Monday, August 17, 2009

APA Repudiates Reparative Therapy ... Finally!

A couple of weeks ago, the American Psychological Association officially announced that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments. These are mainstays of the antigay industry, which tries to treat sexual orientation as a choice or a sickness.

Now, this is certainly great news and a worthwhile announcement. However, what took them so long? I mean, it was decades ago, back in 1973, when they declared that being gay wasn't a mental disorder. How come it took them so much longer to acknowledge the damage so-called reparative therapy does to people?

I remember almost 10 years ago when I was diagnosed with stomach cancer, I was chatting with my gastronenterologist, and we ended up talking about current celebrities who were in the news for having affairs. One of them was gay - I don't remember who it was - but the first thing my doctor said was "He should get reparative therapy so he could have a normal relationship with a woman and not cheat on guys."

Now, she knew I was gay and in a relationship. There we were talking about having my stomach surgically removed, and she just casually mentions that a gay guy needs therapy to become straight.

In fairness to her, her comment was a knee-jerk reaction, and she had no actual issues with gay folks. She was simply parroting something she'd heard, out of ignorance. When the situation was turned around - "That straight guy needs therapy so he can be a in a normal relationship with another guy and not cheat on girls" - she immediately realized her faux pas.

Even now, though, years later, I remember the shock and discomfort I felt at her statement. When you're seeing a doctor, you're already feeling vulnerable and unwell, and there's an immediate power-differential between you and this authority figure.

I cannot imagine how I'd feel if that doctor were telling me I needed treatment to change something so basic with myself as who I was attracted to. It was bad enough to catch it as an indirect, offhand comment. How devastating to have it be a direct attack on your sexual identity.

Not only did the APA refute, nearly unanimously, reparative therapy, but they also urged therapists to advise clients whose sexual orientation and religious faith conflicted
to consider multiple alternative options, ranging from celibacy to switching churches.

Their declaration is a great thing without question. Hopefully future advances for equality will be more timely (and more strongly worded would be nice, too).