re experiencing because of their sexual orientation, ex-gay profiteers attempt to milk that conflict by reinforcing it and promising change that will never actually be accomplished. That they defend this strategy by claiming to be less biased by research shows that they care more about profiting off their assumptions than actually helping clients achieve wellness.