A Studied Controversy

The silhouette of a man, backlit by a sunset.

Wherever political or social agendas are promoted, individual rights can be put at risk. And that's certainly the case as a powerful push for complete acceptance of homosexual identity and behavior continues.

In 2009, the American Psychological Association advised its members to help teens struggling with unwanted same-sex attractions (SSA) to get comfortable with them, rather than aiming to alter them through therapy.

Gay activists and their allies have built upon these recommendations to push for legislation to banning all sexual-orientation change efforts (SOCE) for minors. Such laws have already passed in California, Illinois, New Jersey, Oregon and Washington, D.C.—and more are expected to be introduced across the nation this year.         

The debate has been raging for several years. What's been missing is hard data about the effects of SOCE on children. That's something Christopher Doyle hopes to change.

Doyle, a licensed professional counselor and director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Healthy Families, which advocates therapy freedom and therapy equality for youth, is working on a comprehensive study with psychotherapist Dr. James Phelan, who is also is board-certified in clinical social work.

Doyle went through SOCE personally, and is now married to a woman. He recently sat down with Citizen to discuss the study and its goals.

Citizen: What is the current state of the study?

Doyle: We are currently recruiting subjects to participate. Adolescents need to have been under the age of 18 before they began therapy with a licensed mental health practitioner with the goal of resolving unwanted same-sex attractions. For counselors or readers who would like more information or to participate, email IHFINFO@InstituteforHealthyFamilies.org.

C: When do you anticipate releasing your findings?

D: We hope to recruit enough subjects and present initial data this fall, when we submit the paper for publication in a peer-reviewed journal.

C: What methodology are you using?

D: The study will rely on self-reported perceptions of adolescents who have gone through or are currently undergoing therapy with a licensed mental health practitioner to resolve unwanted same-sex attractions. The study will also examine the subjects' well-being using assessment instruments designed to capture their mental/emotional state while they fill out the survey. This will help us better understand how the subjects' current state of well-being may relate to their retrospective perception of how the therapy helped or didn't help them.

C: Legislators are usually influenced by public opinion more than the results of actual studies. What impact do you hope this study will have on influencing that opinion, and therefore legislation?

D: That is true. Unfortunately, the public is largely unaware that gay activists are trying to pass legislation to ban therapy for youth with unwanted same-sex attractions. I regularly speak with pastors and members of the faith-based community who care deeply about those who experience sexual identity conflicts, and when I tell them that four states and the District of Columbia have banned this therapy for minors, they are baffled and very concerned that their parishioners' families are being denied healing opportunities. We inform these communities that there has not been a single study published in the peer-reviewed literature on the outcomes of youth that have undergone this therapy, and yet, legislation in these very liberal states still passes.

I hope the outcomes of this study will create some public support for therapy equality and therapy rights; but more importantly, as a practitioner and researcher, I want this research to guide our clinical practice. If there are specific therapeutic processes youth report to be ineffective or even harmful, we should pay very close attention to those reports and allow our clinical practice to be guided and/or revised. Conversely, interventions or therapeutic processes that are reported to be helpful should be emphasized to promote best practices.

C: What advice would you give parents with children who have unwanted SSA?

D: I would advise parents to be very careful about putting their adolescent into therapy and encourage family therapy first with a practitioner that specializes in sexual identity. Because the origins of same-sex attractions often have to do with family dynamics, it's important for parents to be engaged in their own healing work and not simply insist their son or daughter be in therapy.

In my opinion, if the family is not healing and growing together, the adolescent will not benefit as much as he/she could. For parents and families who have been helped by this therapy, I would encourage them to tell their stories to encourage others and dispel the myths that gay activists are telling to state legislators. Working through sexual identity conflicts as a family can be very redemptive for the client and family, but if Christians are not willing to be "salt" and "light" and tell their stories of redemption and healing, the body of Christ will not heal as God intends.

C: What would you like people to learn from your personal story?

D: The purpose of therapy is not so much "heterosexuality" but "healing" and following God's ideal and design for marriage and family. If it weren't for good therapy and people who helped me in my healing process, I wouldn't be married to my beautiful wife of nine years and we wouldn't have five wonderful children.

My life has been changed and God has redeemed my sexuality to align with His ideal. I am a wounded healer, no better and no worse than my clients. My heart's desire is to help the Body of Christ heal and follow God's will for their lives and sexuality.

For More Information:

Learn about more about SOCE by reading the Focus on the Family's "Freedom from Homosexuality" series.

Originally published in the March, 2016 issue of Citizen magazine.

© March 2016 Focus on the Family.