Off the list
For now, a group claiming it can turn gay people straight is off the state roster of continuing-ed providers for therapists
What do you call a psychology group that advocates the discredited notion that gay people can be “converted” to heterosexuality?
Until last week, you might call that group an approved continuing-education provider for California’s marriage and family therapists. The National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality was on the California Board of Behavioral Sciences list of approved providers for continuing education from 1998 until just last week, when the group was removed for delinquent fees. According to BBS spokesman Russ Heimerich, the entire process for approving continuing-education providers will be reviewed by the board at its next meeting.
Marriage and family therapists must meet a minimum number of continuing-education hours; courses are chosen from a list of approved providers, but the use of any specific provider is not required. The only legal requirement, according to Heimerich, is that the continuing education used for licensing “must be relevant to the practice and related, directly or indirectly, to patient care.”
The inclusion of NARTH on the list of approved providers for continuing education became an issue when a Southern California therapist spoke to a gay website about it last week. Within a day, BBS discovered that the group was delinquent in paying fees and removed it from the approved providers list.
NARTH representatives declined to be interviewed for this story, but the organization’s official position, expressed on its website, is that it respects people’s freedom to claim a homosexual identity but also recognizes that some individuals “are distressed by unwanted homosexual attractions, and would like to explore other options for their lives.”
That sounds reasonable, but “conversion” therapy to change sexual orientation doesn’t have any support in peer-reviewed research. Bruce Weitzman, a marriage and family therapist who is on the board of the San Francisco chapter of the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, says there is no accepted science that supports NARTH’s claim that sexual orientation can—or should—be changed.
In 2009, Weitzman said, “the [American Psychological Association] commissioned a task force to look at the effectiveness and harm created by efforts to change sexual orientation, including conversion therapy.” The result was a 138-page report that concluded that there was “insufficient evidence” to support the claim that sexual orientation could be changed by therapy.
“The APA concluded that these efforts could potentially harm participants, increasing depression, suicide risk and leaving some clients with limited or no access to feelings of sexual desire,” Weitzman said.
In a larger context, “reparative” or “conversion” therapy has received a great deal of attention lately. It was raised as an issue in Perry v. Brown (the Proposition 8 trial). The defendants claimed that homosexuality was not an immutable characteristic, while the plaintiffs pointed to “conversion” therapy as another instance of discrimination against gay people. Testimony was included from a gay man who had been forced, as a teenager, to attend therapy sessions with one of NARTH’s board members.
NARTH was also included in a recent investigation by CNN’s Anderson Cooper into discredited research on “reparative” therapy with a child who eventually committed suicide as an adult.
“It’s a concern that the state would grant continuing-education provider status” to NARTH, said Weitzman. He believes that the board could easily deny NARTH’s approval as a continuing-education provider on ethical grounds, given that the California Association of Marriage and Family Therapists’ code of ethics for therapists includes cultural competency and avoiding unethical dual relationships in therapy.
However, Heimerich said that while the application process will be reviewed, state law governing continuing education for therapists doesn’t allow the board to evaluate the efficacy or scientific credibility of providers’ courses. “We’re not even sure that anybody’s actually gone to [NARTH] for continuing education,” he said.
The continuing-education approval process is on the agenda for the board meeting in September, he said, and that agenda was in place before the issues with NARTH were raised. “We certainly do believe that there is a lot of room for improvement.”
And for now, continuing education in NARTH’s conversion therapy methods is off the table for California’s therapists—at least if they expect to get continuing education credit for it.