Gay/Lesbian/Bisexual/Transgendered Department

Please remember, this column is designed to help the consumer seeking behavioral-health information, and not intended to be any form of psychotherapy or a replacement for professional, individualized services. Opinions expressed in the column are those of the columnist and do not represent the position of other staff.


Where can I find information on treatments for homosexuality?


This is an important question. Treatment that attempts to make gay men and lesbians into heterosexuals is often called "reparative therapy" or "conversion therapy." I have two objections to that sort of work.

First, and most important, I believe there is no justification for trying to change an individual's sexual orientation. There is no scientific evidence that gay, lesbian and bisexual people differ from heterosexual people in their psychological adjustment or their capacity to contribute to society. To quote Dr. Douglas Haldeman, "No 'cure' can be offered if there is no illness."

Some therapists claim that "voluntary" requests for conversion therapy should be honored. To suggest such requests are truly voluntary is to ignore the powerful impact of growing up in a society in which children learn that it is bad to be a "faggot" or a "dyke," in which they hear lesbians and gays called sinful from the pulpit, in which men who love men and women who love women are expected to hide their feelings in order to be accepted.

Now let's turn to my second objection. The research on conversion therapy is full of problems. Failure rates are high and the durability of the reported changes is questionable. Most purported changes are really in bisexual clients who stop being sexual with members of the same gender and were already attracted to members of the opposite gender. In other words, no scientifically-proven treatment for changing sexual orientation exists.

However, what does exist is treatment for bad feelings and thoughts about oneself, psychotherapy that will help good people who happen to be lesbian or gay or bisexual to feel better about themselves. If you are looking for treatment for yourself, I encourage you to find a therapist who will help you explore the thoughts and feelings behind your request for a cure. I hope you are able to make peace with yourself.

Note: Portions of this answer are based on the American Psychological Association's Fact Sheet on Reparative Therapy.


Author and psychologist Gail S. Bernstein, Ph.D. has a psychotherapy practice in Denver, Colorado. Dr. Bernstein speaks and writes about gay, lesbian and bisexual people for both general and professional audiences, and is the author of the new audiotape, NOT HETEROSEXUAL: An Educational Program About Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual People.


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