NEW YORK — The American Psychological Association next week embarks on the first review of its 10-year-old policy on counseling homosexuals, a step that homosexual-rights activists hope will end with a denunciation of any attempt by therapists to change sexual orientation.
Such efforts — often called reparative therapy or conversion therapy — are denounced as futile and harmful by many homosexual-rights activists, but conservative and church groups defend the right to offer such treatment, and say people with their viewpoint have been excluded from the review panel.
A six-member task force set up by the APA holds its first meeting Tuesday.
Already, scores of conservative religious leaders and counselors, representing such groups as the Southern Baptist Convention and Focus on the Family, have written a joint letter to the APA, expressing concern that the task force’s proposals would not accommodate persons whose religious beliefs condemn homosexual acts.
“We believe that psychologists should assist clients to develop lives that they value, even if that means they decline to identify as homosexual,” said the letter, which requested a meeting between APA leaders and some of the signatories.
APA spokeswoman Rhea Farberman said a decision on when and how to reply to the letter had not yet been made.
The current APA policy, adopted in 1997, opposes any counseling that treats homosexuality as a mental illness, but does not explicitly denounce reparative therapy. Homosexual-rights groups have become increasingly critical of such treatment and groups that support it.
Conservatives contend that the review’s outcome is preordained because the task force is dominated by pro-homosexual members.
“We’re concerned,” said Carrie Gordon Earll of Focus on the Family. “The APA does not have a good track record of listening to other views.”
Joseph Nicolosi, a leading proponent of reparative therapy who was rejected as a task force nominee, predicted the task force would propose a ban of the practice — and he vowed to resist such a move.
Added Alan Chambers, a married man who is president of Exodus International, the largest ministry that counsels orientation change: “I had hoped for more diversity on that panel. I see a lot of people who represent the other side — who don’t believe that people like me have a right to self-determination.”
Clinton Anderson, director of the APA’s Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Concerns Office, insisted the panel would base its findings on scientific research, not ideology, because religious views don’t concern the association.
“We cannot take into account what are fundamentally negative religious perceptions of homosexuality — they don’t fit into our world view,” he said.
Another counselor denied a seat on the task force was Warren Throckmorton, a psychology professor at Grove City College. Though Mr. Throckmorton doesn’t advocate a specific form of reparative therapy, he argues that psychologists should respect clients’ religious beliefs that homosexual behavior is wrong.
“We work with clients to pursue their chosen values,” he said. “If they are core, unwavering commitments to their religious belief, therapists should not try to persuade them differently under the guise of science.”
The task force may submit a preliminary report to the APA’s directors in December. Mr. Anderson said a final report might be completed by next March.