The men who seek help from evangelical counselor Warren Throckmorton often are deeply distressed. They have prayed, read Scripture, even married, but they haven't been able to shake sexual attractions to other men -- impulses they believe to be immoral.
Dr. Throckmorton is a psychology professor at a Christian college in Pennsylvania and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association. He specializes in working with clients conflicted about their sexual identity.
The first thing he tells them is this: Your attractions aren't a sign of mental illness or a punishment for insufficient faith. He tells them that he cannot turn them straight.
But he also tells them they don't have to be gay.
For many years, Dr. Throckmorton felt he was breaking a professional taboo by telling his clients they could construct satisfying lives by, in effect, shunting their sexuality to the side, even if that meant living celibately. That ran against the trend in counseling toward "gay affirming" therapy -- encouraging clients to embrace their sexuality.
But in a striking departure, the American Psychological Association said Wednesday that it is ethical -- and can be beneficial -- for counselors to help some clients reject gay or lesbian attractions.
The APA is the largest association of psychologists world-wide, with 150,000 members. The association plans to promote the new approach to sexuality with YouTube videos, speeches to schools and churches, and presentations to Christian counselors.
According to new APA guidelines, the therapist must make clear that homosexuality doesn't signal a mental or emotional disorder. The counselor must advise clients that gay men and women can lead happy and healthy lives, and emphasize that there is no evidence therapy can change sexual orientation.
But if the client still believes that affirming his same-sex attractions would be sinful or destructive to his faith, psychologists can help him construct an identity that rejects the power of those attractions, the APA says. That might require living celibately, learning to deflect sexual impulses or framing a life of struggle as an opportunity to grow closer to God.
"We're not trying to encourage people to become 'ex-gay,'" said Judith Glassgold, who chaired the APA's task force on the issue. "But we have to acknowledge that, for some people, religious identity is such an important part of their lives, it may transcend everything else." Read more
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