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Reparative and similar therapies

Introduction, Part 2: History.
Health insurance. Is change possible?

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This essay is continued from Part 1.

History of these therapies:

In the past, researchers attempted to change sexual orientation through psychotherapy, aversion therapy, nausea producing drugs, castration, electric shock, brain surgery, breast amputations, etc. All failed. These methods were largely abandoned by the mid-1970's. Reparative therapy and  transformational ministries emerged in the early 1970's.

The source of modern-day secular reparative therapy can be traced back many decades to the research of Irving Bieber, Lawrence Hatterer and Sigmond Freud. Their conclusions about homosexuality had long been abandoned by almost all mental health professionals. However, Elizabeth Moberly 1 studied those works and developed a new theory of the cause of homosexuality. She believes that it is solely caused by environmental factors -- mainly incompetence on the part of the parent of the same gender. She also developed a technique in the early 1980's which attempts to change the sexual orientation of homosexual adults. She has done no clinical work to support the validity of her theory or the effectiveness of her therapeutic technique. She is a theologian, not a trained mental health professional. Her book "Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic" is still in print and is widely circulated among conservative Christians. 2

She abandoned:

"Freud's emphasis on the domineering mother and focused on the effect of the 'passive' or 'distant' father. Moberly determined...that the homosexual men in the studies were suffering from what she termed  'defensive detachment' and 'same sex ambivalence.' The theory presumes that the young boy, for any of a variety of reasons, did not bond with his father in a meaningful way." 3

Lacking a positive relationship with his father, the boy "defensively detaches" from any potential friendships with other boys his own age. After puberty, he redirects his longing for a close relationship with his father and other males into a search for love. He sexualizes the longing, feels attraction to other men, and becomes an active homosexual. (We have used a male example here because almost all reparative therapy is done on men). 

During therapy, the gay client is encouraged to enter into an emotionally close, non-sexual, non-erotic relationship with another male adult. Once he achieves this, heterosexual feelings are expected to emerge over time and homosexual feelings are expected to fade.

As mentioned above, no peer-reviewed study has been published on reparative therapy. No longitudinal study has ever been conducted into its long-term effectiveness and hazards. However, many of the larger conservative Christian organizations, like Coral Ridge Ministries, Exodus International, Family Research Council, and Focus on the Family claim that this and other therapies have a high cure rate. Meanwhile many psychiatrists who do not support this therapy report anecdotal evidence of gays and lesbians who have become seriously depressed after the inevitable failure of their therapy; some have committed suicide.

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Health insurance aspects of RT:

Since both APAs (American Psychological Association and American Psychiatric Association) have denounced RT as a useless and potentially dangerous treatment, one might wonder how therapists can file a claim with insurance companies for the therapy that they provide. According to they often use # 302.9 "Sexual Disorder not otherwise specified" -- a diagnosis from DSM IV, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition  One of the conditions listed under this diagnosis is "Persistent and marked distress about sexual orientation." Other therapists simply assign a generic diagnosis covering depression or anxiety. 4

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Is a change in sexual orientation possible?

These conversion therapies are based on the belief that the "cause(s)" of homosexuality are found in the environment -- specifically the young boy not forming an emotional bond with his father, or the young girl not bonding with her mother. We have found six types of studies into the nature of homosexuality that appear to indicate that this is not true: 

The first type appears to show that inadequate or non-existent fathering is not a factor in sexual orientation:
bullet Society itself is an excellent testing laboratory for many social theories. There is a near consensus among mental health and human sexuality professionals that the incidence of homosexual orientation is fairly constant across societies and eras. However, if Ms. Moberly's theory on incompetent fathering is correct, then one would expect to observe at least three developments:

bullet A drastic increase in homosexual orientation among children born shortly before World War II. British, Canadian and other forces were engaged in combat from 1939 to 1945; Americans were involved from 1941 to 1945. Many boys were deprived of their fathers during their formative years. The ultimate "distant" father is one who is fighting a war on another continent. We have been unable to find evidence of any such massive surge in the incidence of homosexual orientation among men born in the mid 1930's.
bullet A much larger percentage of African-American children than white children are brought up in a single-parent family in which a resident father is absent. If Moberly's theory were correct, then one would expect a much higher incidence of homosexuality among African-American adult males than among the general population. There appears to be no evidence that this is true.

bullet Finally, if Moberly's theory were correct, then one would expect a much higher incidence of homosexuality among males raised in single-parent families who are most often parented by single, separated, or divorced women than among the general population. Again, there appears to be no evidence that this is true.

Many studies appear to indicate that sexual orientation (at least for males) is largely genetically determined. Some of these are:

bulletPedigree studies of the sexual orientation of the ancestors of gay males indicates that homosexual orientation is largely genetically determined and is passed by the mother via one or more genes on a specific chromosome. 
bulletStudies of identical twins who were separated at birth and raised in isolation from each other also show that homosexual orientation is primarily genetically determined.
bulletStudies of twins who are born into and raised in the same family support the data from the previous study.
bulletStudies of fingertip ridges shows a difference between homosexual and heterosexual males. (Fingerprints are fully formed by the 17th week of pregnancy).
bulletStudies of index and ring fingers show that homosexuals and heterosexuals generally differ in the ratio of the length of their fingers. The relative size of a person's fingers is also determined before birth.

More details on genetic links

This essay is continued in Part 3.

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. We have never been able to track down Elizabeth R. Moberly's academic qualifications. Some refer to her as a "therapist" or "theologian," or "psychologist" or "self-proclaimed psychologist." Some say that she has no mental health qualifications at all. On the back cover of her main book "Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic" where one would expect to see her academic background listed, she is merely described as "the originator of gender-affirmative therapy for homosexuals."  They refer to her having traveled extensively giving seminars and appearing on television programs. See: For information on her book, see: online book store
  2. Elizabeth Moberly, "Homosexuality: A new Christian ethic," (originally published in the early 1980's; reprinted 1997). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store 
  3. Jeffry Ford, "What is Reparative Therapy?," at:
  4. Joe Kort, "Insurances DO pay for Reparative Therapy!," ExGayWatch, 2005-JUL-09, at:

Copyright © 1996 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-OCT-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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