Focus on the Family defends gay "cure" after past supporter rejects it
Update:In an interview on view below, One Colorado executive director Brad Clark predicted that Dr. Robert Spitzer's repudiation of his own 2001 study, which suggested that gays could be "cured," wouldn't dissuade Colorado Springs-based Focus on the Family from continuing to support so-called reparative therapy. And he was right, as an FOTF spokesman makes plain.
Spitzer shared his current views in a letter to the Archives of Sexual Behavior, the journal that published his original study; look below to see the missive, originally published by the website Truth Wins Out. But Glenn Stanton, Focus' director of family formation studies, encourages readers to place Spitzer's new stance, and his formal apology to the gay community, in context.
"What it shows is that Robert Spitzer changed his position," Stanton says. "And Robert Spitzer is not the only academic who has addressed the issue or that the total fount of understanding on this issue is rooted in Robert Spitzer. It just means he's changed his position -- and why did he change it?
"Usually an academic changes his position because new evidence comes forth, and they point that out in an article or some academic presentation explaining the thoughts and rationale behind the change of position," he continues. "And from what I see, we don't have any of that from Dr. Spitzer."
Stanton doesn't denigrate Spitzer for shifting his conclusions based on "personal reasons -- because personal reasons are incredibly legitimate. But let's just know that they are personal reasons. This isn't necessarily new academic findings knocking down old academic findings."
As One Colorado's Clark points out below, reparative therapy has been rejected by a wide range of medical organizations. Stanton stresses that these opinions aren't universal, citing the work of Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse, authors of Homosexuality: The Use of Scientific Research in the Church's Moral Debate. Even so, he says Focus' belief in reparative therapy isn't built upon academic studies, but "on the lives of real people who we know and interact with, who have clearly been healed, and healed successfully."
At that point, Stanton pauses. "I don't know if 'healed' is the right word," he allows. "We could use a lot of different words. Maybe it would be better to say 'overcome.' And I have personal friendships with many who have clearly overcome. They were uncomfortable with their homosexual identity -- an identity that was with them from as early as they can remember -- and they sought help. It was a very difficult, very long process, but they have successfully left their homosexual orientation and are living heterosexual lives today."
Indeed, Stanton notes that he recently spent time with just such a person -- someone who is "married today and has children. That's not the definitive test, but it does indicate something."
Reparative therapy isn't monolithic, Stanton feels. "There are reparative therapists who use very different types of therapy -- some we agree with and some we wouldn't agree with. That's a very important thing to understand. We don't necessarily support everybody who does it. And we have some very specific criteria for the right way to do it.
"Many misrepresent this, but it's all about self-determination -- all about people who say, 'I'm not comfortable with these feelings and I want help dealing with them.' And for individuals who are highly motivated and highly committed, there is success that can be found. The process is long and difficult and not absolute all the time, but it can happen, and it does happen."
Here's Spitzer's letter, followed by our previous coverage.
Several months ago I told you that because of my revised view of my 2001 study of reparative therapy changing sexual orientation, I was considering writing something that would acknowledge that I now judged the major critiques of the study as largely correct. After discussing my revised view of the study with Gabriel Arana, a reporter for American Prospect, and with Malcolm Ritter, an Associated Press science writer, I decided that I had to make public my current thinking about the study. Here it is.
Basic Research Question. From the beginning it was: "can some version of reparative therapy enable individuals to change their sexual orientation from homosexual to heterosexual?" Realizing that the study design made it impossible to answer this question, I suggested that the study could be viewed as answering the question, "how do individuals undergoing reparative therapy describe changes in sexual orientation?" - a not very interesting question.
The Fatal Flaw in the Study -- There was no way to judge the credibility of subject reports of change in sexual orientation. I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject's reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject's accounts of change were valid.
I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some "highly motivated" individuals.
Robert Spitzer. M.D.
Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry,
Page down to read One Colorado executive director Brad Clark's take on reparative therapy in the wake of Spitzer's apology.