Expected and unexpected findings

8422764Last week the American Psychological Association passed a resolution that made quite a bit of news. Here's the top of a somewhat lengthy Associated Press report explaining the basics:

The American Psychological Association declared Wednesday that mental health professionals should not tell gay clients they can become straight through therapy or other treatments.

In a resolution adopted by the APA's governing council, and in an accompanying report, the association issued its most comprehensive repudiation of "reparative therapy" -- a concept espoused by a small but persistent group of therapists, often allied with religious conservatives, who maintain gays can change.

No solid evidence exists that such change is likely, says the resolution, adopted by a 125-4 vote. The APA said some research suggests that efforts to produce change could be harmful, inducing depression and suicidal tendencies.

Instead of seeking such change, the APA urged therapists to consider multiple options -- that could range from celibacy to switching churches -- for helping clients live spiritually rewarding lives in instances where their sexual orientation and religious faith conflict.

The AP report wasn't bad. It got perspective from people who changed their self-identification from homosexual to heterosexual, for instance. There are dissenting psychologists interviewed as well. The AP story was widely distributed. Most people who read about the resolution probably read the AP's version of events. But I wanted to highlight two mainstream media stories that dug a bit deeper or looked at some angles unexplored by most of the media.

The first is by the Washington Times' Julia Duin. The whole thing is interesting but particularly noteworthy are the quotes she pulls from the report showing the blame the APA places on religion. There's also this section that looks at who was on the task force. I didn't see many other reports investigating the composition of the task force:

The report was compiled by a six-member task force that admitted to a built-in bias that "same-sex sexual attractions, behavior and orientations per se are normal and positive variants of human sexuality and are not indicators of either mental or developmental disorders."

The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) said the task force was stacked with gay or gay-friendly activists who would naturally conclude that reparative therapy does not work.

"No APA member who offers reorientation therapy was allowed to join the task force," said David Pruden, NARTH vice president. "In fact, one can make the case that every member of the task force can be classified as an activist. They selected and interpreted studies that fit within their innate and immutable view."

Task force Chairwoman Judith Glassgold, a New Jersey psychologist, is on the board of the Journal of Gay and Lesbian Psychology, NARTH said, and was president of Division 44, APA's gay caucus, in 2003-2004. Committee member Jack Drescher is a public gay activist. Another committee member, Roger Worthington, a chief diversity officer with the University of Missouri/Columbia, has been cited by gay groups for his advocacy on their behalf.

Clinton Anderson, an APA spokesman, did not deny NARTH's charges.

"I think that we had a very open process where we put out a call for nominations," he said. "We evaluated the nominees based on their qualifications. I don't feel we have any apologies to make for how we appointed that task force."

I don't think anyone is surprised by the APA coming out, again, against reparative therapy and probably everyone assumes that people involved with the APA have a certain ideology -- just as you might surmise that a group that thinks that religion helps individuals overcome what they consider sinful inclinations would have a different viewpoint. Still, it's good, journalistically speaking, to go ahead and discuss that baseline ideology and how only one side was represented. There are arguments to be made in favor and against such representation but it's good information to include in a report.

Since this is getting a bit long, I'll hold off on discussing the second noteworthy mainstream media story until later today. But here's an interesting take from the Baptist Press:

For those who believe homosexuality can be changed, the report concluded, "The appropriate application of affirmative therapeutic interventions for those who seek [sexual orientation change efforts] involves therapist acceptance, support, and understanding of clients ... without imposing a specific sexual orientation identity outcome." Although such a sentence may not sound significant, it actually is: It gives the patient the ability to decide his or her direction in the therapy. Conservatives feared the APA not only would call such attempts unethical but also conclude that patients who desire to change should not be assisted. In another possible nod to Christian conservatives, the report concluded, "[W]e take the perspective that religious faith and psychology do not have to be seen as being opposed to each other."

Bob Stith, the Southern Baptist national strategist for gender issues and the representative of the denomination's Task Force on Ministry to Homosexuals, said "the report was much better than I had expected" and that it had "enough to give anyone who read it some support." But he, like other conservatives, was frustrated with much of the report.

I just found it interesting that while much of the mainstream media portrayed this report as a huge blow to religious conservatives, many religious conservatives didn't react with abject horror to the report. I suspect that the difference may be that religious conservatives don't actually view homosexuality and attendant therapy in precisely the same way that the media think they do.

Since same-sex attraction issues seem to generate quite a bit of off-topic commentary here, so let me take the opportunity to remind readers that this is not the place to discuss anything except for how the mainstream media handled the religious angles of the report. Your comments must be heavily focused on journalism -- and not your feelings about how awesome or awful reparative therapy or same-sex attraction are. Otherwise they will be deleted.

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