Taking Sexuality in for Repairs, Part 3

Gabriel Arana had been referred by his psy­chother­a­pist, Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, to a study being con­ducted with indi­vid­u­als who had suc­cess­fully com­pleted repar­a­tive ther­apy for homo­sex­u­al­ity. Dr. Nicolosi was the co-founder and pres­i­dent of the National Asso­ci­a­tion for Research and Ther­apy of Homo­sex­u­al­ity (NARTH), the study was being con­ducted by Robert Spitzer, MD, and Gabriel Arana was no “suc­cess” at repar­a­tive ther­apy. In fact, Arana decided to tell the story directly to Spitzer him­self, and there began the decon­struc­tion of “Can Some Gay Men and Les­bians Change Their Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion?” the bedrock of repar­a­tive ther­a­pies for nearly a decade. And after nearly a decade of ignor­ing the tra­di­tional research bod­ies uni­fied stance that repar­a­tive ther­a­pies with­out fur­ther deter­min­ing a risk-to-benefit ratio is uneth­i­cal, what have the prac­ti­tion­ers pro­duced by way of research on their own? That would be noth­ing. Not only did Robert Spitzer, MD, tell Gabriel Arana that he had major mis­giv­ings regard­ing the study for years, but asked his assis­tance in retract­ing the study. And so reported the NY Times, and so explained Spitzer himself.

Even the most cur­sory scan of the inter­net to sites that fol­low such mat­ters would imme­di­ately end any thought that this “retrac­tion” might have set­tled issues and, some would say, pre­dictably cre­ated newer, bet­ter issues — “Truth Wins Out,” notwith­stand­ing. I must admit total ambiva­lence at the jux­ta­po­si­tion of the “fifty-five sec­onds” of Spitzer resid­ing on the web­sites of the “Chris­t­ian Right,” and what strikes me as the half-hearted “retrac­tion” of a tired, elderly man in poor health. I hear Spitzer’s com­ment in the video inter­view of War­ren Throck­mor­ton as to the vorac­ity of his study sub­jects, “When I lis­tened to them, I kind of had the clin­i­cal feel­ing these peo­ple were telling the truth,” and I feel noth­ing of the sort in Spitzer’s “retrac­tion.” Is it pos­si­ble that Arana’s story was espe­cially com­pelling, or espe­cially unique that Spitzer would be moved to unbur­den him­self with a man he just met? An eighty year-old who endured the crit­i­cism of his clos­est col­leagues is sud­denly moved to “pre­serve his legacy” with a com­plete stranger? Heaven knows I pre­sume to offer no expla­na­tion as to Spitzer’s moti­va­tion — and hope­fully he has found his peace — but if any­one would claim this as “vic­tory,” in my esti­ma­tion it would be extra­or­di­nar­ily hollow.

The fact remains that Focus on the Fam­ily, NARTH, the Amer­i­can Col­lege of Pedi­atrics, and those groups affil­i­ated and sim­i­lar to them are unaf­fected, and in fact unin­ter­ested in whether Robert Spitzer, MD, dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor of Psy­chi­a­try at Colum­bia Uni­ver­sity, is raw, cooked, black, white, liv­ing, dead, real, or imag­ined, BUT, he once authored a study that serves their pur­pose. As of this writ­ing, a “reac­tion” enti­tled Spitzer’s “Retrac­tion”: What Does It Really Mean?, posted by Christo­pher H. Rosik, Ph.D., is the front­page of the NARTH site. Of inter­est here is his conclusion:

A purely sci­en­tific approach to the lim­i­ta­tions of Spitzer’s research would be to con­duct more rig­or­ous out­come research, some­thing that he along with oth­ers have been call­ing for all along (Spitzer, 2003a, 2003b; Jones, Rosik, Williams, & Byrd, 2010). Even the APA Task Force’s Report on Appro­pri­ate Ther­a­peu­tic Responses to Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion (Amer­i­can Psy­cho­log­i­cal Asso­ci­a­tion, 2009) issued a call for such stud­ies to be under­taken. Unfor­tu­nately, the real­ity appears to be that the APA and other insti­tu­tions in a posi­tion to fund and con­duct out­come research on SOCE in con­junc­tion with NARTH and other SOCE prac­ti­tion­ers have no real inter­est in doing so. They have noth­ing to gain by such research, as out­comes unfa­vor­able to SOCE would not mean­ing­fully change their cur­rent skep­ti­cism, while out­comes favor­able to SOCE would be a pub­lic rela­tions and pub­lic pol­icy dis­as­ter for them.

In fact, what Spitzer was “call­ing for all along” was fun­da­men­tal to research involv­ing human sub­jects: assur­ance that it was safe:

The author con­curs with the Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric Asso­ci­a­tion Posi­tion State­ment on Ther­a­pies Focused on Attempts to Change Sex­ual Ori­en­ta­tion (Amer­i­can Psy­chi­atric Asso­ci­a­tion, 2000) that “encour­ages and sup­ports research by the National Insti­tute of Men­tal Health and the aca­d­e­mic research com­mu­nity to fur­ther deter­mine ‘repar­a­tive’ therapy’s risks ver­sus its ben­e­fits.” Clearly, it is only this kind of research that can pro­vide the infor­ma­tion that both clin­i­cians and poten­tial patients need to have to make informed deci­sions about repar­a­tive ther­apy. What is needed is a prospec­tive out­come study of repar­a­tive ther­apy in which a con­sec­u­tive series of vol­un­teer indi­vid­u­als are eval­u­ated before start­ing ther­apy and after sev­eral years. Such a study could pro­vide data as to how often sig­nif­i­cant change in sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion is reported. It could also exam­ine how often indi­vid­u­als who are un– suc­cess­ful in the ther­apy are harmed in some way and the mag­ni­tude of the harm. 1

Am I naïve to imag­ine that by adopt­ing this call for rig­or­ous research that Dr. Rosik would advo­cate and sup­port the sus­pen­sion of reparative/SOCE ther­a­pies and all train­ing (and sales of mate­ri­als instruc­tive in the prac­tice of these ther­a­pies) until a benefit-to-harm ratio has been clearly estab­lished? Or might that prove to be a finan­cial dis­as­ter for which they have no inter­est. Disin­gen­u­ous­ness, appar­ently, knows no bounds.

In that Arana chose to go the low road in “expos­ing” the hypocrisies of the “agents of the Right,” and Rosik felt com­pelled to dog Spitzer (as in tagged him as Argos, “Parkinson’s dis­ease and is in the twi­light of his life), it leads me to sus­pect that the eth­i­cal “high road” of actual patient care — that gen­uinely seems, to this day, to have moti­vated Robert Spitzer, if only to dis­cover that the num­ber for change is not zero, should they so wish it — will come from some­where totally unex­pected, and hope­fully from a con­sid­er­ably more sat­is­fy­ing source.

Down­load Tak­ing Sex­u­al­ity in for Repairs, Part 3 as a PDF file


  1. Spitzer, RL. Can some gay men and les­bians change their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion? 200 par­tic­i­pants report­ing a change from homo­sex­ual to het­ero­sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Archives of Sex­ual Behav­ior, Vol. 32, No. 5, Octo­ber 2003, p. 415.

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