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Religious Tolerance logo

An analysis of Dr. Spitzer's 2001 study into
whether adults can change their sexual orientation

2001: APA presentations. 2005: Our conclusions.
2006: Dr. Spitzer's interview.

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2001: Presentation of studies to the APA:

Although the panel discussion at the 2000-MAY annual conference of the American Psychiatric Association never materialized, two studies were presented at the APA's 2001-MAY-09 meeting:
bulletDr. Robert Spitzer presented a paper described above and titled: "200 Subjects Who Claim to Have Changed Their Sexual Orientation from Homosexual to Heterosexual."
bullet Two psychotherapists from New York City, Ariel Shidlo and Michael Schroeder, discussed their own study:

 "... 202 randomly recruited subjects who had tried to change their sexual orientation through therapy. 88 percent failed completely, while 9 percent considered themselves successful but were celibate or still struggling with same-sex behavioral "slips"; only six people (3 percent) were actually successful."

"Additionally, Shidlo and Schroeder found that a great number of their subjects suffered 'significant harm' due to instances in which reparative therapists appeared 'not to be practicing in a manner consistent with the APA Ethics Code' -- encouraging patients to remember childhood abuse as the 'cause' of their homosexuality when no such abuse occurred; insisting that lesbians and gays can never live happy, healthy or monogamous lives; or practicing coercion (for example, students at religious universities were sometimes required to attend conversion therapy in order to graduate or receive financial aid." 10

The latter study also has deficiencies. The subjects were self-selected, and thus may not represent the experiences of all gays, lesbians, and bisexuals.

2005: Our tentative conclusions four years after Dr. Spitzer's study:

There are at least four fatal flaws in the study. In our opinion, any one of them seriously weakens the validity of the study:

  • Most of the 200 subjects interviewed were referred by reparative therapists or by Christian transformational ministries. Some were in leadership roles in such groups. Apparently most of the clients were evangelical Christians. Thus:
    • They probably would have defined "homosexuality" in terms of behavior, not orientation.

    • Any results would not necessarily be representative of non-evangelicals.
  • Dr. Spitzer seems to have asked the subjects whether they rated themselves as "homosexual" before therapy. Being conservative Christians, they probably would have answered this question in terms of their behavior, not their sexual orientation. Dr. Spitzer did not include "bisexuality" as an option. "Spitzer told Extra! he did not include a category for bisexuality in his study 'because there's no accepted definition of what bisexuality is'." Thus it is not known what percentage of the 200 subjects initially had a homosexual orientation, and what percentage had a bisexual orientation. The difference between the two groups is massive. It is much easier to confine ones relationships to members of the opposite sex if one is bisexual and thus sexually attracted to both men and women. We suspect that most of the subjects had a bisexual orientation and had previously engaged in at least some homosexual activity. After therapy, we suspect that they remained bisexual, chosen to confine relationships with members of the opposite sex, and feel that they have successfully developed such relationship. Others had a homosexual orientation, still have that orientation, and decided to be celibate.

  • Telephone interview data on behavior and practice are notoriously unreliable. Individuals often answer questions according to what they think others expect of them. For example:
    • 17% of American adults say that they tithe (i.e. give 10 to 13% of their income to their church). Only 3% really do. 9

    • Many polls indicate that the percentage of adults who say that they regularly attend religious services is about 44% in the U.S., and a little under 20% in Canada and perhaps 10% or less in Europe. But when noses are actually counted, the true figures are about half the stated North American figures (about 20% in the U.S. and 10% in Canada.) 

On a topic as incendiary as changing one's sexual orientation, a lack of honesty can be expected on the part of many of the participants. This problem is even more severe in this study because so many of the subjects were so closely associated with ex-gay or anti-gay groups, and were heavily motivated to show that transformational ministry and reparative therapy works.

  • Assuming that the more than 1,000 therapists in NARTH each have had 50 clients per year over the previous five years, then they have treated a total of over 250,000 homosexuals and bisexuals with reparative therapy. Various transformational ministries have treated thousands or tens of thousands of additional gays, bisexuals  and lesbians who were seeking change. Yet, Dr. Spitzer was only able to find 200 potential subjects for his study in all of America, even with NARTH's help. This observation, alone. indicates that reparative therapy is almost always a failure.

Considering the near universal failure and the widespread depression, suicide ideation, and completed suicide when clients leave reparative therapy and transformational ministries, it would seem that coming to terms with one's sexual orientation is a far safer choice than trying to change it. It would certainly be less expensive in terms of time and money.

2006: Dr. Spitzer's comments on his study:

Dr. Warren Throckmorton interviewed Dr Spitzer in 2006 in which he gave his candid views on the meaning and value of his study:

References used:

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

  1. Doug Nave, "Organizations of US Mental Health Professionals are unanimous," at:
  2. Sandra G. Boodman, "Vowing to Set the World Straight: Proponents of Reparative Therapy Say They Can Help Gay Patients Become Heterosexual. Experts Call That a Prescription for Harm," Washington Post, 2005-AUG-16, at:
  3. Jack Drescher, "Letter from the American Psychiatric Association to the Finnish Parliament," 2001-SEP-23, at:
  4. Doug Nave, "Organizations of US Mental Health Professionals are unanimous," at:
  5. Barbara Pogue, "My Brother's Keeper - Part II," Lone Star Citizen, 2001-SEP issue. Online at Focus on the Family, at:
  6. Pete Winn, "A life-changing study," Focus on the Family. This is no longer online, However, a search on for spitzer study found three hits.
  7. "Spitzer study is news but doesn't make the news," Family Research Council, at:
  8. " 'Some Gays Change," prominent Psychiatrist Says," Press release, Exodus International, at:
  9. See our essay on Christian practices in the U.S.
  10. Jennifer L. Pozner, "Controversy, not credibility. A study of 'gay change' with the results media were looking for," Extra! magazine, 2001-SEP/OCT.
  11. Reparative Therapy," Wikipedia, at:
  12. From the Winter 2010 issue of the Southern Poverty Law Center's (SPLC) Intelligence Report. The SPLC monitors racist, homophobic, nativist, and other hate groups in the U.S.
  13. John M. Becker, "EXCLUSIVE: Dr. Robert Spitzer Apologizes to Gay Community for Infamous ‘Ex-Gay’ Study, 2012-APR-25, at:

Copyright © 2002 to 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2002-FEB-16
Latest update and review: 2012-OCT-06
Author: B.A. Robinson

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