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WHO, Ex-'Gay Cure' Supporter Come Out Against Sexual Orientation Changing Therapies

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WHO, Ex-'Gay Cure' Supporter Come Out Against Sexual Orientation Changing Therapies

2012-05-21 16:15:181 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST

-by Jennifer Monteagudo, Staff Writer; Image: Dr. Robert Spitzer (Image Source: theseattlelesbian.com)

Dr. Robert Spitzer, a psychiatrist who once released a finding supporting “gay cure” therapy, has come out against the practice, the New York Times reports, less than a week after the World Health Organization called sexual orientation-changing therapy a “serious threat to the health and well-being of affected people.”

According to the Times, the 79-year-old Dr. Spitzer, who some consider to be the “father of modern psychiatry,” wrote an apology to the gay community for his “poorly conceived 2003 investigation that supported the use of so-called reparative therapy to ‘cure’ homosexuality.”

Dr. Spitzer was at one time a “hero” for the gay community. In the 1970s, Dr. Spitzer was a member of the American Psychiatric Association’s committee that was in the process of rewriting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Comparing homosexuality to depression and alcohol dependence, Dr. Spitzer noticed a major difference: while depression and alcoholism “caused marked distress or impairment... homosexuality often did not.”

Thanks to Dr. Spitzer’s lobbying, the APA removed “homosexuality” from its list of mental disorders, replacing it instead with “sexual orientation disturbance.”

In the late 1990s, however, Dr. Spitzer became curious to see if reparative, or sexual orientation/conversion/gay cure therapy had any effect. Recruiting 200 people of both sexes from reparative therapy centers to answer an in-depth survey over the phone, Dr. Spitzer found that most had “switched” from predominantly homosexual to predominantly heterosexual.

However, as the Times points out, “the study had serious problems. It was based on what people remembered feeling years before—an often fuzzy record. It included some ex-gay advocates, who were politically active. And it did not test any particular therapy; only half of the participants engaged with a therapist at all, while the others worked with pastoral counselors, or in independent Bible study.”

Dr. Spitzer’s research was published, but without a peer-review process. The result was Dr. Spitzer’s peers lambasting his study, and conservative and anti-gay groups using Dr. Spitzer’s work to support their views. One Finnish politician even used the study to “argue against civil unions,” the Times notes.

Dr. Spitzer now agrees with his opponents: his study was faulty. Many others are not only going against reparative therapy, but are trying to kill it. California is seeking to ban the entire practice in its state, and the WHO released a statement May 17 of this year saying the therapy “lack[s] medical justification,” since homosexuality is not a disease.

Also, “repression of sexual orientation has been associated with feelings of guilt and shame, depression, anxiety, and even suicide.” WHO even calls for the denouncement and sanctions on any conversion or reparative therapy clinics, saying homophobia is a “public health problem and a threat to human dignity and civil rights.”

A draft of Dr. Spitzer’s apology letter is available via TruthWinsOut.org, a “non-profit organization that fights anti-gay religious extremism.” In the letter, Dr. Spitzer also apologizes “to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy.”

Reparative therapy may be quickly becoming a fringe therapy, however it was thrown into some national spotlight last year when it was discovered via an investigative report from Truth Wins Out that Dr. Marcus Bachmann, Michele Bachmann’s husband, practices reparative therapy in his Minnesota clinic.

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