Welcome End of a Pseudotheory
Many opponents of giving equal rights and protections to gay Americans — at the workplace, in the military, in marrying and forming families — make the claim that homosexuality is a chosen way of life. They have long seized on the work of a towering figure in psychiatry to justify their position.
But that psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Spitzer, has now renounced a study he did a decade ago that suggested that “reparative therapy” can help homosexuals who are highly motivated to change their sexual orientation. Dr. Spitzer’s admission that his study was deeply flawed should discredit, once and for all, those claims of social and religious conservatives that homosexuality is not a fundamental part of human identity.
Dr. Spitzer’s turnabout was described by Benedict Carey in The Times on Saturday. Dr. Spitzer’s enormous influence came from the fact that he directed a rigorous rewriting of the psychiatry profession’s diagnostic manual of mental disorders. Even before that, he successfully pressed to drop homosexuality from the manual.
Two decades later, still eager to challenge accepted wisdom, he conducted an in-depth telephone survey of 200 gay men and women who had received therapy or pastoral counseling to change their sexual behavior. Most told him that they had changed from a predominantly or exclusively homosexual orientation before therapy to a predominantly or exclusively heterosexual orientation.
Now Dr. Spitzer, who just turned 80, has acknowledged that his survey was deeply flawed. In a letter to the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which had published his study, he said he had no way of knowing whether the patients who said they had changed were deceiving themselves, lying or reporting accurately. He apologized for making “unproven claims” about reparative therapy and for any harm he may have caused to anyone who “wasted time and energy” undergoing the therapy.
Critics have noted that the people interviewed were nominated by centers that were performing the therapy and that there was no control group and no clear definition of what counted as therapy. There is also some evidence that reparative therapy can lead to depression or suicidal thoughts and behavior. It is absurd, potentially harmful, pseudopsychiatry. It should have been rejected long ago.