Gay & Lesbian Services of Western New York

Reparative Therapy

A fifteen year old asks, “I have seen a lot lately about therapy to change people from gay to straight. Does this actually work?”

No! Certainly people do have the capacity to change or not engage in certain behavior. For instance, years ago schools sought to have every child write right handed. Apparently that was viewed as better than having desks that accommodated left handed individuals. All left handed youth were forced to write with their right hand. After a while they could write well enough with their right hands, but they never lost their left handed nature. A person cannot change their essential, elemental nature. So consider this: The “problem” is not inside you, it is in the culture.

Being gay does not make one inherently unhappy. While the general culture has made strides toward the understanding and acceptance of GLBT persons as part of the fabric of cultural diversity, there is still a very long way to go toward full acceptance. Being told that our “lifestyle” is a perversion or a sin on a daily basis makes it difficult for GLBT persons to develop a secure and positive self image.

Homosexuality isn’t a disease anymore than left handedness. It is not a “lifestyle” or “chosen” like one would choose a car, a pair of shoes or a neighborhood in which to live. Once again the press about “Reparative Therapy” has increased stimulated by the “miracle cure” of former minister Ted Haggard who proclaims that in three weeks of “intensive counseling” he is now straight….amazing! This is a man who is married with 5 kids and who has made a career out of being a Fundamentalist Minister. His being outed faced him with losing everything he has known in his life and so, to hold on to what he has had, (I believe) he has disavowed his true nature. For me this represents his choosing to hold on to the image he has had in the past and what it has provided to him rather than have the courage to affirm his true self and live a life of integrity. The only “choice” we have is to live as our true selves or to hide.

Over the years as a therapist I have worked with a number of individuals who have tried Reparative Therapy, usually out of religious guilt or because they wanted to fit a cultural stereotype of “normal”. In the end their resultant experience was to feel worse about themselves for having “failed” the therapy by not changing their feelings of same sex attraction. Many GLBT people have tried to be “straight” and live “heterosexual” lives only to find it increasingly difficult to suppress their feelings as they age. Unfortunately, as you get older in life, it can be even more difficult to face the real or imagined losses that will occur by coming out. Hence many live quiet lives of desperation, shame and fear of exposure.

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