Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Reparative Therapy

I'm not sure this is EXACTLY the sort of therapy my husband has been involved with....but it's a the very least a cousin of it and probably more like a fraternal twin or something. It's close enough to just go ahead and call it reparative therapy. I hesitate to give it that name outright because 1)our therapist has never used that term with us 2)he's not a typical therapist (reparative or otherwise). But...for the sake of this writing I'll call it reparative therapy and move on.

Here's what's on my mind.

I got into a conversation with some folks over at Ex-Gay Watch a few weeks ago about the movie.(Actually, it was a review of the movie.) There it is if you want to read it. I found my conversation there to be cordial and enlightening, for me at least, and I was pleased that I'd engaged. I felt accepted and valued as a person with an opinion. Imagine that....we could all take a lesson from it. If the mood so strikes me I will comment there again. The thing that I feel compelled to talk about here, on my blog, after having spent some time reading posts and comments on that blog is reparative therapy.

There are a great number of gays who've tried reparative therapy but it didn't work for them. For whatever reason. It's not my place to judge why it works for some and not others. My point is this. Sometimes it DOES work. I understand that on a site like Ex-Gay Watch there's going to be an over-whelming number represented for which it didn't work, possibly caused pain, and left the person in depression over the fact that they were still gay. Basically, for those folks, they see it as a huge stumbling block toward their goal of accepting themselves and embracing their sexual identity. I get that.

But, the fact remains that there are those, like my husband, for whom reparative therapy worked. Being careful not to offend anyone's sensibilities here (this is, after all, a sexual issue) but our marriage has gone from nada in the way of sexual intimacy/fulfillment to mucho bueno. Sure, he could have accepted himself as gay and gone on to those pastures, but he didn't choose that path. He chose this one. The next part of this debate naturally always turns to "what does change look like?" What if he's still attracted to men somewhat....eventually he's going to "fall off the wagon" and you'll find him in gay bar looking for the life he's always dreamed about. So what if he is?(still somewhat attracted) So what if that does happen?(return to gaydom) What then? Nothing, that's what. Life goes on. God will pick us both up, piece by broken piece, and heal us. Heaven forbid it ever come to that....but...come what may, we're in.

For us, it's not really about reparative therapy at all (even though it is). It's about a life of faith in Christ to redeem and restore us to our rightful place in the kingdom He created for us in the beginning. Reparative therapy has, no doubt, contributed a critical piece to the making of the wholeness that is US as a married couple. It worked.


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Robert said...

This is an interesting entry, Grace. BTW--I have not seen "the movie" either, and I probably will not but for different reasons perhaps than yours.

From my perspective, I believe that therapy can affect a person's sexuality, but to differing degrees in different people. I think people express themselves though their choices and their actions. Men who are sexually attracted to other men, but who marry women or have girlfriends, have made the choice to do so. Obviously there is something in it for them or they would not be in heterosexual relationships.

It seems to me that such men have some duality in them where they can be sexually aroused by both men and women. A gay man such as myself might find this to be confusing -- as I am sure many straight women would as well. Gay men can become sexually active or inactive, but it really does not develop into heterosexuality.

I don't know TDub, so I cannot really comment on the "fall off the wagon" part in any great detail, BUT I can say from my experience with men in general (both hetero and homo) that a wandering eye has more to do with a man's personal habits and insecurities rather than sexual orientation. Just my 2 cents.

grace said...

"a wandering eye has more to do with a man's personal habits and insecurities rather than sexual orientation."

As always, I find you full of wisdom and discernment. Damn it I wish you played for our team!! haha! I have my own thoughts about some other things you've expressed here....but no reason to argue them with you. This last bit here though...for me...is SPOT ON! :)
Thanks for reading and sharing your perspective here!
If you ever do see "the movie" i'd love to know what you think of it.

Inheritor of Heaven said...

Does reparative therapy have anything whatever to do with deliverance or inner healing ministries?

grace said...

Not that I'm aware of...but that doesn't really mean much. The only "big" program I'm aware of in regards to reparative therapy is called "Desert Streams" (i think). There may be aspects of reparative therapy that relate to the ministries you are talking about...I'm just not qualified to answer since I've not heard of either of them. Maybe someone else will know.

grace said...

Actually, the ministry is Desert Streams but the program for strugglers is called Living Waters. I did remember that.

Robert said...

Thanks Grace! LOL!

I am really grateful that there are a number of movies that are portraying GLBT people in a balanced, 3 dimensional way. That just did not happen a few years ago, and I have heard from a number of people who have seen Brokeback Mountain that it is sad, but that they liked it.

That said, I have seen too many situations in my life that are similar to the situation in Brokeback Mountain -- and not just with homosexuality involved. I have seen many straight people do similar things. In fact, if you changed the main characters from gay midwestern cowboys to straight English royalty, you might have the Charles and Camilla story.

Perhaps I am being insensitive, but I probably would go throughout the movie wanting to slap these two cowboys in the back of their pretty heads and tell them "C'mon and make up your minds!"

Anonymous said...

Hrmmm interesting idea grace. I never really considered that the therapy would work only for some... I always thought that it either did work or it didnt, and my mind is still not made up on this. All these theories.....all these success stories.... all these failures. It's hard to know just who to believe.

Ed (is there any way to leave my name at the top?)

grace said...

My statement wasn't that the therapy would work only for some....just that for one reason or other it hasn't worked for some. We don't have any way of knowing for sure whether it would work for them or not or why it didn't. It seems, from my limited experience, that while there are many similarities about people's journey's toward success with change, the journey's can be as individual as the individuals themselves.

It's not hard to know who to believe. Christ. That's it. I have more questions than answers about all the rest of it, I'll be the first to admit. I'm relating my/our story here, no one else's.

You can get your name to go at the top by clicking on the "other" option and then typing your name in. See if that works. I look forward to hearing from you again!

Ed said...

ahh thanks. Some reason it didnt come up like this last time.
I think the main problem I have is, its hard to pray clearly about my orientation. If I tell conservative Christian friends that God really did tell me it's ok (for me) to be gay, who would believe me? It's also hard for me to decipher the answers myself, I'm not sure if my personal bias is affecting these prayer answers.

I've tried my best to let God take over my attractions, I guess time will tell what will happen eh?

The only complaint that I have about being gay and christian, is that it takes up so much time! Dunno how many countless hours I've wasted reading up different people's arguments :P

I do hope things with your husband work out well.

grace said...

This issue challenges mainstream conservative Christians from whichever perspective you're coming from. It's just something most people would rather not spend any time thinking about...let alone figuring out what the truly Christlike response to the whole thing is.

Thanks for your good wishes for me and my husband.


Norm! said...


I think I understand your statement: "...it's not really about reparative therapy...". We can't discuss 'reparative therapies' (or attempts to change same-sex attractions) without also discussing religious and cultural motivations. The vast majority of ex-gays are religiously-motivated and most organizations that promote programs to change sexual orientation are religiously-affliated (possibly excluding NARTH). So, 'reparative therapy' may be helping your husband, but his religious motivation is probably a bigger factor in making it work.

However as a former ex-gay participant, I feel that there is a real danger in mixing 'reparative therapies' with religion. Too often the success or failure of 'reparative therapy' is linked to one's spiritual standing such as, "I'm experiencing change, therefore God has blessed me!" or worse, "I'm not experiencing change, therefore I lack faith.". The fact that 'reparative therapies' don't work for most participants suggests that these 'therapies' are probably only effective for certain individuals such as participants who are religiously motivated and have an extensive support system.

I suspect that conservative religious groups recommend 'reparative therapies' regardless of their proven effectiveness or harm because they have no appealing alternative. Afterall, life-long celibacy is too hard to sell and liberal theology is too non-traditional. Ironically, a religion started by a supposedly celibate single man with non-tradition ideas has been turned into a 'hetero families only' club.

grace said...

Wow. I think you've nailed it here. You've articulated some vague ideas and inconsistencies that I've had trouble reconciling concerning therapy/faith.
Thanks! Much to think about here.

Oh...I also believe that super conservative traditionalist thinking sorts of people are threatened by people like me (at times)because I'm willing to entertain these sorts of ideas. But it's important....and has absolutley nothing to do with God's absolute truth in all matters. Your statements above have no bearing on my religious beliefs...and yet....from my (again limited) experiences I see much validity to your line of thinking on this.


Inheritor of Heaven said...

It is unfortunate that the sins of abortion and the homosexual sex act have become the defining topics for Christians these days. The divorce rate is the same for Christians as nonChristians and there may well be as much adultery and pornography use among those groups as well, so what does that say about our "club"? The church needs to acknowledge sin as sin and get on with loving sinners. I At this point in my life and experience I believe there is healing and restoration and deliverance from ALL of those sins. The church needs to rely on the power of God in faith to be effective in that process of setting people free. I think we too often fall into the mode of bashing some sins (and sinners) and ignoring others. Our club mentality does not help in that regard. Am I way out of line?

Norm! said...


I appreciate your open-mindness and your willingness to share your unique perspective (spouse of someone struggling with SSA). I didn't mean to throw you into my conservative Christian 'hetero families only' stereotype.

You mentioned that you and your husband are seeing a therapist. I hope you don't mind me asking, but is he a licensed professional Christian therapist? You mentioned your therapist is not "typical", so I'm not sure what that means. Also, I not sure what types of licenses are required or available in your state.

Another one of my concerns about many 'ex-gay' ministries is that many leaders seem to provide therapy without professional training or credentials. Ex-gay organizations, like Exodus, don't seem to require counselors to have any type of professional training. And yet, many ministries provide counseling and administer 'reparative therapies' which often involve diving into childhood abuse, self-image and even suicide issues. Although many 'ex-gay' promoters are well-meaning, real harm can be caused by untrained individuals trying to provide therapy.

This is one my main criticisms about the 'ex-gay' movement. Instead of simply helping participants to obey religious doctrine (abstinence and marital fidelity), they also try to "heal" participants. Although many 'ex-gay' ministries claim biblical doctrines, they rely on non-biblical 'reparative therapies' in their programs or, worse, try to biblically justify 'reparative therapies'. These ministries should more honest about their own limitations, such as not providing counseling, and the admit the questionable effectiveness of their 'reparative therapies' programs.

grace said...

Interior: I don't think you're out of line at all. I think I posted something along this same line before you started reading my blog...or maybe you've read it. The one called, "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" is in that same vein of thought. My husband and I call it a "cruise ship" mentality that we have at church (that stolen from some guy who came and talked to us there) where we have this big operation just floating along to entertain the members...not reach out to EACH OTHER in our own sin struggles let alone help those outside our cruise in any way.

Norm: Regarding our therapist. He does have a doctorate in counseling from Abilene Christian University and he is liscensed in our state. He's unconventional on several levels as far as we're concerned. #1-He's of our "denonmination" churchwise but is extremely progressive-all the while maintaining complete support and approval for his counseling ministry to struggling individuals. He's just absolutely one of the BEST in this area. #2-His group therapy sessions do involve some unconventional sorts of experiences for the guys...some involving worship and some involving the use of appropriate touch and holding techniques. Touching is pretty "taboo" in the typical Exodus line of thinking from what I've read.
#3-He's just a really cool guy. I've never been to talk to him that I didn't come away surprised at least a little by something he may have said. He's just incredible.

He actually told of a time when he worked with this guy who'd been gay...and had started losing his attractions to men and feeling a bit attracted to women...and had come to him for help to be gay again. And he worked with the guy. That's pretty unconventional for an "ex-gay" therapist, don't you think?

I guess he does counsel some people outside the realm of Christianity but I can't say that for sure since all of our dealings with him have been within that context.


Norm! said...


I'm glad your therapist empowers his clients to follow their own path/journey. I assume all professionally licensed, religious-affiliated therapists would have a professional ethic not to impose or coerce a particular religious viewpoint -- even if their clients profess the same religion.

From my experience, I agree that same-sex touching is a big taboo in 'ex-gay' groups. Although it may seem overly restrictive (i.e. quick "A-frame" hugs only, no touching of feet(?), no unsupervised meetings participants, etc.), it may be a sensible precaution. Boundaries are important since most members eventually "fall" and/or choose to leave the 'ex-gay' lifestyle. Unfortunately, there has also been a history of 'ex-gay' counselors/therapists using touch therapy to take advantage of clients.

grace said...

Norm: The no-touch rules probably are "sensible" as are boundaries...but I can't tell you how many times God has urged me to do things that aren't in the least bit "sensible". It always comes back to trust and our willingness to take risks. At least it does for me. Falling or giving up doesn't change God's love, compassion, or mercy. I understand your bias against ex-gay therapies because of your bad experiences with them/it. We've just had different experiences than you.

BernieMKMD said...

Where do I begin.

First: I'm impressed with the gentle respecful feelings expressed by the people commenting on this blog.

Second: Main stream professional mental health therapists (Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers) have long ago (1973) taken Homosexuality out of the category of "Illness" which needs to be treated on its own. There's no illness of homosexulity a priori to treat or repair. But clearly there are many homosexually oriented people who suffer emotionally by the conflicts associated.

It is a dramatic example of "Cognitive Disonance", strong homosexual feelings which feel part of a person's very being versus powerful interests in religion, community, family and even marriage which would be threatened by "coming out." A homosexual life is not very appealing to these unfortunately tormented people, caught in this severe conflict.

Reparative or Conversion "Therapy" offers a way out. Keep the religion, keep the family ties together, keep the marriage and children part of one's life. Redefine homosexual identity or orientation as a defense against male-male relations, a sexualized same-sex relationship, which underneath it is the "Normal" herterosexuality. encourage "normal" relations with men as friends but not lovers. wncourage relations with women to be the sexual outlet.

Statistically, this doesn't work very often. In official mental health professions, such "therapy" is condemned as unethical...because so many more people "fail", so many people are left to fake it to keep their anti-gay family relations, and homosexuality-as-sin religion. But more importantly, such therapies causes far more harm then good, so many more people suffer worse after feeling like failues, accused of "just not trying hard enough.

Medical, psychiatric, psychologic professionals have an ethic of "First do no harm." For most "patients" Repartive therapy hurts more than it helps. Only a tiny minority of people have "success".

In this regard, those who are interested might well read a newly published book "Ex-Gay Research". A psychiatrist, Robert Spizter, M.D. got together as many Ex-Gays as he could, and tested them out psychologically. He found significant gains and resolution of the kind of conflicts noted above, similar to your experience, Grace. But it is a tiny percentage of the people trying it. It took two years of extensive searching to find 200 people who would be part of the study, when advertised with ex-gay ministeries, DARTH, and even Laura Schlessinger.

it substantiated that such conversion interventions seem to work for some. But the methodology of the study is very poor. There is no neutral group of randomly selected gay and lesbians, no group of people who didn't volunteer as successful "patients."

It is a book well worth reading, as there is presentation of Spitzer's research, and 23 responses from various professionals about the research, about reparative "therapy", even a few who defend it as useful for some.

That is where I, a psychiatrist have ended up. Reparative work is an unknown "treatment" by very dedicated "patients" and frequently non-professinal "therapists" which seems to help some, burried in a strong religious environment which allows people to hang on to their religion and community and families, and change sexual behavior, wheteher it changes sexual orientation or identity. But it is very dangerous and harmful to most who try it.

It has been more than just politics that has made evidence-based conclusions by main stream psychiatry/psychologists make such "therapy" and referrals for such "therapies" unethical.

grace said...

Bernie: Thanks for your input on this post! It seems to me that reparative therapy needs to be very clear about what "success" will most likely look like (or at least be very upfront with a sort of "worse case scenario") so that those seeking "change" are not dissolusioned or feel like failures at some point because of false expectations.

Again, thanks for your additions to this post.
love and grace,