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Q&A: Dr. Jack Drescher Discusses ‘Reparative Therapy’

As psychoanalysis developed in the 19th century, medicine began classifying a whole range of behaviors that were considered, at the time, socially unacceptable, according to historian Kenneth Lewes, author of “Psychoanalysis and Male Homosexuality.” These behaviors were moved from the realm of sin and labeled mental illnesses. For example, drunkenness became alcoholism, possession became insanity and sodomy became homosexuality. Homosexuality was labeled a mental illness for no other reason then people were uncomfortable with this natural human difference.

The move towards categorizing gay people as sick was greatly exacerbated during World War II when the Nazis persecuted psychoanalysis. The Nazi’ forced the center of psychoanalysis to move from Freud’ more liberal Vienna to London and eventually to New York City, which was firmly established as the epicenter for the discipline by the early 1950′. As a result, psychoanalysis no longer reflected the tolerant worldview of Vienna, but the conservative values of 1950′ Leave it to Beaver America.

Heavily influenced by the conservative Cold War era, psychoanalysis slowly became the defender of the political and cultural status quo. This led to a number of bizarre “scientific” theories about homosexuality that were almost never challenged because gays were in the closet and explicitly barred from practicing psychoanalysis.

Adding to the perception that homosexuals were sick were studies that used unrepresentative samples of gay people. Because there were very few out homosexuals, most studies relied on gays who were committed to psychiatric institutions or were being treated for numerous psychological disorders.

For example, Dr. Irving Bieber’ 1962 study, “Homosexuality: A Psychoanalytic Study of Male Homosexuals” is often used by today’ anti-gay “reparative therapists”. What these therapists won’t tell you is that in Bieber’ study sample of 106 homosexuals used to represent ALL gay people, 28 of 106 were schizophrenic, 31 were neurotic and 42 had character disorders.

By the late 1960′ and early 1970′ the unscientific labeling of gays as mentally ill was being challenged by doctors such as Evelyn Hooker, who proved that homosexuals were psychologically no different than heterosexuals. By 1973, modern research that relied on science, not stereotypes, lead to the American Psychiatric Association voting to remove homosexuality as an illness from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. Suddenly, gay people were no longer considered mentally ill. All major medical and mental health associations soon followed the ApA’ lead and declassified homosexuality as a disorder.

Unfortunately, the tidal wave of change greatly upset doctors who had invested their entire careers in the notion that gay people were sick. Now that their life’ work had been discredited, anti-gay doctors, such as Irving Bieber and Charles Socarides, were increasingly marginalized and withdrew from mainstream psychiatry. But in their exile they found new allies that had both political and “moral” stakes in keeping their disreputable work alive.

In the early 90′ an unholy alliance forged between embittered psychiatrists, the religious right, closeted gays and culturally conservative politicians. This new politically motivated coalition eventually morphed into what is now known as the ex-gay industry, led by Dr. Joseph Nicolosi and his group, the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality (NARTH). NARTH and other practitioners of ex-gay therapy, do not conduct original, peer-reviewed studies. What they do, however, is repackage the outdated and disproved theories of the past and present them as new “research.”

While NARTH and others, such as Grove City College’ Dr. Warren Throckmorton, try to present themselves as reputable, their work is not supported by modern science. The more people learn about the bizarre ideas and techniques promoted by ex-gay therapists, the more they are relegated to the fringes of the mental health community.