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Adam Polaski

Psychiatrist Robert Spitzer Retracts His 2001 'Ex-Gay' Study

Filed By Adam Polaski | April 11, 2012 1:30 PM | comments

Filed in: The Movement
Tags: American Psychiatric Association, Bob Spitzer, conversion therapy, ex-gay ministries, Exodus International Ministries, Gabriel Arana, pray the gay away, Robert Spitzer

exgaybobspitzer.jpgThis morning, a new piece in The American Prospect, one of the best independent publications in the country, eviscerates the ex-gay movement's only supposed "evidence" that conversion therapy - "praying the gay away," if you will - is effective. The Prospect's web editor, Gabriel Arana, writes about his personal experiences dealing with reparative therapy and gives a good overview of the issue from an insider's perspective.

For example, he was never promised that therapy would make him attracted to women. He was only assured that his sexual attraction to men wouldn't be so strong. He was also encouraged to examine the "triadic relationship" that led to his homosexuality - being too sensitive as a child and having an uninvolved or removed father and an overinvolved, intense mother.

Arana's work in investigating the ex-gay movement and how it got to become so powerful led him to a conversation with Robert Spitzer, a former Columbia professor and a psychiatrist whose 2001 study on reparative therapy is widely cited as evidence that this kind of therapy works and is effective and can be done. It's celebrated in spite of the fact that so much of the methodology seems to have been flawed - it featured 200 participants, many of whom were referrals from the most dangerous ex-gay groups in history, including Exodus International. There was no control group. And the participants' reports about no longer feeling same-sex-attracted were merely self-reflective.

Apparently, Spitzer never meant for his study to become a sacred text for the ex-gay movement. After all, he was the psychiatrist who was on the front lines of the successful 1973 efforts to have the American Psychiatric Association declassify homosexuality as a mental illness.

Arana reports:

Spitzer was drawn to the topic of ex-gay therapy because it was controversial--"I was always attracted to controversy"--but was troubled by how the study was received. He did not want to suggest that gay people should pursue ex-gay therapy. His goal was to determine whether the counterfactual--the claim that no one had ever changed his or her sexual orientation through therapy--was true.

Spitzer said that he was proud of having been instrumental in removing homosexuality from the list of mental disorders. Now 80 and retired, he was afraid that the 2001 study would tarnish his legacy and perhaps hurt others. He said that failed attempts to rid oneself of homosexual attractions "can be quite harmful." He has, though, no doubts about the 1973 fight over the classification of homosexuality.

The report is a hugely important step toward the total refutation of conversation therapy: The man who released the study on the viability of reparative therapy has denounced and retracted his own study.

This morning, Truth Wins Out, a nonprofit organization specializing in speaking out about conversion therapy, released a statement on their website:

In a move that serves as a significant blow to "ex-gay" programs and anti-gay organizations, Dr. Robert Spitzer repudiated his much-criticized 2001 study that claimed some "highly motivated" homosexuals could go from gay to straight. Spitzer's rejection of his own research, which was originally published in the prestigious Archives of Sexual Behavior, is a devastating blow to "ex-gay" organizations because it decisively eliminates their most potent claim that homosexuality can be reversed through therapy and prayer.

... Truth Wins Out's Executive Director Wayne Besen [said]: "Spitzer just kicked out the final leg from the stool on which the proponents of 'ex-gay' therapy based their already shaky claims of success."

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