Therapy to Support Your Faith—and Suppress Yourself

August 6, 2009

The Wall Street Journal reports that the American Psychological Association has endorsed “therapy” that assists gays and lesbians to resist sexual desire. The purpose of this therapy is to allow gays and lesbians who are conservative Christians to adhere to the tenets of their faith, which condemns homosexual conduct.

This does not seem like therapy to me, unless therapy is expanded to include brainwashing someone into suppressing natural and legitimate desires for the purpose of adhering to pointless dogma. If a legitimate goal of therapy is to support absurd beliefs based on religious faith, here are some possible types of therapy:

  • Therapy to get women to suppress any desire for autonomy so they can accept submission to their husbands;
  • A therapy to get potential Islamic martyrs to suppress any desire to live so they can accept the legitimacy of self-destruction;
  • Therapy to get believers to suppress the desire for evidence-based reasoning, so they can blindly accept religious dogma.

The APA should be ashamed of itself. Oh, wait, I forgot. Members of this organization have undergone therapy to suppress any feelings of shame for endorsing nonsense.


#1 Philip on Thursday August 06, 2009 at 2:52pm

I’m torn on this issue, but it sounds to me like the APA is taking a reasonable approach.

“.. the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn’t signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.”

“... we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else.”

Personally, I would encourage anyone in this dilemma to embrace their natural sexual identity and find a gay-friendly church.

But if an informed adult takes this all into account, and chooses to prioritize faith above sexual identity, I’m sure it would be healthier to follow the approach mentioned in the article - work with a therapist to acknowledge their impulses but not be defined by them - than the more traditional alternatives of a closet lifestyle or outright suppression.

#2 Randy on Thursday August 06, 2009 at 3:46pm

The bottom line is that the APA is endorsing both faith and homophobia.  Neither is currently regarded as a disorder, but if the APA had any integrity, both would be.

What is surprising is that the gay media have been spinning this as a win, because it says you can’t force a change from gay to straight.  But the APA ultimately says that being gay is bad enough that it’s legitimate for them to help erase it, even if it’s replaced by nothing.

Of course, this is often the goal of conversion therapy anyway.  Many no longer regard heterosexuality as the desired outcome.  They just want to kill the gay part.  Now they have the APA stamp of approval, despite the damage they are doing to people in the process.

#3 liberalartist on Friday August 07, 2009 at 6:50am

denying who you are in order to maintain your religious illusions is not my idea of mental health.

#4 Philip on Friday August 07, 2009 at 9:19am

“The bottom line is that the APA is endorsing both faith and homophobia.”

I don’t see that at all. They’re acknowledging that faith is an extremely important part of many people’s lives, and that some faiths are incompatible with homosexuality. Personally, I would prefer everyone in that predicament drop their faith, but it’s not my choice. What’s the problem with the APA supporting those who would chose otherwise? It’s not their job to mold social behavior, it’s to report on effectiveness of therapy. I haven’t read any of the detailed findings, but if some homosexuals have followed this course and found contentment, it would be irresponsible of the APA to report otherwise.

“... the APA ultimately says that being gay is bad enough that it’s legitimate for them to help erase it”

The article states “The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives”.

#5 Philip on Friday August 07, 2009 at 9:20am

“denying who you are in order to maintain your religious illusions is not my idea of mental health.”

It’s not mine either, but shouldn’t others be free to chose that path?

#6 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday August 07, 2009 at 10:26am

Philip raises an interesting point, but I believe he may be overlooking a distinction between someone’s right to pursue a course of action that is primarily self-regarding and the use of pseudo-scientific therapy to help the person pursue that course of action, even when that course of action is predicated on prejudice and absurdities. I heartily support the right of individuals to exercise their religion. Similarly, if a person, for whatever reason, wants to suppress her/his sexuality, that’s the person’s choice. But why is counseling to help a person suppress sexual desire a legitimate therapy (assuming the person is not a sexual predator of some sort)? Moreover, how can it be a legitimate therapy—“therapy” having the implication that it is curing the person of some malady—when empirically there is nothing wrong with the person and the sole reason for the so-called therapy is religious dogma? In my original post, I raised the possibility of therapy for women who cannot reconcile their desire for autonomy with their Christain duty to be submissive. I mentioned this possibility toungue-in-cheek, but, really, what distinguishes such therapy from therapy to get gays and lesbians to suppress their desires so they can live in accordance with their faith? I don’t see any distinction. Women are certainly free to force themselves to be submissive if they want—just as gays and lesbians can suppress their desires if they want—but it makes a mockery of psychological counseling to assert that it’s acceptable to use “therapy” to coax women into being submissive.

#7 Philip on Friday August 07, 2009 at 11:36am

What about plastic surgery and sex change operations? Should the AMA not support them since we would prefer the individual simply develop a better self-image? Is depigmentation an unethical treatment because it endorses racism?

#8 Ronald A. Lindsay on Friday August 07, 2009 at 12:31pm

I’m not sure those analogies work. Sex change operations are for a diagnosed disorder—one that has nothing to do with religious faith.  Cosmetic surgery is not considered therapy, which is why persons pursuing cosmetic surgery have to bear the costs of it. Also, to my knowledge, cosmetic surgery is not pursued for reasons of faith—unless this is the explanation for all those persons who claim to have stigmata.

#9 Philip on Friday August 07, 2009 at 1:44pm

That’s a good point - I wouldn’t be comfortable with insurance companies being forced to cover such therapy.

But I don’t see how the fact that it’s related to religious belief should cause us to dismiss it out of hand. Faith and psychology are strongly intertwined, and surely the APA has to acknowledge that. Plus there are other social non-religious reasons a person might not want to live a homosexual lifestyle.

#10 ckoproske on Friday August 07, 2009 at 4:38pm

Homosexuality is not a ‘lifestyle.’

And out of curiosity, what are these other ‘social non-religious reasons’ that a person would want to suppress or deny their sexual orientation?  Fear of persecution, discrimination, or violence?  Are those good reasons?  The kind we should support via official psychological guidelines?

#11 Philip on Friday August 07, 2009 at 5:58pm

You’re right, “lifestyle” was a poor word choice on my part.

But whatever the term, there are some people who would choose their faith over their sexuality. Are you suggesting a therapist, in this situation, should offer the patient “you need to overcome your faith disorder” as the only option? I hope we as a society get there someday. But right now I imagine therapists have to allow for some flawed but deeply held beliefs, and work around them.

I’m not sure what you mean by “official psychological guidelines”. The article clearly states homosexuality should not be considered a disorder, and they explicitly reject the “lifestyle choice” and “emotional deficit” explanations.

#12 Philip on Friday August 07, 2009 at 6:18pm

‘‘how can it be a legitimate therapy—“therapy” having the implication that it is curing the person of some malady—when empirically there is nothing wrong with the person’‘

Whether it’s sexuality or otherwise, if I have a strong urge to do X, and I believe X is morally wrong, there are 2 ways of dealing with it:

(1) learn to quit doing X
(2) decide that X is actually okay

You’re suggesting, in this case, the patient should only be offered #2 because X (homosexuality) is not empirically wrong. But is that for the therapist to decide?

For a therapist to lay it out like that: here are your two choices, pros and cons of each, how successful each approach tends to be, how many people the same situation have chosen each, and then support the patient in whichever one they choose, that doesn’t sound unreasonable to me.

To me, here are the key statements:

‘‘But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says.’‘

‘’... there has been little research about the long-term effects of rejecting a gay identity, but there is “no clear evidence of harm” and “some people seem to be content with that path.”’’

I have no idea if this works in practice, if someone would really be happier as a sexually repressed Christian. It seems nuts to me, but all the APA is saying is they don’t have enough evidence clearly to show it doesn’t work. And they’re working within the parameters of the patient’s own belief system (flawed though it may be).

If they’re cooking the data and caving in to pressure from the religious right, then I agree this is all bogus. But I’ve seen no evidence of that yet.

#13 Richard (Guest) on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 6:14am

What’s with all this gay bullshit? I’m an atheist not a homo for Christ’s sake! Were you fondled by a priest or something when you were in the seminary Ron because all I’m getting from reading these atheist publications are more and more gay bullshit.

#14 Ronald A. Lindsay on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 9:49am

Regarding Richard’s observations: I cannot think of a more eloquent confirmation of the fact that being an atheist does not, by itself, imply wisdom or acute moral discernment.

#15 Philip on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 10:04am

It is also eloquent confirmation that religiosity is not the sole source of homophobia.

#16 William Bell (Guest) on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 6:25pm

Richard has a point. Eddie Tabash and other atheist activists have tried to link the secularist movement to gay rights activism. Most atheists are not gay and many atheists do not want to be associated with the gay rights movement. It’s not homophobia. The constant attempts to link the gay movement to the atheism movement serves as a legitimate basis for questioning the true motives of Mr. Lindsay and Mr. Tabash.

#17 Philip on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 6:29pm

BY all means let’s have an adult conversation about the relationship between the 2 movements, but “were you fondled by a priest” will never lead to a productive discussion.

#18 William Bell (Guest) on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 8:07pm

I agree “were you fondled by a priest” is too far but the guy is probably angry about having a movement he, like the rest of us, feels strongly in support of being linked to another movement many fine undesirable at best and abhorrent at worst.

#19 William Bell (Guest) on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 8:09pm

It makes one wonder if Ron Lindsay and Eddie Tabash are homosexuals trying to exploit the atheist movement for the gay agenda.

#20 Philip on Saturday August 08, 2009 at 9:23pm

I’m new to the group, so perhaps there is a history of which I’m not aware. But I just read back through the 19 blog posts Ron Lindsay has made since the beginning of the year, and this is the first related to gay rights (there’s a brief comparison to gay sexuality in the January post on gender equality).

The WSJ article specifically mentions the religious faith of patients as motivation for this newly endorsed therapy. As is clear in my posts, I’m not sold that this is an inappropriate move by the APA. But when a secular organization officially recognizes religious faith as a valid reason to suppress an impulse that is neither illegal nor an illness, surely that raises red flags and is an appropriate topic for discussion on the CFI site. You disagree, William?

#21 Kyle (Guest) on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 6:22am

Post # 14 is absolutely correct! And as for Richard and William Bell, would you say as atheists we can not stand up for other violations of human rights as well? I believe the gay rights issue is mentioned so frequently with atheist activists because the argument against homosexuality is based soley on religious beliefs. Therefore, I as an atheist, as well as other atheists I assume, feel the need to assist groups who are persecuted beccause they don’t fall in line with religion.
Also, I am curious as to why Richard is so homophobic. Usually that originates from religious beliefs.

#22 William Bell (Guest) on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 10:32am

I don’t know whether Richard is homophobic or not and to tell you the truth it doesn’t matter. Like it or not, homosexuality is offensive to many people including many atheists. A person is not a “homophobe” because they find homosexuality offensive. They aren’t “afraid” of gays. Homophobia is a charge lobbed by gay activists who are long winded and short on answers. Many of us who are strong in the atheist movement do not want to be pigeonholed in with the gays. That’s the point (I think) Richard tried to make. When guys like Lindsay and Tabash - for years - keep the gay thing going it is reasonable to conclude that they have some “skin in the game” with the gays. It would be interesting to find out just how many people working in this atheist movement are in fact homosexuals. I for one would be willing to investigate this further.

#23 Philip on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 10:56am

William, homophobia can mean fear of homosexuals (clearly that’s the literal translation of the latin roots), but it’s more often used to mean antipathy towards homosexuality ( There’s no other equivalent of “racist” or “sexist” that I know of. Surely you would describe yourself as sexist if you found femininity offensive.

We do have skin in the game with any group who also opposes the negative effects of our state and society’s strong ties to religious faith.

#24 William Bell (Guest) on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 11:18am

If you’re a homosexual, then you have skin in the game when it comes to gay rights. Many of us atheists find your chosen lifestyle offensive and abhorrent.

Homphobia means fear of homosexuals. Misusing words doesn’t bolster the case for gays. It makes them (and those who use it) look like imbeciles.

If you look into the history of religion you will find out that in practice religion isn’t the cause of disdain for homosexuality, just those homosexuals who operate as solo practitioners. Look at the Roman Catholic church, which I heard from someone in Los Angeles Ronald Lindsay was once a proud member of.

Ronald Lindsay was exposed to a decidedly homosexual environment when he was in the seminary. It makes me wonder where he is really coming from.

#25 Ronald A. Lindsay on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 12:06pm

I must say, I never thought my post would generate such an illuminating discussion—although perhaps what it illuminates should have been left in the dark.
First, let me note that I have never been in a seminary. When in my late teens, I was a strong Catholic and was interested in becoming a priest (see my post of June 19) but I ceased to believe prior to entering any seminary. William’s bold asertion that I was in the seminary speaks volumes about his concern for verification of facts.
But, more fundamentally, I must take issue with the mindset that holds that someone must have a personal stake in an issue or have experienced some traumatic experience (e.g. being fondled by priests) to hold views supportive of certain groups. Such reasoning is puerile, frankly, and is so nonsensical that it doesn’t even rise to the level of a logical fallacy. I support gender equality and reproductive rights for women. Does this mean I must be a woman or a transsexual? Or that I must have experienced fondling by some feminists in the past?
Grow up. I can support an end to genocide in Sudan without being Sudanese; I can support some limited rights for illegal immigrants even though I carry a valid U. S. passport; I can support health care reform even though I am amply insured myself; and I can support civil and social equality for gays without being one myself.
I support social and civil equality for gays and lesbians because they are my fellow human beings and I have yet to encounter an argument that establishes that our fellow human beings who are gay or lesbian should be treated differently than other members of the moral community. There is nothing inherently wrong with homosexuality or homosexual conduct. If you have an argument that estbalishes there is something morally wrong with homosexuality, feel free to articulate that argument. All I have seen so far in some of the posts is an instinctive emotional reaction against gays, unbecoming to individuals who presumably pride themselves on being rational—since they claim to be atheists.
All posts on Free Thinking represent the personal views of the blogger, so anything I say should not be attributed to CFI. That said, CFI—along with every other major secular organization, to my knowledge—has endorsed social and civil equality for gays and lesbians. Being an atheist does not, of course, entail that one must support gay rights. But if one believes reason, not prejudice, should be used to justify one’s views, then the burden is on those atheists who find homosexuality “offensive” to provide a secular argument showing that their attitude is rationally appropriate.

#26 Kyle (Guest) on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 1:57pm

I don’t understand what finding something abhorrent and offensive has anything to do with someone else’s right to do it. I don’t care for flag burning, smoking, or the church that displays the “God hates fags” signs. In fact I find those things offensive and/ or abhorrent.
However, I will fight to my very last breath to ensure their right to do those things because it is there right to do so as it is not infringing on any one else’s rights. (exception might be smoking inside). 
I guess I thought part of being rational was looking at every situation or issue rationally.
If you’re overly concerned about people associating you with gay people just because believe in equal rights and support that cause then maybe your biggest problem isn’t with homosexuality but perhaps your own self-confidence.

#27 Eric Hafner on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 5:59pm

As an atheist, a member of APA as well as someone who happens to be gay, I find the current stance of the APA frightening. Unfortunately, I predicted that it was only a matter of time before the religious right found the proper wording to mask their agenda. What is particularly disturbing is how the APA seems to ignore some of their own ethics regarding psychotherapy. Given the fact that reparative therapy is sorely lacking as an evidence-based alternative form of therapy, they seem to have forgotten their most celebrated maxim: to do no harm. These fundamentalist Christian conversion programs have enormous power over many people and they prey on naïve, shame-ridden individuals. In addition, these programs operate under the shadow of the powerful Christian church yet are outside the jurisdiction of any professional organizations that might be able to impose ethical standards on them. For example, according to the American Psychiatric Association, “The potential risks of reparative therapy are great, including depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by the client. Many patients who have undergone reparative therapy relate that they were inaccurately told that homosexuals are lonely, unhappy individuals who never achieve acceptance or satisfaction.” It’s good to know that at least someone has not caved in to pressure from the religious right.

#28 Eric Hafner (Guest) on Sunday August 09, 2009 at 6:14pm

And as an aside to William Bell, many of us atheists find your chosen lifestyle to be offensive and abhorrent. It would appear that ignorance is alive and well, given the fact that you mistakenly use the word “chosen.”

#29 J. (Guest) on Sunday August 30, 2009 at 10:14pm

Criticism of the APA position on the question of treatment for homosexuality is here based on a report in the Wall Street Journal. Perhaps a more nuanced view might include consideration of the the APAs position as published on the official website under the title, “INSUFFICIENT EVIDENCE THAT SEXUAL ORIENTATION CHANGE EFFORTS WORK, SAYS APA.” It would seem that the APA possesses some authority in the reporting APA published positions.

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