Conventional wisdom claims this therapy is neither beneficent nor effective. Examples include ‘corrective’ rape; ‘ice baths’; heterosexual pornography; being exorcised and offered simplistic solutions to complex psychosexual problems.
Given space constraints, this article focuses on four key points.
What constitutes ‘therapy’?
First, some ‘therapy’ is not remotely therapeutic (see above). But there is more.
Research on ‘therapy’, such as Jones and Yarhouse’s 2007 path-breaking study, Ex-Gays? included ‘religiously-mediated’ practices like prayer and support.
Though valuable, these are not ‘therapy’! However in surveys on ‘therapy’, outcomes from ‘religiously-mediated’ practices have frequently been included.
Pastoral prayer and a chat are praiseworthy but hardly on par with the most sophisticated psychological expertise.
Research on positive therapeutic outcomes
Two recent studies actually support sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE), the first being the research of Sullins, Rosik and Santero in their paper, ‘Efficacy and risk of sexual orientation change efforts: a retrospective analysis of 125 exposed men’.
Though broad generalizations were cautioned against, SOCE ‘was perceived as an effective and safe therapeutic practice by this sample of participants’.
The second piece of research can be found in the Journal of Human Sexuality issue 12 – Pela and Sutton’s study, ‘Sexual Attraction Fluidity and Well-Being in Men: A Therapeutic Outcome Study’.
They concluded, ‘Exploring sexual attraction fluidity in therapy [SAFE-T] can be effective, beneficial, and not harmful.’
Moreover, ‘these findings are consistent with almost a century of clinical reports and qualitative and retrospective studies which document that SAFE-T has been successful in helping patients or clients to intentionally diminish SSAE [Same Sex Attraction Experiences] and develop or increase OSAE [Opposite Sex Attraction Experiences] in a beneficent and non-maleficent manner.’
The above research indicates that proper therapy enhances quality of life for clients regardless of how ‘successful’ it is in terms of change of attractions.
However, most who have shifted a little or a lot remain closeted: it is far too risky to ‘come out’ because their lived experience threatens the current orthodoxy that claims ‘born gay; once gay, always gay; and gay is the new normal’.
Some like former happily-gay Sam Salter do both God and therapy. For Sam, it has been Cognitive Behavioural, analytic and Reintegrative Therapies.
Here’s what he had to say: ‘I don’t think my journey is about becoming something, so much as it is about revealing who I already am [emphasis added].’
Sam believes ‘it’s not about pushing anything down; it’s about taking these feelings and realising that they are a symptom of a deeper issue and then working through them’.
‘I’ve gone from identifying as gay, to “an embittered sufferer of unwanted same-sex attraction”, then to “a normal guy who’s just got some stuff he’s trying to work out”, all in the space of two and a half years!’
When addressing its effectiveness, Sam adds, ‘Yes, I can say for sure that it’s working for me.’
Another encouraging piece of research is the 2021 Australian study of former LGBT individuals, ‘Free to Change: Survey of 78 Ex- LGBT People: Does “Conversion Therapy” (Counselling) Constitute Harm or Help?’
The data from this study ‘reveals that the change in participants’ lives and the [professional and/or religious ] counselling they received is associated with extensive improvements in the quality of their lives’.
And out of 68 former LGB individuals, ‘52.9% are now exclusively heterosexual, while 70.6% are now living heterosexual lives’.
A final thought
There is an immense ideological struggle today, led by activists who insist that LGBT people are ‘born that way’ and cannot change.
There is increasing evidence, however, that what the Royal College of Psychiatrists calls ‘post-natal environmental factors’ – i.e. not born that way! – play a major role in the development of sexuality.
This observation, recognised only in the last decade, offers science and therapy exciting potential for mutually fruitful research.
Dr Lisa Nolland is CEO of the Marriage Sex and Culture Group, London.