Living In Truth: A Research Report About Psychological Treatment
"In a particular way, we would ask the Bishops to support, with the means at their disposal, the development of appropriate forms of pastoral care for homosexual persons. These would include the assistance of the psychological, sociological, and medical sciences, in full accord with the teaching of the Church."
"Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons," no.17 Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), 1986
Spiritual and Emotional Growth
In 1997, a large and history-making psychological study was released establishing clinically the effectiveness of psychotherapy for people desiring to overcome homosexuality. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH) conducted this study of 860 individuals who sought treatment because of unwanted homosexual feelings.
Two Years of Treatment
NARTH surveyed these clients before and after two years of treatment in traditional therapy with more than two hundred psychologists and therapists. Two thirds of the clients were addressing exclusively homosexual attractions, and the other one third were addressing both homosexual and heterosexual attractions. 63% of these clients opted to continue in therapy at the end of two years, so the following results should be read as an interim report. (The language of the study avoids the labels 'gay,' 'lesbian,' and 'bisexual,' and simply describes feelings and behavior.)
This article brings forward evidence to support the idea that some people can through therapy find to varying degrees success in moving to overcome the homosexual condition.
Analysis of the Data
The number of study participants who were "exclusively or almost entirely homosexual" was reduced by 80% (from 584 at the beginning to 112 after two years). Thus, they experienced a marked increase of heterosexual feelings as a result of their therapy.
The number of people starting the study who were "exclusively or almost entirely heterosexual" was zero, and that number increased to 287 after two years of therapy. That’s an increase of 33%, which is the conventional success rate for all psychotherapy. Not everyone made this complete turnaround, but that number is enough to prove that many can make this change.
A survey after just two years of psychotherapy for any kind of deep-seated problem should be regarded just an interim progress report on the journey, and in fact 63% of participants did continue treatment.
854 participants (that’s 99%, or all but nine) called therapy "valuable" and "effective" even though not all had become fully heterosexual. Conventional therapy addresses the life problems which lie behind unwanted emotional conditions. The data suggest that the unwanted sexual feelings of these clients change at varying rates; however, what made therapy valuable to almost everyone is progress in addressing their underlying life problems.
Comments From Clients in the Study
A female participant stated: "I never expected this much recovery. My relationships with men have greatly improved. I am able to relate sexually to my husband in a way I was never able to before. I’m learning to leave the familiar protective emotions of contempt, arrogance, pseudo-self-sufficiency, anger, and self-indulgence behind and practice the emotions of love instead."
A male participant stated: "Change is extremely difficult and requires total commitment. But I have broken the terrible power that homosexuality had over me for so long. I haven’t been this light and happy since I was a child. People can and do change and become free."
Comment from the Director of the Study
The following statement by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi, Executive Director of NARTH, was included with the press release which announced the findings of the study: "We should stop telling young people and others struggling with homosexuality that they’re stuck with it. Instead we should say, If you want to change, you can, like so many others who have."
Four Implications of the Results
These findings contradict what most Americans believe is possible for people with homosexual feelings. The data reported above contain four distinct surprises for all who view homosexuality with an open mind:
There exists a population of men and women who struggle with homosexual desires and persist in their desire to change even in the face of society’s message that they should give up that hope and accept their condition. A significant minority of psychologists and therapists still offers, very much against the prevailing theory, treatment to assist people who want to be free of homosexuality.
Homosexuality has emotional and psychological causes which can be addressed in the context of traditional therapeutic counseling. In a majority of cases, such treatment gradually reduces same-sex attractions by addressing them as a symptom of other problems. Such treatment can be effective for a large percentage of people who seek it. Furthermore, sexuality is not rigidly fixed, but very fluid and open to change. We didn’t know that because we had never heard about such successes.
Hope, But No Easy Answers
The Roman Catholic Church has always taught that same-sex attractions are objectively disordered. The NARTH report provides a clinical endorsement of that view as being hopeful, rather than self-condemning, for people who for reasons of faith or philosophy do not accept their own homosexual feelings as normal. This study does offer hope, but with important limitations:
Not everyone can afford psychotherapy or find a therapist who has the training, the experience, and the values to assist with this journey.
The deep emotional work entailed may not be an important enough priority to warrant the commitment required. Not everyone who makes the effort succeeds if one defines success as eliminating homosexual feelings. If, however, success is defined as significant personal growth, then the great majority of people will find therapy effective. Not everyone wants to overcome homosexuality. Treatment is only effective for people who value the discovery of their heterosexuality. To urge therapy on the unwilling is pointless.
A Third Segment
One very vocal segment of people with homosexual feelings holds the dominant view that homosexuality is healthy and permanent. A second (and largely silenced) population vigorously disagrees and approaches homosexual attractions as a call to some unfinished growth. The NARTH study affirms that viewpoint. The third -- and perhaps biggest -- set of people remains undecided about whether to embrace or resist their homosexuality. This pamphlet is designed mostly for that population. It is intended simply to open up for them the option of a journey out of homosexuality. Another pamphlet in this series, "
Six Areas of Personal Growth
," maps out that journey.
Courage International, Inc.
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