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APA task force shuts door to conservatives

WASHINGTON (BP)–A task force of the American Psychological Association set to revise policies on the interplay of homosexuality and psychology has refused to meet with a number of counselors and religious leaders who believe same-sex attraction can be altered.

Denominational leaders, practicing psychologists, counselors and organizations dedicated to assisting individuals who want to change their sexual orientation requested to meet with the task force to share their understanding of the issue. The APA denied their request for a meeting, citing the need “to keep the emphasis on the science” and keep their distance from advocacy groups, according to a letter sent Sept. 7.

The conservative leaders, who they say represent 20 million people across the United States, expressed their disappointment that “our joint voice would be so categorically dismissed” in a Nov. 6 letter to the APA. The leaders are concerned that the majority of the task force members believe homosexuals cannot, and should not, attempt to change their sexual orientation.

“While we would welcome a truly unbiased approach by the APA, we feel the foundation, thus far, hardly serves objective science as you now claim,” wrote religious conservatives in the letter.

The APA, based in Washington, decides the standards for psychologists across the country. The task force was created in May by the APA to update a resolution passed in 1997 on counseling homosexuals. The focus of the six-member panel is to address the “therapeutic interventions” used to change behaviors and same-sex attraction.

Reparative therapy seeks to identify the developmental, physiological, social-psychological, familial, interpersonal and gender identity aspects that may contribute to an individual’s so-called sexual orientation and aid the patient in reducing their same-sex attraction or changing their orientation.

In 1973, the APA removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. The association considers it unethical for psychologists to treat homosexuality as such. The reorientation therapies under review are not officially condemned in current APA literature. However, the task force could implement policies that would deem them unethical psychological practices.

Conservatives are apprehensive that such a declaration would prevent patients who express a desire to change their behavior and desires based on religious convictions from receiving therapeutic help.

“We are writing to express some concern that the mission of the task force may not recognize same-sex attracted persons who also have solid and unwavering religious commitments which lead them to avoid homosexual behavior,” said a June 29 letter from conservatives to the APA.

Southern Baptist signers of both letters to the APA included Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Bob Stith, the SBC’s strategist for gender issues. James Dobson of Focus on the Family also signed both letters.

More than 260 individuals signed the June letter. Other Southern Baptist signers of that letter include seminary and college professors, as well as at least one church counselor. The November letter was limited to 26 signers.

Despite the APA’s assertion it wants to remain neutral and detached from advocacy groups, the conservatives said the association has listened to institutions from the other side.

The task force was formed because of the concerns of “gay” activist groups, according to the APA.

“Several external organizations have recommended that the APA update its policy, because of their concerns about the continued visibility of reparative therapy practitioners and treatment facilities,” according to the APA’s call for nominations to the task force.

Clinton Anderson, director of an APA committee on “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender” concerns, met with Ron Schlittler, former assistant director of Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), prior to advising that a task force be formed, according to bloggers at Ex-Gay Watch. The bloggers are a monitoring group skeptical of organizations that attempt to “convert” or change those with same-sex attraction.

The meeting between Anderson and Schlittler was to discuss the “aggressive promotion of ‘reparative therapy’ by right wing groups,” according to Ex-Gay Watch.

Unable to meet with the task force, the association of conservative counselors and religious groups provided a bibliography of scientific research supporting their contention that change of sexual orientation is possible.

One report, conducted by Stanton Jones of Wheaton College and Mark Yarhouse of Regent University, studied the effects of this specific kind of counseling at Exodus International, an umbrella organization for Christian counselors and churches on the issue of homosexuality.

The study looked at two issues, both similar to the concerns of the task force: Whether or not same-sex attraction can be changed in an individual and whether the process used to achieve this end is harmful to the individual’s psyche.

Studying 98 subjects over a period of several years, the researchers found some of them could change their behavior and desires. Jones and Yarhouse also conducted a test for emotional or psychological distress among these subjects and found the methods did not cause stress.

The research — published in the book “Ex-Gays?” — is the proof that some psychologists have said is lacking, Jones and Yarhouse said. It certainly was controversial — particularly in the secular realm. At a September news conference Yarhouse said their literary agent tried for 10 months to find a secular publisher but “no one would touch it.” InterVarsity Press, a Christian publisher, finally published it.

The task force will issue its full report sometime early next year.
Erica Simons is an intern with the Washington bureau of Baptist Press.

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