While a new report from the 150,000-member American Psychological Association declares reparative therapy is a sham and has no effect, it doesn’t go so far as to demand counselors quit telling gay patients to just accept who they are. In fact, the APA’s new guidelines enter a murky area — recognizing some patients will just never reconcile their sexuality with their faith, and thus permitting psychologists to help them abandon their same-sex feelings. Which is not the same thing as going straight.
The APA task force that studied 50 years of data to create the 138-page report says “it is ethical — and can be beneficial — for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions,” relays the WSJ.
So what do the new rules actually entail?
According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.
But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.
“We’re not trying to encourage people to become ‘ex-gay,'” said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA’s task force on the issue. “But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.”
The APA has long endorsed the right of clients to determine their own identities. But it also warned that “lesbians and gay men who feel they must conceal their sexual orientation report more frequent mental health concerns.”
We’re not going to pretend to know more about psychology than the APA. They’re the experts. And there does need to be a middle ground for gay people who simply want to be loved by Jesus than to love themselves.
But there’s something that nags at us about this methodology: The APA is permitting its 150,000 counselors to tell Americans they should deny themselves sex (a very normal human desire), and even companionship, to cope with the conflict of religion and identity.
No, sexuality is not the same as race. It’s not the same as gender. But we can’t fathom one of the nation’s leading psychological institutions to, say, recommend a Latino man who’s ashamed of his heritage (i.e. something he is born into) to learn how to disassociate from the Latino community and “prioritize” his subscription to “white values.” It’s silly, really. And it sounds perfectly harmful.
Especially to young people. And while we’re sure age and circumstance are taken into account when a therapist decides what strategy to undertake with a patient, it’s hard to reconcile telling a 13-year-old girl or 18-year-old man they can lead happy, fulfilling lives by denying themselves the love of another person.