Read pretty much any article from the mainstream media about therapy for unwanted homosexuality, and you’ll notice that they all say the same two things: Such therapy is ineffective and harmful. They often add that “science has proven this.”
It’s as if every journalist were quoting from the same Wikipedia article or from talking points created by LGBT activist groups and their allies. You’d think journalists might actually do a little digging to find out what the research actually shows.
Peter Sprigg, Senior Fellow for Policy Studies at Family Research Council, did what journalists and opponents of leaving homosexuality don’t do. He reviewed 79 articles, books and studies to see whether they really demonstrate that therapy for unwanted homosexuality – often called “Sexual Orientation Change Efforts” (SOCE) or “conversion therapy” – is harmful.
In “No Proof of Harm,” Sprigg concludes: “79 studies on SOCE do not provide scientific proof that they are more harmful than other forms of therapy, more harmful than other courses of action for those with SSA, or more likely to be harmful than helpful for the average client.”
Of course, he’s not talking about things like aversion therapy, which was used by psychiatrists and psychiatrists in the last century. And, he’s not talking about forcing people to try and change. The studies primarily deal with various forms of talk therapy involving a variety of therapeutic approaches
The sources he examined include a book, four book chapters, a doctoral dissertation, and 73 “articles or other writings in academic journals.” Such reports are often cited by activists to show that therapeutic work to leave homosexuality is damaging. But Sprigg notes that many of the sources didn’t even study the question of whether such counseling was detrimental, and several of them acknowledged “that no scientific evidence of such harm had been discovered.”
Sprigg found that 18 of the sources don’t even say anything about harm resulting from therapy to change homosexual behaviors, identity, attractions or thoughts. He explains that another 28 articles or reports “do assert or suggest that SOCE may be harmful” but did not actually study SOCE clients. 33 of the sources examined include case reports or studies on individuals who had therapy for unwanted same-sex attractions. Only six of those 33 reports involved sample sizes of 50 or more clients.
“No Proof of Harm” explains that people seek help for homosexual attractions, identity and behaviors for a number of reasons. He writes, “For example, an individual may have experienced homosexual relationships and life in the ‘gay community’ and become personally disillusioned with it.” He adds that homosexual activity “carries elevated health risks,” and some people seek counseling to change their behavior and avoid those detrimental consequences.
He writes, “By far the most common reason why people seek change in their sexual attractions, behavior, or identity is religious conviction.” People of faith, wrestling with homosexuality, “may consider their religious identity more fundamental to who they are than their sexual attractions are.” Such individuals “may seek professional assistance in living their lives in a way that is compatible with the moral teachings of their faith.”
The paper concludes most of the 79 studies “suffer from significant methodological weaknesses” and that “they do not provide scientific proof that SOCE is more harmful than other forms of therapy.”
Even the American Psychological Association, which opposes attempts to change from homosexuality, does not have the research to determine that such efforts are hurtful. Sprigg points out that in its 2009 study of the question, conducted by LGBT activists, the organization reported that there is a “dearth of scientifically sound research on the safety of SOCE.” The activists stated, “Thus, we cannot conclude how likely it is that harm will occur from SOCE.”
Sprigg says his findings are especially important because many states and municipalities have banned counseling for individuals struggling with unwanted homosexuality, claiming that such efforts are damaging.
“Bans on sexual orientation change efforts are an outrageous attack upon free speech, freedom of religion, the ethical principle of client autonomy, and the privacy of the relationships between counselor and client. The only way this unprecedented government interference has been justified is with claims that such therapy is harmful to those who receive it,” he told The Daily Citizen,
Sprigg added, “I think this literature review, of 79 studies purported to include ‘measures of harm’ from such therapy, has shown that the ‘overwhelming scientific evidence’ for this claim does not exist. While there is anecdotal evidence that some clients report harm, there is no scientific proof that outcomes are significantly different from any other form of therapy.”
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