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Faith, sexuality and conversion therapy: how not to do research

Faith, sexuality and conversion therapy: how not to do research

This is a guest post by Dr Judith Sture
February 23, 2019

We can only applaud those who wish to carry out research to help improve the lives of others. But the Ozanne Foundation's Faith and Sexuality 'survey' is not the way to do it.

The Bishop of Liverpool states: "The statistics reflect lives which have been scarred and strained by mixed messaging of love, acceptance, condemnation and fear."

Jayne Ozanne states: "The results provide strong evidence of the harm that attempts to change sexual orientation are reported to inflict."

Well, sorry, but they don't.

They show some people's feelings and opinions. That's not actual evidence of harm unless a lot more detail is gathered. LGBT+ people deserve better! And so do conservative traditionalists.

4,613 people responded to the survey online. Just over half identified as LGBT+. Most of the data simply shows what a relatively small number of respondents -- compared to the general population -- think about their situation. 458 people reported having experience of trying to change their orientation. Of these, 381 said this consisted of private prayer or prayer with a close friend. Is this really to be considered as 'conversion therapy'?

The fact that a small number reported 'forced' sexual activity is appalling, but we don't know what it involved. Legally, this would be a criminal act and should result in prosecution. The fact that it may have taken place in a religious context is arguably irrelevant -- it's a crime.

Hot-topic online surveys are highly self-selecting to would-be respondents. Typically only those with strong views respond. This doesn't provide a broad reflection of what is actually 'going on' out there. We cannot seek evidence of harm to LGBT+ people unless we first clearly define what conversion therapy is, and who religious groups are. These sampling and definition problems automatically confound any meaningful 'findings' that may appear to emerge here. Ms Ozanne claims 'a high level of response' to the survey, but as it was online, this is meaningless.

The survey was not designed sufficiently well to elicit all the findings that are being claimed. The 'research' is exploratory in nature and cannot prove cause-and-effect. But here we have prominent figures trumpeting cause-and-effect 'findings'. This is disingenuous, if not misleading. I am sure everyone involved meant well. But this does not fix the problems.

The way the questions were designed could only ever, at best, produce some opinions and some experiences without statistical validity in proving a hypothesis (because it was not testing one), and some possible associations between some experience of 'religious' belief or practice and the feelings of some individuals who chose to respond. That's it. Finito. This doesn't mean the survey is without value, but the findings cannot prove what is being claimed. A proper conclusive research investigation is now needed.

What is seriously concerning in the way that the survey's 'findings' have been announced is the de facto admission of a liability of guilt on behalf of the Church of England by the Bishop of Liverpool. In his Foreword to the report, he admits responsibility for the Church and its teachings having caused trauma to vulnerable people. Will this open the door to a flood of compensation claims? You bet!

The claims made by the Bishop and Jayne Ozanne are classic examples of falling into the logical fallacy. The logical fallacy -- a form of flawed reasoning -- here is the automatic assumption that all the problems cited in the responses are due to things that Christians have done to LGBT people. But we've already seen above that many respondents will be highly motivated by LGBT perceived grievances, which will skew -- to some extent -- the findings by being over-represented in the data. This means that their views as a whole are not an accurate reflection of the experiences of the wider LGBT community who come to church or who have had a Christian background. Behind this is, of course, the lack of evidence of a link between religious-based experiences and subsequent mental health issues. Despite this, Bishop Paul Bayes has jumped straight in -- with the best of intentions, no doubt -- and assumed responsibility on behalf of the Church for causing hundreds of respondents to fall into mental ill-health, be abused and attempt suicide.

Is this a logical way to behave when the ink is barely dry? Have we learned nothing from the Bishop George Bell apology and compensation case? Apparently not.

I wrote about this survey on my own blog in December and highlighted the problems with it then. I predicted that cause-and-effect 'findings' would be claimed, and they have been. I'll be writing a detailed critique of the report in the next few days on my site, so please have a look for it.

Dr Judi Sture was formerly a senior lecturer and researcher at a UK university; she led a Master's programme in Research Methods and spent 15 years teaching PhD students how to carry out effective research.


VOL: In light of the above story I am reposting this interview I did with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi in 2009. He has since died. The story got over 31,000 hits at the time indicating the interest in the subject that now bedevils the Church of England.


An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Joseph Nicolosi

By David W. Virtue in London

At a two-day Sex and the City Conference near Westminster Abbey, I had an opportunity to hear and see first-hand the work of reparative therapist Dr. Joseph Nicolosi as well as listen to the distinguished psychiatrist and physicist, Dr. Jeffrey Satinover. Both men believe that men and women can overcome unwanted same-sex attractions and that the scientific evidence is on their side. They believe that the whole gay issue has been so heavily politicized from the APA down to street outrage that is almost impossible to get a fair hearing for those who voluntarily choose to abandon the homosexual lifestyle.

I spoke with Dr. Nicolosi, a California therapist who employs seven therapists who deal exclusively in sexual addictions and same sex attractions. He heads an organization called NARTH - the National Association for Research & Therapy of Homosexuality. NARTH is a professional, scientific organization that offers hope to those who struggle with unwanted homosexuality. As an organization, they disseminate educational information, conduct and collect scientific research, promote effective therapeutic treatment, and provide referrals to those who seek their assistance. NARTH upholds the rights of individuals with unwanted homosexual attraction to receive effective psychological care and the right of professionals to offer that care.

I spoke at length with Dr. Nicolosi about the issues and problems he faces.

VOL: What is the central social issue?

NICOLOSI: It is quite amazing how to be gay and/or pro gay is to be anti-intellectual. Intellectually, it implies an enquiring mind as to causation and the unspoken taboo is never to ask why a person is homosexual. A true intellectual inquiry always addresses causation. Once you ask why, you open it up to causation. It is amazing to me as a psychologist how my profession will spend thousands of hours and dollars asking the most minute mundane and petty questions and never ask why is this person Homosexual. How dare you ask?

VOL: Well, is there a gay gene?

NICOLOSI: After 35 years of investigation, they still have not discovered the Gay gene. After 36 years since the APA dropped its diagnosis of Homosexuality and during that period of time, no credible child developmental model has emerged, to explain the homosexual condition without traumatizing the child. In other words, that fact remains that if you traumatize a child in a particular way you will create a homosexual condition. If you do not traumatize a child, he will be heterosexual. If you do not traumatize a child in a particular way, he will be heterosexual. The nature of that trauma is an early attachment break during the bonding phase with the father.

VOL: What have you seen take shape over the last quarter century?

NICOLOSI: I have been doing this work for 25 years and I have seen an interesting shift in the clients who come to our clinic. We used to see the case majority of clients in their late 20s and early 30s. Today about 40% of our clients are teenagers, thanks to the pro-gay indoctrination of our educational and entertainment sources.

Gay porn on the Internet and gay chat lines have pushed at risk adolescence into experimentation and consequent sexual arousal regarding homoerotic images. The bad news is that more teenagers are claiming themselves to be gay or "bi". The good news is that responsible parents are getting their teens into therapy sooner. 50% of these teenagers are motivated to change and another 50% are not.

VOL: Is "once gay always gay" true?

NICOLOSI: A central cornerstone of gay propaganda is "once gay always gay". It is amazing how the gay agenda has successfully convinced most people that one is ether gay or straight, determined of course by the mythological gay gene.

What is particularly shocking for me is that many church leaders actually believe that God created two kinds of people - homosexual and heterosexual. We believe that all people are heterosexual, but that some heterosexuals have a homosexual problem.

VOL: Is there a predisposition to homosexuality?

NICOLOSI: We have been conceding the possibility of temperamental pre-disposition, usually described as timid, shy, non-aggressive, artistic and introverted. We can debate that assumption. Since as we believe the homosexual condition begins with an intense but insecure attachment to the mother, we attribute that to temperament. It may in fact be a consequence of a fragile attachment to a secure relationship with the mother.

John Bowlby, the great pioneer in childhood attachment, described the child who had an insecure attachment to his mother as being timid shy, introverted and he wasn't even talking about homosexuality. It is from the insecure relationship with the mother that the boy is unprepared to bond with the typically distant detached emotionally aloof and/or hostile father.

VOL: What happened in 1973 when the APA said homosexuality was no longer a disordered behavior?

NICOLOSI: It is amazing to think in one day in 1973, 100 years of child studies in psychoanalytic literature was completely thrown out and homosexuality was pronounced "normal".

The three great pioneers of psychoanalysis, Freud, Yung and Adler all saw homosexuality as disordered and the entire development of psychoanalytic research continued until one day in 1973.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, "It is the gene the dare not speak its name". No one is supposed to ask causation. The consequence to our profession is an intimidating research environment in which clinicians and researchers can no longer explore causation of a condition that many find distressful.

VOL: Do men and women come to you voluntarily?

NICOLOSI: Absolutely.

VOL: So where does the queer opposition's understanding come from and why do they hate the possibility of change, if someone voluntarily knocks on your door and says, "help me"?

NICOLOSI: Supposedly, they are coming in because of their "unresolved internalized homophobia." The only acceptable treatment, therefore, must be not to give the client what he is asking for, but to give the client precisely what he is not asking for.

The justification for denying the client's autonomy and self- determination is the arrogant assumption that "we know better what's good for you than you do". We will tell you what your problem is, which is to learn to enjoy gay sex. So drop your inhibitions drop your archaic religious beliefs, forget your morality or ethic and join the gay parade.

VOL: Who are the "we?"

NICOLOSI: The "we" is not science; the "we" are the gay activists who have a monopoly on public policies disseminated through the mental health associations.

VOL: There seems to be a coerciveness about the gay agenda, that it is no longer an issue of free choice.

NICOLOSI: True. It is not even respecting human dignity. It is a violation of freedom of choice. The client seeking help to develop his heterosexual potential to diminish what he finds distressful in his life must be abandoned. His dream for a wife, marriage, children, white picket fence, and a traditional lifestyle must be discarded because gay activism knows better. They are happy being gay so you must be too.

VOL: You have said the Great Lie in homosexuality is "once gay always gay". Can you elaborate?

NICOLOSI: Central to the gay agenda and its determined goal to have complete homosexual acceptance as normal and natural, is the belief that certain people are just born gay. Gay activists are very familiar with many opinion surveys, which show consistently that if people believe gays are born that way and therefore have no choice, there will be greater tolerance and acceptance. But if you introduce the possibility of choice, then there is less tolerance. So every time a man stands up and says 'I was once homosexual and am no longer' that strikes at the heart of the gay agenda.

I believe that the gay rights movement has gained sufficient success in popular acceptance and the acquisition of rights and civil liberties that they no longer need to feel threatened by ex-gay testimonies. I believe that the gay community is now sufficiently accepted by the popular culture that they can now afford to allow individuals to transition out of homosexuality without the need to disparage a former homosexual's life story.

VOL: In your practice over 25 years, what sort of success have you experienced and what about failure?

NICOLOSI: I can say that the most important determinant in therapeutic success is motivation. If the client is highly motivated, barring additional psychological problems, he will experience significant diminishment in his same sex attractions. There are individuals who experience no change, so success cannot be guaranteed for everyone, but I can tell you that over the past 25 years as a clinical director supervising seven therapists at a clinic which treats about 135 ongoing cases a week, we have developed our techniques and therapeutic interventions such that we can bring about greater change in a shorter period of time. All things being equal, we now expect the client to experience significant change in two or three months.

VOL: Are they cured?

NICOLOSI: This is not to say he or she is completely "cured" of homosexuality and the process may take many years, perhaps a lifetime, but he will acquire skills and self understanding to have his homosexual temptations become less and less until they become insignificant. One man described it as being finally and occasionally like a gnat buzzing around his ear.

VOL: Have you ever experienced clients who completely got over their homosexuality?

NICOLOSI: Absolutely. Yes. I am working with a 63 year old man who has been struggling with homosexuality all his life. Six months in therapy with me, he has no homosexual attractions and no homosexual temptations at all and he now is complaining that his life is boring because so much of his life was taken up with gay porn and gay fantasies. By the way, we did it all on SKYPE. He is based in Sydney, Australia.

VOL: What are the ratios of success?

NICOLOSI: I used to say one-third no change, one-third significant improvement and one-third treatment success. It is getting to be more are successfully shedding their unwanted same sex attractions. I see the numbers for complete improvement. For many who claim not to be completely "cured", it is less and less till it is little more than a gnat.

VOL:> Tell me about the third that fail?

NICOLOSI: That third consists of teenagers dragged in by parents who don't want to be there. Husbands dragged in by their wives or individuals sent by their pastors and priests who don't want to be there. This returns us to motivation, which is essential.

Another segment of the homosexual population who may fail but who are motivated have additional psychological issues that impede their treatment success.

VOL: Such as?

NICOLOSI: Addictions, low impulse control, narcissistic personality disorder, inability to self reflect and clinical depression, to name some.

VOL: A well-known American evangelical leader recently came out of the closet. You have undoubtedly read about him. He later said (within four months that he had been cured). What is your diagnosis of him?

NICOLOSI: I would ask has he dealt with the underlying causes of his homosexuality. Uncompromising honesty with oneself is a necessary requirement to treatment success. If he has beaten it in four months, he should write a book about how he did it. It would be an instant bestseller. I would buy a copy.

VOL: You talk about a number of great myths about homosexuality. The first is that 10% of the population is gay. Is that true?

NICOLOSI: That was a lie promoted by Alfred Kinsey over 60 years ago and it has become the standard cry of gay activists and the standard claim of homosexual apologists. In fact, it is 1.5 percent to 2 percent. Kinsey himself had a personal interest in inflating the percentage because he himself was homosexual.

VOL: Once "gay always gay"?

NICOLOSI: Not true. There is no gay gene. It is a myth. The cry is that the homosexual is normal in every other way except for his sexual preference. Not true, it is the opposite. There are deep-seated personality differences, which create the condition and in fact, homosexuality is only the tip of the iceberg, a mere symptom of a deeper personality conflict.

VOL: Are you seeing more ex-gay people?

NICOLOSI: It is wonderful to see men and women in greater numbers standing up publicly and telling their story of overcoming unwanted same sex attractions. Ten years ago, we could not find one person who would go public. Today a young person struggling with such feelings can look to many models of individuals who preceded him. Today there are websites with numerous individuals telling their stories in front of a camera. At a recent concert in Italy, an Italian pop singer named Povia did a great song called "Luca was gay" introducing the ex-gay character into the pop culture. It was a touching moment. You can see the video here. http://www.narth.com/videos/povia.html

VOL: What does this portend for the future?

NICOLOSI: There is a great momentum building toward the recognition and respect for the man or woman desiring a heterosexual life.

VOL: Thank you Dr. Nicolosi.

Dr. Nicolosi is the author of the book "Shame and Attachment Loss: The Practical Work of Reparative Therapy"


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