GAY AFFIRMING THERAPISTS CONDEMN
CHANGING CLIENT'S SEXUAL ORIENTATION,
RECOMMEND CHANGING RELIGIOUS ORIENTATION
Gay activists within and outside the mental health field are engaged in a systematic
attack on religion. The gay activists argue that heterosexism -- the belief that
heterosexuality is healthy and normal -- is a bigoted prejudice, perhaps even a symptom of
the mental illness -- homophobia. At the very least homonegativism is a
unjustifiable prejudice that must be eliminated from society and from the churches.
According to this view, the mental health and behavior problems observed among homosexuals
are caused by society's pervasive anti-homosexual attitudes. Traditional religious belief
that homosexual behavior is sinful cause "internalized homophobia" in
homosexually active persons and societal discrimination against homosexually
According to gay activists, therapy or religious ministries which help clients to
change sexual orientation feed on "internalized homophobia" in the clients and
negatively effects society should therefore be banned even though the clients want to
change and may have reasonably expect a successful outcome. Instead, therapists should be
encouraged to tell clients that Christian teaching doesn't condemn homosexual acts,
including in non-exclusive relationships.
The following selected material demonstrate the nature of the attack on religion. The
discussion began when Throckmorton criticized an article by Wolpe in which Wolpe refused
to help a homosexually attracted man work toward developing attractions for women and
instead directed his efforts to changing the man's religious beliefs. A number of gay
affirming therapists have defended Wolpe and recommended similar actions.
Religious leaders need to recognize how these trends threaten freedom of religion.
Therapist pressures client to change religious beliefs.
Wolpe, J. (1969) The Practice of Behavior Therapy Elmsford, NY: Pergamon
Wolpe did not believe change of orientation was possible. He refused to help the client
overcome his homosexuality, because he felt that the client's religious convictions and
beliefs were responsible for anxiety and worked to give the client a different religious
perspective. By the 6th session the client had come to "see that he had taken sin,
particularly in relation to sexuality, too seriously." Wolpe then helped the
client use assertive behavior. The client left therapy but later communicated to the
therapist that he no longer responded sexually to men. He dated, married and reported a
Regards pressuring client to change religious beliefs as unethical.
Throckmorton, W. (1996) Efforts to modify sexual orientation: A review of outcome
literature and ethical issues. Journal of Mental Health and Counseling. 20, 4: 283
Wolpe (1973) ... described the case of a 32-year-old male who had never experienced
sexual attraction or relations with women. The man had "formed a succession of
attachments to men with whom he had sexual relations." However, he also felt such
relations were against his religious belief causing severe anxiety. Wolpe chose to attempt
to minimize his religious objections via giving him a book to read. While the client felt
some guilt reduction, he still wished to "overcome his homosexuality" Wolpe
refused on the basis of a belief in the genetic basis for homosexuality. The client
continued in assertiveness training, however, which resulted in significant reduction in
anxiety and improvement in job performance. After several months, the man reported to
Wolpe that he had become unable to have sex with men and was feeling attracted to a woman.
Through the next year, he became sexually active with women and finally married. After a
3-year follow-up, Wolpe described the client's heterosexual sex life as "in every way
"Since religion is one of the client attributes that mental health counselors are
ethically bound to respect, counselors should take great care in advising those clients
dissatisfied with same-gender sexual
orientation due to their religious beliefs. To accommodate such clients counselors
should develop expertise in methods of sexual reorientation or develop appropriate
referral resources." (p. 301)
Defends therapists who encourage "religious reorientation"
Schreier, B. (1998) Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax: The faulty and specious
assumptions of sexual reorientation therapies. Journal of Mental Health Counseling. 20,
4: 305 - 314.
"Throckmorton is critical about an article by Wolpe (1973) where Wolpe chose to
offer religious reorientation rather than sexual reorientation. Perhaps instead of
sexual reorientation, individuals could seek religious reorientation to any number of
major U.S. religions that are affirming of people with same-sex orientations.... Not
all religions are judgmental and condemning. Advocating for sexual reorientation while
being critical of religious reorientation again demonstrates nothing more than bias."
Encourages therapist to challenge client's religion
Barrett, R., Barzan, R. (1996) Spiritual experiences of gay men and lesbians. Counseling
and Values. 41: 4 - 15.
"...assisting gay and lesbians to step away from external religious authority may
challenge the counselor's own acceptance of religious teachings."(p.8)
".. most counselors will benefit from a model that help them understand the
difference between spiritual and religious authority." (p.8)
Religion as a cause of heterosexism and homonegativity
Bohan, J. (1996) Psychology and Sexual Orientation: Coming to Terms. NY:
"Religious beliefs and strongly held political ideologies are examples of values.
This function might explain the correlation between psychological heterosexism and
conservative political beliefs, as well as the relation to religiosity, especially a
commitment to conservative religious institutions whose teachings about homophilia are
extremely negative. Indeed, the religious arguments for homonegativity is arguably the
most powerful force in contemporary social movements to limit gay rights. Also, the
frequent finding that homonegativity is correlated with other forms of prejudice may be
explicable from this perspective. The cohesiveness of these attitudes suggests that they
serve an important function for the individual."
"Homonegative attitudes of this sort may change if the individual recognizes a
conflict between this value and another value... attitudes might change if a revered
authority, such as a member of the clergy or a biblical scholar, were to present a more
positive view of LGB experience, still grounded in religious teaching." (p. 58)
"Diminishing anti-LGB prejudice and discrimination will require institutional as
well as individual change."
Criticizes churches for helping members live according to moral teachings
Haldeman, D. (1994) The practice and ethics of sexual orientation conversion therapies.
Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. 62: 221 -227.
"Fundamentalist Christian conversion programs hold enormous symbolic power over
many people. Possibly exacerbating the harm to naive, shame-ridden counselees, these
programs operate under the formidable auspices of the Christian church....
"Such programs seek to divest the individual of his or her 'sinful' feelings or at
least to make the pursuit of a heterosexual or celibate lifestyle possible. Their
theoretical base is founded on interpretations of scripture that condemn homosexual
behavior, their often unspecified treatment methods rely on prayer, and their outcomes are
generally limited to testimonials. Nonetheless, these programs bear some passing
examinations because of the tremendous psychological impact they have on the many unhappy
gay men and lesbians who seek their services and because of some psychologists'
willingness to refer to them. Lastly, many such programs have been associated with
significant ethical problems.
"Gay men who are most likely to be inclined toward doctrinaire religious practice
are also likely to have lower self-concepts, to see homosexuality as more sinful, feel a
greater sense of apprehension about negative responses from others, and are more depressed
in general. (Weinberg & Williams, 1974) Such individuals make vulnerable targets for
the 'ex-gay" ministries..."
Criticizes Later Day Saints (Mormons) stand on homosexuality
Jensen, J. (1999) A Psychiatrist's Response to the Latter Day Saints Social Services
National Affirmation Annual Conference.
Review of LDS Social Services document "Understanding and Helping Individuals with
LDS SS document makes "... unqualified and unjustified use of concepts steeped
more in the prejudices of Western tradition which date back to the turn of century than in
modern social or psychological sciences."
"In order for LDS Social Services to "offer a reparative therapy approach
which assumes that homosexual behavior can be changed," they had to leave the
mainstream of the mental health professions and shop around for anyone whose own
prejudices match those of "the church" no matter how unjustified, antiquated,
unscientific, ineffective, harmful and unethical their belief and practices may be. This
unfortunate collision has compromised the scientific integrity of LDS Social Services and
-- by extension -- the LDS Church; a retreated, closed, propagandistic and anxiety-
maintained position which is untenable for a people whose prominent motto is 'the glory of
God is intelligence.'"
Guilt and shame induced by society
Martin, A. (1984) The emperor's new clothes: Modern attempts to change sexual
orientation. (in Stein, T, Hetrick, E. Innovations in psychotherapy with homosexuals.
Washington DC: American Psychiatric Press) 24 -57.
"... the patient told that success depends on his or her "motivation"
and "choice." In other words, in both therapy and religion, success or failure
becomes the responsibility of the patient/believer. Unfortunately, clinicians pay little
attention to the tactic's potential for negative outcomes in therapy, particularly for
those already burdened with societally induced guilt and shame."
Murphy, T. (1992) Redirecting sexual orientation: Techniques and justifications. Journal
of Sex Research. 29: 501- 523.
"There would be no reorientation techniques where there was no interpretation that
homoeroticism as an inferior state, an interpretation that in many ways continues to be
medically defined, criminally enforced, socially sanctioned, and religiously justified.
And it is in this moral interpretation, more than in the reigning medical theory of the
day, that all programs of sexual reorientation have their common origins and
Challenges Christian teaching on homosexuality and on sexual fidelity
Nelson, J. (1982) Religious and moral issues in working with homosexual clients.(in
Gonsiorek, J. Homosexuality and Psychotherapy. NY: Haworth) 163
"While strict moral and religious neutrality in psychotherapy is problematic at
best, the therapist working with homosexual clients particularly needs clarity about her
or his own moral and religious assumptions, together with a knowledge of the
Judeo-Christian tradition on the subject. This article examines the biblical evidence and
current theological arguments about homosexuality. Christianity as an incarnational faith
is a sex-affirming religion, with positive resources for lesbian and gay men. An analysis
of homophobia concludes, maintaining the position that the church as a whole will benefit
great from the liberation of gay men and lesbians from oppression."
"I consider 'homosexuality' an abstraction. There is no such thing as
'homosexuality' per se."
"...my own conviction ... that homosexuality is a Christianly valid orientation;
that homosexual genital expression should be guided by the same general ethical criteria
as are appropriate for heterosexual expression, though with sensitivity to the special
situation of an oppressed minority... "
"Given the realities of social oppression, it is insensitive and unfair to judge
gay men and lesbians by a heterosexual ideal of the monogamous relationship. ... that
other sexual encounters and experiences can have elements of genuine good in them even
while falling short of the optimum remains an open possibility."
"For the gay male or lesbian couple who intend a covenant of indefinite duration,
will 'fidelity' always mean 'genital exclusivity'? Some such couples (as is true of some
heterosexual couples) have explored relationships that admit the possibility of sexual
intimacy with secondary partners. For these couples 'infidelity' does not have a simple
biological meaning (sex with someone other than the permanent partner). Rather, infidelity
means the rupture of the bonds of faithfulness, trust, honesty, and commitment to the
partner's well-being and growth, a commitment to the primacy of this covenant over any
other relationship. While there are undoubted risks for such a course of action, and while
the weight of Christian tradition is on the side of sexual exclusivity, there are also
risks when a couple's relationship becomes marked by possessiveness."
"In a word, churches and society both desperately need release from homophobia,
that irrational fear of same-sex orientation and expression."
"While some resistance to homosexuality is, to be sure based upon calm and
reasoned religious belief... undoubtedly much is based upon unreasoned, ill-understood
Shidlo, A. (1994) Internalized homophobia: Conceptual and empirical issues.(in Greens,
B., Herek, G. Lesbian and Gay Psychology Thousand Oaks CA8/4/99 Sage.)176 - 205.
"... prejudicial attitudes toward gay persons can be a vehicle for expressing
cultural or religious values. Other terms such as homonegativism provides a more
neutral and inclusive designation for the total universe of negative attitudes toward
Encourages therapist to free clients from guilt over sexual behavior
Silverstein, C. (1972) Behavior Modification and the Gay community. Paper
presented at the annual convention of the Association for Advancement of Behavior Therapy.
"To suggest that a person comes voluntarily to change his sexual orientation is to
ignore the powerful environmental stress, oppression if you will, that has been telling
him for years that he should change... What brings them into counseling is guilt, shame,
and the loneliness that comes from their secret. If you really wish to help them freely
choose, I suggest you first desensitize them to their guilt. Allow them to dissolve
the shame about their desires and actions and to feel comfortable with their sexuality.
After that, let them choose, but not before."