Is change really possible?

…the full inclusion of gays in society does not, I submit, require a commitment to the false notion that sexual orientation is invariably fixed for all people.

Dr Robert L. Spitzer, retired professor of Psychiatry1

Today, recovery/ reorientation/ reparative/ change therapy to address unwanted same-sex sexual attractions is deemed by many help professionals as unethical and “a serious threat to the health and well-being”2 of the affected person. This politicized debate as to whether therapy to address unwanted homosexuality works makes it difficult for those who want to seek help to do so. Counsellors themselves face a dilemma.

Under California law, it is illegal to provide counselling for minors to reduce or eliminate same-sex attraction.3 This intrudes on a client’s fundamental right of self-determination to seek professional help that aligns with their religious and moral values. Because of this law, counsellors have to either refuse help for their client’s unwanted homosexuality, or provide the requested counsel or referral in violation of the law.4

The American National Institute of Mental Health estimates that 50% of homosexually oriented individuals who present themselves for treatment can be helped to have a heterosexual orientation.5 Other studies have reported success rates as high as 70%.6

Sexual preference or orientation has been shown to be increasingly fluid. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as ranging ”along a continuum, from exclusive attraction to the other sex [heterosexual] to exclusive attraction to the same sex [homosexual]”7, and in-between [bisexual].

A longitudinal study of same-sex sexually attracted women aged between 16-23 found that nearly two-thirds changed their sexual labels during the period of study.8 The percentage of gay identified men spontaneously drops from 10% to 2.8% by age 25, without any intervention whatsoever. This suggests that an environment which normalizes homosexuality may erroneously support gay identification in 3 out of 4 instances.9

Dr Spitzer, who once thought that only the homosexual behaviour can be resisted, was convinced almost 20 years later that sexual orientation can also be changed. Regardless of whether a person is “born homosexual”, this spells hope for those struggling with unwanted same-sex sexual attraction (SSA).

The fact remains that change is possible.10 However, this does not mean that change will necessarily be easy.


1. Robert L. Spitzer, Commentary: Psychiatry and Homosexuality (Wall Street Journal, 23 May 2001)
3. Chana Wilson, Another Step Towards Banning Gay Conversion Therapy  (HuffPost Gay Voices, 9 May 2013)
5. Michael Cavanagh, Make Your Tomorrow Better (New York: Paulist Press, 1980)
6. William Masters & Virginia Johnson, Homosexuality in Perspective (Boston: Little, Brown & Co., 1979)
7. American Psychological Association, What Causes a Person to Have a Particular Sexual Orientation (Retrieved 24 May 2012, cited in Wikipedia)
8. Lisa Diamond, Was It a Phase? Young Women’s Relinquishment of Lesbian/Bisexual Identities over a 5-Year Period (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 84, pp 352-364)
10. Joe Dallas, The Gay Gospel? How Pro-Gay Advocates Misread the Bible(Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2007)