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Psychologists say sexual orientation can't be changed through therapy

August 5, 2009 |  2:00 pm

There is no evidence to support the claims of some practitioners that sexual orientation can be changed through therapy, a special committee of the American Psychological Assn. reported today. Mental health professionals should not tell patients that they can change their sexual orientation and instead should help them "explore possible life paths that address the reality of their sexual orientation," according to the report, which was released at a Toronto meeting of the association and online.

Although the majority of scientists now believe that sexual orientation is genetically predetermined, many therapists have claimed to be able to change gay people into straight ones. Spurred by the controversy surrounding such claims, the APA in 2007 appointed a six-member committee of experts to examine the review and update the association's 1997 report on the subject. Today's 138-page report, approved by the APA's governing council, represents their conclusions.

The panel reviewed 83 peer-reviewed journal articles that appeared in English between 1960 and 2007. Most were conducted before 1978, and only a handful had been conducted in the last 10 years.  "Unfortunately, much of the research ... contains serious design flaws," said psychologist Judith M. Glassgold of Rutgers University, who chaired the committee. "Few studies could be considered methodologically sound and none systematically evaluated potential harms" from the conversion efforts, she said. Potential harms include depression and suicide attempts.

"Scientifically rigorous older studies in this area found that sexual orientation was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose," she said. "At most, certain studies suggested that some individuals learned how to ignore or not act on their homosexual attractions. Yet these studies did not indicate for whom this was possible, how long it lasted, or its long-term mental health effects."

-- Thomas H. Maugh II

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