A letter urging US legislators not to ban therapy for people with unwanted same-sex attractions and behaviour (sent by Christopher Rosik Ph.D. – Licensed Psychologist Past-President, ATCSI)
I am the Past-President of the Alliance for Therapeutic Choice and Scientific Integrity. I am also a licensed psychologist and a long time member of the American Psychological Association. I am writing you to request that you vote against this bill. While there are many things wrong with this bill, let me address just a few of them here.
This bill assumes that the components of sexual orientation (e.g., attractions and behavior) are fixed and enduring and cannot change. However, as summarized by Ott et al., (2013), “Reported sexual identity, attraction, and behavior have been shown to change substantially across adolescence and young adulthood” (p. 466). Dickson and colleagues (2013) further asserted that, “People with changing sexual attractions may be reassured to know that these are common rather than atypical” (p. 762).Research on youth ages 15 to 21 noted a naturally occurring decline in non-heterosexuality over the time of the study and further observed: “All attraction categories other than opposite-sex were associated with a lower likelihood of stability over time” (Savin-Williams and Ream, 2007; p. 389). Clearly the possibility of change for many minors is scientifically established, and the experience of Alliance clinicians indicates that professional psychological care for minors with unwanted same-sex attractions and behaviors can promote this naturally occurring change for some individuals on a continuum of change.
Proponents of this bill would have you believe that people are simply born gay. However, the absence of genetic or biological determinism in sexual orientation is underscored and clarified by large scale studies of identical twins. These studies indicate that if one twin sibling has a nonheterosexual orientation the other sibling shares this orientation only about 11% of the time (Bailey, Dunne, & Martin, 2000; Bearman & Brueckner, 2002; Langstrom, Rahman, Carlstrom, & Lichtenstein, 2010). If factors in common like genetics or conditions in the womb overwhelmingly caused same-sex attractions, then identical twins would always be identical for same-sex attraction, as is the case for race. These studies instead suggest that the largest influence in the development of same-sex attractions are environmental factors that affect one twin sibling but not the other, such as unique events or idiosyncratic personal responses.
This bill creates the impression that the opinions of major mental health associations such as the American Psychological Association (APA) regarding sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE) represent scientifically established facts. However, these resolutions represent advocacy and ideology more than science. Consider the fact that although many qualified conservative psychologists were nominated to serve on the task force that developed the APA Report on SOCE, all of them were rejected. This fact was noted in a book co-edited by a past-president of the APA (Yarhouse, 2009). The director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office, Clinton Anderson, offered the following defense: “We cannot take into account what are fundamentally negative religious perceptions of homosexuality—they don’t fit into our world view” (Carey, 2007). It appears that the APA operated with a litmus test when considering Task Force membership—the only views of homosexuality that were tolerated were those the APA deemed acceptable. The absence of divergent viewpoints as pertains to sexual orientation is further demonstrated in the 157-0 vote of the APA’s leadership body—the Council of Representatives—to support same-sex marriage, a result that undoubted represents a “statistically impossible lack of diversity” (Jayson, 2011; Tierney, 2011). This lack of viewpoint diversity among the leaders of the APA and other mental health organizations has an inhibitory influence on the production of diverse scholarship in areas such as same-sex attraction change that might run counter to preferred worldviews and advocacy interests (Duarte et al., 2015).
In spite of these clear biases, the APA Report on SOCE, which I remind you is referenced by many of the mental health associations identified in this bill, explicated states, “Given the limited amount of methodologically sound research, we cannot draw a conclusion regarding whether recent forms of SOCE are or are not effective” (APA, p. 43). Similarly, “[T]here are no scientifically rigorous studies of recent SOCE that would enable us to make a definitive statement about whether recent SOCE is safe or harmful and for whom” (APA, p. 83; cf. p. 67, 120). Therefore, definitive claims by the proponents of this bill that professionally conducted SOCE are by definition harmful and ineffective is not supported by the APA’s own review of the scientific literature on SOCE. As the APA Report noted above, the prevalence of success and harm from SOCE cannot be determined at present. Given this backdrop, anecdotal accounts of harm, which are a focal point of attention by supporters of this bill, cannot serve as a basis for the blanket prohibition of an entire form of psychological care, however meaningful they may be on a personal level. The proper course of action for politicians to take given the current limited scientific base of knowledge regarding SOCE should be to encourage further and ideologically diverse research, not place a ban on its professional practice that supersedes existing regulatory oversight and may create unintended consequences for licensed therapists.
The APA is quite clear that it supports the competence of a 17-year old girl to give consent to an abortion. Why does the 17-year old lose competence when it comes to SOCE? Similarly, the APA is on record as supporting the availability of sexual reassignment surgery for adolescents. Is it reasonable that 17-year olds who experience themselves to be the wrong biological sex be allowed to surgically alter genitalia while others with unwanted same-sex attractions and behavior be prohibited from even talking to a licensed therapist in a manner that could be construed as promoting the pursuit of change?
These considerations are just scratching the surface regarding what is wrong with this bill. On behalf of the Alliance and our affiliated licensed mental health professionals, I strongly urge you to support the normal process of scientific discovery relative to SOCE rather than side with activists who would stifle science through a highly premature legislative ban. Please vote against this bill.
Christopher Rosik, Ph.D. Licensed Psychologist Past-President, ATCSI
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