March 27, 2009

So Gay, So Very Gay

ResearchBlogging.orgIt's unbelievable what's uncovered sometimes. A recent survey of British psychologists and psychiatrists has uncovered that a sizeable amount have attempted to "convert" homosexual patients or clients to heterosexual orientations!

It's a well-known axiom that (biological) homosexuality is an orientation that cannot be changed, what to speak of the scientific consensus on the matter, and what do you think might happen if any such changes are encouraged? Psychological harm and damage.

After all, what is "normal"? Anyone with even a layman understanding of psychology and/or neuroscience will know that definitions of normality are as subjective as one's colour preferences. And when you have a discriminating society that is ever-willing to ostracise on the slightest grounds of anything perceived as different, it isn't that hard to imagine how seriously this counts as psychological abuse especially concerning a topic so fundamental to someone's 'personhood' as sexual identity.

Annie Bartlett and her colleagues sent postal questions to members of the British Psychological Society, the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, the United Kingdom Council for Psychotherapy and the Royal College of Psychiatrists, in which they were asked to give their views on "conversion treatment" and to describe up to six patients they may have treated accordingly. Of the 1328 examinable anonymous responses received, a flabbergasting 17% reported having assisted in reducing, changing, suppressing their gay or lesbian desires. Of these 17% (222 practitioners), 159 of them (72%) thought that a "service" should be available for homosexuals who wish to change their orientation.

Am I missing something here? Did I suddenly enter the Twilight Zone and wind up in Iran or something? This is England 2009! And it was back in 1973 that homosexuality was removed as a mental disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), so why are these attitudes still prevailing in psychotherapeutic practice? Do old habits die hard? Because of the anonymous nature of the survey there is no information provided as to the average age of the sample, even when the authors selected a random sample of responses from the members of each organisation. Even though only 4% (55 respondents) of the total sample said they would consider therapy to change patient orientations upon requests for such therapy, it is much more worrying that the aforementioned 17% have actually attempted to do so. Considering the absense of compelling evidence that patients can even be successfully treated, trying to force or encourage such a change can only heighten and intensify the emotional conflicts that homosexuals may undergo (due to peer pressures, etc.) and cause lasting psychological damage.

This study appears to follow on from earlier 2004 research (also by the same authors) in which an oral history of homosexual patients was gained. 29 homosexuals who had received treatment for their "disorder" were interviewed about their experiences, which revealed a nominal amount of coercive and peer pressures and also resulted in lasting emotional distress.

What can I say? It's sad that these professionals appear to have no real knowledge of social identity issues. And I'd hate to be cynical, but what's the betting that serious conflict of interest issues are responsible for this grave failure of psychotherapeutic services? The type of conflict of interest that arises from personal convictions and beliefs?

Bartlett, A., Smith, G., & King, M. (2009). The response of mental health professionals to clients seeking help to change or redirect same-sex sexual orientation BMC Psychiatry, 9 (1) DOI: 10.1186/1471-244X-9-11

Smith, G., Bartlett, A., & King, M. (2004). Treatments of homosexuality in Britain since the 1950s--an oral history: the experience of patients BMJ, 328 (7437) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.37984.442419.EE


  1. Homosexuality was removed from the DMS based completely on the number of homosexuals estimated to be in the population. that number was determined by a faulty study which interviewed PRISON POPULATIONS (where homosexuality is well above norm) and determined that homosexual activity was high in the population. that figure was then used as the justification for removing it from the DMSR

    two things are wrong with that.
    1. just becuase something is prevalent doesn't mean it isn't a disorder with destructive health aspects.
    2. the study used to remove it even based on that faulty premise was itself incorrect.

    There is actually no proof homosexual behavior isn't a choice.
    There is much evidence it is. In fact it has become "cool" today to be knwon as gay among youth (largely becuase of the MTV representatiosnof Gay people as very noble and creative.

    If you want to say homosexual behavior is a freedom just as smoking is then fine.
    But there is no evidence it isn't a choice.

    The brain studies of homosexual brain differentiation were drawn from diseased HIV deaths so were completely statistically irrelevant.

    No hormone studies have shown differences.
    yet the social evidence for homosexual behavior promotion and reward especially among people in the lifestyle are overwhelming.

    You can argue on a basis of freedom but not on science.

  2. Fail. I'm not going to waste my time correcting the details of your comment, fellow Anonymous. Homosexuality is as little a choice as being transgender, you need to do some more reading about sexuality.

  3. Honestly, screw you. If you knew what it was like to live in the closet, constantly afraid that someone might find you out, you wouldn't be saying this. I can tell you, right now, that it is not a choice. If it were a choice, I would be free from all the bigotry in my area. Get some damn perspective.

  4. Anonymous: "There is actually no proof homosexual behavior isn't a choice."

    A swing and a miss. The article is talking about about orientation here, not behavior.

    "In fact it has become 'cool' today to be knwon as gay among youth (largely becuase of the MTV representatiosnof Gay people as very noble and creative."

    If you really think that's the prevailing attitude, then you're living in a bubble.

  5. I would be very interested to know how many of these individuals chose such interventions themselves, versus being pressured into them by outside sources.

    If homosexuality is simply another flavor of human sexuality, with no value judgments attached to it (it's not better or worse than heterosexuality; just different), then is it not OK for a person to try to modify his or her sexual preferences from one not-bad-or-good orientation to another one?

  6. bobbyfiend,

    No, it wouldn't be inherently bad to do so if it were possible, but it is basically a pipe dream, and the programs that claim to do so evidently do more harm than good (I'm not sure they do any good, actually).

  7. In fact it has become "cool" today to be knwon as gay among youthJust a tip, which might help boost your credibility next time you try talking about youth culture: the word "cool" stopped being "cool" about 10 years ago.

  8. Anonymous 1 is absolutely correct.
    "You can argue on a basis of freedom but not on science."

    Also, the expression "It's a well-known axiom..." shouts that the author has no idea what "science" means. Pity, he's managed to get MSc.

  9. You're right. I don't know what I was thinking there. Most likely I was fulminating about the paper while writing.

    It probably isn't axiomatic after all. However, the consensus that has been arrived at after due research suggests that homosexuality is an orientation, not a choice.