Saturday, September 2, 2006

Some pro-family groups say recent comments by the head of the American Psychological Association suggest the organization is softening its opposition to treating homosexuals who want to change their sexual orientation.

The APA denies any changes in its stance, and the president later clarified his statements.

The Rev. Lou Sheldon, founder and chairman of the Traditional Values Coalition, a group that believes some homosexuals can become heterosexuals through “deep reparative therapy,” said he is convinced “peer pressure came down on the APA president like a mountain cougar and forced him” to back away from public comments he made less than a month ago.

“The APA has no conflict with psychologists who help those distressed by unwanted homosexual attraction,” said Gerald P. Koocher, president of the 155,000-member APA, at the group’s annual convention in New Orleans last month.

In an e-mail message early last week, Sharon Slater, president of United Families International, a nonprofit that works to protect the family as the fundamental unit of society, called Mr. Koocher’s comments “an amazing turnabout,” given that for more than 30 years, the “APA has aggressively opposed treatment of unwanted same-sex attraction.”

Leaders of groups engaged in treating homosexuals who want to become heterosexuals, such as the National Association for Research and Treatment of Homosexuals and Exodus International, also described Mr. Koocher’s remarks as a positive development.

They indicate the APA is “recognizing a person’s autonomy and right to self-determination,” Alan Chambers, president of Exodus International, told the Baptist Press.

Mr. Chambers and other therapists who offer such treatment picketed outside the APA convention and believed their presence was a contributing factor in Mr. Koocher’s comments.

But the APA executive clarified his comments shortly after the convention.

“In a full, multifaceted therapeutic relationship, the therapist has every duty to respond to patient choice and to help patients achieve their goals,” Mr. Koocher said. “I will always affirm the crucial importance of providing our services with careful attention to patients’ wishes.”

But Mr. Koocher said discussion of interventions in the “extremely complex issue” of sexual orientation “must balance patient choice with the therapist’s ethical obligation to obtain informed consent for any therapy process.”

“When dealing with sexual orientation,” he said, a therapist “must” be sure that a person wishing to change is not “motivated purely from the social pressures of a homophobic environment” because therapy “will not modify societal prejudices.”

Mr. Koocher further stressed that “patients must understand” that treatments intended to modify sexual orientation “lack a validated scientific foundation and may prove psychologically harmful.”

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