Guest Blogger

Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, & 'The Homosexual'

Filed By Guest Blogger | March 06, 2013 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Gay Icons and History, Living
Tags: Psychiatry Department, William Meyer

Editors' Note: Guest blogger William Meyer is a clinical social worker, a faculty member, Department of Psychiatry, at Duke University Medical Center and the Psychoanalytic Education Center of the Carolinas.

bigstock-Personality--Brain-Fingerprin-16040921.jpgYears ago I made a multi-media presentation for Duke's Psychiatry Grand Rounds, entitled, "On the diagnosis and 'treatment' of homosexuality: When prejudice masquerades as science. " Shortly thereafter I was invited to give this presentation to the US Army, Department of Psychiatry, (prior to the dismantling of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.) Since that time I have made this presentation for many other Psychiatry Departments, mental health conferences, and college campuses.

After one such presentation, I met a man, "Rob," in his 80's, who had endured years of very damaging psychoanalytic treatment.

I decided to write about this history and Rob agreed that I could interview him. I have just published two papers in the newest edition of the Smith College Studies in Social Work. The first: "The Psychoanalyst and 'the homosexual': A long, dark journey into light" and the second, "Homosexuality uncured: Reflections of a former analysand." If anyone wishes copies of these papers, please e-mail me at william.meyer@duke.edu.

There are a excerpts from each of the papers after the break.

"The Psychoanalyst and 'the homosexual': A long, dark journey into light"

Analysts in the 1960s were not only speaking to each other but also to the public, shaping and reinforcing homophobic attitudes among mainstream Americans. In 1967, for example, CBS Reports featured a one-hour news show titled "The Homosexuals," anchored by a youthful Mike Wallace. At this time, when there were only three television stations, a show such as this would be viewed by large segments of middle America, most of whom unaware that they knew anyone who was gay or lesbian. During this show, Wallace (1967) stated, "The average homosexual, if there be such, is promiscuous.

He is not interested in nor capable of a lasting relationship. . . . His sex life- his 'love life'- consists of chance encounters."

Although it was one thing for a celebrity newsman to tell this to his viewing audience, appearing with Wallace were renowned psychiatrists/psychoanalysts, Charles Socarides and Irving Bieber, then considered the field's leading experts on the topic. Midway through the program, Socarides was shown giving a lecture to psychiatry residents. A woman in the class posed this question, "I was wondering if you think there are any 'happy homosexuals' for whom homosexuality would be, in a way, their best adjustment in life?" Socarides paused, then responded authoritatively, "The fact that someone is homosexual--a true obligatory homosexual--automatically rules out the possibility that he will be happy for long, in my opinion." .... Not only were inflammatory generalizations made about the psychopathology of all homosexuals (nearly all of the professional writing at the time was about men), but the studies upon which such assertions were made did not come close to meeting minimal scientific standards. The homosexuals who had been studied, for instance, were all people who were in treatment, incarcerated, or hospitalized.

"Homosexuality uncured: Reflections of a former analysand"

[Rob speaking] Now, in spite of good therapists who have tried to repair the damage-- and much later I was treated by both an extremely skilled psychiatrist and a nonjudgmental, supportive psychologist--it is impossible for me to get these thoughts out of my mind, and they will be in my mind until the day I die. When I first entered therapy I was 25 years old. I had been married. It's certainly important to say that I was not depressed, I was not suicidal. At age 25 I found that homosexual urges were happening to me seemingly out of nowhere. I was puzzled, I was confused, I was worried. But I wasn't depressed. I wasn't suicidal. I knew from movies that psychoanalysis was the gold standard, and I heard that one could be cured of such feelings. So I sought out a psychoanalyst. It's important, I think, for me to say how very different I was within two and a half years.

I went from being a very successful and happy person--I had graduated magna cum laude from college, Phi Beta Kappa--and by the third year of analysis I was suicidal and severely depressed. I had no sense of worth whatsoever and I certainly was full of self-loathing. I didn't really know or have conversations with other gay people at that time. I had no one to compare my experiences with. In later years, I had gay friends and I was in gay support groups with other men who had been in psychoanalysis or psychotherapy, and all of us had the same experience, essentially, having been told by our therapists that "yes, homosexuality can be cured. All you have to do is to try, really, really hard, and you will not be homosexual anymore. You have a severe mental disease, which you are right to want to be cured of."

(Psychiatry graphic via Bigstock)


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