Citing a lack of firm evidence to suggest it can work, the American Psychological Association (APA) adopted a resolution yesterday telling mental health professionals to stop trying to help a client change their sexual orientation.
The focus of the resolution was reparative therapy, also referred to as sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), forms of therapy that seek to help a person change their natural sexual orientation to heterosexuality.
“Contrary to claims of sexual orientation change advocates and practitioners, there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation,” said Judith M. Glassgold, PsyD, chair of the task force.
The resolution adopted by the APA’s governing council also advises that people should avoid sexual orientation treatments that portray homosexuality as a mental illness.
The APA suggested that instead people should seek psychotherapy and educational services “that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth.”
The approval came during APA’s annual convention, during which a task force presented their report about the effectiveness of these treatments.
“Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose,” noted Glassgold.
“Contrary to the claims of SOCE practitioners and advocates, recent research studies do not provide evidence of sexual orientation change as the research methods are inadequate to determine the effectiveness of these interventions.”
Based on this review, the task force recommended that mental health professionals avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts when providing assistance to people distressed about their own or others’ sexual orientation.
The American Psychological Association appointed the task force in 2007 out of concern about ongoing efforts to promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed through psychotherapy or approaches that mischaracterize homosexuality as a mental disorder.
The task force examined the peer-reviewed journal articles in English from 1960 to 2007, which included 83 studies. Most of the studies were conducted before 1978, and only a few had been conducted in the last 10 years. The group also reviewed the recent literature on the psychology of sexual orientation.
“Unfortunately, much of the research in the area of sexual orientation change contains serious design flaws,” Glassgold said. “Few studies could be considered methodologically sound and none systematically evaluated potential harms.”
As to the issue of possible harm, the task force was unable to reach any conclusion regarding the efficacy or safety of any of the recent studies of SOCE.
“Practitioners can assist clients through therapies that do not attempt to change sexual orientation, but rather involve acceptance, support and identity exploration and development without imposing a specific identity outcome.”
As part of its report, the task force identified that some clients seeking to change their sexual orientation may be in distress because of a conflict between their sexual orientation and religious beliefs. The task force recommended that licensed mental health care providers treating such clients help them “explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation, reduce the stigma associated with homosexuality, respect the client’s religious beliefs, and consider possibilities for a religiously and spiritually meaningful and rewarding life.”
“In other words,” Glassgold said, “we recommend that psychologists be completely honest about the likelihood of sexual orientation change, and that they help clients explore their assumptions and goals with respect to both religion and sexuality.”
A copy of the task force report is available (PDF).
Source: American Psychological Association