By David Pickup
Authentic Reparative Therapy really works. It works to help men change their sexual orientation, naturally dissipate their homoerotic feelings, and maximize their heterosexual potential.
However, there is evidence from the Exodus ministry that could be signaling an unawareness of this important message. Exodus has indicated a significant change in their views and policies as evidenced by the remarks of Exodus President Alan Chambers at the Gay Christian Network Conference last week. The official commentary on the peter-ould.net website has brought this to our attention. I believe their interpretation of Alan Chamber’s remarks is correct.
Chambers' remarks essentially indicate that:
1. Exodus will no longer indicate or specifically claim that change from Gay to 100% straight is possible for anyone except for a few rare cases.
2. Exodus has apologized and will continue to do so for making these unrealistic claims, which they now believe have contributed toward misinformation, hurtfulness and homophobia.
3. Exodus will work to achieve a deeper understanding of the truth of homosexuality, which will allow them to minister more effectively and compassionately to those dealing with homosexuality.
In my opinion, as a Reparative Therapist, all of the above indications are laudable, and I thank Alan Chambers for his efforts to move toward truth and compassion. What is gravely absent, however, is the very essence of point #3. In my experience, Exodus has, quite unintentionally for the last 20 years, failed to understand and effectively deal with the actual root causes of homosexuality and what leads to authentic change. I laud their willingness to admit their naiveté’, but I do not see anything so far that indicates they now truly understand the psychological, developmentally-based causes of homosexuality or what produces real change.
Will they simply be satisfied with recognizing that 100% change rarely occurs and just stop there while continuing their ministry? Or, will they avail themselves of the immense opportunity to learn the root causes underneath homosexual feelings and how to help an individual experience significant change based upon the resolution of those causes?
(Parenthetically, let me state it is important that we recognize that just because a man might feel occasional sexual attractions towards men does NOT mean significant and real change has not occurred. Let’s take other challenges common to many people: depression or anxiety for instance. How many people who have successfully dealt with these issues are 100% changed so that they are not susceptible to later feelings of depression or anxiety? Can a therapist guarantee a client will never have those feelings again? Of course not. The same is true for homosexuality. Real change has occurred; however, no apologies should be made if much successful change has occurred even though homosexual feelings occasionally surface.)
Considering Alan Chamber’s recent statements, is he also going to discuss the significant change that has in fact been experienced by many people? (Unlike Chambers, my fellow therapists and I know many, many clients who have experienced the dissipation of much or most of their homosexual feelings. Some of those have moved on toward women, some have not. Each person will have their own individual experience based on the nature of their wounds and their motivation. Furthermore, the success of Reparative Therapy is not defined by 100% change.)
If Chambers and Exodus do want to truly understand the nature of homosexuality, then they should be open to understanding the psychological underpinnings of these issues and start to recommending qualified therapists who are experts at facilitating significant change. If not, then Exodus will fall into deeper controversy than they are in already. They will be reduced to the myopic ministry of simply helping people to deal with their homosexuality through behavioral changes, which, by the way, reflects the American Psychological Association’s belief about Reparative Therapy: that real change is not possible and people may be helped only in the sense of conforming their behavior to reflect their religious beliefs. In short, Exodus will eventually lose even more effectiveness and begin to flounder.
Another question arises. Why would a group of spiritual people ignore and not face the significant evidence for the root causes of homosexuality and actual change capabilities of Reparative Therapies? I believe there are several reasons for this. It is not good news. Here they are:
1. Generally, many Exodus members cannot or will not see that Reparative Therapy is reflective of sound biblical principles. They do not understand shame and its role in the etiology of homosexuality. Not knowing this has led to the unintentional shaming of many same-sex attracted individuals for years, and has actually impeded their progress!
2. Many conservative spiritual people are afraid psychotherapy will undermine the work of God, or that utilizing therapy will send the message that God is not the answer to the ills of humanity. If this were true, we should also get rid of our medical doctors and rely only on the miraculous intervention of God to heal our physical problems!
3. Many people tend to believe that going to psychotherapy will encourage them to believe there is no such thing as guilt, which is not only untrue, it completely ignores the ability of many psychotherapists to move in concert with biblical principles in therapy if the patient asks for this.
4. Many people of faith do not understand the root causes of homosexuality, which are primarily experienced in childhood. If they did understand, they would have to deal with the truth that they may have contributed to the development of their child’s homosexuality by not supplying enough of their emotional and identity formation needs. In general, parents find it very hard to believe how their child’s upbringing could possibly have been so injurious to them since they loved their child so much. However, loving a child and giving the child the love he needs can be two entirely different things. Parents and churches often find this idea to be unbelievable.
Exodus’ changes are not yet fully apparent. However, if part of their “re-branding” does not include a true psychological understanding and acceptance of the truth about the causes of homosexuality, and if their leaders are not going to refer strugglers to qualified therapists who are expertly trained to facilitate real and profound changes in these strugglers, then they will have rendered themselves, once again, tragically ineffective. The result will yet again be the marginalization of Exodus and people in need. Maybe Exodus should stick with strictly spiritual concerns of the souls in their churches, and let the qualified therapists do their work to facilitate real change. In reality, the best scenario is to encourage and invite Alan Chambers and the Exodus ministries to work in tandem with Reparative Therapists to maximize the solutions for people in need.
If real change is not encouraged, then what do other Reparative Therapists and I tell our clients, most of whom are highly spiritual people? Do we tell them that the change they’ve experienced is not valid and to ignore the transformative processes from which they have grown so much? What is a Reparative Therapist supposed to do when from clients he hears time and time again:
“This is really hard work, but when I focus on healing the pain of what I didn’t get from my father or my friends, something in me heals. Then when I get my male needs met, the SSA just goes away by itself.”
“I really feel more attracted to women now. I want to love a woman and have a family.”
“I still have shame issues, and I once in a while feel attracted to a man, but I know how to work on that and feel affirmed by other men now.” I see myself as a man like other men, and the sexual attractions just sort of go away.”
“This affirmation work and the needs I’m getting filled feels a lot better than sex with a guy.”
All of the above is taken from actual client responses I’ve had in session over the course of their Reparative Therapy throughout the last several years. Currently, many gay organizations, educational institutions, and psychological associations do not believe change is possible, regardless of the significantly strong scientific and anecdotal evidence to the contrary. If Exodus is approaching this same disbelief, will people seeking real change be marginalized yet once again?
David H. Pickup, MA
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist
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