cult recovery 101


Times Calls Reparative Therapy "Pseudopsychiatry"

THURSDAY, MAY 24, 2012

In an editorial in today’s edition, theNew York Times condemns as dangerous so-called reparative therapy, which its adherents claim can change homosexuals into heterosexuals, labeling it “absurd, potentially harmful, pseudopsychiatry.” 

The paper published the editorial in response to its article a few days earlier describing psychiatrist Robert Spitzer, M.D.’s, renouncing of a widely publicized—and widely condemned—study a decade ago in which he said he found evidence that reparative therapy can indeed change sexual orientation. Spitzer gained fame as one of the lead architects behind APA’s 1973 deletion of homosexuality as a mental disorder from its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual and became a hero of the gay-rights movement, thus making his claims about reparative therapy especially shocking. However, he recently admitted that his study was flawed, relying solely on the personal accounts of people who said they had successfully changed their sexual orientation and whose names were supplied by organizations promoting reparative therapy. There was no control group or standard definition of what the so-called therapy involved. In its condemnation of the practice, theTimes stated that evidence exists showing that “reparative therapy can lead to depression or suicidal thoughts and behavior…. It should have been rejected long ago.”

Read an account of Spitzer’s original study in Psychiatric News, and for a comprehensive review of mental health issues related to sexual orientation, see The LGBT Casebook, new from American Psychiatric Publishing.

California Outlaws "Reparative Therapy"


Over the weekend, California became the first state with a law banning so-called reparative therapy, a discredited intervention that claims it can turn homosexuals into heterosexuals. Gov. Jerry Brown signed the bill into law, outlawing the practice of reparative therapies in youth younger than age 18. Brown said he hoped this law would relegate conversion therapy to “the dustbin of quackery,” noting that the practice has led to depression and suicide among young people distressed by the realization that they are attracted to people of the same gender. The law takes effect January 1, 2013. 

APA has an official position condemning conversion therapies for being “at odds with the scientific position of APA, which has maintained since 1973 that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder.” It notes as well that “The potential risks of ‘reparative therapy’ are great and include depression, anxiety, and self-destructive behavior, since therapist alignment with societal prejudices against homosexuality may reinforce self-hatred already experienced by [a person seeking this therapy].”

Jack Drescher, M.D., president of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry and a past chair of APA’s Committee on Gay, Lesbian, and Bisexual Issues, is concerned, however, that the law only applies to licensed therapists, and most people doing conversion therapies are unlicensed. In addition, Drescher said that the promised legal challenge claiming the law violates free-speech rights, if upheld, “would provide an opportunity for conversion therapy proponents to trumpet their victory and further market these harmful services.”

APA’s 1998 and 2000 position statements on reparative therapy are posted at under “Position Statements.” For a comprehensive review of mental health issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals see The LGBT Casebook, new from American Psychiatric Publishing. (Drescher is a co-editor of the book.)

Men Sue Reparative Therapy Center Over Psychological Harm


Four young men have taken the rare step of suing a facility that provides so-called “reparative therapy,” and the individuals who run it, claiming that the techniques used to “cure” their homosexuality included ones that inflicted psychological damage. The suit was filed yesterday in Hudson County (N.J.) Superior Court against the organization known as JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives for Healing), which is located in Jersey City. The suit charges the organization with falsely claiming to be able to rid the men of their sexual attraction to other men through proven scientific techniques. According to the suit, these techniques were demeaning and emotionally damaging and included having to remove their clothing and beat images of their mothers. One of the defendants, Chaim Levin, now age 23 but 17 when he sought out JONAH’s services, told the Jersey Journal, “It was so awful and so degrading and so wrong in so many ways.” 

Commenting on the suit to Psychiatric News, psychiatrist Jack Drescher, M.D., said, “APA has raised concerns about the potential harm done by trying to change a person’s sexual orientation. Anecdotal reports of harm include worsening of depression, anxiety, and even suicidal ideation—not to mention individuals entering into heterosexual marriages with the unrealized hope that these would lead to conversion. Unfortunately, many of the individuals, like the defendants named in this lawsuit, are unlicensed and not subject to professional regulation or censure. Hopefully, if the plaintiffs’ suit is successful, it will have a chilling effect on the proliferation of unlicensed individuals offering false hope to unhappy individuals struggling with their sexual identities.” Drescher is president of the Group for the Advancement of Psychiatry and editor emeritus of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Mental Health.

In late September California passed a law banning reparative therapy in youth younger than age 18. 

APA position statements on reparative therapy are posted under “Position Statements.” For a comprehensive review of mental health issues affecting gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender individuals see The LGBT Casebook from American Psychiatric Publishing. (Drescher is a co-editor of the book.)