Cover Story

Psychology Associations Challenge Mental Disorder Concept of Homosexuality

A number of psychology groups around the world are working to educate professionals and the public about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, to counter a conception that associates these with disease or illness, and to promote policies that affirm positive mental health in these populations.

by Clinton Anderson, PhD, Director
APA Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns Office

Over the past 50 years, psychology’s understanding of homosexuality has changed, based on consistent efforts to publicize research and models that reject an illness framework. However, many individuals and groups still promote the idea that homosexuality is a disorder and offer interventions to change sexual orientation, sometimes referred to as “reparative therapy.”  A number of psychology groups around the world are working to educate professionals and the public about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, to counter a conception that associates these with disease or illness, and to promote policies that affirm positive mental health in these populations.

A number of national psychological associations that have taken public positions on “reparative therapy” include the American Psychological Association (APA) in 1997 and the Brazilian Conselho Federal de Psicologia (CFP) in 1999.  The APA has a task force working on a revision of its 1997 policy statement that is expected to issue a report later this year.

Recently, a letter from the Psychological Society of South Africa (PsySSA) was published that rejects “reparative therapy” for homosexuality and the treatment of homosexuality as an illness. The letter, published April 28, 2008, in the Jewish Report, a South African Jewish community newspaper, was requested by Jewish OutLook, a South African organization for the Jewish lesbian, gay, transgendered and intersex community in South Africa, as a response to efforts by JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality), to promote such therapies in the Jewish Report.  The letter was drafted for PsySSA by Dr. Juan Nel, who represents PsySSA in the International Network for Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns and Gender Identity Issues in Psychology. PsySSA, along with APA, and a number of psychological associations around the world are members of the International Network, a group composed of national, multinational, and international psychological associations that are cooperating to achieve the following aims:

  • To increase cross-cultural collaboration among psychological researchers and practitioners who are concerned about the mental health and well-being of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations;

  • To increase knowledge among psychologists and other mental health practitioners about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations;

  • To apply psychological research and mental health practice guidelines that address the needs and concerns of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations to international health policy;

  • To increase the number of national, multinational, and international psychological associations that formally reject the mental disorder conception of homosexuality and that promote mental health practice that is affirmative of gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.

For more information about the International Network, contact the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns Office at the APA, which is the secretariat for the International Network.