Is Therapy Aimed at Changing Sexual Orientation Unethical?

PRO (yes)

The American Psychiatric Association stated in the May 31, 2001 paper "Opinions of the Ethics Committee on The Principles of Medical Ethics," published on its website:

"Question: Is it ethical to engage in a therapy (such as reparative or conversion therapy) to change sexual orientation?

Answer: No. Although successful and ethical treatments for legitimate psychiatric diagnoses may sometimes lead to some changes in sexual behavior, any treatment that is based on an assumption that homosexuality per se is a mental disorder, or is based on an assumption that the patient should change his or her sexual orientation, is by its nature unethical, as it violates numerous ethics principles. Such so-called 'treatment' ignores established scientific evidence, demeans the dignity of the patient, succumbs to individual and social prejudice and stigma, and has often been significantly harmful to patients, families, others, and their relationships."

May 31, 2001 - American Psychiatric Association 

Gregory M. Herek, PhD, Professor of Psychology at the University of California at Davis, stated in his Nov. 5, 1999 background paper "'Reparative Therapy' and Other Attempts to Alter Sexual Orientation":

"Even if 'reparative therapies' were able to change the sexual orientation of a small minority of people upon whom they are used, their ethical basis is questionable. These treatments are simply an extension of society's prejudices against gay men and lesbians.

Typically, people who want to become heterosexual are reacting to society's intense antigay hostility. Often, they are pressured to change by their family or their religious group.

Therapists have an ethical duty to resist such coercion. Instead of reinforcing or promoting the stigma attached to homosexuality, therapists should help gay people to understand their sexual orientation and learn how to lead a happy life."

Nov. 5, 1999 - Gregory M. Herek, PhD 

The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association (GLMA) stated in its Oct. 25, 1997 "Position Paper on Reparative or Conversion Therapy":

"GLMA condemns the behavioral and psychological interventions known as 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapies that attempt to change sexual orientation. Any treatment or intervention that treats something that does not need treatment, that does not work, and that results in harm to the patient is unethical and any providers of such treatments would be unethical. Providers of 'reparative' or 'conversion' therapies are therefore providing unethical intervention."

Oct. 25, 1997 - Gay and Lesbian Medical Association 

CON (no)

Robert Spitzer, MD, Professor of Biometric Research at Columbia University, wrote in his study "Can Some Gay Men and Lesbians Change Their Sexual Orientation? 200 Participants Reporting a Change from Homosexual to Heterosexual Orientation," published in the Oct. 2003 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior:

"These findings of considerable benefits and no obvious harms in the study sample suggest that the current recommendation by the American Psychiatric Association (2000) that 'ethical practitioners refrain from attempts to change individuals sexual orientation' is based on a double standard: It implies that it is unethical for a clinician to provide reparative therapy because there is inadequate scientific evidence of effectiveness, whereas it assumes that it is ethical to provide gay affirmative therapy for which there is also no rigorous scientific evidence of effectiveness and for which, like reparative therapy, there are reports and testimonials of harm."

[Editor's Note: Dr. Spitzer retracted this study in Apr. 2012 in a letter to Ken Zucker, the editor of Archives of Sexual Behavior, quoted by the Truth Wins Out website in its Apr. 25, 2012 report "Exclusive: Dr. Robert Spitzer Apologizes to Gay Community for Infamous 'Ex-Gay' Study":

"I offered several (unconvincing) reasons why it was reasonable to assume that the subject's reports of change were credible and not self-deception or outright lying. But the simple fact is that there was no way to determine if the subject's accounts of change were valid.

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."]

Oct. 2003 - Robert L. Spitzer, MD 

Mark A. Yarhouse, PsyD, Associate Professor of Psychology at Regent University, stated in his Summer 1998 article "When Clients Seek Treatment for Same-Sex Attraction: Ethical Issues in the 'Right to Choose' Debate," published in the journal Psychotherapy:

"Psychologists have an ethical responsibility to allow individuals to pursue treatment aimed at curbing experiences of same-sex attraction or modifying same-sex behaviors not only because it affirms the clients' right to dignity, autonomy and agency, as persons presumed capable of freely choosing among treatment modalities and behavior, but also because it demonstrates regard for diversity."

Summer 1998 - Mark Yarhouse, PsyD 

Charlotte Rosenak, PhD, Licensed Psychologist at the Christian Psychological Services, wrote in the undated article "Some Psychologists Say Reparative Therapy is Unethical, Yet Modern Methods are Healing and Client-Centered," published on the website of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuals (NARTH) (accessed Aug. 14, 2009):

"[R]eparative therapy as it is currently practiced today, has not been demonstrated to harm clients. There is an abundance of clinical data that suggests reparative therapy can help clients achieve more responsiveness to the opposite sex. There is also empirical data, albeit flawed, in that direction.

To not provide clients with what they request when the request is a reasonable one is irresponsible and unethical. It is also our social responsibility to let people know that the development of homosexuality as we know it today has not been proven to be a genetic inevitability, and that alternatives to embracing the homosexual lifestyle do exist...

The debate over the efficacy of ethicality of reparative therapy is far from over. Those who are against reparative therapy may soften their stance if they could realize that this approach can be healing, client-centered, and does not resemble the homophobic and cruel methods of the past."

Aug. 14, 2009 - Charlotte Rosenak, PhD