The global problem of psychotherapists' complicity in societal discrimination and stigma against gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals is reprehensible and must stop immediately. Recently the American Psychological Association (APA) adopted a resolution which states that practitioners should avoid telling clients that they can change from gay to straight through therapy (see report in this issue of the newsletter). I find it incredible that such a resolution is still needed in 2009. But, unfortunately, the practice of "conversion therapy" or "reparative therapy" is still alive and well despite significant evidence that it does not work and it is highly unethical.
Thirty years ago, I published a review of treatment approaches to homosexuality that debunked the notion that homosexuality is a mental disorder and that it can be "cured." I also presented evidence that these approaches were highly unethical, ineffective, and harmful. That review along with a plethora of scientific research led to the 1973 decision of the APA to depathologize homosexuality as a mental disorder.
I am very pleased to see this recent APA resolution which reiterates what we have known for a long time. I hope that the message will be heard loudly around the world.
As I put forth thirty years ago, through therapy we need to assist gay, lesbian, bisexual, and "questioning" individuals to clarify their sexual orientation. We need to help them to develop a positive self image, help them cultivate intimate relationships, and help them integrate their sexual orientation into a society that remains predominately heterosexist. Our preoccupation with the etiology of homosexuality is misplaced, and we must shift our energies and focus to the study of the tremendous impact of stigma and discrimination and the develop methodologies to combat it.
I look forward to the day when our society is no longer heterosexist -- a day when all individuals can grow up and realize their true identity in terms of gender and sexual orientation. And, I look forward to the day when the wide spectrum of gender identities and sexual orientations is fully integrated into our society.
We have a long way to go to achieve this goal, and one essential step is to put outdated notions about homosexuality behind us to move toward a new, sexually healthy society.
Eli Coleman, PhD
Professor and Director
Academic Chair in Sexual Health
Coleman, E. (1978). Toward a new model of treatment of homosexuality: A review. Journal of Homosexuality, 3, 345-359.
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