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Researcher of reparative therapy study retracts claims, says he owes gay community apology

Heather Rudow May 22, 2012

(Photo:Flickr/Guillaume Paumier)

Dr. Robert L. Spitzer, a well-known psychiatrist who became notorious for his 2003 study supporting the use of reparative therapy as a means for “curing” homosexuality, is now recanting his findings.

According to an interview with The New York Times, Spitzer, who is now retired, says he owes the gay community an apology for what his study claimed.

The study involved interviews with 200 individuals who were undergoing reparative therapy and reported some sort of a change. Reparative therapy, also known as conversion therapy, is rooted in Sigmund Freud’s theory that people are born bisexual and can migrate to either side of the sexuality spectrum.

At the time, leaders from the gay community as well as some of Spitzer’s colleagues tried to stop him from publishing the study because they believed it had serious flaws in it, reports The New York Times:

“It was based on what people remembered feeling years before — an often fuzzy record. It included some ex-gay advocates, who were politically active. And it did not test any particular therapy; only half of the participants engaged with a therapist at all, while the others worked with pastoral counselors, or in independent Bible study.”

Additionally, the study did not go through the usual peer-review process that occurs before publication.

In a draft of his open apology letter, Spitzer writes, “I believe I owe the gay community an apology for my study making unproven claims of the efficacy of reparative therapy. I also apologize to any gay person who wasted time and energy undergoing some form of reparative therapy because they believed that I had proven that reparative therapy works with some ‘highly motivated’ individuals.”

The American Counseling Association opposes the use of reparative therapy for homosexual clients.

“Reparative therapy is a religious practice, not a mental health intervention,” says ACA Chief Professional Officer David Kaplan.  “ACA is against the promotion of reparative therapy because one, studies have shown that efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation do not work and, two, because efforts to change an individual’s sexual orientation can cause significant emotional damage.”

For more information on ACA’s stance regarding reparative therapy, read “Exploring ethical issues related to conversion or reparative therapy.”

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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