Doctor Who Invented Claim That Gay People Can Be Cured Now Admits He Was Totally Wrong

A paper published in 2001 by Dr. Robert Spitzer suggested that some homosexuals might be able to change their orientation, but its sample size was small and non-randomized, and was not intended to represent potential on a larger scale. However, it was taken up by others as conclusive and led to the development of “reparative therapy.” In subsequent years, Spitzer came to regret how his research had come to be used, and now he hastaken the completely opposite view.

Spitzer now calls his own research on this “pathetic,” and in a letter to Dr. Ken Zucker, the editor of the Archives of Sexual Behavior (where the paper was originally published), he concluded: “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.”

He also requested that the paper be retracted, thereby removing the only justification that ever existed for therapy to “cure the gay.” It is more in line with his early efforts to remove homosexuality from the DSM as a disorder in the first place, and has been greeted widely as an important step toward stopping people from considering any kind of disorder at all.

Since Spitzer’s study was the sole source of support for reparative therapy, according to California  Senator Ted Lieu, there is no longer any research that shows legitimate reason for the practice. The pain and suffering induced by reparative therapies, often referred to as “pray away the gay,” is included in the language of California Bill SB1172, sponsored by Lieu:

(d) The American Psychiatric Association published a position statement in March of 2000 in which it stated: “Psychotherapeutic modalities to convert or ‘repair’ homosexuality are based on developmental theories whose scientific validity is questionable. Furthermore, anecdotal reports of ‘cures’ are counterbalanced by anecdotal claims of psychological harm. In the last four decades, ‘reparative’ therapists have not produced any rigorous scientific research to substantiate their claims of cure. Until there is such research available, [the American Psychiatric Association] recommends that ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals’ sexual orientation, keeping in mind the medical dictum to first, do no harm.

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 patient. 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. The possibility that the person might achieve happiness and satisfying interpersonal relationships as a gay man or lesbian is not presented, nor are alternative approaches to dealing with the effects of societal stigmatization discussed.

Therefore, the American Psychiatric Association opposes any psychiatric treatment such as reparative or conversion therapy which is based upon the assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder or based upon the a priori assumption that a patient should change his/her sexual homosexual orientation.” 

The World Health Organization has opposed reparative therapy from the beginning. This portion of a statement from the Pan-American Health Organization, a regional office of WHO, states their position:

Twenty two years ago, on May 17, the World Health Assembly removed homosexuality from the list of mental disorders when it approved a new version of the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-10). 

"Since homosexuality is not a disorder or a disease, it does not require a cure. There is no medical indication for changing sexual orientation," said PAHO Director Dr. Mirta Roses Periago. Practices known as "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy" represent "a serious threat to the health and well-being — even the lives — of affected people." 

So the doctor who published the research that led to the idea that homosexuality could be cured has stated outright that it was fatally flawed, and that therapy to change orientation is wrong and ineffective. The American Psychiatric Association has concluded that homosexuality is not a disorder and does not need to be cured. The State of California feels so strongly that fruitless attempts to cure something that isn’t “curable” does enough harm that it needs prohibiting legislation. The World Health Organization has never even accepted the idea that homosexuality is a disorder or that any therapy should be used to cure it.

We are now left to contend with only a few organizations that are motivated by religion and/or profit to continue this abhorrent practice. With Dr. Spitzer’s retraction, and the removal of his research from medical archives, they don’t have a leg to stand on. It won’t stop them from trying, but now that the decision has agreement from all the authoritative sources, it should slow them down a bit.

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Alison Meyer

Born too late to be a Baby Boomer, too early to be Gen-X, I stayed home to raise my kids. That time was spent in volunteering in schools, re-learning everything I'd forgotten from my own, and honing my understanding of Biology and Neuroscience.

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