Counseling and Spiritual Care, is it Harmful or Ineffective? Conversion Therapy--What is it?
Conversion Therapy, What is it?
It is commonly stated that 'conversion therapy' is harmful or ineffective. What is not stated is that 'conversion therapy' is an intentional strategy to equate abusive practices with speech--talk therapy, prayer, sharing one's story, and conversations with a pastor, family member, friend, or ministry support conversations with a member of the laity.
Using emotional appeal, activists claim that LGBT identified persons need protection from abuse, so they propose legislative bans. Importantly, included in the bans are speech--written and verbal--not simply abusive practices.
Speech is Protected Under the 1st Amendment
The United States 11th Federal Circuit Court ruled that professional speech is constitutionally protected speech and overturned 'Conversion Therapy' bans in three states for minors. They also stated, referencing information from the American Psychological Association, that abusive treatment was not being used and that this was an attempt to ban speech, professional speech.
The US Supreme Court provided the basis for the 11th Circuit Court ruling for overturning the bans in Becerra v. NIFLA, referencing professional speech as constitutionally protected speech.
Adults and minors who deal with LGBT issues in their lives should have the right to choose their own goals and to obtain the support they seek.
They may choose professional counseling (speech), pastoral care (speech--talking, prayer), individuals who have themselves dealt with LGBT issues in their lives (speech--talking, listening, prayer) or others. Individuals who have left LGBT identities and sexual expression should also have the right to share their experiences with others, including in public discourse through media (speech--either written or verbal). All of these forms of speech have been labeled 'conversion therapy' by people advocating for the bans.
If the authors of the bills wanted to only ban abusive behaviors or practices, they would exclude speech--verbal and written--from the bills.
My testimony to the Oregon House (2023) about such bans related to speech.
What is the sort of counseling and spiritual care do we offer?
Those providing care may offer professional counseling, pastoral counseling or laity (lay) counseling. Professional therapy or counseling involves speech with licensed counselors, social workers, therapists, and other related professionals. Pastoral counselors may have a professional therapeutic license or may be licensed through a religious organization or denomination. Well-equipped laity may have degrees in counseling, theology, or other related field. Others may have received training from those who hold such degrees and have life experience that is helpful to others seeking their help. Assistance from pastors and laypersons involves speech--conversations and prayer.
The exchange of ideas, listening, talking, prayer, or listening to and discussing a presentation are all forms of speech used in care of individuals seeking help when dealing with LGBT topics in their lives. Counseling and ministry care used in Restored Hope Network is speech.
Counseling and Spiritual Care, is it Harmful or Ineffective?
It has been said (and published on some pro-gay films) that those who seek help to leave homosexuality are twice as likely to be suicidal, thus speech should be banned. They use as the source of that claim, the Williams Institute Generations Study, yet the data actually shows that minors who received sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) were half as likely to be suicidal after help. Adults who received help in dealing with unwanted same sex attraction were 17-25 times less likely to be suicidal. A great summary article was written by Dr. Andre Van Mol for Christian Medical and Dental Association entitled (Sexual Orientation Change Efforts) SOCE Reduces Suicidality (June 24, 2021).
Contrary to the claims of the various pro-gay flicks, obtaining the counseling that supported the adult's or minor's goal actually lowered suicidality by a huge margin!
Another research article about professional therapy and religiously motivated men was published--Effects of Therapy on Religious Men Who Have Unwanted Same-Sex Attraction by Paul L. Santero, PhD, Neil E. Whitehead, PhD, and Dolores Ballesteros, PhD. New research has recently come out showing no harm for those who did not experience change from counseling. (Pela, Sutton)
Likewise an older--though robust--study about the question of change and harm was published by Stanton Jones and Mark Yarhouse.* It focused primarily on religiously mediated change in groups such as Restored Hope Network and measured the effectiveness of that support.
The 6-year longitudinal study concluded, "The findings of this study would appear to contradict the commonly expressed view of the mental health establishment that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt." (p.11) And, in fact, this study indicated, "improved psychological status" as a result of being involved in these Christian ministries, even for those who remained gay identified.
The researchers then examined another angle, "If the attempt at the change process was going to be harmful, this harm should show up among those continuing to pursue change over a period of six years or more years." What then was the outcome of their research?
"Contrary to these expectations, we found no evidence of movement toward increased distress on average... Table 4 shows that the GSI scores moved toward less distress T1 to T6, attaining significance and a moderate to small effect size." (emphasis added)
Instead of harm, they found a reduction of psychological distress from involvement with such Christian ministries, a number of which are founding members of Restored Hope Network.
Is Christian Ministry Ineffective?
The same study by Jones and Yarhouse quantified sexual orientation outcomes,
"Looking at the Kinsey scores in Table 1, for the whole population we see that the T1 to T6 comparisons for both Kinsey variables were significant and of moderate effect size indicating average movement away from homosexual orientation. For the Phase 1 or rigorously prospective subpopulation, these comparisons did not attain significance. For the Truly Gay subpopulation, the T1 to T6 comparisons were significant and of moderate effect size indicating average movement away from homosexual orientation."
They found that even those who identified as "truly gay" and yet attended ministries for help, even they had a moderate average movement away from homosexual orientation.
"These effect sizes assume considerably more significance in light of the fact that we are reporting change on a dimension of human functioning that is supposed to be immutable."
In non-scientific, yet professional research, First Stone conducted research surveying 25 years of clients and published their entire findings in their Effectiveness Survey. They found that 118 individuals out of 124 who said they were sexually addicted (and attended at least one year of First Stone's ministry) had at least some progress out of homosexuality and sexual addiction to freedom from sexual addiction (The Complete First Stone Effectiveness Survey Report, p 98, SQ28/Freedom Realized, p. 261-262).
A whooping 95.2% of those who self-identified as sexually addicted and then attended at least 1 year of First Stone Ministries found a degree of freedom from sexual addiction. Only 4.6% or six individuals out of 124 did not experience change.
To restate the findings of Jones and Yarhouse above,
"The findings of this study would appear to contradict the commonly expressed view of the mental health establishment that sexual orientation is not changeable and that the attempt to change is highly likely to produce harm for those who make such an attempt." (p.11) And, in fact, this study indicated, "improved psychological status" as a result of being involved in these Christian ministries, even for those who remained gay identified.
Listen in to this video from friends in Europe, to hear about how their lives have been impacted and why they want the options kept open and how they feel about the bans.
*In the years since this research, Dr. Mark Yarhouse has taken the direction of sponsoring and supporting the concept of celibate, gay identified Christians. In this matter, we differ significantly from Dr. Yarhouse and have a position paper on the matter, which you can read here.