Resolution on Appropriate Affirmative Responses to Sexual Orientation Distress and Change Efforts
The longstanding consensus of the behavioral and social sciences and the health and mental health professions is that homosexuality per se is a normal and positive variation of human sexual orientation (Bell, Weinberg & Hammersmith, 1981; Bullough, 1976; Ford & Beach 1951 ; Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953 ). Homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder (APA, 1975). Since 1974, the American Psychological Association (APA) has opposed stigma, prejudice, discrimination, and violence on the basis of sexual orientation and has taken a leadership role in supporting the equal rights of lesbian, gay, and bisexual individuals (APA, 2005).
APA is concerned about ongoing efforts to mischaracterize homosexuality and promote the notion that sexual orientation can be changed and about the resurgence of sexual orientation change efforts (SOCE)1. SOCE has been controversial due to tensions between the values held by some faith-based organizations, on the one hand, and those held by lesbian, gay and bisexual rights organizations and professional and scientific organizations, on the other (Drescher, 2003; Drescher & Zucker, 2006). Some individuals and groups have promoted the idea of homosexuality as symptomatic of developmental defects or spiritual and moral failings and have argued that SOCE, including psychotherapy and religious efforts, could alter homosexual feelings and behaviors (Drescher & Zucker, 2006; Morrow & Beckstead, 2004). Many of these individuals and groups appeared to be embedded within the larger context of conservative religious political movements that have supported the stigmatization of homosexuality on political or religious grounds (Drescher, 2003; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2005; Drescher & Zucker, 2006). Psychology, as a science, and various faith traditions, as theological systems, can acknowledge and respect their profoundly different methodological and philosophical viewpoints. The APA concludes that psychology must rely on proven methods of scientific inquiry based on empirical data, on which hypotheses and propositions are confirmed or disconfirmed, as the basis to explore and understand human behavior (APA, 2008a; 2008b).
In response to these concerns, APA appointed the Task Force on Appropriate Therapeutic Responses to Sexual Orientation to review the available research on SOCE and to provide recommendations to the Association. The Task Force reached the following findings.
Recent studies of participants in SOCE identify a population of individuals who experience serious distress related to same sex sexual attractions. Most of these participants are Caucasian males who report that their religion is extremely important to them ( Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; Nicolosi, Byrd, & Potts, 2000; Schaeffer, Hyde, Kroencke, McCormick, & Nottebaum, 2000; Shidlo & Schroeder, 2002, Spitzer, 2003). These individuals report having pursued a variety of religious and secular efforts intended to help them to change their sexual orientation. To date, the research has not fully addressed age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, disability, language, and socioeconomic status in the population of distressed individuals.
There are no studies of adequate scientific rigor to conclude whether or not recent SOCE do or do not work to change a person’s sexual orientation. Scientifically rigorous older work in this area (e.g., Birk, Huddleston, Miller, & Cohler, 1971; James, 1978; McConaghy, 1969, 1976; McConaghy, Proctor, & Barr, 1972; Tanner, 1974, 1975) found that s exual orientation (i.e., erotic attractions and sexual arousal oriented to one sex or the other, or both) was unlikely to change due to efforts designed for this purpose. Some individuals appeared to learn how to ignore or limit their attractions. However, this was much less likely to be true for people whose sexual attractions were initially limited to people of the same sex.
Although sound data on the safety of SOCE are extremely limited, some individuals reported being harmed by SOCE. Distress and depression were exacerbated. Belief in the hope of sexual orientation change followed by the failure of the treatment was identified as a significant cause of distress and negative self-image (Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; Shidlo & Schroeder, 2002).
Although there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation, some individuals modified their sexual orientation identity (i.e., group membership and affiliation), behavior, and values (Nicolosi, Byrd, & Potts, 2000). They did so in a variety of ways and with varied and unpredictable outcomes, some of which were temporary (Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; Shidlo & Schroeder, 2002). Based on the available data, additional claims about the meaning of those outcomes are scientifically unsupported.
On the basis of the Task Force’s findings, the APA encourages mental health professionals to provide assistance to those who seek sexual orientation change by utilizing affirmative multiculturally competent (Bartoli & Gillem, 2008; Brown, 2006) and client-centered approaches (e.g., Beckstead & Israel, 2007; Glassgold, 2008; Haldeman, 2004; Lasser & Gottlieb, 2004) that recognize the negative impact of social stigma on sexual minorities 2 (Herek, 2009; Herek & Garnets, 2007) and balance ethical principles of beneficence and nonmaleficence, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity (APA, 1998, 2002; Davison, 1976; Haldeman, 2002; Schneider, Brown, & Glassgold, 2002).
Whereas the American Psychological Association expressly opposes prejudice (defined broadly) and discrimination based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, or socioeconomic status (American Psychological Association, 1998, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2008b);
Whereas the American Psychological Association takes a leadership role in opposing prejudice and discrimination (APA, 2008b, 2008c), including prejudice based on or derived from religion or spirituality, and encourages commensurate consideration of religion and spirituality as diversity variables (APA, 2008b);
Whereas psychologists respect human diversity including age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status (APA, 2002) and psychologists strive to prevent bias from their own spiritual, religious, or non-religious beliefs from taking precedence over professional practice and standards or scientific findings in their work as psychologists (APA, 2008b);
Whereas psychologists are encouraged to recognize that it is outside the role and expertise of psychologists, as psychologists, to adjudicate religious or spiritual tenets, while also recognizing that psychologists can appropriately speak to the psychological implications of religious/spiritual beliefs or practices when relevant psychological findings about those implications exist (APA, 2008b);
Whereas those operating from religious/spiritual traditions are encouraged to recognize that it is outside their role and expertise to adjudicate empirical scientific issues in psychology, while also recognizing they can appropriately speak to theological implications of psychological science (APA, 2008b);
Whereas the American Psychological Association encourages collaborative activities in pursuit of shared prosocial goals between psychologists and religious communities when such collaboration can be done in a mutually respectful manner that is consistent with psychologists’ professional and scientific roles (APA, 2008b);
Whereas societal ignorance and prejudice about a same-sex sexual orientation places some sexual minorities 2 at risk for seeking sexual orientation change due to personal, family, or religious conflicts, or lack of information (Beckstead & Morrow, 2004; Haldeman, 1994; Ponticelli, 1999; Shidlo & Schroeder, 2002; Wolkomir, 2001);
Whereas some mental health professionals advocate treatments based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental disorder (e.g., Nicolosi, 1991; Socarides, 1968);
Whereas sexual minority children and youth are especially vulnerable populations with unique developmental tasks (Perrin, 2002; Ryan & Futterman, 1997), who lack adequate legal protection from involuntary or coercive treatment (Arriola, 1998; Burack & Josephson, 2005; Molnar, 1997) and whose parents and guardians need accurate information to make informed decisions regarding their development and well-being (Cianciotto & Cahill, 2006; Ryan & Futterman, 1997); and
Whereas research has shown that family rejection is a predictor of negative outcomes (Remafedi, Farrow, & Deisher, 1991; Ryan, Huebner, Diaz, & Sanchez, 2009; Savin-Williams, 1994; Wilber, Ryan, & Marksamer, 2006) and that parental acceptance and school support are protective factors (D’Augelli, 2003; D’Augelli, Hershberger & Pilkington, 1998; Goodenow, Szalacha, & Westheimer, 2006; Savin-Williams, 1989) for sexual minority youth;
Therefore be it resolved that the American Psychological Association affirms that same-sex sexual and romantic attractions, feelings, and behaviors are normal and positive variations of human sexuality regardless of sexual orientation identity;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association reaffirms its position that homosexuality per se is not a mental disorder and opposes portrayals of sexual minority youths and adults as mentally ill due to their sexual orientation;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association concludes that there is insufficient evidence to support the use of psychological interventions to change sexual orientation;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association encourages mental health professionals to avoid misrepresenting the efficacy of sexual orientation change efforts by promoting or promising change in sexual orientation when providing assistance to individuals distressed by their own or others’ sexual orientation;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association concludes that the benefits reported by participants in sexual orientation change efforts can be gained through approaches that do not attempt to change sexual orientation;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association concludes that the emerging knowledge on affirmative multiculturally competent treatment provides a foundation for an appropriate evidence-based practice with children, adolescents and adults who are distressed by or seek to change their sexual orientation (Bartoli & Gillem, 2008; Brown, 2006; Martell, Safren & Prince, 2004; Ryan & Futterman, 1997; Norcross, 2002);
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association advises parents, guardians, young people, and their families to avoid sexual orientation change efforts that portray homosexuality as a mental illness or developmental disorder and to seek psychotherapy, social support and educational services that provide accurate information on sexual orientation and sexuality, increase family and school support, and reduce rejection of sexual minority youth;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association encourages practitioners to consider the ethical concerns outlined in the 1997 APA Resolution on Appropriate Therapeutic Response to Sexual Orientation (American Psychological Association, 1998), in particular the following standards and principles: scientific bases for professional judgments, benefit and harm, justice, and respect for people’s rights and dignity;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association encourages practitioners to be aware that age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, disability, language, and socioeconomic status may interact with sexual stigma, and contribute to variations in sexual orientation identity development, expression, and experience;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association opposes the distortion and selective use of scientific data about homosexuality by individuals and organizations seeking to influence public policy and public opinion and will take a leadership role in responding to such distortions;
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association supports the dissemination of accurate scientific and professional information about sexual orientation in order to counteract bias that is based in lack of knowledge about sexual orientation; and
Be it further resolved that the American Psychological Association encourages advocacy groups, elected officials, mental health professionals, policy makers, religious professionals and organizations, and other organizations to seek areas of collaboration that may promote the wellbeing of sexual minorities.
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1The APA uses the term sexual orientation change efforts to describe all means to change sexual orientation (e.g., behavioral techniques, psychoanalytic techniques, medical approaches, religious and spiritual approaches). This includes those efforts by mental health professionals, lay individuals, including religious professionals, religious leaders, social groups, and other lay networks such as self-help groups .
2The Task Force uses the term sexual minority (cf. Ullerstam, 1966; Blumenfeld, 1992; McCarn & Fassinger, 1996) to designate the entire group of individuals who experience significant erotic and romantic attractions to adult members of their own sex, including those who experience attractions to members of both their own and the other sex. This term is used because the Task Force recognizes that not all sexual minority individuals adopt a lesbian, gay, or bisexual identity.