Conversion Therapy--What is it? Counseling and Spiritual Care, is it Harmful or Ineffective?
Conversion Therapy, What is it?
It is commonly stated that so-called 'conversion therapy' is harmful or ineffective. What is not stated is that 'conversion therapy' is an intentional LGBT propaganda strategy to equate horrific versions of 1950's hospital-based psychiatry, and somehow affiliate such things with healthy--and ordinary--talk therapy, pastoral care, and ministry support. Don't believe me? Check out any news story on 'conversion therapy' and you will see reference to these things.
Propaganda relies on people not examining the truth behind what people are claiming. One propaganda technique routinely used is emotional appeal. Aggressive gay activists claim to need protection from tortuous abuse and use such false claims to promote legislative bans--not on torturous forms of abuse--but on healthy talk therapy and ministry care for those whose goals are to align their sexual desires or practices with their own faith, personal values or ethics.
These activists claim to speak for everyone, though they themselves are not seeking to leave homosexuality. Emotional appeal is used to ask for protection, with an unstated goal of removing all forms of support for a different group of individuals.
If they do claim that they sought 'conversion therapy' and were harmed by it, they fail to reveal details that can be verified or investigated. Some major media outlets seem to cooperate with the strategy by not asking for key details (who, what, when, how long, why, etc).
Instead, counselors and others who help people honestly seeking help with unwanted LGBT desires should be the ones who are protected. To read more about the propagandist strategy, read our FAQ page. To learn what is at stake with the therapy bans, check out this fact sheet from National Task Force for Therapy Equality.
Is Talk Therapy or Spiritual Care Harmful?
In this category, we include licensed counselors, social workers, and other related professionals and groups such as pastoral counselors and ministry support opportunities.
Claims of harm can easily be refuted when it comes to professionally, licensed therapists in this field and as it relates to ministries. Here is one link to studies and information that refute the claim that these efforts are harmful.
One of the most robust studies ever done 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 as a result of Exodus involvement. 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)
Not only did they not find 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. Listen in to this recent video from friends in Europe, to hear about how their lives have been impacted.
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.
*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.